It’s midnight and the moon is full, but Darth Vader isn’t scared. OF COURSE I AM NOT SCARED. Nothing can scare Lord Vader! CORRECT. Not monsters or witches or ghosts, and especially not the dark. So what is Darth Vader scared of? Read on in Adam Rex’s hilarious and spooky Star Wars tale to find out! YOU WILL LEARN NOTHING.
What a delight to see classic villains on Dagobah meeting a contemporary galactic villain! The narrator introduces them to Vader in order to answer the title’s question that looms large on the dust jacket. Embossed, shiny yellow letters that look painted ask: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? The words take up most of the cover with Vader’s small, black speech bubble declaring, “I fear nothing” centered. Darth Vader is also in glossy relief standing to the right of the words with this arms crossed. It sets the tone of this book that juxtaposes lightheartedness with the darkness that accompanies a Sith Lord in order tell a tale of admitting your fears.
The classic villains — a wolfman, vampire, ghost, and witch — dwarfed by his stature, are trying to scare Darth Vader, but they are not successful. The author, Adam Rex, intentionally made them unimpressive as he relates on StarWars.com, “I spent a lot of time nudging my monster sketches toward something nonthreatening.” The colors of these little “villains” pop off the background that consists of shades of gray as well as serves to further contrast them to Darth Vader. Even Vader is less threatening; he exercises patience and inadvertently provides humor, and in one of the illustrations early in the book, his eye is visible through the lens of his mask, reminding us a man is beneath it.
These villains are classic to us but all new to Darth Vader. With each introduction, he tries to guess or asks what each is or does in order to answer the narrator’s repeated query, “Are you scared, Darth Vader?” And it’s weird to laugh at a Sith lord, but bits throughout the book like his responses to their attempted menacing and attempts to guess what they are, referencing Star Wars creatures and characters are comical. My favorite is when he meets the ghost — classic costume of a sheet with eye holes cut out — and asks if it’s the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
With non-threatening villains and a Vader that provides comic relief, I started to worry halfway through reading that this book was a cutesy, we-want-to-desperately-appeal-to-kids children’s book. But when you get to the part where Darth Vader meets the witch, and the narrator explains that she could curse him, then you turn the page to see his isolated response, goosebumps and some tears may accompany the pang in your heart. A young kid might not feel that emotional punch, but the adult Star Wars fan reading it to her or him certainly will. Through such seemingly simplicity, it gets to the core of Vader’s conflict, showing the dimensions of this villain.
The little villains become concerned with him, and when he insists that he is fine, they go back to asking him if he’s scared, and when they fail to get him to admit he is afraid of something, the narrator steps in and tells them that they can take off their masks. Vader asks, “Masks?” surprised to find children beneath. Bravo to the author for making it a diverse group of children, not only racially diverse but also diverse in age. This nicely signals the recognition and appeal of Vader and appeal of the Star Wars universe to people of all ages around the world.
And they begin to play with him, asking him if he’s scared of children as they play with his cape and lightsaber, hanging off his arms as more children come to play until, annoyed, he shouts for them to go away. So they do, declaring as they leave, “He’s no fun.”
But the narrator tells Vader that there is one kid left, the one “about to close the book.” And Vader makes threats to keep that from happening. I love that the narrator gives the reader the ultimate power over Darth Vader’s fate, and we see Vader finally admit to being afraid.
I had assumed that the illustrations were paintings with computer graphic enhancements, but Rex explains on StarWars.com that he created swamp dioramas and a Death Star from a globe and photographed them for the setting. “You see, I was so enchanted as a kid by any behind-the-scenes glimpse at the models and miniatures and special effects of the original trilogy that I thought it would be fitting to try to capture some of the feel of that myself.” Such extra attention to detail shows the love and reverence the author has for Star Wars and the care he took with his creation. However, I feel the nuances and dimensions of the dioramas have been flattened in the production process.
Young children and those not familiar with Darth Vader or the Star Wars saga may not fully understand the humor and the emotional tugs. However, children don’t always know the characters in the books they are about to read nor always understand all the details just as Vader did not know the classic villains. But I do know that children understand what it’s like to have fears, so this book sends an effective message that even someone who seems so strong and boasts that he is not afraid of anything also has fears. With that message, a contrast of dark, and lighthearted visual and verbal texts, and the narrator bringing the reader into the story, I can see children asking to read this book or have it read to them over and over again.