The Complete Vader Author Interviews Team | October 6, 2011

Star Wars: The Complete Vader – a 192-page tome that explores the history, costume, merchandise and cultural impact of cinema’s most iconic villain — finally hits the street October 18th, and we’ve got the low-down on this all-things-Vader tribute directly from authors Ryder Windham and Pete Vilmur (click here for a preview of several spreads from The Complete Vader).

Who conceived The Complete Vader, and when did you begin working on it?

Ryder Windham: Kjersti Egerdahl, an associate editor at becker&mayer!, first contacted me about the project in the fall of 2007. I eventually learned that the idea for a big non-fiction book about Darth Vader came from J. W. Rinzler at Lucasfilm, who conceived it as a natural follow-up to becker&mayer!’s previous project, The Star Wars Vault by Steve Sansweet and Pete Vilmur. After talking with Kjersti, I realized how much I wanted a Darth Vader “coffee-table book” of my own, so the opportunity to write the book was quite a thrill. Because I’m not an expert on Star Wars merchandise, I knew the book needed a co-author. I was both glad and relieved when I found out Pete Vilmur had signed on.

Do you have a single favorite image of Darth Vader, or favorite piece of merchandise?

RW: My all-time favorite image of Vader is the first one I ever saw, the cover art for the novelization, with Vader looming over Luke and basically dominating the cover. My older brother Corey bought the book in December of 1976, when I was twelve years old, and I read it right after he did. We had already seen some Star Wars art by Ralph McQuarrie in Starlog magazine, but it was the sight of McQuarrie’s cover for the novelization that had me hook, line, and sinker.

Pete Vilmur: Naturally, as a collector, I’ve got a favorite image and a favorite piece of merchandise. Image-wise, I’ve always really enjoyed the character poster series Panasonic did for the Japanese market in the late ’80s — it’s little-known here in the states, but the photography used for the posters is stunning. Vader’s was always my favorite — until a more recent Japanese poster featuring Vader on a park bench with Japanese schoolgirls eclipsed it. Both are included in the book as gatefold inserts.

My favorite Vader object is the full-size eFx McQuarrie Vader helmet released a year or so ago — like Ryder, I’m a big fan of McQuarrie and always thought his concept version was quite striking. EFx really did an outstanding job.

While researching material for the book, did you learn anything about Vader (or related merchandise) that surprised you?

RW: I was amazed by how much Darth Vader merchandise was out there. I was also surprised to learn there was relatively little promotional material for the Star Wars radio dramas. Pete found some promotional badges and newspaper clippings that I’d never seen before, and I suspect he had to dig deep to find them.

PV: I was surprised to discover through research that Peter Cushing’s character, Grand Moff Tarkin, was given most of the preliminary press as the film’s “heavy” early on, relegating Vader to merely a henchman. I’ve got an extensive collection of pre-release material, and found very little in the way of Vader coverage outside of an occasional photo or passing comment. Ironic since Vader is undoubtedly today’s Star Wars front man.

As soon as you got the assignment, did you immediately think of certain obscure information/images that you were eager to include in the book?

RW: I’m a huge fan of the Star Wars syndicated comic strip by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, and always recommend it to fans. Besides great stories that were beautifully drawn, the comic strip revealed the construction of Vader’s flagship, the Executor, and also had the ongoing subplot of Vader hunting and trying to capture “the Rebel who destroyed the Death Star.” The Complete Vader allowed the opportunity to showcase the comic strip’s impact on the other stories in the Expanded Universe, and also how it popularized the Executor, which was never identified by name in the movies.

PV: I enjoyed the opportunity to explore Vader’s rise to cult figure status — fans immediately embraced the Vader character following Star Wars‘ release, vaunting him through fanzine fiction and plastering his image all over bootleg buttons, posters, belt buckles and more. I’ve been fascinated with early forms of fan expression and The Complete Vader was the perfect opportunity to showcase some of these materials in a way that underlines their relevance to the saga’s rich fan history.

How did you two collaborate on the book? Did you work independently on respective chapters, or were you sharing information and text as you went along?

Author Ryder Windham and friend

RW: I wrote the initial outline for the book before Pete started writing, but then we were swapping emails a lot after that, sorting out details and information, making revisions, and so on. We mostly concentrated on our respective chapters, but also bounced around ideas for how best to present the material in situations where the subject matter overlapped. For example, I mentioned how the Star Wars comic strip popularized the Executor by name, but Pete had some great material about Vader’s starship in various toy versions. Obviously, we didn’t want the book to contain redundant info, but we also realized that it wasn’t always practical to present images and photos in chronological order of their release dates. Call us ambitious, but we were both very determined to produce a book that Star Wars fans would crave.

PV: As Ryder said, he came up with the initial outline for the book, which I thought was fantastically thorough, so I just threw in a couple extra bullets to expand on Vader’s pop culture cachet and the merchandising monster he’s inspired. I was particularly gratified to squeeze in chapters on international Vader collectibles and “Vader around the house”, showcasing just how broad the character’s appeal is and how deeply he has penetrated our everyday lives.

RW: Pete did a lot more than throw in extra bullets. He also earned a gold star for titling one section “Objet D’Arth” (laughter).

(Click below to preview several spreads from The Complete Vader)

How much of the book’s content is previously unpublished?

RW: I haven’t done an actual count of the previously unpublished images, but I think readers will be surprised by how much rare material is in the book, everything from concept art and behind-the-scenes photos to reproductions of unadulterated original artwork. The book does include some well-known artwork by Ralph McQuarrie and John Mollo, and frankly, it would have been a crime if it didn’t. Han Park was incredibly generous, allowing us to select Vader art from his own collection. The Clone Wars supervising director Dave Filoni, writer Henry Gilroy, and Dark Horse Comics editor Randy Stradley all granted interviews that are exclusive to the book.

PV: Even as someone who writes for a living, I know it’s the imagery that sells a coffee table book. To that end, we’ve tried to provide as much unpublished imagery as possible to give a fresh experience to even the most hardcore fans. Ryder and I scoured both our collections, those of our friends (including Steve Sansweet), and the Lucasfilm Image Archives for materials neither of us have ever seen before. While some oft-used Vader materials and imagery are a given, there is definitely no shortage of new, never-before-published stuff in The Complete Vader.

Was there anything you wanted to include in the book, but couldn’t for some reason?

RW: Early on, I suggested that the book might have an audio feature, so when the cover is lifted back, you’d hear the sound of Vader’s labored breathing. While I thought that would be pretty neat, I think there was some concern that such a feature would scare the daylights out of unsuspecting readers. After the book had gone to press, both Pete and I realized we were habitual researchers because we were still digging up great photos and odd facts. That said…I’m extremely happy with the way the book turned out. The design and production is just stunning.

PV: I was pretty thrilled with the extent of content we were able to cram into the book’s 192 pages, but as Ryder suggests, there are always pieces you come across after your final deadline has passed that you would have liked to include. One piece I recently picked up that I would have loved to add to the Vader poster chapter is a large advertisement for McDonald’s from France — it shows a seated Vader levitating a tray of food toward him with a French couple smooching in the background. Even McDonald’s signature red sign is made black for the poster — it’s my latest favorite Vader collectible.

Do you have a favorite Vader scene from the movies?

RW: There are too many favorites. But I think one of the least appreciated Vader scenes is near the end of The Empire Strikes Back, right after the Millennium Falcon escapes from the Imperial blockade at Bespin. You can practically feel Vader trying to contain his rage as he realizes Luke Skywalker has just been whisked away from him, and it’s remarkable that he doesn’t vent that rage by strangling the nearest Imperial officer on the spot. As Vader stalks off past Admiral Piett without saying a word, there’s this incredible emotional tension.

PV: Hands down — and I think many fans will agree — it’s the scene where Vader finally turns to the light and throws Palpatine down the reactor shaft. The scene is extremely poignant, especially paired with John William’s rousing score recalling Luke’s yearning on Tatooine and Obi-Wan’s death in the span of a moment. It still gives me goosebumps.

Author Pete Vilmur (left) with Darth and friends in 1977

Can you recall the first Darth Vader collectible you ever bought?

RW: I think I sort of stole my brother’s copy of the Star Wars novelization, so that doesn’t count. I was thirteen years old when the first Darth Vader action figure arrived in stores. Some boys might have agonized over whether they were too old to buy Darth Vader toy, but I didn’t. And yes, I still have it.

PV: Easy — Kenner’s 12-inch Vader doll, which I received for Christmas in 1979. It was the first Star Wars toy I ever owned, and remember being dazzled by the figure’s transparent red lightsaber blade — apparently I was a pretty simple-minded kid.

Given the opportunity to wear a Darth Vader costume to a public event, would you?

RW: In a heartbeat. Especially if there were small children at the event, as they probably couldn’t be bothered by the fact that I’m several inches shorter than Darth Vader.

PV: I’m pretty claustrophobic when it comes to full head masks, so probably not. Besides, I prefer to wear my Vader costume on the inside.

Star Wars: The Complete Vader will be available October 18, 2011, and can be pre-ordered from Special discount on October 12 only: Barnes&Noble is offering a 45% discount on The Complete Vader on October 12!

Meet The Complete Vader co-author Ryder Windham next Saturday (October 15) in Rhode Island at the Providence Community Library, where he and the 501st Legion will be hosting a Star Wars Party & Blood Drive!

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