If there’s one constant about Star Wars, it’s the saga’s ability to reintroduce itself to new generations. However, one challenge for parents of young children is finding the right age to introduce Star Wars. If you’ve been living under a felt rock, you might have missed an amazing new series of children’s Star Wars board books featuring the Original Trilogy told with hand-made felt characters. Created by brothers Holman and Jack Wang, the Epic Yarns series was released the week of Celebration. Our own Johnamarie Macias took part in an interview with Jack and Holman previously, and at Celebration, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet Holman in person and get more details about this great new way to introduce young children to the Star Wars saga.
Let me preface this by saying that in this interview, I found myself gushing a bit. As a parent of a very young toddler, finding ways to introduce Star Wars to my child has been at the forefront of my mind for years. I realize some parents just let their children watch the films at an early age, but frankly I’m just not comfortable with that. The saga has some seriously dark moments that I don’t think my child is ready for. So when I saw these amazing books, I was completely on board immediately. I’m absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to share my passion with my child in a fun and kid-friendly way.
Beyond that, I found Holman Wang to be one of the most genuine, friendly and approachable creators of Star Wars content I have ever met. He not only has a passion for Star Wars, but for creating quality content that can be shared across generations. Further, Holman and his brother Jack are two of the very few minority Star Wars content creators around and quite possibly the only Asian creators to work on our favorite saga. Following the interview, we talked briefly about the importance of minority representation not only on screen, but behind the scenes of important pop culture franchises like Star Wars. Holman recognizes the importance of having minority children see content creators who “look like them” and thus grow up realizing that they too can have a career working on something like Star Wars. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks to Holman Wang for taking the time to speak with me and for Chronicle Books for the great opportunity.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the signings that you’ve done here [at Celebration] so far. How’s that been?
A: Well today I did a signing with Jeffrey Brown, and my goodness the line-up for Jeffrey Brown was incredible! His books have been out for a couple of years, but it was great to ride on his coattails and sign some books for people.
Q: Great. Well I’m sure in two or three years someone is going to say, “I was with Holman and riding his coattails.”
A: Yeah hopefully! That would be awesome!
Q: So what was the inspiration behind wanting to start this series of books?
A: Well we originally did a series called Cozy Classics, where we’re abridging classic novels like Pride & Prejudice and Moby Dick, and we bridged these stories to 12 words and 12 images so that these adult stories could be shared with very, very young children. And when we had the opportunity to do Star Wars, we really wanted to do that because we are huge Star Wars fans.
I think Star Wars is one of those things where adults want to share it with their young children, but they’re kind of waiting for them to be old enough to get it. We thought if we did a word primer with just 12 words and 12 images, then as soon as you can put a book in a kid’s hand, you can start sharing Star Wars. So we thought that would be awesome.
Q: And it is. I agree, I’m one of those parents who can’t wait to introduce my daughter to Star Wars so I’ve been excited about these books.
Q: Tell me about your fandom and how it started when you were young.
A: Well my brother and I saw the movie, Star Wars, when it came out in 1977. We loved the movie from the first time we saw it and we had all the action figures, we had the trading cards, we had puzzles… we just had a lot of stuff. As we grew up, my brother and I are twins, so it was always a nice, fair lightsaber fight, so we could just pick up stuff any time and start smashing! It was always a part of our childhood. Seemed to always be there. Always loved Star Wars.
Q: And we know in Star Wars twins have extra powers.
A: Exactly! I watched the prequels recently and that gave me a greater appreciation of the twins storyline, because it shows you their birth and everything so that really resonated with me as a twin.
Q: So what about the prequel trilogy? Are there any plans to expand your line into the prequels?
A: Not right now. It’s something that we have talked about. Originally there was some discussion about doing a seven-book deal where we would have the prequels, the original trilogy and Episode VII, but I think both sides thought maybe that’s too much of a commitment right off the bat. So hopefully there’s interest for them to want us to come back to do Episode VII and the prequels. I have to say, Revenge of the Sith is my favorite prequel. I really really dig that one.
Q: It might be a little challenging. That’s a dark film.
A: That’s a dark film for kids. But we’ve tip-toed around a lot of dark issues in our book, so I’m sure we could do it.
Q: Going back to the concept of the books–the words themselves don’t actually tell the story. So is the focus on teaching kids new words in the context of Star Wars or telling the story?
A: The idea is that the books are all ages, but they have to be something you can put in front of a child that’s 10 months old and just sitting up and learning to hold a book in their hands. In that sense the words have to be kid friendly, if not baby friendly. So we use words like “sister” or “father,” “no,” “stop.” But at the same time, we think that these words help to push the narrative forward in a very general way, so that even though the word may not be explaining everything that’s going on, it does explain a situation.
For example, the first two words in A New Hope are “princess,” and the next word is “trouble.” So that actually sets up the whole narrative arc for the first story–the princess needs help! So in that very general way, we’re telling the story and it’s the job of the parent kind of story-tell, have fun, do the Yoda impersonation, do Chewbacca impersonations, and fill in the blanks for the kids. We think that would be a fun way to get kids into reading, and make reading more enjoyable.
Q: I’ve heard you talk about the sheer man-hours that went into creating each of the felt figures. What is your background in felt? Why did you choose this specific method and how did it come about?
A: That’s a great question–I have absolutely no background in needle felting. I taught myself to do it expressly for the purposes of illustrating children’s books. About four years ago when my brother came to me with the idea of Cozy Classics, I was working full time as a lawyer, he was a writing professor, and I just decided, “I’m going to moonlight and do children’s books on evenings and weekends, how am I going to do it? I haven’t picked up a paint brush in 15-20 years, I don’t draw anymore… well, what if I make little felt figures and photograph them… see if that works.” And it did work and we’ve just run with the concept since then.
Q: That is absolutely amazing! I’m a little floored because I was ready for you talk about a background in crafts. So the idea that a recovering lawyer is doing this gives a lot of… attorneys hope!
A: Yeah! A recovering lawyer for sure!
Q: In terms of creating the three books, did you lay out the whole trilogy before finalizing them or did you do it one book at a time?
A: That’s a great question. What we did was we did all the words for all three books first. So everything was mapped out in terms of the words, and my brother and I did a round of figuring out the words, we did an editorial round with Chronicle Books, and then we did another editorial round with Lucasfilm where we all massaged the word list to make sure all the words were just right.
One of the things that Lucasfilm was concerned about was getting in some Star Wars jargon. We had the word “robots” for a scene with R2-D2 and C-3PO, and they wanted the word to be “droids” because that’s more Star Wars. So they made changes like that.
After that we felted all the figures, and that took about five months just to do the figures. We were creating all the figures with the view of doing all three books at the same time and try to be as efficient as possible.
Q: What was your favorite character to create?
A: Probably the most satisfying one to create was C-3PO just because I left him to the very end to do. I knew that I was actually going to learn through trial and error as I was making the characters, so if I saved him to the last, I would have five months of felting where I’m learning how to recreate the Star Wars universe. C-3PO is a combination of some loose felt and some craft wool sheets and I had to integrate those pieces to create those robotic edges. For me that was the most challenging character and the most satisfying to reproduce.
Q: In terms of scenes was there anything that you wanted to do that got cut?
A: We didn’t have an interior scene that I wanted to do, but we had some covers that Lucasfilm didn’t like. For example, Empire Strikes Back, features Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in a lightsaber fight. We originally had Luke training with Yoda – so little Yoda on Luke’s back – which we thought would be really cute for young kids. But they thought that was too quiet and wanted more action in the cover. I think it’s good because A New Hope has a cuter cover with Luke and the two droids, Empire Strikes Back is more action, and Return of the Jedi also has a little bit of action as well. So there are different entry points into the series, and I think that’s good.
Q: That’s really interesting to hear about the editorial process on the covers. We talked about the other movies, what about some of the TV shows–Rebels or Clone Wars--would you have any interest in exploring those?
A: That’s interesting. We have only ever done novels to felt or live-action to felt, I don’t know if people would respond the same way to animation to felt. Because part of the pleasure of our work is seeing something so familiar but in a totally new way. There’s a twist on it. People look at our images and think it looks like the movie but these are little felt characters. I’m not sure if there would be the same kind of excitement leaping from cartoon to felt, but I could be wrong, so we’ll see.
Q: So what’s next? You have this great talent now doing felt designs. Do you have anything beyond Star Wars or will Star Wars dominate your near future?
A: Well right now we’re still working on more Cozy Classics so we’re expanding that line. We’ve already done Great Expectations. I’m working on The Nutcracker right now. We’re thinking about doing The Wizard of Oz after that. Then after that, the schedule is open so we’ll see. We’re interested in doing other franchises like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. We’re definitely open to doing more Star Wars so we’ll see what happens.
Q: Great we look forward to that. On another note, have you seen the new The Force Awakens teaser?
A: If you can believe it, I haven’t seen it because I’m on a roaming plan that’s very limited so I can’t use up all my data on one trailer! I have to get back to my hotel tonight and watch it on WiFi.
Q: It’s going to be mind-blowing. Is there something specific you’re looking forward to with The Force Awakens?
A: I just want to see how the characters we already know, like Han, Leia and Luke, tie in with the new characters. I’m super curious about that.
Q: Us too! Well thank you for your time. We love these books and we’re looking forward to more and more fans exploring them in the future.
A: Thanks so much for having me!
Special thanks to Star Wars Kidcast for pointing me to these books to begin with!
You can view a fantastic behind-the-scenes video below: