Can somebody please clarify how this phrase is supposed to work? For instance, "qu'est-ce qu'il veut?" supposedly translates to "what does he want?", but I don't understand the logistics behind that.
Que = than(?) Est = is Ce = this Qu'il = what he
"Than is this what he wants?"
It sounds very long winded in English but you can think of it as a prefix meaning "what is it that...". So in your example "what is it that he wants".
que=what (qu' before a vowel)
ce=that (or this)
so literally "what is that what he wants"
you can also drop the "est-ce que" and reverse the subject and the verb and it becomes just "que veut-il" (but this is less common, esp in spoken language)
Try not to translate word for word. French is a unique language not a translation of English, as such French words do not conveniently map with English words.
On top of this, words such as que has many more meanings than "than". Here, the closest literal meaning would be:
Qu(e) / est-ce / qu(e) / il veut ? - Qu'est-ce qu'il veut ?
What / is it / that / he wants? - "What does he want?"
Questions tend to start with "Est-ce qu(e)"... E.g. Est-ce que tu parles l'anglais ? = Do you speak English?
If you're using that structure and want to ask what then you add the "Qu" which is short for "Que": e.g. Qu'est-ce que c'est ? = What is it?