Star Wars: Splinter Of The Mind's EyeOrder this bookStory: Pilot Luke Skywalker and Rebel Diplomat Princess Leia Organa find themselves stranded on the unfamiliar swamp planet of Mimban after their Starfighters crash land on the way to an important treaty negotiation. Once aground, Luke and Leia find themselves teaming up with Halla, a Force-sensitive, in her search for the Kaiburr Crystal, an ancient artifact that amplifies Force powers for those who wield it. But there is an Imperial presence on Mimban, and it doesn’t take long for word of the Kaiburr Crystal to make it back to the Empire’s chief enforcer, Lord Darth Vader…

Review: “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” holds an important position within the Star Wars canon. It is the first novel in what would eventually become known as the Expanded Universe (EU): Star Wars tales beyond those portrayed in the films.

The origins of “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” date back to a time before Star Wars became the all-encompassing multimedia behemoth into which it would eventually evolve. In fact, they date back to one of the early draft scripts, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi boards the Death Star, not to turn off a tractor beam, but to re-capture the “Kiber Crystal” from the Sith. The Kiber Crystal was central to this iteration of the story. However, Lucas apparently felt it was too much of a MacGuffin and removed it.

The basic story for “Splinter” then surfaced as a film treatment for the sequel to Star Wars. When George Lucas finished filming the original movie, he was far from convinced that it would succeed. But he found it hard to let go of the Universe he had created, so he plotted out a proposed sequel that could be shot quickly and cheaply, with fewer actors or special effects shots. Thus was the plot for “Splinter” born. This explains the relatively few locations, the lack of several significant characters (like Han Solo and Chewbacca – Harrison Ford was not signed to any Star Wars sequels at the time, so the characters were not utilized to save the money involved in re-signing him) and the generally smaller scale of the whole affair.

But, alas, it was not to be. Star Wars proved to be a spectacular success and Lucas was forced to make five more films in the most successful film series of all time instead of a low budget sequel to a mediocre success.

Lucas didn’t throw the outline for Star Wars 2 away, however. By 1978, the world was clamoring for more Star Wars, and the daily comic strip and Marvel comic book just weren’t enough. So, following the lead of Star Trek, which already had several successful original novels published, Lucas gave the go-ahead for the first original Star Wars novel, “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”, based on his unused sequel plot. The writing of “Splinter” went to Alan Dean Foster, who had ghostwritten the novelization of Star Wars, which had been published under Lucas’ name.

The characterizations of the main cast in Splinter are quite interesting. Of course, the most significant one is the very strong romantic angle between Luke and Leia. Based on what is seen in Star Wars, it was the obvious way to go with the characters and it is to Lucas’ credit that he ultimately did not go that way. But if there was to be no more Han…who’s to say?

Luke is played very much in “chosen one” hero mode, with a greater sense of confidence than in the films. He reacts negatively to Leia’s orders and doesn’t always seem happy to have to follow them. In a way, his relationship to Leia is similar to that of Anakin and Padme in Attack Of The Clones: mostly positive, but with a good bit of disharmony. Still, there’s nothing about the way he acts that actually contradicts what is seen in Star Wars or the films that followed.

Leia, on the other hand is a strange mixture of the strong-willed leader evident in Star Wars and pure damsel-in-distress stuff not evident anywhere. She is reduced to near-tears by the mere memory of her interrogation at Darth Vader’s hands and is often too reliant on Luke for protection and help. She is also given to youthful outbursts that are not hinted at in Star Wars and certainly not carried forward in the series proper.

R2-D2 and C-3PO come through virtually unchanged. But as they are not meant for character growth in the original films, that’s understandable. 3PO is already taking on the more comedic and cowardly aspects which would unfortunately become his defining characteristic. R2, on the other hand, is missing most of his personality. I can only imagine it’s just too hard to convey on the printed page. (It seems to be a problem for most EU authors, as the droids don’t seem to feature as prominently in the novels as they did in the films.)

Darth Vader is more brutal and less sophisticated than portrayed on film. He is also a lot more human: really having difficulty in defeating Luke, despite the younger man’s inexperience. And it has to be said that he suffers a defeat in “Splinter” that rivals Boba Fett’s fatal dive into the Sarlaac pit for sheer lack of a dignified exit.

The new characters lack the spark that made the original cast so memorable, but they aren’t all bad. Halla, for instance, fills the role of the old madwoman character type that never got into the Star Wars saga proper and works well. On the other hand, Captain-Supervisor Grammel, the face of the Empire on Mimban, is a bit too over-the-top and the friendly aliens Kee and Hin are hardly adequate replacements for Chewbacca.

Foster’s writing style is typical of the sci-fi of the era: breezy and light reading, but fraught with techno-babble. His characters’ dialogue is mostly fine, but they do sometimes seem to be a bit too obvious, speaking lines more likely to be conveyed wordlessly or not at all. Still, he had a strong grasp of the Star Wars Universe as it then existed, perhaps more than anyone outside of the team at Lucasfilm, and it shows. He even uses the “heroes in disguise” gag that was really only used twice in the original films (Luke and Han as Stormtroopers in Star Wars and Leia and Lando at Jabba’s in Return Of The Jedi), but has been all-too-often used in the EU. Foster also shares Lucas’ habit of not dwelling on the strangeness of most things, treating them instead as matter-of-fact items. Additionally, he never allows the modest morals in the book to ever become preachy.

I am not fond of most of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels. I find them to be rife with the sort of dark and “important” storytelling that Star Wars originally fought against. While “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” may not have the deep character development and allegories to the modern world that the later novels do, it sticks more closely to the formula that made Star Wars what it was than most of the EU works that followed in its wake. Given the revelations that emerged from the fifth and sixth episodes of Star Wars, “Splinter” doesn’t really fit into the continuity of the Star Wars universe anymore, but it can still be enjoyed for what it is: a fun, mostly light-hearted space adventure. And isn’t that the point of Star Wars, anyway?

Year: 1978
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 182

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Philip R. Frey ()

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