Only seventeen more days until Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally released! To celebrate, all of the book reviews in December will be Star Wars themed. There’s over thirty years of novels to choose from after all, so there shouldn’t be any trouble finding material. And it seems only fitting to start by going all the way back to the beginning.
The book for this week’s review…is not the very first Star Wars book. That honor is actually held by the SW: A New Hope novelization (ghost written by Alan Dean Foster), which came out six months before the movie did, so technically the Star Wars books are older than the film franchise…I’m digressing too much, aren’t I? Moving on.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (also written by Alan Dean Foster) came out a year after A New Hope, and was the first officially-licensed book continuing the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.
Many people may not know this (and by “many people” I mean me, before I started writing this review) but Splinter was commissioned before anyone knew if Star Wars was going to be a success. George Lucas had a script in mind for The Empire Strikes Back, but if the first movie didn’t do well then Splinter was meant to be more of a low-budget sequel. Hence why 99% of the movie takes place on one small part of one tiny planet that’s mostly swamp, with a couple of native stone cities that could have been easily rendered as a matte painting. And why Han Solo barely gets a mention (Harrison Ford hadn’t signed on for a second movie yet, so Lucas was hedging his bets with that.)
The plot is standard for any pulp sci-fi paperback from the 1970’s. Luke and Leia are en route to a very important meeting with (insert name of whatever group that’s important to the Rebellion at the time), but mechanical problems with Leia’s fighter plane force them to make a side trip to the unexplored planet Mimban. Suddenly (oh no!) a mysterious energy cloud damages both of their planes, causing them to crash land in the swamp where they discover (gasp!) the Empire has set up a clandestine mining operation and enslaved many of the natives.
A mysterious old woman named Halla offers to help them find a way off the planet so they can still attend their Very Important Meeting, but in return they have to help her find The MacGuffin…excuse me…The Kaiburr crystal, a gemstone which amplifies the Force in anyone who holds it.
George Lucas will swear to the stars that he’d created all the main plot points for the trilogy by this time, and that Splinter was supposed to be canon. But the book has some inconsistencies – the color of Luke and Vader’s lightsabers, for instance – and the dialog isn’t always right for the characters. Vader is as bombastic as you’d expect from someone who’s movie quotes include “Your powers are weak, old man,” but Luke and Leia’s lines get a little clunky sometimes. “Besides, it takes many thousands of years of advanced technological development for a society to reduce honor to an abstract moral truism devoid of real meaning.” Really, Foster? You’re not even using that to set up a joke? The least you could have done is make Threepio say it.
Mind you, there were scenes that are probably considered out of character that I would have liked to see in one of the films. Leia kicking Luke in the shin and knocking him into a puddle as payback for getting a little too into the whole “Master/Servant Girl” disguise, and then the two of them getting into a mud-throwing fight was a fun bit to read. And on the opposite end of the spectrum you have Leia picking up Luke’s lightsaber and taking on Darth Vader; I would watched the hell out of that scene.
The book has a few bits of slapstick, like Halla not quite knowing how to drive a stolen vehicle, or Leia insisting that a little blood shouldn’t keep her from helping to clean said vehicle, until she finds out that what’s left of the former pilots are having to be scooped out by the handful. (Don’t be surprised at the carnage; Luke and Leia leave a trail of bodies behind them throughout the story. All bad-guys of course, but still…)
Foster also added some details of his own about the characters’ backstories. Luke surprises everyone by being able to speak the language of one of the races they meet on Mimban; it turns out that studying alien cultures was his one way to escape the tedium of life on his uncle’s farm. Pretty believable when you think about all of the people who learn Klingon or Elvish just for fun. And apparently Leia’s transformation from a bored Princess to a member of the Alliance started with art, when she realized how much a government like the Empire clamps down on artists in order to keep control of a society.
Vader…doesn’t get any additional backstory. He’s just evil, as per usual, and just as quick to kill any underlings who screw up. (He doesn’t Force-choke them though, which was a missed opportunity.) He gets an arm lopped off at one point, which more than anything makes people place this book firmly in the non-canon category.
The book is something of a time-capsule, showing the reader a time when there was so much we didn’t know about this universe. We didn’t know about Yoda or the Jedi Academy. We hadn’t met Emperor Palpatine or Boba Fett. We had absolutely no idea that Darth Vader was Luke’s father…
…and we didn’t know that Leia was Luke’s twin sister.
I avoided reading Splinter of the Mind’s Eye for years because I’d heard it included some romance with two people who we now know are related, and I was afraid it was going to be fiercely uncomfortable. But it really wasn’t; it’s not like there’s any sex, there isn’t even any kissing. Luke’s been head-over-heels ever since he first saw Leia’s hologram recording, but he’s also fully aware that a farmboy from a backwoods planet like Tatooine shouldn’t think he has any chance with a Princess. Mostly it’s just a lot of…tension…between the two of them. Lingering glances, huddling for comfort in each other’s arms. It’s really sweet.
In a lot of ways the book reminded me of a daydream. Two star-crossed
siblings lovers fighting to survive on a distant planet, each of them getting hurt and having to be rescued multiple times (I think Luke wins out on that one though; poor Leia gets the crap beaten out of her on at least two occasions). There’s even a setting right out of a teenage girl’s fanfic, an underground world filled with giant crystals, phosphorescent lichen, crystalized bamboo-like things that make a musical tone when struck, and Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia traveling across a subterranean lake on a giant lily-pad.
The whole thing has make me think of something I haven’t considered in ages: I was ten years old when Return of the Jedi came out, years and years before the whole “shipping” concept was popularized, and up until then I was Team Luke all the way.
There’s a mention of the “Luke was chasing after his sister the whole time” plot point in Elizabeth’s write up of the Star Wars Hall H event at SDCC 2015 here.