Friday, 2 August 2013

The Star Wars Bookshelf #2: Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster

"The further adventures":
The US edition of
Splinter of the Mind's Eye 

When a Star Wars spin-off novel called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye: From The Adventures of Luke Skywalker appeared in 1978, there were two significant facts which most of us didn’t know about it. 

The first was that the author, Alan Dean Foster, was no newcomer, but had ghost-written the Star Wars novelization which bore George Lucas’s name. The second was that this new story could easily have been filmed as Star Wars 2.

Foster revealed later that his original brief had been to write a sequel that could be the basis for a movie. “When [George Lucas] asked me to write Splinter, his only stipulation was it had to be a story that could be filmed on a low budget,” he told Empire magazine in 2005. “He was thinking if Star Wars made some money but wasn’t a big hit, he could take the existing props and costumes and do a low-budget sequel. That’s why Splinter takes place entirely on a fog-shrouded planet. I wasn’t able to use the characters of Chewbacca or Han Solo either, because the actors had not yet made a deal for the sequel." 

The reason the cover art only showed Luke and Leia from behind was, Foster said, because Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had not yet signed the deal which would allow their likenesses to be used.

It seems a pretty cruel brief for an author: Write a Star Wars sequel but restrict the action to that which can be filmed cheaply. Nonetheless, the book, published by Del Rey in the US and Sphere in Britain, became a best-seller as Star Wars mania took off.

Spoiler alert: The next two paragraphs contain details of the plot of Splinter of the Mind's Eye. If you haven't read it, and think you might want to, please skip ahead.

Foster’s plot involves Luke, Leia and the droids crash-landing on the swamp world of Mimban, which is occupied by the Empire. There, they meet an old woman called Halla, who seems vaguely crazy but has with her a fragment of a gemstone which bears mystical powers. Yes, it’s that old fantasy staple, the magic crystal. This particular crystal is strong with the force and will bring immense power to anyone who possesses it.

Luke and Leia escape the local Imperial commander with the help of Halla and two violent, wookiee-like creatures called Yuzzem. After briefly taking refuge with a tribe of subterranean cave-dwellers and repelling an Imperial attack, our heroes make it to the temple containing the powerful Kaiburr crystal, which is where Darth Vader catches up with them. In the climactic fight, Luke is trapped under a rock, so Leia gets the chance to wield a lightsaber for a while before he manages to free himself. Luke slices off Vader’s right arm, but looks set to lose the fight nonetheless, until Vader, advancing to finish him off, falls down a deep hole.

Welcome back to those who skipped ahead to avoid the spoilers.

The UK edition of
Splinter of the Mind's Eye
One of the most striking things about Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is that it’s quite bloody. Instead of falling down obligingly when laser blasts are aimed in their general direction, the Imperials tend to get dismembered by the gleeful Yuzzem. A surprise on a more meaningful level is that Foster makes an admirable attempt to get under the skin of the characters. Luke is here characterised as a country boy to a greater extent than he would be in the films. He recognises Yuzzem because he has read about them, but he has little worldly experience, and is uncomfortable going into a smoky bar. Leia, who after all is supposed to be a member of a royal family, is frequently haughty and headstrong, and these qualities get the pair into trouble. She has also been traumatised by her interrogation at the hands of Vader in Star Wars and goes to pieces at the thought of confronting him again.

Suspenseful and atmospheric as it often is, I don't think Splinter of the Mind’s Eye quite satisfies today. Its succession of punch-ups between the heroes and the Imperials becomes repetitive, and the appearance of Darth Vader is delayed until the last possible moment. What’s more, Foster inevitably seems to be under orders not to write anything that might conflict with any other potential sequels that Lucas might be contemplating, and that restricts the scope for surprises.

One way in which the book does surprise a reader today is in the way it develops a romantic and sexual tension between Luke and Leia. In 1978, we could enjoy innocently erotic moments such as the scene in which Luke and Leia have to change clothes outdoors, agreeing not to steal a peek. “Awkwardly pressed up against him, the Princess seemed to take notice of their proximity,” Foster writes in another early scene. “In the dampness, though, her body heat was near palpable to Luke and he had to force himself to keep his attention on what he was doing.” This sort of thing was cut when the story was adapted as a graphic novel years later, and it must make uneasy reading for any naïve souls still clinging to the belief that Lucas had always intended for Luke and Leia to be brother and sister.

Have you read Splinter of the Mind's Eye? How do you remember it? Please sign up and comment.


Anonymous said...

My brother had this novel and I swiped it after he had read it a few times. This was back right after it came out, and before ESB of course. I missed Han and Chewie and Ben, sort of in a daze after watching the movie (I think I saw it twice in the theater--what would be the first two of many dozens of times once VHS and DVDs and blu Rays came out).

I remember thinking this WAS going to be the sequel, and was a little confused but not disappointed to see ESB (what would be the best, IMO, of the series).

Darren Slade said...

Thanks very much for the comment. Empire must have been quite a surprise if you were expecting to see Splinter on the big screen! I have a soft spot for that book -- a nice memento of the early possibilities of the Star Wars universe.

steve said...

So for those who've read this.... what's the verdict? I remember this book when I was young, when it was released. I had the "george lucas" novelization but at 7 or 8 it seemed a bit beyond me to read that. How was this book? Is it worth a read?

Kathy Cady said...

I'm afraid I was a purest from the get go. I wanted nothing to do with anything that seem to be about merchandising or would conflict with the original movie tropes. Forty years later, I might be willing to be more open to exploring some of the expanding universe of Star Wars. However, for me, the best was, and will always be, the original movie. I am happy that I finally got a movie worthy of being the the sequel we deserved the first time with VII.

If George had only listed to Mark Hamill's story ideas, we might have had worthy successors back in 1980 and 1983.