Before Disney, before the Expanded Universe, before even The Empire Strikes Back, there was a sequel in print that made its mark on the Star Wars universe. What can a re-read of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye teach us about the development of the Star Wars saga?
Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye opens with Luke, Leia, and the droids on their way to a meeting with a dissident group on the planet Circarpous IV to help expand the Rebellion. After a malfunction, they have to put down on Circarpous V, a muddy, bog-covered planet known as Mimban. Crossing the swamps, they find a small mining colony run by the Empire.
In a local tavern, they meet Halla, who claims to be a master of The Force, and shows them a sliver of the legendary Kaiburr crystal: A glowing stone that can enhance a Force-user’s power. Luke, sensing how terrible it could be if the crystal fell into the wrong hands, agrees they must find the artifact. In exchange, Halla will help them make their meeting on Circarpous IV.
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Luke and Leia soon run afoul of the locals and are pulled in for questioning by the Imperial administrator, Captain-Supervisor Grammel. Grammel knows there is something strange about these two, and alerts his leadership, while locking Luke and Leia in a cell with two Yuzzem. Hin and Kee are large, bestial creatures intended to terrorize the Rebels, but instead Luke befriends them, and with Halla’s external help, they escape and begin a quest to find the Kaiburr crystal.
After crossing through various hazards, the group ends up first captured by, and then allied with, a group of natives called the Coway. With these natives, Luke and Leia and their friends repel an Imperial attack, but not one led by Grammel; Darth Vader himself has come for them, but turns his attention to finding the Temple of Pomojema and the Kaiburr for himself.
It then becomes a race for Luke Skywalker to secure the Kaiburr ahead of the Dark Lord, and confront the man who killed both his father and his mentor Obi-Wan face to face.
The history of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is an interesting one. Even before Star Wars was released in theaters, George Lucas was looking ahead to a sequel. In an interview with Empire Magazine, author Alan Dean Foster mentions:
"George was always thinking ahead. When he asked me to write Splinter, his only stipulation was it had to be a story that could be filmed on a low budget."
Hence, we get a story with no major space battles, a planet with little technology, and for that matter really a single setting; far from the galaxy spanning adventures Star Wars would later become known for. The constant fog on Mimban would allow for shooting on a set and make sure there was no need for a location shoot.
Foster was a natural pick to write the story. He had ghost-written the novelization of Star Wars for George Lucas, and his style comes through the two books, making them feel like part of a series when divorced from everything we now know came later.
Reading this book now, I was struck by two things: How different a taste of the Star Wars universe it is; but also how similar it remains. Certainly one of the differences that stands out–and this is something we should get out of the way early–is the romantic feelings Luke has for Leia.
LAS VEGAS – MAY 29: Actress Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa character and actor Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker character from “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” are shown on screen while musicians perform during “Star Wars: In Concert” at the Orleans Arena May 29, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The traveling production features a full symphony orchestra and choir playing music from all six of John Williams’ Star Wars scores synchronized with footage from the films displayed on a three-story-tall, HD LED screen. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The romance is never acted upon in the story, though tension between the two builds pretty strongly. At one point, when feeling himself near death Luke proclaims his love, but it’s never really too far outside the realm of his behavior in A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back. Given that the two characters were not intended to be related until the actual development of Return of the Jedi, this is pretty forgivable here.
Several elements do stand out as eventually making their way into Star Wars, and not even as something later incorporated in Prequels, Sequels, or the Expanded Universe. Luke’s initial X-Wing crash on Mimban’s boggy world is very similar to what we will see in ESB during his arrival on Dagobah. Luke at one point senses the presence of Darth Vader, reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. The Sith Lord (though apparently carrying a blue-bladed lightsaber here) when fighting Luke finds the young man to be formidable, and Luke manages to sever Vader’s sword arm before Vader himself plunges into a bottomless pit.
Even the Imperial Forces’ failed assault on a primitive native tribe, the Coway, reminds the reader of the assault on Endor. This may be the first place we see the stormtrooper rifle referred to as the “E-Eleven.”
Most interesting to me is the portrayal of the character of Leia. Though Foster shows her with some elements of the damsel in distress common to science fiction and fantasy of the day, the defiant Princess we have come to know is still there. Despite the fact she is still suffering the trauma of being held by the Empire in Star Wars, Leia is formidable. She is described as having no link to he Force, but when Luke is trapped, and Vader approaches, she takes up Luke’s lightsaber to stand up to the attacker.
From a view more than 40 years later, the way that battle plays out, Leia holding her own briefly, and then falling wounded, allowing Luke to get free and take up the fight, reminded me of Ren, Finn, and Rey on Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens.
And of course, you can’t help but notice that the MacGuffin of the whole thing is the “Kaiburr” crystal, a concept that will obviously make its way very strongly into Star Wars lore.
Like the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian novels that will follow shortly, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye gives us a tantalizing taste of what could have been different about Star Wars if circumstances, like box office, had changed even slightly.
Yet, the feel and elements of the story are so firmly entrenched in the literary space adventure roots of Star Wars, that they can’t help but echo throughout the franchise as it grows. In short, Splinter may give a modern reader pause in a few places, but even now remains a cleanly plotted yarn involving some favorite characters, and introducing locations and characters that feel very much at home in the Star Wars universe. Don’t be surprised if a few other remaining elements of this book make their way into the canon.
Have you revisited some early Star Wars material? How did it hold up for you? Think we’ll see the Yuzzem in Episode IX? Let us know in comments below!