03 April 2009

"Splinter of the Mind's Eye" by Alan Dean Foster

Splinter of the Mind's Eye
From the Further Adventures of Luke Skywalker
Alan Dean Foster
Based on the Characters and Situations Created by George Lucas
Date of Publication: 1978
Book Club Edition
182 pages

In 1976, a little paperback book called Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker appeared on the mass market.  A little blurb notified the readers that it was soon to be a motion picture from its author, George Lucas.  You probably know the cinematic story from there, but the literary world of Star Wars is often overlooked.  To begin, Lucas did not pen that first novel; it was ghostwritten by noted science-fiction author Alan Dean Foster.  No one knew whether the film would make any money, but Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were already signed for a sequel.  Lucas decided to work on an expensive script (that became The Empire Strikes Back), but Foster was brought in to write a sequel story that would be far cheaper to produce if need be.  That was that genesis of Splinter of the Mind's Eye.

En route to a secret conference, Princess Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker crash land on the mysterious planet Mimban.  Not much is known about the place, other than that it exists.  In truth, the Empire has established a secret mining operation there, abusing the indigenous primitives.  The two protagonists encounter the elderly (and potentially crazy) Halla, who agrees to help them escape the planet in exchange for their help in locating the rest of the mythological Kaiburr Crystal.  Leia is not convinced it even exists, or that on such a foggy, swampy planet that they would ever find it among the ruins of a long-gone civilization.  Once Luke lays his hand on the singular shard of it possessed by Halla, he knows it is not only real, but that it greatly enhances one's sensitivity to the Force.  Were it to fall into the hands of Force-sensitive Darth Vader, it would be catastrophic.  And so begins their quest.

As a novel, Splinter is fast-paced and full of tension and atmosphere.  This was the first non-canonical Star Wars story, so what makes it refreshing is that it is not full of self-aware references to things mentioned in the movies or other non-canonical works.  (Foster even describes one creature's sound as being "like a hog in heat."  Subsequent writers would scarcely use such a non-Star Wars frame of reference.)

Unfortunately, he who lives by the sword also dies by the sword and what makes Splinter disappointing is its detachment from Star Wars.  Taken exclusively in relationship to the 1976 novel and 1977 film, most of the inconsistencies are easy to accept.  There is, for instance, no reason to be found in that tale (later re-titled Star Wars: A New Hope) that would prevent the presence of sexual tension between Luke and Leia.  What taints the story, though, is the climax.  Darth Vader simply bears no resemblance to his previously established self.  Even if we overlook the description of his lightsaber as blue instead of red as irrelevant, try not to notice the absence of any reference to his scuba-inspired breathing sounds and try not to hear James Earl Jones's voice speaking his lines, this is simply not the same character.  Neither in prose nor on screen is the Dark Lord so wordy, sounding here more like a guy with a large mustache whose plan involves tying up the princess and leaving her on the train tracks.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye includes several scenes that today call to mind not only the subsequent film sequels in the series, but the Indiana Jones series as well.  In fact, an alternate title of this novel could well be Luke Skywalker and the Kaiburr Crystal.  The relationship between he and Leia bears a striking resemblance to that of Indiana Jones and Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and their trek across Mimban feels more like an Indy adventure than a Star Wars tale.  Still, it's fun, it's fast-paced and not self-conscious meaning this is one of the few Star Wars books I would actually endorse.

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