“You know, Skywalker, I had a difficult time finding out that it was you who shot up my TIE fighter above the Death Star station. Rebellion spies are hard and expensive to come by. I also found out it was you who released the torpedo that destroyed the station. You have a great deal to atone for to me. I’ve waited a long time.” – Darth Vader
Though the first Star Wars book written was the novelization of the original movie, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is really the true beginning of the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” (EU). This is the first of nearly 200 novels written over the span of 36 years (from 1978 to 2014) that would eventually make up the entirety of the late EU, now known as “Legends.”
Like Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the novelization of the original Star Wars movie, “Splinter” was written by Alan Dean Foster. The book was released in 1978, less than a year after Star Wars made its premiere, and about a year and a half before the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, hit theaters. Let’s try to put ourselves in the shoes of somebody reading this novel when it was new. What do we know about Star Wars so far? We’ve seen the first movie and… nothing else. We have no idea who Luke’s father is, or that his father is even relevant. We have no idea that Luke and Leia are siblings. All we know is what we’ve seen in the one movie. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was the second Star Wars story ever told.
In fact, it was written to be the second Star Wars movie ever made. Or, at least, as a low-budget option in case Star Wars didn’t do well in theaters. Nobody could have predicted the success of Star Wars, but George Lucas knew that he wanted to make more than one movie, and asked Foster to write a sequel novel that could be filmed as a low-budget sequel movie if the first movie wasn’t successful. In 1996, Foster had this to say about writing the novel:
“No one knew what kind of success Star Wars would achieve, and so George, thinking ahead, wanted to be able to utilize props and backgrounds and the detritus of filmmaking in a second film, thereby reducing its cost if necessary. So in writing the sequel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, I was asked to come up with a story that could be filmed on a low budget. Which is why, for example, the story takes place on a fog-shrouded planet (really cuts down on the need for expensive backgrounds). For the same reason, the modestly extensive space battle I had written was cut from the story. It was, to say the least, an interesting way for a writer to approach a new novel.”
In short, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye could have been Star Wars: Episode V, instead of The Empire Strikes Back. Would this novel have made a successful movie? I’m sure it could have been done fairly well, and probably could have been the moderate-success that everyone imagined the original Star Wars was going to be. As someone who considers The Empire Strikes Back their favorite movie of all time, I am very glad this wasn’t made into a movie. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of this book. I enjoyed it very much.
The odd word choices and Earth-references I mentioned in the review of From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker are still present in this book, but to a far lesser extent. Earth animals were only mentioned a couple of times that I can remember. R2-D2 is still occasionally referred to as a “Detoo” unit instead of an “Artoo” unit, but these things are minor, and appear much less frequently than they did in the first book. One thing that I found very odd about this book that I didn’t notice in the first book was that Foster likes to use commas instead of the word “and.” It’s an odd grammatical choice that I don’t understand, and it sort of bothered me throughout the entire story. Here are some examples from the second chapter:
“He began climbing up the damaged side of the fighter, sat down next to the open cockpit.” P.17
“The second time her fingers locked around it, were joined by her other hand.” P.19
“He hesitated, pulled back.” P.23
“She leaned around the corner of the metal wall, peered down the street.” P.25
“Finally he halted, indicated the sign above a doorway.” P.27
All of those sentences could have benefitted from using the word “and” in them instead of just a comma. I don’t understand why he writes like this. I’m no English major, and I’m probably using commas incorrectly throughout this review, but it was something that sort of pulled me out of the story each time it happened, just because I couldn’t understand why he would choose to write like that. Foster isn’t the only author who writes like this, but I noticed it more than usual in this book. It is a minor complaint, but a reoccurring one.
The story starts off in space with Luke and Artoo in an X-wing, and Leia and C-3PO in a Y-wing. Luke is admiring the beauty of space and crushing hard on his sister. He and Leia are on are on their way to Circarpous IV, so that Leia can attend an important meeting in an attempt to recruit the Circarpousians to join the rebels’ cause. Something goes wrong with Leia’s ship, and she has to make an emergency landing on Circarpous V (not the same planet they want to go to. Don’t get those Roman numerals confused!), also known as “Mimban” (thank goodness). She goes down, Luke follows her, and they both end up crash landing due to a strange electrical storm.
With both of their ships ruined, they start exploring, and discover a secret Imperial mining operation and disguise themselves in miners’ clothing to blend in. An old Force-sensitive woman named Halla finds them because she could sense the Force in Luke. She asks Luke and Leia to help her find the mysterious “Kaiburr crystal” in exchange for her help getting them off the planet.
The “Kaiburr crystal” is an interesting piece of Star Wars history. In the “new” Star Wars canon (and even some of the later EU if I’m not mistaken) another type of crystal exists known as “kyber crystals.” Spelled differently, pronounced the same. Kyber crystals are, in a nutshell, lightsaber crystals (they are also used to power the Death Star laser). The “Kaiburr crystal” is not that. This has always annoyed me. What is the point of naming lightsaber crystals “kyber crystals” when there is already a crystal in the Star Wars universe called the “Kaiburr crystal” that has nothing to do with lightsabers? That is unnecessarily confusing. To whichever Star Wars writer came up with the term “kyber crystal” after “Kaiburr crystals” already existed: screw you. I don’t need that in my life. Name it something different.
So what is the “Kaiburr crystal?” I’ve read this book twice now, and I’m still not totally sure what it is. But I’ll give this a shot… The Kaiburr crystal is a crystal hidden in on Mimban in the temple of Pomojema, one of many gods of the ancient inhabitants of the planet. It’s a crystal that magnifies the effects of the Force, and also has healing abilities. After touching a fragment of the crystal, Luke describes it like this:
“This [the crystal] increases one’s perception of the Force. It magnifies and clarifies… in proportion to its size and density, I think… Anyone in possession of the entire crystal, if it’s much larger than this fragment, would have such a lock on the Force that he could do almost anything, anything at all.”
So, that’s the Kaiburr crystal. Halla wants it, and now that there is a secret Imperial presence on the planet, she doesn’t want to risk it falling into the hands of the Empire. Along the way Luke and Leia meet two Yuzzem, who are Wookiee-like characters named Hin and Kee who help them along their way. These are fun characters who reminded me a lot of Chewbacca. Also note that Han Solo and Chewbacca do not appear in this story. From what I understand, Harrison Ford wasn’t yet confirmed to be returning in the sequel to Star Wars. So, since this book was written as a possible movie sequel, Han and Chewie were left out of the story completely. This is fine with me, because we don’t need every main character to appear in every single story. Plus, we have a whole trilogy of Han Solo books coming up next in the EU.
Anyway, that’s a very dumbed-down version of the plot. Not the greatest plot in Star Wars history, but, without giving too much of the book away, it actually is a fun story. It works well. There were a lot of moments in this book that I loved.
Certain parts of A New Hope are actually revisited here in flashbacks, and are explored in greater detail than they were in the movie or novelization. Specifically, Leia’s “interrogation” with Darth Vader aboard the Death Star. This is a memory that constantly haunts Leia throughout this story. It is revealed here that her interrogation was much more gruesome than I had ever previously imagined based on what I had seen in the movie, and was more akin to torture than interrogation. The idea of being captured by the Empire a second time and being interrogated again terrifies her. So much so, in fact, that she would rather die (going so far as to make Luke promise to slit her throat with his lightsaber if they are captured) than experience that a second time. Because of this, Leia has an extreme hatred towards Darth Vader. She wants to kill him herself.
Other elements of backstory are more fleshed out, including little bits about the transition from the Republic to the Empire, and how the Empire tries to maintain control of the galaxy. These two quotes in particular caught my attention, as Leia tries to explain this to Luke:
“When I was living in my father’s palace, I was utterly bored, Luke. Examination of why I found nothing entertaining led me to discover how the Empire had stifled any original thought. Long-established totalitarian governments fear any kind of free expression. A sculpture can be a manifesto, a manuscripted adventure can double as a cry for rebellion. From corrupt aesthetics to corrupt politics was a smaller step than most people around me realized.”
“That’s one of the things that’s so wrong with the Empire, Luke… Its art has grown as decadent as the government. Both suffer from a lack of creative vitality. That’s what originally drew me to the Alliance, not politics. Politically, I was probably almost as naïve as you.”
Another highlight of this novel explores how Luke begins to learn to use Force telekinesis. This is something we don’t ever see in A New Hope, but in The Empire Strikes Back Luke suddenly has the ability to summon his lightsaber to his hands while hanging from the ceiling of the wampa’s cave. How did he learn to do that? Splinter of the Mind’s Eye provides the answer. In the “new canon,” the novel Heir to the Jedi, by Kevin Hearne, also tries to explain how Luke learned to use telekinesis in between Episodes IV and V. The two stories contradict each other, and are not compatible in the same continuity, sadly.
The characterization of Luke and Leia in this story is pretty great. These characters are still young, and still a little immature. Luke is not yet the calm, wise Jedi that we see in Return of the Jedi. Luke and Leia bicker and tease each other like 21-year-olds would (the age they would be in this story, based on the year they were born in Revenge of the Sith). Both characters mature very quickly in The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, but when we first meet them in A New Hope they are 19 years old. Splinter allows the characters to act their age before they’re forced to mature incredibly fast in the next two movies. It is a nice touch. Vader’s characterization is also very good, for the most part. Everybody fears him, including the Imperials. He is ruthless, but calm, and he’s not afraid to shed Imperial blood to prove a point. Though there was a point in the story when Leia grabs Luke’s lightsaber and attacks Vader with it where I felt Vader was depicted as being way too weak. He should have decapitated her right there, but she held her own against the Sith Lord, somehow. (Actually, now that I think about it, this reminds me a lot of a certain lightsaber battle in a certain Star Wars movie that came out last month… hmm…)
I believe an explanation for this surfaced years later. The retcon is that Leia is actually Force-sensitive (which was never known until Return of the Jedi) and because of that she was able to hold her own against Vader. Still, not a good explanation to me. Darth Vader has the blood of Jedi Masters on his hands, and he apparently can’t even win a fight against a random young girl who doesn’t even know that she is receptive to the Force. At the very least it would have made Vader incredibly suspicious of her. I can’t complain too much about that part though, because it was arguably one of the most awesome parts of the story. It was a great scene. Also, in both this book and the previous one, it appears to be common knowledge that Vader is a Sith Lord, which I found odd.
Another interesting point about Vader is that he calls Luke by his last name, “Skywalker.” This implies that he already knows that Luke is his son. Though, we have to remember, at the time this book was written, Luke wasn’t Vader’s son. Not yet. So, this is just sort of a weird detail that subtly changes the story as new information was later revealed. Another of these moments is when Luke and Vader throw stones at each other via the Force, and Vader tells Luke “My stone was the heavier. My powers are stronger.” Uh, Yoda would disagree with you, dude. Though actually this might explain why Luke thinks levitating an X-wing is so much more difficult than levitating small rocks. Because Vader told him so. So, I take that back. This detail actually enhances the movie, rather than contradicts it. Vader was likely lying to Luke about the Force purposefully, trying to stunt his progress learning the ways of the Force. Or… he was just being a douche.
Another little detail I loved was that late into the story C-3PO and R2-D2 get deactivated by Vader. When they are reactivated by Luke, Threepio mentions to Luke that Darth Vader “knew all the proper code words and commands” to shut them down. After watching the prequel movies, this tiny detail that probably went by unnoticed before, makes a lot of sense. Of course Vader would know how to shut down a droid that he built, and another one that he went on countless missions with. Just another small example of a detail that was later made even better because of the films that came later.
Along those same lines, there is a part when Hin and Kee grab weapons in preparation for an incoming Imperial attack. Hin prefers to use an axe, while Kee would rather use a blaster rifle. In what feels like an impossible direct reference to Revenge of the Sith, the narrator then says “Kee’s attitude was more civilized and he elected to hang onto his rifle. Or perhaps ‘civilized’ wasn’t the right word.” That is a direct quote from the book. Obi-wan agrees, narrator. That was not the right word choice. Good catch.
I love this book. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a very fun read. Aside from a few very minor details, this story fits very comfortably in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and provides some extra backstory and character building that helps us get to know Luke, Leia, and even Darth Vader a little bit better before Episode V. The story itself isn’t an extremely important one when it comes to the overarching story of Star Wars as a whole, but it is still worth reading. I would recommend this book to any Star Wars fan. I’ve read it twice now and thoroughly enjoyed it both times. Alan Dean Foster got the Expanded Universe off to a good start with this one, and I’m anxious to return to this story by reading the comic book adaptation in the future.