I have to be honest; I was not expecting much from this book going in. The Post-90’s EU era is what most EU fans are referring to when they praise it while the late 70’s/early 80’s was a different story. This was when the Star Wars comics Marvel was producing were going for a more Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon feel and the books were not taking any continuity with the comics and other media very seriously. This was the era that gave us the Holiday Special, had Luke having the hots for his sister big time, a six-foot green bunny rabbit joining forces with Han Solo, and blue and green skinned aliens with wings believing Luke was their messiah. It was a bizarre era where the EU was campy, kitschy, and in extreme conflict with the generally accepted canon of Star Wars lore.
So I must confess my surprise when Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was actually good. If you remember what I said in my last review I was not a big fan of Foster’s prose. Here it is vastly improved and even better, the story is pretty damn good.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a project assigned to Foster to write what would become the official sequel to A New Hope – when it was still just called Star Wars – if the original film performed only modestly at the box office. Obviously Star Wars was a big hit and this book was never adapted into film. Instead we got The Empire Strikes Back which is in my opinion (and a lot of other people’s) the best of the Saga.
But, before all that Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was intended to be a low-budget sequel with no space battles, limited sets, and only the contractually obligated actors returning. Harrison Ford never signed on for three films opting instead to renegotiate his contract for each individual film in the trilogy which means Han Solo is no where to be found in this book. The only returning characters from A New Hope are Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and the two droids C3PO and R2-D2.
The story is fairly simple. Luke and Leia are traveling to planet Circarpous IV intending to negotiate the currently neutral world to side with the Rebel Alliance rather than the evil Galactic Empire. Unfortunately, mining on Circarpous V – known locally as Mimban – causes atmospheric anomalies resulting in Luke, Leia, and the droids to crash on Mimban.
Mimban is a swampy tropical planet which I pictured in my head as sort of a combination of Dagobah and Yavin 4. After Luke and Leia meet up again after the crash they disguise themselves as miners and discover the Empire is running an illegal mining operation on the planet.
At a cantina Luke and Leia are approached by an old woman named Halla – who kind of reminds of Maz Kanata from The Force Awakens – who is a non-Jedi Force-sensitive who is seeking a powerful relic called the Kaiburr crystal which amplifies the abilities of a Force-sensitive who comes in contact with it. Halla owns a small shard of it, but desires the whole thing. In exchange for helping her find it she promises to help Luke and Leia get offworld so they can make to Circarpous IV to continue their negotiations.
During this time Luke had been pretending Leia was his servant to disguise her identity, however the way he treats her to make the effect convincing angers her and they get into a physical altercation outside of the cantina after making the deal with the Halla. This unfortunately draws the attention of other miners who interfere causing Luke to draw his lightsaber inevitably leading Luke and Leia to be arrested and brought before the sadistic Captain-Supervisor Grammel. This Imperial officer is small, petty man who gloats in what little power he has over those under him. He has Luke and Leia thrown into a cell just prior to receiving a report that an Imperial governor named Essada is interested in the prisoners for undisclosed reasons. Hoping to earn himself a promotion and higher esteem within the Empire he tried to interrogate the prisoners to learn what Essada could possibly want with them. When they do not cooperate he leaves them in their cell in frustration.
Their cell is shared with two large furry sentient aliens called Yuzzem who had been arrested for public drunkenness. Luke who has experience with this species befriends them. Halla ends up coming to their rescue and the group, including the two Yuzzem – named Kee and Hin – hijack a speeder and steal back the two droids. After a few misadventures involving a giant worm trying to eat them in the forest the group is divided after Luke and Leia fall into a pit.
Journeying on hoping to meet back up with their comrades the pair are captured by a species indigenous to the planet known as the Coway. They are a highly superstitious, tribal culture that hates humans believing them all alike after previous run-ins with Stormtroopers and Imperial officers. Luke and Leia find their companions also captured and Luke is told the only way to free himself and his friends is to battle in hand-to-hand combat one the Coway warriors. Luke reluctantly does so and defeats the Coway by using the Force to hurl a rock at his enemy’s head immobilising him. The Coways honour their agreement and free the captives and offer them hospitality.
The pace of the story quickens up after this with the Coways befriending the group and defeating a force of Stormtroopers after the Empire discovers their location. The Kaiburr crystal is found in an ancient temple devoted to a deity called Pomojema and there Luke battles Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel. The power of the Kaiburr crystal makes Luke a match for Vader and Luke ends up defeating the Dark Lord who falls into a pit. Luke, however, senses in the Force that Vader is still alive.
Halla claims she no longer desires the crystal and says it would be better in the hands of the Jedi rather than an untrained Force-sensitive who would only use it for parlour tricks and personal gain. Luke and Leia agree to take Halla with them offworld where she will be left to decide if she wishes to join the Rebellion or go where she will.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a much better story than anything in the contemporary Marvel comics had to offer. It was not campy, it respected the idea of the Force where the comics mostly tried to ignore it, and the old characters felt true to themselves and the new characters were interesting. It took me only about a couple days to read and it never bored me. It was fun and exciting being everything you would expect from one of the Star Wars movies. One notable detail is that this is the first instance of the word Force-sensitive being used in the EU or canon which is another example of concepts I thought were more recent existing further back in the Star Wars mythology.
Some things that may put some readers off is, of course, the many passages where Luke thinks about his feelings toward Leia. Modern Star Wars fans all know that Leia is his sister and some may find these emotions creepy. However, to be fair, Luke was not aware Leia was his sister and the attraction he has to her is apparent in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and not just the early EU. It is not entirely unreasonable he would be attracted to a girl his own age if he was not aware that they were relatives. And remember this is 1978. I doubt even George Lucas even knew they were siblings at this point!
Another thing that is a bit bothersome for modern readers is that Darth Vader addresses Luke Skywalker by name during their fight. This would of course reveal that Vader already knows that he is Luke’s father. The only explanation I can think of for Vader’s silence on the issue is that he may not have considered converting Luke to the Dark Side yet and so had no reason to tell him. At this point the Dark Lord was so steeped in the Dark Side of the Force that I doubt he was above killing his own son if he felt the need. It was feelings of emotional conflict later on that led him to try to bring Luke to the Dark Side and tell him who he was. This all goes to show that most issues with continuity are manageable if the reader is imaginative enough to provide an explanatory background to ostensible contradictions that crop up here and there.
But there was one thing in this book I really disliked and I shall point it out briefly here. I really did not care for the scene where Luke and Leia brawl outside of the cantina. As I said above the book kept their characters faithful for the most part, but here is where I question their acting like themselves. Leia trying to humiliate Luke by kicking him in the mud leading to a fight I thought was stupid and I would have rather seen them get arrested a different way in the story.
Otherwise, this was a fun read and an excellent story set in the Star Wars universe. I highly recommend it and I hope fellow EU newcomers like myself enjoy it as much as I have.
Check in next time for my review of the Marvel Comics adaptation of A New Hope (Issues #1-6 of the Marvel line) and may the Force be with you.