It was the big-screen Star Wars se­quel we never saw – and the big bang of the Ex­panded Uni­verse. Oliver Pfeif­fer takes a trip to the strange, lost world of Mim­ban

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A fas­ci­nat­ing look back at the first se­quel to Star Wars.

Back in 1977, when the Force first awoke and the ex­tra­or­di­nary spec­ta­cle of Star Wars erupted onto the big screen, au­di­ences were un­der­stand­ably hun­gry for more ad­ven­tures. How­ever, it would be a long three years be­fore they were fi­nally re­united with their Em­pire-bat­tling he­roes – a gap un­think­able in our cur­rent age of seem­ingly re­lent­less fran­chise ex­pan­sions. For­tu­nately

Splin­ter Of The Mind’s Eye, an orig­i­nal spin-off novel by Alan Dean Foster, tan­ta­lis­ingly of­fered “the next ad­ven­tures of Luke Sky­walker”. And de­spite be­ing a low-bud­get con­tin­gency plan for George Lu­cas should his in­ter­ga­lac­tic opera not be­come suf­fi­ciently suc­cess­ful, it’s a story that of­fers an in­trigu­ing in­sight into the Star Wars se­quel that nearly was.

“I was called to the of­fice of Lu­cas’s lawyer and ques­tioned about my work,” says Alan Dean Foster, whose sim­i­larly toned 1974 sci-fi novel Icerig­ger was piv­otal in at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of Lu­cas. “Fol­low­ing the in­ter­view, I met with George at ILM. We got along well, and that was it.”

Hav­ing seen Ralph McQuar­rie’s pre-pro­duc­tion art, and ghost­writ­ten the first Star Wars tie-in nov­el­i­sa­tion for Lu­cas in 1976, Foster was more than equipped to tackle the task of ex­pand­ing the Star Wars uni­verse. “There was no ba­sic story in place; only the caveat that it should take place some­time af­ter the events in the first film,” he tells SFX. “I was given com­plete cre­ative free­dom, and asked to write the book so that, if it proved nec­es­sary, it could be filmed on a low bud­get. That’s why I set it on a fog-shrouded planet and had nu­mer­ous scenes take place un­der­ground – the set­ting and fight se­quences would have been cor­re­spond­ingly re­stricted.”

Pub­lished in 1978 and set shortly af­ter events de­picted in A New Hope, Splin­ter finds Luke and Leia crash-land on the se­cret Im­pe­rial min­ing planet of Mim­ban. Wanted by the Em­pire for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the de­struc­tion of the Death Star, they con­ceal their iden­ti­ties by pos­ing as min­ers. Soon they meet an ec­cen­tric Force-sen­si­tive old crone named Halla, who tells them about an an­cient and

pow­er­ful crys­tal ca­pa­ble of such over­whelm­ing con­trol over the Force that in the wrong hands it could be a tool of de­struc­tion. As our he­roes track down the gem, Darth Vader is alerted to their pres­ence and the po­ten­tial power of the Kaiburr crys­tal…

“I was in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing what one could do with the Force and how it might be ma­nip­u­lated,” Foster ex­plains. “I al­ways liked the thought of there be­ing some inan­i­mate ob­ject that could some­how mag­nify the Force. The title was mine – Splin­ter be­ing a frag­ment of the Kaiburr crys­tal, which al­lows for mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of the Force, hence Mind’s Eye.”

While ro­botic com­pan­ions R2-D2 and C-3PO are present, a cer­tain world-weary, wise­crack­ing smug­gler is no­tice­ably not. “I couldn’t use Han Solo be­cause, as I re­call it, Har­ri­son Ford hadn’t yet signed on for any film se­quels. So I was asked to leave him out of the book.”

How­ever, the char­ac­ter of Halla would ap­pear to fill some of the void left by the space pi­rate, even though her mas­tery over the Force is cu­ri­ous and her mo­tives for ac­quir­ing the crys­tal for her­self ques­tion­able. “Halla was one of those free agents whose mo­ti­va­tions one is never en­tirely sure about, not un­like Solo,” Foster con­sid­ers. “I al­ways thought Halla and Solo would get along quite well. Since Solo was not avail­able to use, I needed some­one to fill in for him with­out be­ing a di­rect replica.”

More con­tro­ver­sial, how­ever, is the un­spo­ken but highly sug­ges­tive ro­man­tic at­trac­tion be­tween Luke and Leia that res­onates through­out the story. Prose like “when­ever he looked at her, the other caused emo­tions to boil within him like soup too long on the fire,” are nat­u­rally provoca­tive given the knowl­edge of fu­ture char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ments.

“I com­pleted Splin­ter be­fore the first film had even been re­leased,” Foster re­it­er­ates. “There was lit­tle guid­ance… George was some­what busy with the mat­ter of the film it­self, and Splin­ter was an an­cil­lary project. And there was that kiss be­tween them in [A New

Hope]. I had no in­di­ca­tion they were re­lated. It’s al­ways easy to an­a­lyse things in ret­ro­spect.”

The novel’s tim­ing helps to ex­plain the for­eign na­ture of a lightsaber-wield­ing Princess Leia or a Luke Sky­walker who holds his own dur­ing a first duel with Darth Vader and who enig­mat­i­cally pro­claims: “I’m Ben Kenobi!” and “Ben Kenobi is with me...”. Some of these dis­crep­an­cies can even be read as fore­shad­ow­ing de­tails clar­i­fied in fu­ture episodes. Obi-Wan warn­ing Luke that he can no longer in­ter­vene if he chooses to con­front Vader (again?) in Em­pire may ex­plain Luke’s spe­cial con­nec­tion with the Jedi mas­ter, or the sur­prise rev­e­la­tion that Leia has a unique re­la­tion­ship with the Force in Re­turn Of The

Jedi may jus­tify her ease with a lightsaber. There’s also a ref­er­ence to an off-screen event that was largely left to the imag­i­na­tion in

A New Hope: Leia’s en­counter with the Im­pe­rial in­ter­ro­ga­tion droid on the Death Star. In Splin­ter the event con­tin­ues to haunt Leia on a pro­found psy­cho­log­i­cal level, one which Vader uses to taunt her. Luke, on the other hand, is still tor­mented by the deaths of Aunt Beru and Un­cle Owen on Ta­tooine, and by the un­timely demise of his men­tor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Leia re­mains a strong hero­ine, not to men­tion a com­pe­tent fighter pilot (she flies a Y-wing at the be­gin­ning of the novel, and dur­ing a dog­fight se­quence that was later cut from Foster’s story due to fore­casted bud­getary con­straints), Luke has evolved from im­pa­tient ap­pren­tice to as­sertive and skilled lightsaber fighter. And Vader is even more tyran­ni­cal, chan­nelling his dark side into a re­lent­less pur­suit of the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for the Death Star’s de­struc­tion.

Cru­cially, the un­mis­tak­able feel and flavour of Star Wars is main­tained, in­clud­ing an as­sort­ment of ec­cen­tric alien

al­lies and a de­testable Im­pe­rial cap­tain. There are also ac­tion scenes that keep within the con­text of the saga, in­clud­ing a thrillingly de­scribed un­der­ground Im­pe­rial at­tack and the afore­men­tioned cli­mac­tic lightsaber duel.

Ul­ti­mately, Splin­ter Of The Mind’s Eye the movie wasn’t to be. Star Wars broke all box of­fice records fol­low­ing its pre­miere on 25 May 1977, and the pro­posed low-bud­get se­quel that was to be con­fined to one planet evolved into

The Em­pire Strikes Back – an epic, globe-trot­ting, mega-bud­geted saga ex­ten­sion that still re­mains the de­fin­i­tive Star Wars fol­low-up, due in part to its riv­et­ing bat­tle se­quences, emotionally driven sto­ry­line and jaw-drop­ping cli­mac­tic rev­e­la­tion. “Of course I was dis­ap­pointed,” re­flects Foster on

Splin­ter not be­ing adapted. “Every au­thor would like to see their prose vi­su­alised. “But Star Wars was George’s play­ground, his bat and ball, and his rules.” How­ever, if you choose to look closely, the shadow of

Splin­ter ap­pears to loom large over the se­quel. Aes­thet­i­cally speak­ing the for­est-swamp world of Mim­ban re­sem­bles the Dagobah sys­tem crossed with the for­est moon of En­dor, while Em­pire’s cli­matic Cloud City duel echoes Splin­ter’s sim­i­larly de­scribed fight in terms of tac­tics – Vader at one point uses the Force to lob inan­i­mate ob­jects at Luke, and sim­i­larly ac­knowl­edges that Obi-Wan trained him well. Other de­tails an­tic­i­pate fa­mil­iar tropes, like an Im­pe­rial com­man­der coloured by his in­com­pe­tence and deadly crea­ture cre­ations that re­call such nas­ties as Jabba the Hutt’s dreaded Ran­cor from Re­turn Of The Jedi and even the run­away ra­zor-teethed and ten­ta­cled Rathtars Rey, Finn and co have to con­tend with on­board Solo’s freighter in The Force Awak­ens.

But what if Star Wars had been a mere mod­est success, al­low­ing Splin­ter to reach the screen? If the Kaiburr crys­tal played a sig­nif­i­cant part in the saga, how might this have in­flu­enced the di­rec­tion of the Star Wars mythol­ogy? Per­haps A New Hope and Splin­ter Of The Mind’s Eye would now be re­mem­bered with the same nos­tal­gic fond­ness as other mod­estly bud­geted ’80s fan­tasy ad­ven­tures like The Dark Crys­tal and Wil­low, the lat­ter of which was based on a George Lu­cas story. “It was a much more visu­ally in­ti­mate Star Wars story and I thought it would have made a nice small film that would’ve sat neatly be­tween Episodes IV and V,” Foster con­sid­ers. In­deed, by bridg­ing the nar­ra­tive gap, what Splin­ter (the first Ex­panded Uni­verse novel) gives us now is an al­ter­na­tive in­sight into what Luke and Leia may have been do­ing be­tween A New Hope and Em­pire. Although Foster would go on to cre­ate the story for 1979’s Star Trek: The Mo­tion Pic­ture, this wouldn’t be the au­thor’s fi­nal as­so­ci­a­tion with the Star Wars uni­verse. In 2002 he penned The Ap­proach­ing Storm, a book that de­scribes plot ad­vances prior to At­tack Of The Clones. Most re­cently Foster wrote the nov­el­i­sa­tion to The Force Awak­ens, ar­guably one of the most anticipated saga con­tin­u­a­tions every made, where he pro­vided some en­tic­ing elab­o­ra­tion on key events left (frus­trat­ingly, for some) enig­matic in the movie. “It posed the usual chal­lenges: ex­pand on the ac­tion, the back­ground, try to do some­thing with the sci­ence, and most im­por­tantly, show what the char­ac­ters are think­ing… which you can’t re­ally do very much in a two-hour film,” the au­thor re­flects. In the end Splin­ter Of The Mind’s Eye will al­ways re­main a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into a cin­e­matic path not taken, one that would have given us a very dif­fer­ent his­tory of that galaxy far, far away…

There was lit­tle guid­ance. I had no in­di­ca­tion that Luke and Leia were re­lated

If only his film hadn’t have been so big, we might have seen a Splin­ter movie! Did anyone here guess they were brother and sis­ter? Ralph McQuar­rie con­cept art show­ing Vader and Sky­walker du­elling.

“So these are the roles that’ll give us life-long fame and for­tune, right?” Splin­ter was fi­nally vi­su­alised by Dark Horse 17 years later.

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