SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE
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
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.