Monday, 4 November 2019

Splinter of the Mind's Eye (Star Wars)

eBook cover
Author: Alan Dean Foster
First Published: 1978
File size/Pages: 6475KB / 306pp
Ebook Publisher: Del Rey
Ebook Date: June 2011

With the recent release of the final trailer for The Rise of Skywalker movie, I find myself thinking more and more about Star Wars. What will Episode 9 bring to the table? Will it be a fitting end to the Skywaker saga? Will it divide the fan base as much as The Last Jedi seems to have done, or will it bring them together once again?

Star Wars has always played a large part in my life. I was eleven years old in 1977, so you can imagine the impact it had on me as a yound person. I was the target audience in perfection. My father took both myself and my younger brother (who is still drawn to it as much as I am) to see the orginal Star Wars at our local cinema. My friends had already seen it and were so enraptured I had to watch it so I could join in on all the exciting discussions. I still have this amusing memory of our father announcing, "Well that's that all over then, put your coats on!" when Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia finally escaped the Death Star. "Dad! There's still more to go!" I shouted in response. So he had to sit there for at least another 20mins or more through the whole trench run scenes - he wasn't impressed. If it had starred John Wayne he'd have sat through another bloody two hours!

When I had sat through the film a couple more times (with friends only - parents weren't allowed to come with us during the next sittings as we'd had enough of them and only went to daytime showings), and when I had exhausted all the numerous magazines and comics available to me (anyone remember those strange magazines that unfolded into a poster?) there was a Star Wars void in my life. So imagine the excitement when a few months later Splinter of the Mind's Eye appeared on bookshelves. Wow! A new story about Luke Skywalker, with Darth Vader on the cover, I have to have that! Over the years since then the Star Wars franchise in fiction has grown into something called the 'expanded universe'. Many dozens of books followed Splinter. Then, when George Lucas sold his creation to Disney, they announced that everything was going to change and that the expanded universe was now not 'canon' and should be treated as stories that could be regarded as legendary tales, hence 'Legends' was applied to all the pre-Disney published novels and comics.

Viewing the Rise of Skywalker trailer, I wondered where all this had started. All the sequels, prequels and spin-off tv-series. It started with Splinter of the Mind's Eye right? So how does that fare now, does it still work? It's been relegated to a Legend, will it make sense? I couldn't remember anything from the first time I read it - but hell, that was over forty years ago. Scary thought.

UK Sphere edition 1978
Splinter of the Mind's Eye is a story that takes place about a year after the events of Star Wars (or A New Hope if you prefer). It begins with Luke and R2-D2 aboard Luke's X-Wing fighter, and Leia and C3PO aboard a Y-Wing travelling to the planet Circarpous IV to a meeting with an underground movement that had arisen against the Galactic Empire on that planet. They are to formally offer their promise of support from the Rebellion Alliance and encourage the movement rise against it's oppressors.

A malfunction on Leia's ship means they need to make a forced landing on the nearest planet, Mimban, in order to make repairs. They make their way down into the atmosphere, but their ships are effected by the strange weather of the mysterious planet and eventually crash. Following a landing beacon, they hope to settle as close as possible to one of the small towns that dot the world. During the crash, Luke experiences a pull of the Force, something that he can't quite understand. After a short time separated by the distance of their crashes the pair reunite and make their way with the Droids towards what they hope is civilisation.

What they discover is a mining camp populated by all kinds of humans and aliens and being run by the Empire. They disguise themselves in order to try and infiltrate the local community and try to arrange passage off-planet so they can conduct their conference on Circarpous IV. They meet up with a strange woman called Old Halla. She agrees to help them escape Mimban - in return for a favour. The favour is to help her find a stone with strange powers, the Kaiburr crystal. They reluctantly agree, and our adventure is underway.

There are some interesting things that surround this novel. Written in 1978 by accomplished science fiction author Alan Dean Foster (Alien movie novelisations, Star Trek Logs, Pip and Flinx etc.), it was presented to Foster as a potential sequel to Star Wars. Following Foster's ghost writing of the Star Wars novelisation, George Lucas had asked him to write Splinter. But at that point in time, probably 1977, did not know if he would get a chance to make a sequel so imposed some restrictions. Foster was not allowed to use the characters of Han Solo or Chewbacca (Harrison Ford hadn't signed up to make further films at that point); he was not allowed to use the Millennium Falcon, the Death Star (clearly!) or indeed to make the story as expansive as the first film. Lucas did not know how much budget a sequel would cost so he asked Foster to write something that could be done cheaply.

Mimban is described as a swamp planet with weird and wonderful creatures lurking in the darkness. It's impossible not to compare this with the planet Dagobah, which became the planet where Luke first encounters Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and possibly would have been described to Foster by Lucas as he was already considering it.

Foster delivered on his spec. The settings on Mimban are small outposts, claustrophobic land-crawlers, prison cells, offices, and underground settings with primitive dwellers. Lucas would have seen these as easily and cheaply accomplished on film one suspects. This also means that the story is much more fantasy based than sci-fi. We have gods and temples as opposed to planet destroying space stations. Excluding the opening, all the action is ground based, so no space battles between X-Wings and Tie-fighters. There isn't much tech' in this sequel.

UK Sphere 1977
Also by Alan Dean Foster
As for the story - well it's quite good. Foster provides us with plenty of action, mainly centered around Luke and his lightsabre - but we also have gun battles, fist-fights, giant swamp monsters, underground ambushes and Leia gets to take part in the action too. In places Leia's character is a little bit too 'princessy' for my tastes - I think this is the only downside to the characterisations by Foster, the rest are great. I loved his version of Luke, struggling with his emotions for Leia and his turmoil about what it means to use the Force. He gets quite feisty and annoyed with Leia, something I don't think we have ever seen on screen.

We get a nice baddie in the form of Grammel, the local Empire Captain/Supervisor of the mine. But he is not used as much as I'd hoped, which may be due to the imminent arrival of Darth Vader (you know he is going to appear at some point - he's on the cover for goodness sake!). A bit of a missed opportunity.

A couple of nerdy points to make. There are alien comrades that speak a language that Luke and Leia do not understand, but instead of C3PO doing the translating, Old Halla does it all. Now, I thought C3PO was a protocol Droid "fluent in over 7 millions forms of communication", yes? Why does he not do the translating? Small point, but it bothered me.

The other point is that the Kaiburr crystal is never actually referred to as the Mind's Eye, so what the hell is the Mind's Eye? Maybe some explanation was cut from the published version.

This a good book with a very engaging story that rattles along nicely. There really isn't any part of it that is boring, or too 'sci-fi' for the non science fiction fan. It doesn't delve deeply into Star Wars lore, so can be read independently without destroying your knowledge of those types of things if you care about them. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for some old-fashioned Star Wars escapism.

I purchased this eBook via Kindle Store, it cost me £3.99. As I've said before, that's on the higher side for me. But I really wanted to read it, and actually I think that's cheap for a Star Wars book. I didn't spot a single formatting issue.