Saturday, March 12, 2016
Force in Focus: Splinter of the Mind's Eye
The novel is written by Alan Dean Foster, who ghost wrote the Star Wars novelization (which was published with George Lucas as the author). His contract was a two book deal, with Splinter representing the second book, and was conceived to be used as the basis for a low budget sequel to Star Wars should the movie flop. Those circumstances explain some of the choices Foster made in the narrative: it takes place entirely on one planet (making it cheaper to film), events on said planet take place entirely indoors or in a misty jungle (cheaper to film) and the story involves only Luke, Leia and the droids (because Harrison Ford wasn't under contract for all three original films, thus not guaranteeing his return for a sequel). Aside from the general edict of "make it filmable as a cheap sequel", Foster was more or less given free reign to develop the story as he saw fit; according to Foster, the only specific request Lucas made upon reading the manuscript was the removal of an opening space dogfight that led to Luke and Leia crashing on Mimban, as a space battle would have been too expensive to film (instead, they crash due to an equipment malfunction).
Ultimately, aside from being the first bit of licensed Star Wars fiction (which is nothing to scoff at, and mostly responsible for the continued popularity of the book), Splinter is mostly remembered for its anachronisms caused by later revelations in the saga: Luke and Leia don't exactly make out with each other throughout the story, but Luke's attraction to Leia does not go unremarked upon, and it could said that the pair flirt with each other throughout. Furthermore, the climax of the book involves Luke and Leia fighting Darth Vader, with both taking turns wielding a lightsaber against him; Vader toys with Leia, giving her superficial burns with his saber, while Luke holds his own in part because the spirit of Obi-Wan takes control of Luke's body and helps him directly fight Vader, leading to Luke cutting off the villain's (entirely cybernetic) arm. All in all, it's a fairly big confrontation that robs the later Luke/Vader fight in The Empire Strikes Back of some of its impact, with the whole "possessed by Obi-Wan" thing coming across more silly than anything.
Thanks to his involvement in the Star Wars novelization, Foster was given access to a lot of behind-the-scenes material prior to the release of the film, and some of that made it's way into the novel. The prologue of the book borrows the "From the Journal of the Whills" convention shared by the novelization, for example.
Also, the Kaiburr Crystal MacGuffin is lifted from early drafts of the screenplay, where Lucas had it as the thing both sides were trying to get (kind of what Artoo's Death Star plans became). The Kaiburr Crystal is one of those things Star Wars can't seem to get away from; it's all over several drafts of the original screenplay, before Lucas decided it detracted too much from the story of Luke and made the Force less generic; it gets used in this novel and, later in the EU becomes the source for the crystals used in several characters' lightsabers; The Clone Wars then changed the spelling and it was eventually declared that the crystals used in all lightsabers were Kyber Crystals, found mainly (but not exclusively) on the planet Ilum.
In the book, Vader knows that Luke was involved in the destruction of the Death Star (though he erroneously says Luke shot up Vader and his wingmen during the battle; that was Han), something the old canon was always a bit hazy about and which the new canon handled via early issues of the Star Wars/Darth Vader comic book series.
Vader is also described as wielding a blue, not red, lightsaber.
As much as the ending of the book is fairly wonky, it is fun to see Leia wielding a lightsaber in combat, something that has yet to happen in any of the films, and which took until the 00s for even the old Expanded Universe to get back around to after this novel.
Another funny thing about the ending: the story concludes with Luke in possession of the Force-amplifying Kaiburr Crystal, yet it never comes up or is seen again. Seems like something that might have helped him during his battle with Vader in Empire.
Not surprisingly, the cover by concept artist Ralph McQuarrie is pretty great; it's a shame he's didn't contribute more covers to the EU at any point in time.
In the 90s, this series was adapted into a limited comic book series by Terry Austin and Chris Sprouse. Though it added in some elements from Empire, it mostly stuck true to the book, including the things (like Luke and Leia's flirting or the awkward gender politics) that had, by then, been rendered anachronistic by other stories and the simple passage of time.