Okay, okay, the title is a little sensationalistic, and to be fair back in 1978 audiences had no clue about the nature of Luke and Leia’s sibling connection; but revisiting the first spin off Star Wars novel left me with both a feeling of nostalgia, and queasiness.
It was April 1978, and I once again found myself at B. Dalton Book Store inside Thomas Mall. I patiently waited for the bespectacled employee with the horrible comb-over to finish filling the cardboard case emblazoned with the words (in Star Wars font): “Star Wars Splinter of the Mind’s Eye: The New Luke Skywalker Adventure!” I was about to escape to that far away galaxy once more. I was giddy with excitement.
The book had come out the month before, but it was in hardback; far too expensive for my budget… so I waited. Finally, it was getting released in paperback. As soon as the case was loaded I grabbed my copy, paid for it at the register and quickly biked my way home. I read non stop, and stayed up late into the night to finish it.
It was an exciting and mysterious adventure with our heroes, Luke and Leia, and trusty sidekicks Artoo and See-Threepio, crash landing on the swamp planet Mimban. They soon discover there is an Imperial presence on the planet, and are forced to enlist the aid of Halla, a strange old woman. The old crone shows the young Rebels a shard from a Kiburr crystal which she claims magnifies the Force; if they help her find the crystal she will get them off Mimban.
They make their way through the misty swamps with a pair of Yuzzem companions; two large, furry aboriginal creatures they freed from Imperials. The motley group must fend off Imperials, and enormous worm creature, and other swamp monsters.
Eventually they arrive at the Temple of Pomojema, the location of the fabled Kiburr Crystal, and encounter Darth Vader, who has beaten to the temple. Luke and Vader fight in an exciting and epic lightsaber duel with Vader using his Force abilities to get the upper hand. Luke, aided by the spirit of Obi-Wan and the power of the Kiburr crystal eventually chops off Vader’s arm, but Vader is able to turn the tables on Luke. Exhausted,the Dark Lord staggers toward Luke, ready to deliver the killing blow when he stumbles and falls into a bottomless pit. The heroes win the day and escape Mimban along with Halla.
While the story felt more like something out of a fantasy novel, it felt right in the Star Wars universe. Author Alan Dean Foster’s descriptive prose helped paint an vivid picture of the story in my mind. The book always kept pushing forward with our heroes being tested by more ominous threats along their journey. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye had a feel of an epic adventure although it was fairly limited in its actual scale. There always seemed to be danger on the horizon, or some evil, unseen force lurking in the misty haze ahead. The book’s gorgeous cover by famed Star Wars master illustrator (more on him in another blog entry), Ralph McQuarrie, only added to the sense of intrigue and danger.
I recently revisited the book, and was surprised how well it still holds up as an adventure. It is clearly rooted in mythologist Joseph Campell’s 17 steps of the hero’s journey, and I think that’s one of the reasons it works so well. Halla, in particular, is character pulled straight out of myth who offers our heroes a means of escape, but requires them to do a service, and bestows on them a magical gift (the crystal shard) to complete their quest.
One of the more interesting aspects about this book is its history. Alan Dean Foster was an up and coming science fiction author who had written a series of novelizations based on the Star Trek Animated Series. He was approached by Lucasfilm to ghost write the novelization of the first Star Wars film (which) and was given an option for a second novel which might be the basis of a second film if Star Wars was a success. Foster was granted access to pages of background material creator George Lucas had developed. He later sat down with Lucas and the two hammered out some loose concepts for a story.
The idea was that Splinter of the Mind’s Eye would be adapted as a made for TV movie. Lucas certainly did not expect his science fiction fantasy to be a run away hit, but he hoped that it would do well enough that he could approach 20th Century Fox to tell another adventure, possibly on television. The production needed to be limited in scope and be able to reuse a number of sets and costumes from the first film.
Foster delivered his book, but by then Star Wars was a phenomenon. But merchandising was limited, and fans were clamoring for more product and more stories; so Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was published in a hardback edition on March 1st, 1978. Like the movie which inspired it, the book was a hit.
Of course if someone were to read the book today it’s an entirely different experience than back in 1978 since there was so much about the universe we didn’t know. Based on what we saw in 1977 we knew Luke was sweet on Leia, and Leia probably liked Luke… I mean she did kiss him twice in the movie, but something about the way she interacted with Han suggested there might be some sparks of romance there. So it really wasn’t much of a surprise when I read:
“They trudged on, Luke stealing admiring glances at her when she wasn’t looking. Disheveled and caked with mud from the waist down, she was still beautiful.”
The hints of romance are riddled throughout the book, and there are even moments of sexual tension:
“Luke felt the warmth of the body next to him, lowered his gaze. Framed in the faint light from above, the Princess looked more radiant, more beautiful than ever. “Leia,” he began, “I …”
Without Han in the story it felt natural that a romance between Luke and Leia would bloom. Luke appears a little more mature and world weary (this was by design) and comes across a little more heroic and not quite as immature. Eventually Leia begins to notice:
“The Princess grew aware of how tightly she was clinging to him. Their proximity engendered a wash of confused emotion. It would be proper to disengage, to move away a little. Proper, but not nearly so satisfying.”
Then 1983 happened…
I’ve returned to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye a few times since Return of the Jedi, and it’s still an enjoyable adventure, and brings back nostalgic memories of 1978 when I was desperate for more Star Wars stories. But now I know Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and their innocent attraction is a little… uncomfortable. I can’t help reading those passages and think to myself, “Woah… that’s ummmm… not right.”
I think I need a shower…
May the Force Be With You