Saturday, 11 January 2014

Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye review

Notice how it doesn't say Star Wars
anywhere on the cover?

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a pretty well-known Star Wars novel. The reason why is rather simple, it’s the first Star Wars Expanded Universe story. It was written by Alan Dean Foster, who also ghost wrote the novelization of A New Hope for George Lucas. It’s also well known for being the only example of what Star Wars could have been had the second film gone in a different direction. Originally, Splint of the Mind’s Eye was intended to be a low budget alternative sequel to Episode IV on the off chance that Lucas wouldn’t be able to secure the funding necessary to film the sequel he intended. Lucky for us, The Empire Strikes Back was made into a movie but let’s not completely dismiss Foster’s book just yet. It’s good, not great, but good and I enjoyed reading about this alternate Star Wars that could have been (and depending who you talk to, still is).

I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this novel. I think the best way to think of the book is to consider it as that weird little brother of Star Wars who’s fun to hang out with for short periods of time but you’re always kind of happy when he leaves. What I’m trying to say is that I’m really glad this isn’t really representative of the Star Wars I’ve come to know and love but at the same time, I appreciate the look at an alternate low-budget version of the story. You see, the problem with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is that it doesn’t work as a Star Wars story but it does work as a science fiction/fantasy story. 

Let’s recap the overall story first. Several months after the end of Episode IV, Luke and Leia are travelling in separate fighters on their way to a conference on Circarpous IV to convince the citizens of the planet to join the Alliance. There are technical difficulties with Leia’s ship and they crash land on the Circarpous V, also known as Mimban, which is a jungle planet. While trying to find a way off-planet, they discover a secret Imperial mining operation. None of that really matters because they simply continue to try finding a way off planet but they’re imprisoned by Imperial for having a mud fight in the middle of the mining settlement. The rest of the novel consists of them breaking out, failing miserably at finding the Kaiburr crystal and just having walking around on the planet trying to avoid getting killed. What’s the Kaiburr crystal? It’s a shabby plot device. It doesn’t really matter, it just gives Luke and Leia and excuse to stay on Mimban and have an adventure.

The back of the book makes it sound like the whole story is some grand quest to capture the Kaiburr crystal. It’s not about that at all. It's mostly about Luke and Leia exploring a sparsely populated planet and trying to get a ride off of it. Considerable sections of the books don't focus on plot or story; it's limited to Luke and Leia surviving in the wilderness. It's a neat trick to show character traits but Foster uses it ineffectively because Luke and Leia only act like themselves about 50% of the time. Overall, I enjoyed the exploration of Mimban. The idea of two people crash landing on a jungle planet is very simple, but it’s got plenty of potential as a science fiction survival story. There are moments in the book where Foster convinces me of certain alien elements of Mimban but all the odd not-quite-Star-Wars moments suck me right out of the book. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a plot and no real momentum is built. Silly things like Luke’s inner monologue making it sound like Kenobi taught him so much about the Force is just too off-putting to truly allow me to believe in the story and the setting. Those are the two ways I think you can enjoy the book: 1) A light-hearted science fiction survival story or 2) faux-Star Wars.

The most interesting thing about Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, for me, was the strange faux-Star Wars bits that I could point. Unsurprisingly, some of these things that didn’t survive into the Star Wars we know are actually rather annoying. Some of the annoying things include the characterization of the main characters. Leia’s emotionally crippled by the memory of her interrogation by Grand Moff Tarkin while on the Death Star. It’s disappointing to read her character as being rather boring and generic, for most of the book she’s missing that snarky attitude of hers. It’s almost as if she’s in the novel to serve as an object of desire for Luke. As for Luke, he’s incredibly sure of himself and he’s far more resourceful than I would have thought him to be soon after A New Hope. Luke is good with action, he’s very good and that’s ok, I buy that because it fits with the Luke we were introduced to in the first movie. Most of his inner monologues are brutal to read. All he does is swoon for Leia and it’s very strange to read. Lucas has tried to convince us that he wanted them to be twins from the get go but it’s nearly impossible to believe that after knowing he approved the things Foster writes about in this book.

There are plenty of other things that are interesting about this book. Some of my favourites include:
  • Han Solo and Chewie don’t show up at all. Han gets a dismissive mention near this end and that’s it. Threepio and Artoo are both there for the duration of the book. I always thought it was interesting how many iconic elements of Star Wars were constantly in flux until the final moment of their capture on film. Things like Han Solo not going to appear past the first movie is but one example.
  • Ralph McQuarrie did the cover for the book and it’s great! McQuarrie is the famous artist who worked on the original trilogy as a conceptual designer and matte painter. As far as I could tell from a quick search online, this is the only cover he’s done for a Star Wars novel. That’s a shame because this cover is great. I think it’s far superior than all of the digitally painted covers we see today. Is it just me or are book covers now either overly stylized graphic design or muddy digital paintings?
  • They never made a movie out of this but Terry Austin and Chris Sprouse did a comic book adaptation.
  • Did you know that lightsabers use up energy like blasters do? Luke uses an “energy pistol” he stole from an imperial guard to charge up his lightsaber. During a couple chapters Luke and Leia are travelling in underground tunnels and Luke contemplates using his lightsaber to create some light be decides against it because he’s worried it would drain the energy. Did you also know that lightsabers have a low setting? According to Foster they do and it’s used for things such as cutting bonds made of vines. In Foster’s Star Wars, lightsabers are like Swiss army knives you need to charge and it only have one tool which you can use on two power settings. Jedi are so crafty!
  • Luke, having grown up on the desert planet of Tatooine, is scared of open water. And Leia can't swim. The Empire doesn’t stand a chance. Hard to imagine these two defeat Darth Vader at the very end of the book.

My absolute favourite part happens about three quarters in where Luke has a one-on-one fist fight against a Coway, a small subterranean inhabitant of Mimban. Foster days a very good job with the fight scene. I didn’t think he could write fight scenes well but he does. I’m really hoping somebody uses this as inspiration to write a punchy action novel titled Luke Skywalker Galactic Brawler. Quick Del Rey, make it happen! I’ll buy two! Better yet, someone make a movie and the writer of the novelization can embellish the background stories of the alien opponents. The move I think about this idea the more I think the movie should be anime. Yeah, like Bloodsport but with aliens and Star Wars anime dripping with crazy action scenes. Man, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a huge missed opportunity for Foster and Lucas. I’m pretty disappointed all of a sudden. Still, for

I'm really hoping somebody uses this as inspiration to write a punchy action novel titled Luke Skywalker Galactic Brawler. Quick Del Rey, make it happen! I'll buy two! You know what, better yet, someone make a movie and the writer of the novelization can embellish the background stories the alien opponents. The more I think about this the more I think he movie should be anime. Like Bloodsport but with aliens and Star Wars as anime. Huge missed opportunity Foster and Lucas. I'm very disappointed. Still, it’s not all bad. I would recommend Splinter of the Mind’s Eye to avid Star Wars fans because they’d be the only ones to get a kick out of pointing out the various differences between Foster’s sequel and the movies . . . and don’t forget to enjoy Luke’s brawl. It’s great.

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