I try to change genres often when I read, and having just completed Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, the last book in the Dragonlance Lost Chronicles, I was due for some science fiction. I’d had my eye (pun!) on this book for a while, so I took the plunge.
Back in 1978, people were starved for Star Wars. I suppose in some sense, people still are starved for it, but back then it was different. There was the Marvel comic series (with the infamous green space rabbit, Jaxxon), and that was about it. No movie series, cartoon spinoffs, video games, or any of that. This was the year that the Star Wars Holiday Special came out, which tells you all you need to know about how folks wanted ANYTHING Star Wars.
And so, Alan Dean Foster served up the first novel with new Star Wars content. And fans everywhere rejoiced. Or so I suppose they did, I was only four years old at the time. Looking back on it forty years later, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is more interesting as a historical relic than as a good Star Wars story.
Luke and Leia are on their way to recruit some rebels when they crash land on the jungle planet Mimban. They come across a secret Imperial mining operation and meet a force-sensitive old woman named Halla. Halla has a piece of the titular Kaiburr crystal, and even this small piece is enough to greatly magnify Force powers. Luke and Leia get captured, then meet a couple Yuzzem, Wookie-like creatures, and Luke conveniently speaks their language. With Halla’s help, the heroes bust out of jail and head off in search of the crystal. Naturally, a certain tall, dark bad guy shows up with a bunch of stormtroopers.
The story is as generic as it gets. It doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars story. Of course, when it was written, there was only one real Star Wars story, and much of the mythology hadn’t been introduced yet. Take out the thin veneer of Star Wars elements and John Carter or Buck Rogers would be right at home. Given the pulp influences of the franchise, this isn’t a big problem. But Splinter is small in scale and fairly boring when compared to the first movie. Foster has stated that the story was intended as a potential low-budget sequel if Star Wars didn’t take off. That’s the likely explanation for the lack of anything epic.
There are a host of story elements that feel distinctly out of place given what followed. The elephant in the room is the romantic tension between Luke and Leia. Luke just barely manages to restrain himself from planting a big ol’ kiss on Leia more than once. Knowing they are siblings after, this is REALLY AWKWARD. Still, it was a natural direction for the series to go at the time it was written. Also out of place are Luke using power packs to charge his lightsaber and his puzzlement at whether the saber will work underwater. Vader has a blue lightsaber, too. Weird, right?
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye got some things right, though: for the first time, we see a Force-sensitive person using telekinesis. (If you don’t count Vader force choking Motti, that is.) Halla moves a salt shaker, and it’s heavily implied that Luke subconsciously moves a large rock to dispatch a foe. In Empire, Luke and Vader both use telekinesis, and it’s common from then on. Unfortunately, Vader never uses the awesome Street Fighter-style force ball attack he uses in Splinter. Kit Fisto did, though, in an excellent Clone Wars animated short, which you should track down in you haven’t.
The Kaiburr crystal is the Maguffin of the story, allowing Luke to channel its power to become a far more effective combatant than he otherwise would. I won’t spoil the ending, but the battle between Luke and Vader at the end goes much differently than the modern reader would expect. The Kaiburr crystal concept was mostly abandoned, but the idea was more or less translated into kyber crystals, which are now a big part of Star Wars lore.
While Splinter of the Mind’s Eye didn’t absolutely blow me away, it was an interesting read. The story itself is vanilla, to be sure. But reading it is almost like a puzzle. It’s fun to pick out what shouldn’t be there, but the most enjoyable part to me was seeing things that turned up later in the saga. I may go back and read the early Marvel comics soon, for the same reason. The Star Wars galaxy is incredibly rich and dense now, so dense that I can’t hope to keep up with everything. Looking back to a time when that galaxy far away was much smaller is very comforting.