There has been an awakening.
No – a correction: there has been a re-awakening.
Happily collecting the novelisations and spin-off novels of Doctor Who and Star Trek since the 70s until my bookshelves were bowing under the amassed weight of their respective extended universes, oddly I never had the same completist obsession with Star Wars (save for a few books here and there).
As the years have passed though, with the advent of having to (begrudgingly) grow up, I have since slimmed down said collections, retaining only a few of the titles that hold any meaning to me (admittedly when it comes to Doctor Who, that’s most of ‘em).
Anyway, Star Wars…
Back in ‘the day’, the total sum of my collection was the six novelisations and the three Han Solo novels by Brian Daley. At some point I think I might have owned the Thrawn Trilogy and perhaps ‘Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’. I certainly don’t remember actually reading the Thrawn series and I have vague recollections about Kaiburr crystals. But at the beginning of this year, I only had left the original editions of ‘Star Wars’ by Alan Dean Foster [sorry, I mean George Lucas <cough, cough>], ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ by Donald F Glut and James Kahn’s ‘Return of the Jedi’, all loved and cherished.
Then someone came along and made a film called The Force Awakens and decided to do away with established printed Star Wars canon. So what was considered canon now and what wasn’t? The answer proved to be easier than expected, however. Go look in the novelisation of The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster and an easy checklist happily tells you what’s what.
And that, for me, was when the trouble started.
Because I bought the novelisation. Yes, bought it. And it sat on my bookshelf next to ‘Return of the Jedi’. Four books to four great films. But something was missing.
Some things were missing.
Other Star Wars books. Ones I remembered owning and loved reading.
So online shopping I went and bought the three Brian Daley Han Solo novels. I made sure to buy the original editions not the omnibus publication (which I did buy previously however for my son).
But something was missing.
Another Star Wars book. One I seemed to remember owning and most likely loving to read.
So back online I went and bought, after some searching, an original edition of ‘Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’ by Alan Dean Foster (him again).
And I read it, and remembered (some of) it from the late 70s/early 80s (it was printed in paperback in April 1978).
It’s been documented elsewhere that it was originally developed as the bona-fide sequel to Star Wars, albeit on a cheaper budget and so many of the story developments included and expanded upon in The Empire Strikes Back and after are simply not present. Since The Force Awakens, the book itself has been relegated to the ‘Legends’ series, meaning that it is no longer canon. But that doesn’t bother me and the validity or not of ‘canon’ is a discussion for another time.
What struck me about ‘Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’ was how some of the set pieces (not story ideas) are first introduced here. Were they Alan Dean Foster’s own creations or were they on a George Lucas tick-list? If the former, one wonders if Alan sat there pointing at the screen sighing as he watches his ideas realised.
So, with spoiler alerts fully, erm, alerting…
We have an opening scene set in space with Luke Skywalker in his X-wing (with R2-D2 in the back) and Princess Leia in a Y-wing accompanied by C-3PO. The way Skywalker crashes his starfighter on Mimban, a world of nothing but swamp across the majority of its surface, is acutely similar to his descent to Dagobah.
Further, the application of the Force to move inanimate objects was also seen for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back. In Star Wars it was, I think, only seen to control minds, for remote strangulation and telepathic communication but in ‘Splinter…’ it’s swishing objects left right and centre, most prominently in a light-saber duel between Skywalker and Vader. And that itself was a major part of the clash on Bespin between father and son.
Tellingly, in ‘Splinter…’, the duel ends with Skywalker slicing Vader’s arm off. That was a pivotal moment in Return of the Jedi where Luke realises he has the potential to become his father after his father did the same to him in the previous chapter.
Yet none of these similarities detract from the enjoyment of the story. And even with the idea that Luke and Leia are attracted to each other (‘Splinter…’ was before the reveal that they are siblings, of course) it doesn’t contradict anything the rest of the actual film series itself proposes (hell, in The Empire Strikes Back Leia gives Luke a full-on smacker in front of the rest of the main cast and nothing in ‘Splinter…’ goes even that close!). And with the Vader-Skywalker exchange in the book not inferring that they are anything other than enemies with a shared awareness of the Force, Star Wars and the first three-quarters of The Empire Strikes Back take exactly the same stance (unless you discount the ret-con tinkering of Episode 5’s Special Edition).
The whole idea of the Kaiburr crystal of course, has become the kyber crystals that power a Force-wielder’s light-saber. Whether this terminology finds its way into the film series we will have to wait and see but the crystals are definitely considered canon – the animated series use them as a plot device.
So, with ‘Splinter…’ being the first spin-off novel of the franchise and one that has given so much to the basis of what we consider Star Wars lore , it holds up remarkably well bearing in mind too what we now know about the Skywalker family. It’s well-worth tracking down and well-worth a read. Thank you, Alan Dean Foster.
Time, methinks, to take a look after all these years at Brian Daley’s three Han Solo adventures.
Oh, and on a recommendation, I’m about to (re)buy the Thrawn Trilogy and ‘Shadows of the Empire’…