Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a Star Wars book I’ve been intending to read for several years. Written before The Empire Strikes Back, I found it a real time capsule, showing very different directions Star Wars might have gone in.

Spoiler alert

I’m going to consider the main Star Wars movies well enough known that they don’t have spoilers - but there will be spoilers for this book.

Getting started

The cover

We can already see that the adventure will include Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker. Not shown on the cover are C-3PO or R2-D2, but they’ll also be there to take up their bickering where they left off.

Conspicuously missing is Han Solo. And of course that means Chewbacca will be missing as well, though don’t worry: We’ll have two Yuzzem along for the adventure instead. You know, Yuzzem - those large, strong, furry animals who don’t talk a lot.

The Force is present, of course. Lightsabers are there, too, though perhaps they don’t work quite as we would expect. And Ben is back once more to whisper in Luke’s ear (“Don’t try to force the Force”).

There’s a forced landing on an unexpected planet. An unknown Imperial mining project. A quest for a powerful crystal.

There are moments of sudden danger, and there are days and weeks of travel. Our hero and heroine must deal with both imperial minions and a variety of unfamiliar species. And finally there’s another confrontation with the villain of the piece, Darth Vader.

(Not) anticipating the unexpected twists

The author, Alan Dean Foster, was also the ghost-writer for the novelisation of the original Star Wars. He had access to George Lucas. If anyone could have found out about the grand future plans for the Star Wars universe, it was him.

But the novel doesn’t even show sign of the twists in Empire Strikes Back, let alone Return of the Jedi or the prequels. It’s another reminder that there was nothing pre-ordained about the direction Star Wars has taken. Back then there was much more scope for figuring out how this galaxy far, far away actually worked.

Available to be filmed

The novel was a stand-alone novel. But it could also have been a movie.

Part of the idea was that if Star Wars was moderately successful, this would be easy to shoot as a low budget sequel. That’s also why Han Solo wasn’t in it: Unlike Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, at that point Harrison Ford wasn’t signed up for a sequel, and if a sequel had been low budget they might not have been able to afford him.

So Han just gets a brief mention as “a smuggler and a pirate” who had joined the cause. He’s certainly not Leia’s lover or anything like that.

A dangerous crystal

An important part of the story is the quest for the Kaiburr Crystal. The name came from George Lucas, but kyber crystals have come to mean something quite different.

“I… didn’t feel anything,” he informed her softly, now utterly convinced of the old woman’s sincerity. “I experienced it. This,” and he indicated the fragment of red mineral, “increases one’s perception of the Force. It magnifies and clarifies… in proportion to its size and density, I think.” He gazed hard at Halla. “Anyone in possession of the entire crystal, if it’s much larger than this fragment, would have such a lock on the Force that he could do almost anything, anything at all.”

Luke is concerned that it could be a serious weapon. And not as part of constructing a lightsaber, either. It actually turns out it can be used for healing, which is handy.

Luke has grown up

In the original Star Wars, Luke had a fairly clear arc from “farm boy stuck at home” to “rebel pilot and hero”. But this book has to make sure we’re clear on that:

Unseen spirits or not, Luke reflected grimly, if there was one thing he was sure of it was that the callow youth he had once been was dead and dry as dust. In the Rebel Alliance of worlds struggling against the corrupt rule of the Imperial government he held no formal title. But no one taunted him or called him farm boy - not since he had helped destroy the bloated battle station secretly built by Governor Moff Tarkin and his henchman Darth Vader.

And of course Leia was instrumental in the transformation:

It was for and because of that individual, Princess and Senator Leia Organa of the now-vaporized world of Alderaan, that Luke had originally become involved in the Rebellion. First her portrait and then her person had initiated the irreversible metamorphosis from farm boy to fighter pilot.

(Mostly) unrequited love

They’re heading on a diplomatic mission. And, well, Luke is already sold:

He couldn’t imagine anyone who could not be persuaded by Princess Leia. She could convince him of anything. Luke treasured those moments when she forgot her station and titles. He dreamed of a time when she might forget them forever.

Perhaps a little too saccharine:

“I’m receiving you, Princess.”

Her reply was filled with irritation. “My port engine is beginning to generate unequal radiation pulses.” Even when bothered, to him that voice was as naturally sweet and pleasing as sugar-laden fruit.

It’s mostly somewhat one-sided.

Luke was assigned to protect Leia, and reflects:

He would do it out of respect and admiration and possibly out of the most powerful of emotions, unrequited love.

Leia, on the other hand, does care about him - just not necessarily in a romantic way. She thought of him as a loyal companion, and a comfort in danger:

The Princess pressed close to Luke. He tried to comfort her without appearing anxious, but as the darkness closed to a Stygian blackness around them and the night sounds turned to sepulchral moans and hootings, his arm instinctively went around her shoulders. She didn’t object. It made him feel good to sit there like that, leaning against her and trying to ignore the damp ground beneath.

Also as a good person (which is good - but he’s wanting more).

Take for example when they are sharing a prison cell after a Leia outburst:

“Come on, Leia… Princess. This mess was nobody’s fault. Besides, it’s fun losing control once in a while.”

She smiled again, thankfully. “You know, Luke, the Rebellion is lucky to have you. You’re a good man.”

“Yeah.” He turned away. “Lucky for the Rebellion.”

She worried about him getting hurt:

“Pardon me, Princess,” said the metal from behind her, “but do you think Artoo and Master Luke set down safely in this awful place?”

“Of course they did. Luke’s the best pilot we’ve got. If I made it down, I’m certain he had no trouble.” That was a slight lie. What if Luke was lying injured somewhere, unable to move, and she simply sat here awaiting him? Better not to think about that. The vision of a twisted, broken Luke, bleeding to death in the cockpit of his X-wing, made her insides spin tightly.

When facing danger together they rely on each other for comfort, and sometimes it seems it could be more. Luke notices it more than Leia does, but she too occasionally notices it:

Luke shakily deactivated his saber and reattached it to his belt.

At the same time, 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. She was utterly drained, and the comfort she derived from leaning against him was worth any feeling of impropriety.

They stood like that for a timeless stretch. Luke slid his arm around her and she didn’t resist. She didn’t look yearningly up at him, either, but this was enough for him, for now at least. He was happy.

After one such time they’re thrown together and:

Their eyes met with a gaze that could have penetrated light-years.

But Leia is then quick to break away.

Luke may no longer be a farm boy. He may be hardened by his experience, and be taken seriously by his colleagues. But he still feels his inferiority:

No, he reflected, he probably never would completely understand the Princess. “What do you expect,” he mumbled, laughing at himself, “from an untutored country boy?”

“I think,” the Princess responded softly, not looking at him, “that for an untutored country boy, you’re one of the most sophisticated men I know.”

Primitive music and chanting faded into the background as he turned to her in surprise. Like a missile launcher sighting on its prey, his eyes contacted hers. There was a brief, silent explosion before she looked hurriedly away.

Thinking very hard about something he’d hardly dared think about for several years, he bit into the fruit again, more carefully this time.

Overall, it feels like Luke is pining for Leia much more than Leia is for Luke, but that it’s hinting they could become a couple in future. Just not in this episode.

From the point of view of Star Wars canon, they’re definitely not brother and sister, and there’s no plan for them to become brother and sister. It’s even explicitly made clear that Leia is not Force-sensitive, which I’m sure would make it much harder for Vader to detect the kinship.

How does a lightsaber work?

I’m sure there will always be some questions about how a lightsaber works. But at the time this book was written, the whole world was much more of a blank slate.

One thing I notice is that it doesn’t seem to be treated as a special Jedi weapon. After Luke has used it in a fight, they’re arrested for brawling, but no-one seems particularly concerned about the weapon, and they certainly don’t use it to identify him as a Jedi.

Breaking and entering

After crash-landing on a strange world with an imperial presence, they wisely decide that rebel pilot costumes won’t cut it. A change of clothes seems in order, and it turns out that a lightsaber is a very handy tool for breaking and entering:

Luke removed the lightsaber from his waist, very slowly adjusted the controls set in the handle.

“What are you going to do, Luke?”

“I don’t know how big this town is, but a noisy break-in would attract too much attention. So I’m trying not to be noisy.”

Watching with interest, the Princess took a couple of steps back, looking nervously up and down the alleyway. Any second she expected to see a squad of angry troopers racing around a corner toward her, alerted by some hidden alarm they had unknowingly triggered.

Only jungle sounds reached her; however, as Luke activated his saber. Instead of the meter-plus shaft of white energy, the pommel put forth a short, needle-thin spoke. With concentration worthy of a master craftsman, Luke stepped forward and moved the energy beam along the slight space visible between door and frame. A third of the way down the door a distinct click sounded and the door slid obediently aside. Readjusting his saber, Luke flicked it off and replaced it at his waist.

This is nothing like the dueling lightsaber we’ve grown used to from many films and TV series. I’m sure other, later books extended the canon in all kinds of interesting ways. But I’m not sure whether any extended it like this.

While we’re talking about removing identifying details, it’s also notable that Luke had to mess up her distinctive hairstyle to make her less recognisable.

How much charge does a lightsaber need?

Have you ever wondered whether a lightsaber needed recharging? I don’t ever remember seeing one charged on screen.

It seems the official answer is something like “Technically, yes, lightsabers do need energy from somewhere - it’s just that the batteries used last so long that in practice they never need charging”. But that seemingly wasn’t known when Splinter was written. It was something that had to be figured out.

In this book, they did need charging. And, conveniently, it used the same power pack as imperial blasters did.

So, shortly after using the lightsaber during a prison break-out, and probably less than 24 hours after landing on the planet, we find this:

There was one more thing he had to do. Taking the pistol he had brought with him, he flipped open its butt end. Switching the terminal control from Charge to Draw, he attached it to the matching terminals in the haft of his lightsaber.

Leaning back, he regarded the mist silently as his father’s ancient weapon sucked power….

It wasn’t the only time, either. Later, they captured a few weapons, and it’s charge time again:

Luke regarded the little arsenal joyfully. Slipping completely out of sight behind the travertine wall, he disengaged the power pack from one of the rifles and used it to bring his lightsaber up to maximum charge. Then he traded his pistol for a fresh one, resumed his place next to the vigilant Princess.

At this rate the lightsaber would end up a much more inconvenient weapon.

Do lightsabers work underwater?

A device with charging ports doesn’t seem the most obvious to work underwater. But never mind - if the plot needs it, it’ll work:

Convinced that the pad was lake-worthy, Luke rolled to its edge and looked over. There was enough light here for him to see the man-thick stem which secured the pad to the lake bottom.

“I’m going to cut this one loose,” he announced.

The Princess looked skeptical. “With what? Your saber? I didn’t know they operated under water.”

He gazed back at her solemnly. “They’d better.”

He slipped over the side, found himself treading cold water. Then he activated the saber and shoved it under the surface. Bubbles promptly broke the glassy water, but the hard blue light continued to gleam in the blackness, and there was no hint of a malfunction.

Taking a deep breath, he slid into darkness.

Fortunately the saber itself provided enough light to show him the stem. It took only a second or two to slice through the tough core. He noted with interest that the pad narrowed to a concave shape, instead of being flat across the bottom. That would give them at least an illusion of stability.

Then he was breaking the surface, gasping for air and wiping water from his eyes after deactivating the saber. Once it was secured to his belt again, he put out a hand and tugged the freed pad close to shore.

That lake sequence is also notable for showing that Luke can swim, and Leia can’t. This seems odd, considering he grew up on a desert planet while she grew up on a planet with large amounts of water, but hey, I’m sure there’s a good reason for it.

Vader’s charming manner dealing with inferiors

In the original Star Wars, Tarkin had been Vader’s superior, and restrained him from doing too much damage to underlings on the same side. Here, there is no such restraint:

“I’m not interested in excuses for debacles, only successful results,” declared Vader. “Grammel, your existence befouls me.”

“My Lord,” Grammel babbled desperately, rising from the bench, “if I-”

Faster than a human eye could follow, Vader’s lightsaber was up, activated and moving. Grammel’s slashed form pitched wildly, stumbled backward and tumbled over the side of the crawler. There was a lull as the stunned driver looked on in terror.

Vader whirled, glowered down at him. “We will travel faster without such dead weight to slow us, trooper. Return to your controls - now!”

Perhaps he hasn’t quite developed the charming manner on show in Empire Strikes Back:

Got to leave some room for character development

But he’s getting there.

A traumatised Leia

Leia went through a lot in the original Star Wars, and I’m not sure how much this is acknowledged in the rest of the trilogy. This classic meme comes to mind:


In this book it seems to have hardened her. When Luke is upset by the way the Imperials are treating the natives on the planet they’ve crash-landed on, she just responds:

“I saw my whole world, several million people, destroyed,” she responded with chilling matter-of-factness. “Nothing mankind does surprises me anymore, except that anyone could still be surprised by it.”

But the interrogation had left her with PTSD:

“Imperial Governors don’t take an interest in common thieves, Luke,” she whispered tightly. Something was clutching at her throat. “I’ll be interrogated again… like that time… that time.” She broke away, threw herself up against the back wall of the cell.

That time back on the Death Star. Small black worms crawled through her brain. Another Governor’s demands, the now-dead Grand Moff Tarkin, the machine drifting into her holding cell. The remorseless black machine, illegal, concocted by twisted Imperial scientists in defiance of every code, legal and moral. It drifted over to her, moved down, metal limbs preparing to perform efficiently, emotionlessly, in response to inhuman programming.

Screaming, screaming, screaming never to stop she was …

Luke wants to help - but doesn’t really know how:

“Leia, why are you so afraid of an Imperial Governor,” he asked gently as they walked on. “What could Moff Tarkin have done to you back on the Death Star before Han Solo and I rescued you?”

She turned memory-haunted eyes on him. “Maybe I’ll tell you someday, Luke. Not now. I’m not… I haven’t forgotten enough. If I told you I might remember too much.”

“Don’t you think I could take it,” he asked tightly.

She hastened to correct him. “Oh not you, Luke, not you. It’s me, my own reactions I’m worried about. Whenever I start trying to remember exactly what they did to me that time, I start to come apart.”

It’s also given her a burning desire for revenge on Vader in particular. At one point she shoots him, then is upset with herself that the shot wasn’t fatal.

In the final confrontation, Vader is aware of this and plays on both the rage and the trauma:

“Monster,” was all she could spit out, furious and afraid.

“Do you remember that day back on the station,” Vader mused, with deliberate patience, “when the late Governor Tarkin and I interviewed you?” He placed a peculiar stress on the word “interviewed.”

Leia had both hands on opposite shoulders and was shivering as if from intense cold.

“Yes,” Vader observed, perverse amusement in his voice, “I can see that you do. I am truly sorry I have nothing as elaborate to treat you to at this time. However,” he added, swinging his weapon lightly, “one can do some interesting things with a saber, you know. I’ll do my best to show you all of them if you’ll cooperate by not passing out.”

She duels with him, does better than expected, but it is left with more injuries and more scars. It’s not clear whether the experience increases her trauma - but it probably should…

I think this would also be the first instance of a non-Force sensitive wielding a lightsaber? (though it certainly won’t be the last).

Not a family reunion

In that confrontation, there’s no big “I am your father!” reveal. No “It is your destiny”. No attempt to bring Luke to the Dark Side, and no convenient twin sister for Vader to turn if he can’t turn Luke.

Just revenge:

Moving leisurely down the pile of rubble, Darth Vader addressed them in a coldly conversational tone. “You know, Skywalker, I had a difficult time finding out that it was you who shot up my TIE fighter above the Death Star station. Rebellion spies are hard and expensive to come by. I also found out it was you who released the torpedo that destroyed the station. You have a great deal to atone for to me. I’ve waited a long time.”

On Luke’s side, Darth Vader is the man who killed his father. The man who killed the mentor who gave him his father’s lightsaber and trained him to use it. The man who has just tried to kill the love of his life. There’s no attempt to sense any good in him, because it’s just not there:

Luke felt a wild sense of elation as he brandished his father’s weapon. “I’m not worried about anything, Vader. Not now. I have no more worries and only one concern.” His voice held an unaccustomed hint of conviction. “I’m going to kill you, Darth Vader.”

The Star Wars that would see Darth Vader confronting his twin children before a final redemption is a very different Star Wars.

A dark mirror

I find it particularly interesting when the confrontation anticipates a twist in Empire Strikes Back, but then spins it differently.

An arm is lost - but it’s not Luke’s:

Holding his father’s saber over his head, Luke rose, rushed at the Dark Lord and threw himself on the towering black figure.

There was a blinding flash of light as he made contact with Vader’s saber beam and slid on through with the blow. His saber continued downward, pierced the stone floor. Luke’s hand struck a rock and jarred his saber loose.

He hit the ground hard, then rolled onto his back to see what had happened. What he saw was Vader staring at the floor. His right arm lay there, still gripping the glowing saber. There was less blood than Luke would have expected. He tried to rise, failed. He no longer retained the strength to climb to his knees, let alone to regain his feet.). Perhaps, following the prequels, Vader should cry “Oh no! Not again!”. Instead, he tries to continue the attack, overbalances, and falls down a shaft.

Was this prefiguring Empire Strikes Back? Or perhaps Return of the Jedi? Probably not - though it is possible this novel inspired incidents in the later films.

What matters is that Luke can still sense him through the Force. He’s still alive. Our favourite villain is sure to get another outing, whether in novel form or on screen. Even if he probably won’t be redeemed.

Continuing that dark mirror, I see a one-armed Vader rescued from the fall from Bespin the temple and carried away on the Millenium Falcon Star Destroyer. All his old certainty is gone as he moans:

Kenobi! Why didn’t you tell me he was my son? How could you expect me to know just from the name “Skywalker” and the fact that he was raised by my step-brother?

What kind of movie would it have made?

I’d be very curious to see what kind of movie this book would have made. Perhaps not a great one, but at least it would have had a definite conclusion (unlike Empire Strikes Back).

But the reality is that if it had been made, I probably wouldn’t have seen it - because it would be a sign that Star Wars hadn’t achieved the success that it has. Perhaps it would have been a cult classic, but a cult classic from before I was born probably wouldn’t have crossed my radar. It certainly wouldn’t be something I’d have heard a lot about before I finally watched it.

Perhaps there would have been more novels, more movies, and more chances to take the direction the original trilogy took. Or perhaps Splinter would have been both the last Star Wars book and the last Star Wars movie.


In the end, Empire Strikes Back won out:

Empire vs Splinter

I tend to think making Vader Luke’s father and then Leia his sister has problems - but it is what Star Wars is now. For all its faults, Splinter is closer to where you might have expected sequels to the original film to go: Vader as a continuing antagonist, more systems joining the rebellion, and Luke and Leia ending up together.

Splinter is probably interesting more for its place in Star Wars history than its plot. I’m not sorry to have read it, though it’s certainly not required reading for the Star Wars universe.

Perhaps I’ll try the original Thrawn trilogy next. And one of these days I’m sure I need to watch the Holiday Special! 😛

Happy Star Wars Day!