The Star Wars Book That Started It All
If you’re a little more than a casual Star Wars fan, chances are you know about the Expanded Universe. Chances are, you’ve read at least one of those EU novels (of which there are over three hundred). Especially now that Disney does its best to control how they present the Expanded Universe. Before there was all this lore it used to be “I don’t know, just make something up”. Now, if Disney didn’t officially sanction and solicit it, it doesn’t exist. Because of Disney’s EU culling, a lot of elements near and dear to a lot of Star Wars fans have been, essentially, eliminated; not only from canon, but from any sort of alternate or infinite universe. Which, frankly—if I may be so bold—sucks.
Now we have what we call the Legends books that came about after April 2014; the Legends books are everything Disney and Lucasfilm consider “non-canon” that they needed to retcon in preparation for the upcoming new trilogy. Essentially, and in my opinion, this was unnecessary, as the EU ran a tight ship: “Nothing in the Expanded Universe was allowed to contradict anything in the Expanded Universe or the films.”
But we’re not here to discuss past grievances. We’re here to talk about the first Star Wars Expanded Universe novel ever written. A little book written in 1978, just after A New Hope, that goes by the name Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.
“Stranded on a jungle planet, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia found themselves desperately racing Imperial Stormtroopers to claim a gem that had mysterious powers over the Force. Luke Skywalker expected trouble when he volunteered to follow Princess Leia on her mission to Circarpous to enlist their Rebel underground in the battle against the Empire. But the farm boy from Tatooine hadn’t counted on an unscheduled landing in the swamplands of Mimban…hadn’t counted on any of the things they would find on that strange planet.
Hidden on this planet was the Kaiburr crystal, a mysterious gem that would give the one who possessed it such powers over that Force that he would be all but invincible. In the wrong hands, the crystal could be deadly. So Luke had to find this treasure and find it fast.
Accompanied by R2-D2 and C-3PO—his two faithful droids—Luke and the Princess set out for the Temple of Pomojema… and a confrontation deep beneath the surface of an alien world with the most fearsome villain in the galaxy!”
Pros – This Book is Generally Pretty Good
This is unprecedented because for the first time I have more pros than cons. While it does start out kind of weird and slow (we’ll get to that when we discuss the literal first page), it does improve; it turns thrilling and interesting, and I genuinely wanted to keep reading. I went in with low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised.
The characterization starts out a little rocky in the beginning, but eventually smoothes out with only a few hiccups throughout.
Luke starts out weirdly dark on literally the first page; I’ll discuss this more in the cons section, but the little page one diatribe just doesn’t feel right for this Luke. After that, his character starts to come together in ways that make sense; ways that make page one feel like something that editing was supposed to fix and was just forgotten about.
Quotes that Redeem Luke’s Characterization
Luke and Leia steal a new wardrobe: “‘I think maybe something in a print…’ [Luke] began. He had to react quickly to duck the boot [Leia] threw at him” (48).
They witness the Circarpous V locals being bullied: “‘I can’t stand to see anything abused like that,’ [Luke] muttered, ‘human or animal or alien'” (54).
Leia and Luke wrestle in the mud like a couple of kids: “Luke yanked hard, and [Leia] plunged messily into the trench beside him. He sat there, grinning, as she turned around, looked down at herself in distress” (74).
Luke “doesn’t like this, Leia”: “[Leia] whispered back tightly, ‘You have this wonderfully evocative way about you, Luke, of reducing the most excruciatingly uncomfortable circumstances to the merely mundane'” (91).
Luke claims he’d run from danger and Leia says: “‘You know that’s not true, Luke. You’re too loyal and responsible for your own good'” (121).
A native race admires Luke’s killing skills: “Luke looked distressed at this admiration of an action he’d despised” (215).
Luke’s outrage at wasted life and refusal to celebrate after a battle: “‘They’re killing the wounded,’ he cried in anguish. ‘Look at them…look what they’re doing!'” (254). “‘There’s nothing here I want to celebrate'” (255).
Luke grows stronger in the presence of Darth Vader: “‘Ben Kenobi is with me, Vader,’ Luke snarled, gaining confidence every second, ‘and the Force is with me, too'” (285).
Moments When Luke is In Love with Leia
This being written in 1978, we as an audience don’t yet know that Luke and Leia are twins. And so, we get moments like these.
“…whenever [Luke] looked at [Leia], [she] caused emotioned to boil within him like soup too long on the fire, no matter if she was separated from him by near vacuum as at present or by only an arm’s length in a conference room” (4).
“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” (5).
“Even when bothered, to [Luke] that voice was as naturally sweet and pleasing as sugar-laden fruit” (6).
Luke helps Leia out of her crashed ship
“As he unlatched her seat he became conscious of the confined space they were working in. Awkwardly pressed up against him, the Princess seemed to take no notice of their proximity. In the dampness, though, her body heat was near palpable to Luke and he had to force himself to keep his attention on what he was doing” (29).
Luke and Leia wander through a jungle
“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” (36).
Leia and Luke bunk down for the night
“…his arm instinctively when 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.” “…he happened to glance down at this companion’s face. It was not the face of a Princess and a Senator or of a leader of the Rebel Alliance, but instead that of a chilled child. Moistly parted in sleep, her lips seemed to beckon to him. He leaned closer, seeking refuge from the damp green and brown of the swamp in that hypnotic redness” (37).
Luke contemplates his assignment
“His assignment was to protect her…He would do it out of respect and admiration and possibly out of the most powerful of emotions, unrequited love” (38).
Luke and Leia trapped in a pit
“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…'” (172)
They continue in their precarious pit situation
“…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 as satisfying. She was utterly drained, and the comfort she derived from leaning against him was worth any feeling of impropriety.” “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” (175).
“‘I think,’ the Princess responded, 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 away” (235).
Literally just this: “‘I’m sorry, Leia. I loved you'” (290).
So, for those of us reading this in 2019 (just me, maybe?) who know about the big twin secret, this is Not Great and pretty Cringy. But, I’ll give Alan Dean Foster a break here; he wanted his OTP to be canon so badly that he just wrote it himself.
Leia’s Good Characterization
Leia stays pretty consistent throughout the novel. She’s scrappy, opinionated, a dirty fighter, and occasionally haughty and callous. Her characterization starts out great immediately with only a few slip-ups where her character gets weird or descriptions of her get creepy.
Leia waits in her crashed ship for Luke to find her
“So she sat and fumed silently to herself, alternately conjuring up the curses she’d employ when [Luke] finally did arrive and worrying about what she’d do if he didn’t” (26-27).
She subtly reminds Luke that she’s a Princess and has refined tastes
“She sniffed the air appraisingly. ‘I wouldn’t call these scents sophisticated. Thick, yes, but not sophisticated'” (53).
Leia gets payback for Luke pushing her in the mud
“Leia kicked Luke sharply in the shins. He went staggering, tumbled off the narrow walkway into the mud-filled trench which separated walkway from more solid street” (73-74).
Leia fights dirty
“Leia evened up the odds by leaping on the back of the man nearest her and clawing at his face…[The attacking man] had his hands full with the Princess, who was cursing them at the top of her lungs” (80-81). “She reached up to grab [the solider’s] hand, slipped a leg under his, and pulled and kicked simultaneously. As the trooper went crashing to the floor, she was rushing for the doorway, calling for Luke to follow” (101).
She has a single-minded goal
“‘Just give me one clear shot at Vader,’ the Princess snarled, her hands tightening on the rifle stock. The hatred that flamed in those eyes belonged on a much less fragile face. ‘Save that one chance, I ask nothing of life'” (245).
Leia’s prepared to sacrifice herself rather than get caught by the Empire
“‘If it should come to that, Luke…’ ‘Come to what?’ ‘Being taken alive…Promise me that out of any feeling you have for the Rebellion, out of any feeling you might have for me, that you’ll put that saber at your hip to my throat'” (246).
Leia has seen plenty of death
“‘[The locals are] killing the wounded,’ [Luke] cried in anguish. ‘Look at them…look what they’re doing!’ ‘Yes, it’s almost human,’ [Leia] commented, ‘although the Imperials would have been a little neater.’ ‘You approve?’ he said accusingly. She didn’t reply, merely stared back at him until he sagged, utterly worn out and saddened. ‘I’m sorry, Luke,’ she told him gently, ‘but there’s very little in this universe that rises above the mean and petty'” (255). “‘I saw my whole world, several million people, destroyed,’ [Leia] responded with chilling matter-of-factness. ‘Nothing mankind does surprises me anymore, except that anyone could still be surprised by it’ (54-55).
Leia Being Super Smart
Knowing how ships work
“‘I lost my starboard dorsal engine completely. I cut port dorsal ninety percent to balance guidance systems'” (8).
“‘Energy mining!’ she explained breathlessly to Luke. ‘They’re using some big generators here…That might account for the atmospheric disturbance which forced us down. I knew I’d read about that effect somewhere. A ship has to be specially insulated to drop down through an area where an energy drill is working. By-products, including excess charges, are shunted away skyward'” (43).
“‘That’s one of the things that’s so wrong with the Empire, Luke,’ she commented enthusiastically. ‘Its art has grown as decadent as the government. Both suffer from a lack of creative vitality. That’s what originally drew me to the Alliance, not politics. Politically, I was probably almost as naive as you…When I was living in my father’s palace, I was utterly bored, Luke. Examination of why I found nothing entertaining led me to discover how the Empire had stifled any original thought. Long-established totalitarian governments fear any kind of free expression. A sculpture can be a manifesto, a manuscripted adventure can double as a cry for rebellion. From corrupt aesthetics to corrupt politics was a smaller step than most people around me realized'” (234-235).
“‘An Imperial Governor…’ Leia had slumped, was backing away and breathing unevenly, both hands going to her face. Sweat beaded on her forehead… ‘I’ll be interrogated again…like that time…like that time.’…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…” (123-124).
“‘Leia, why are you so afraid of an Imperial Governor,’ [Luke] asked gently… ‘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'” (182).
Halla is a super cool old woman who has a little skill in the Force but considers herself the first name in Force users. In the span of two chapters, she goes from moving a salt shaker a few centimeters to standing on a sheer ledge and levitating a food tray to press open the control on Luke and Leia’s cell door, a skill that Luke himself hasn’t even mastered at this point. Halla introduces Luke and Leia to the Kaiburr crystal mythos, presenting them with a shard of the crystal and telling them the legend that leads them on this book’s adventure. She’s spunky, doesn’t take any whining or complaining, and knows what she’s about. She has the ideal personality for a modern Boca Raton grandmother: blue hair, leopard print leggings, clogs, and everything.
The “Natives” (Greenies, Coway, and Yuzzem) skirt the line of insensitivity where there’s the potential for racial coding but at the same time, I’m not sure. The miners abuse and exploit the Greenies; the Coway are written as a primitive, subterranean race; the Yuzzem are prided on their physical strength. All three races are some form of hairy, ape-like alien. I can’t tell if they’re supposed to resemble early humans and Neanderthals, or if we’ve got another Jar Jar Binks and Watto situation on our hands here.
Kaiburr Crystal Lore
Knowing what we know about Kaiburr crystals now, it was interesting to read the previous lore. In this instance, there was one singular Kaiburr crystal “located in the temple of Pomojema,” a minor local diety on Circarpous V. Alan Dean Foster wrote the book before LucasFilm decided the Kaiburr crystals powered the lightsabers, so Luke’s saber uses an external power source. Because of this, the crystal “looked like red glass and glowed softly. The color was deeper, richer than red corundum. It had a vitreous luster resembling crystallized honey.”
When Luke holds the crystal shard Halla shows him, he describes it feeling “exactly like what if resembled, a piece of glowing heatless glass. But the sensations that coursed through him did not come from his finger, were not carried by the nerves in his skin.” Luke then says the crystal “increases one’s perception of the Force. It magnifies and clarifies…Anyone in possession of the entire crystal…would have such a lock on the Force that he could do almost anything, anything at all.”
This Book is Actually Pretty Funny
I’ll just leave you with these quotes:
Luke sets off, like, six grenades in a hallway while they escape from jail
“‘I just tried to delay our pursuit a little white,’ [Luke] explained modestly. Another explosion made them all wince reflexively. A pillar of yellow flame lit the night sky, piercing the mist. ‘I might’ve overdone it a little'” (146).
Luke and Leia find musical vegetation in a cave
“They exchanged smiles, and then the cave was filled with crude but sprightly tunes as the natural chimes sang under their hands. They grinned like a couple of mischievous children” (185).
Halla tries to drive
“The engine roared, lights flickered, and the crawler promptly shot full-speed-backward to crash into a pair of entwined trees. There was a violent cracking noise and then two thunderous, reverberating booms as both boles fell on top of the idling vehicle. When Luke’s ears stopped ringing he shot Halla an accusing stare. She smiled wanly back at him” (264).
Finally, the Most Obi-Wan Line Ever Written
“‘Don’t try to force the Force'” (134).
Cons – When it’s Bad it’s Bad
Literally Just the First Two Paragraphs
I mentioned this when discussing Luke’s characterization, but the first page is strange and unnecessarily dark for Luke. Told in third person omniscient, switching between the points of view of different characters, we start out with Luke lamenting the “collage of spinning dust motes men called their worlds, where the human bacteria throve and multiplied and slaughtered one another” (1). Kind of dark, right? Well, he keeps going: “In depressed moments he felt sure there was no really happy living matter on any of those worlds. Only a plethora of destructive human diseases which fought and raged constantly against one another, a sequence of cancerous civilizations which fed on its own body, never healing yet somehow not quite dying” (1).
Poetic, sure; in character? Not really, at least not for the Luke we know right after A New Hope; not the Luke who just blew up the Death Star and got to go to a fancy award ceremony with all his friends. Maybe the Luke we know after The Empire Strikes Back, the Luke who lost his hand and found out about his unfortunate parentage within the span of five minutes. That Luke is dark and brooding and would probably go on about “human cancers.”
Creepy Descriptions of Leia
I don’t know what Alan Dean Foster’s deal is, but sometimes he gets a little weird when he describes Leia. I don’t know if that was a 1970’s issue, or a male writer describing a woman issue, or an Alan Dean Foster had a crush on Carrie Fisher issue.
He describes her with “seal-curve hips,” with the “voice of a steel kitten,” as “a she-falcon flying for her prey-perch,” and, most blandly, with “perfect lips”. At one point, she gets struck with a lightsaber in a way that would definitely have her clothes falling off of her in strips. In my opinion, I hate when writers reduce Leia to a sexy stereotype, or, in general, just a Female Character. This book isn’t as bad as some, but it’s those little unnecessary asides that almost undo all her smart, in-character moments.
Luke and Leia Kill Readily and Freely
This aspect of the book just seemed strange to me. In a scene where the subterranean Coway people attack Luke and Leia, instead of negotiating or merely wounding the aliens, Luke and Leia immediately kill. Leia is particularly ruthless; her only weapon is a sharpened stone, but when she was attacked, “she brought the stalactite section down hard on [the Coway’s] skull. There was a plastic breaking sound and blood gushed freely.” She straight-up bashed someone’s head in.
Luke has similar moments, like when he dodges an axe and then cuts off the attacker’s legs. He then throws his lightsaber through the back of a retreating Coway. Leia also attacks a fleeing Coway, wounding its shoulder as it surrenders. And yet, Luke constantly laments wasted life and the uselessness of mindless killing (shall we harken back to those first two paragraphs?). Their willingness and readiness to kill struck me as an odd character choice in this instance; while they’ve attacked and killed troopers before, killing the Coway as brutally as they did in this book just didn’t sit right with me.
The Kaiburr God is Basically Cthulhu
When Luke, Leia, and Halla finally get to the Kaiburr temple, they encounter this statue: “Leathery wings which might have been vestigial swept out in two awesome arcs to either side of the figure. Enormous claws thrust from feet and arms, the latter clinging to the ends of armrests on the throne. It had no face below slanted, accusing eyes—only a mass of Medusian, carved tentacles” (270.)
And then Luke says, “It almost seems familiar, somehow.”
And then I said, “Yeah, that’s because it’s basically Cthulhu.”
Darth Vader Falls Down a Well
For a good ten pages, all seems hopeless; Luke traps his leg under a pile of rocks, Leia fights Vader with Luke’s lightsaber (with which she does some implausible acrobatic moves and almost gets her clothes sliced off), and it really seems like they’re going to die in the Kaiburr temple. And then, Luke emerges from the rubble and fights Vader, eventually cutting off his entire right arm plus lightsaber. Although he triumphs for a moment, affected by his injuries, it seems Luke might fail. And then:
“The Dark Lord staggered drunkenly forward. He stumbled a couple of steps to the left. And disappeared. A dissonant, inhuman howling marked the descent of the Dark Lord down the black circle to Luke’s right” (290).
Luke and Leia defeat Darth Vader only because Darth Vader fell down a hole in the ground on accident. I can’t tell whether this is the worst writing or the best writing. Either way, it happened, and if I had to read it with my own two eyes then so do you.
For a book that basically created the Star Wars canon, it’s got some issues. But, overall, it’s good. I recommend reading it if only just to say you read the first Star Wars EU novel ever written. Even if you don’t like it, you can’t deny that it’s a little piece of Star Wars history, and any Star Wars fan, no matter how casual, should know their history.