This year marks the 33rd Anniversary of the release of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Thanks to the success of “Star Wars,” George Lucas went on to make five sequels to the movie and create one of the greatest space sagas ever. However, what if “Star Wars” hadn’t been as successful as it ended up being?
What if the film now referred to as “Episode IV: A New Hope” only found a niche crowd of sci-fi devotees? One thing I can assure you is Lucas wasn’t ready to just hang up his dreams of exploring a galaxy far, far away. It would have just been on a much smaller budget with a simpler story.
Science Fiction writer Alan Dean Foster was hired by Lucas to ghost write a novelization of his “Star Wars” movie to release before the film hit theaters in 1977. What many people don’t know is that Foster was commissioned to come up with a budget-conscious sequel to it as well. He was to write the follow-up book with the idea in mind that “Star Wars” might not be a big hit at the box office. In that case, Lucas would have a means of continuing his saga in a less complex manner.
Foster began penning what would become “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.” Lucas gave him a lot of freedom to go where he wanted to as far as story and plot was concerned. He only had a few requests of Foster as he fleshed out the book. Lucas needed him to stick to scenarios in which the existing props from “Star Wars” could be recycled for the new film. With this in mind, the writer began to put ideas down on paper.
He made the setting of the story a misty jungle planet. This would help reduce the cost of having to create artificial sets and backgrounds. An isolated stretch of forest that could stand in as a jungle wouldn’t be that hard for a location scout to find.
In the book, Luke Skywalker volunteers to accompany Princess Leia Organa on a mission to the planet Circarpous. When her ship is damaged, they’re forced to make an emergency landing on the jungle planet Mimban. He soon discovers that a mysterious gem called the Kaiburr crystal is found on the planet. The crystal gives the one who possesses it unlimited powers over the Force. Luke must find the treasure before it falls into the wrong hands. These wrong hands could include those of Darth Vader.
Upon finishing the novel and showing Lucas, the “Star Wars” creator had only one editing request. He wanted Foster to remove a space battle involving Luke and Leia before they crash-landed on the jungle planet. Lucas was afraid the sequence would require too many special effects and cost too much money to film.
There were many aspects of “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” which would come to contradict the future history of the “Star Wars” universe. For starters, there are some obvious romantic feelings between Luke and Leia. R2-D2 is referred to as a “detoo” unit instead of an “artoo” unit, which is what the model has continued to be called throughout the six movies.
Luke’s dueling skills are also described as being far more advanced than what they were in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Leia keeps Vader at bay during a battle as well. However, both of these could easily be explained away by revelations in “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi” that they have inherited Force powers since Vader is their father.
Another discrepancy found in the book revolves around Vader telling Luke he had a hard to time finding out he was the one who shot up his TIE fighter during the Battle of the Death Star. Han Solo was responsible for taking the Dark Lord of the Sith out of the fight.
There were also a couple of ideas that made it into the future “Star Wars” movies. It’s obvious that the jungle planet of Mimban transformed into Dagobah. Luke also severs Vader’s hand in “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye,” which comes to pass in “Return of the Jedi.”
Something else noticeable about “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” is the absence of Han Solo and Chewbacca. At the time the novel was written, Harrison Ford wasn’t under contract to return as the heroic smuggler in a sequel. Therefore, Lucas didn’t want to include him in this quick follow-up.
As history dictates, “Star Wars” went on to be a huge blockbuster and “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” was nixed as being the follow-up film. Lucas decided to go in another higher-budgeted direction and “The Empire Strikes Back” was born. The novel was released in 1978 through Ballantine Books with the accompanying tagline “The Further Adventures of Luke Skywalker.” It became the first entry in what would become known as the “Star Wars Expanded Universe.”
“Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” is available now in paperback, hardcover, and Kindle editions.