Most Star Wars fans know of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy as the first post-Original Trilogy Star Wars novels ever published; but they were not the first Star Wars tie-in novels. Splinter of the Mind's Eye, by Alan Dean Foster, was published in 1978, before The Empire Strikes Back was even filmed. The picture it paints of the Star Wars universe is an intriguing one, different from the later movies and Expanded Universe.
The story of Splinter of the Mind's Eye follows Luke and Leia after they crash land on the swampy planet Mimban. Disguised as miners, they attempt to find the way off the planet. In a bar, they encounter an elderly, Force-sensitive woman, Halla, who shows them a fragment of a glowing stone, the Kaiburr crystal. Claiming that the full crystal will magnify its wielder's Force powers, Halla promises to help Luke and Leia get off the planet if they help her find it.
Luke and Leia are captured by Imperials, who also seek the Kaiburr crystal. With the help of their new allies, they manage to escape. But if the Imperials can find the Kaiburr crystal, Darth Vader would become too powerful for the Rebel Alliance to defeat. Luke must find and defeat Vader in order to prevent the crystal from falling into the wrong hands.
Splinter of the Mind's Eye has an interesting history: it was written before Star Wars became wildly popular, and its story might have become the basis for a low-budget movie sequel. The novel is written with the cinema in mind, taking place on a fog-covered planet (to reduce the cost of scenery) and missing the character of Han Solo entirely, since Harrison Ford had not yet signed on for the next Star Wars movie.
In addition, Splinter of the Mind's Eye was written before the characters' relationships had been fully established. The natural result, combined with the lack of Han Solo, is quite a bit of disturbing sexual tension between Luke and Leia. This is understandable, of course, since they don't know they're related at this point (and might not have been, had the story taken a different turn). It's unsettling nonetheless, however, to fans who know how the story turns out.
Alan Dean Foster, who wrote Splinter of the Mind's Eye, had also served as George Lucas' uncredited co-writer for the novelization of A New Hope (1976). He returned to the Expanded Universe twenty-four years later with The Approaching Storm (2002), a prequel-era novel which provides background for the political situation in Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Inconsistencies and Problems
Splinter of the Mind's Eye has a number of inconsistencies with later Star Wars media, mostly due to the fact that certain terms hadn't yet solidified. For example, R2-D2 is referred to as a "detoo" unit rather than an "artoo" unit, and "Darth" is treated like a first name rather than a title: Leia refers to Vader as "Lord Darth Vader." (This interpretation also occurs in Obi-Wan's dialogue with Vader in A New Hope.)
The biggest problem is Luke's duel with Darth Vader. Despite having no formal training, other than his short time with Obi-Wan, Luke is able to fight Vader with ease. During this duel, he gets some of his power by channeling the spirit of Obi-Wan. In contrast, when Luke faces Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, he is clearly not ready, and loses his hand because of it. To explain this inconsistency, Abel G. Peña proposed the theory that the Darth Vader Luke faced in Splinter of the Mind's Eye was just a Force projection, not a flesh-and-blood opponent.
While attempting to justify the inconsistencies between the novel and the rest of the Expanded Universe may be an entertaining pastime for fans, the answers all feel a bit unsatisfactory. But the inconsistencies are part of what makes Splinter of the Mind's Eye so interesting and valuable to Star Wars fans. In many ways, the novel does not portray the Star Wars we know, but the Star Wars that might have been.
A Look at Star Wars History
Readers of Splinter of the Mind's Eye should not consider it too seriously as a continuing adventure of Luke Skywalker and the other Star Wars characters, but as an exploration of how the Star Wars story might have turned out differently. The Kaiburr crystal, for example, played a part in George Lucas' early drafts of the first Star Wars film; how might the story have gone if it had been included?
As for the sexual tension between Luke and Leia, what if Harrison Ford hadn't signed on for future Star Wars films? Certainly there would be no Han/Leia relationship, and as a result the relationship between Luke and Leia might have flourished, unhindered by the belated revelation that they were actually siblings.
Splinter of the Mind's Eye can be difficult to fit in with the Star Wars movies and Expanded Universe as we know them, but still provides a fast-paced Star Wars adventure with familiar characters consistent with their portrayal in the first film, if not their future development. While it's far from the best novel in the Expanded Universe, its historical value makes it a must-read for Star Wars fans.