Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye
Pencils: Chris Sprouse
Inks: Terry Austin
Letters: Steve Dutro
Colors: James Sinclair
Design: Scott Tice
Cover Art: Duncan Fegredo
Star Wars created by George Lucas
A 1996 graphic novel based on Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 novel, Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye tells a curious tale of what could have been. The Star Wars universe was still wide-open back then, so creator George Lucas could have gone down any number of avenues following the success of the original film. What he eventually took was an Asian martial arts inspired journey that smacked together Shaolin asceticism (and its demise at the hands of a traitor), samurai sword fighting, watered-down Eastern mysticism, combined with more Western fairy story elements and counterculture ideas. Foster’s plot follows a more conventional fantasy epic route. The heroes and villains race to recover a lost magical artifact which could shift the tide in the war between good and evil. The former are mainly represented by an earnest Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. The latter are lead by a cranky Darth Vader. Needless to say, this macguffin will never be mentioned in the films, let alone just play any kind of role.
With the benefit of hindsight, writer/inker Terry Austin and artist Chris Sprouse take great pains to make sure the comic closely resembles the design aesthetic of the original film trilogy. Even the planet of Mimban where the story mostly takes place looks like a twin of Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back. And there’s a giant worm that for all intents might as well be a rejected design for the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi. Sprouse possesses a meticulous, old-school drawing style reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, which he uses to reproduce the futuristic technology and the likeness of the film’s famous cast. James Sinclair complements the line art with restrained, relatively flat colors. The overall effect is a far cry from many of the later, more fanciful Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse. This book feels very minimal in its efficient storytelling. Not that this fidelity to the world built by Lucas always works. The designs for Mimban’s oppressed natives are pretty uninspired, even embarrassing by today’s standards. And the interior of the ancient temple where the climactic showdown takes place is so nondescript it leaves no lasting impression. Many times, the comic feels more claustrophobic rather than atmospheric.
Some of this can be blamed on the plot. Its small-scale, episodic quality means that nothing actually gets resolved, just left for future installments to deal with. Only this never happens because Lucas would decide to go in another direction. SOTME (never mind the morass of supplementary stories outside of the film timeline formerly labelled the "Expanded Universe") is more like the present crop of Marvel television shows than the Marvel movies. They may (or may not) be officially be part of the same universe, but the two are largely disconnected in practice, with the former appearing diminished in status when set next to the latter.
As the story’s aforementioned macguffin, the Kaiburr Crystal raises a host of questions which are left largely unanswered. It can enhance the user’s connection to The Force, but neither the Jedi Order or the Sith Lords seem to have been aware of its existence. Why? What other groups have been able to manipulate The Force in this manner, and what other objects of power are still out there waiting to be discovered? The crystal muddies the clear-cut binary that largely informs the conflict driving the Star Wars saga. But this is something Lucas simply ignored when he got around to writing TESB.
Unsurprisingly, the novel and its adaptation contain a number of elements a little discordant with present-day canon, something I imagine not a few continuity nerds out there have been bending backwards to resolve. [Spoiler Alert!] Vader doesn’t act as if he knows that Luke and Leia are his offspring, and those two certainly don’t behave like they know they’re siblings. Vader makes clear his desire to murder them in the most excruciating fashion possible using his lightsaber. And it’s hard to miss the mutual attraction between Luke and Leia. All this is pretty Freudian now. Austin and Sprouse keep things chaste, but there’s no getting around mood. The plot is calculated to throw these two good-looking people together into a more intimate working relationship.
Then there’s the casual sexism of the scene where Leia engages Luke in a flirty mud fight in retaliation for Luke slapping Leia earlier when he was trying to pass off as a master disciplining his slave for talking back to him. Not that Leia takes it lying down. If we ignore how canon has made this then innocent scene kinda creepy, this interaction is quaint, if unintentionally amusing.
That quaintness is emblematic of an early Star Wars when lighthearted action-adventure still set the tenor of the story. Before the franchise was weighed down by its own Campbellian self-importance. A universe where the ethereal Force could still be accessible through silly magic crystals, as opposed to those utterly serious and toootally plausible midi-chlorians.