Who would have ever thought that Star Wars would turn out a failure? Trick question! For starters, anyone who’s lived through the prequels. There are few things that generally can enrage people to the point where their blood pressure is higher than that of a decapitated Anime character. One of these things is mentioning the terms “Republican” or “Democrat” in the presence of the opposite. Otherwise, it’s just the Star Wars prequels. So try to understand when I say I love the prequels almost as much as the classic trilogy. I love them from the pointy little tip of Amidala’s crown to the metal hunk of bounty hunter digesting at the bottom of the sarlacc pit. And I tell you this story because I want you to understand the sheer amount of masochism required that when I find out Lucas had planned a low-budget alternative to the Empire Strikes Back in case a New Hope flopped, my first thought was, “I need to read this!”
Back when George Lucas commissioned Alan Dean Foster to ghost write the novelization to A New Hope, he also suggested a side-project, a plan B, an option to implement if no studio trusted him with so much as a coupon for IHOP, let alone a film budget. So Foster wrote a 200-page novel called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which could be easily adapted to film, allowing Lucas to continue losing fan support even if he couldn’t afford the grandiose spectacle of Melatonin known as pod racing. Foster set his story in a dense jungle filled with mist that reduces visibility to less than the distance across a cheap, pay-by-the-hour film studio, and eliminates as many characters as possible without resorting to wrapping a twist tie around a woolly sock puppet and calling it a wookie.
The story opens with Luke and Leia en route to planet Circarpous when they crash land on Mimban, both planets named after Lucas and Foster spent a half hour staring at a hand of Scrabble tiles until they sounded like real words. From there…well, it’s safe to say “stuff happens.” They wander through the jungle, find a town, get captured by the Empire. There’s something about a magic rock and then suddenly they’re in a cave where they talk an indigenous tribe into getting themselves killed to save the beautiful white people. I don’t really know. This is what happens when plots start to get old; their minds start to go, and suddenly they’re wandering down the street, going into other people’s houses, and eventually you find them stripped naked, trying to stuff their clothes into an ATM and asking people for quarters.
Case in point, Foster’s grasp of these characters seem to indicate he uses 10W-40 motor oil and Astro-glide as a hand lotion. For all his trash talk, Darth Vader might have been blowing off steam playing street hoops, or preparing for his next rap battle. After blowing up the Death Star, Luke must have started injecting testosterone intravenously, as his vaguely whiny personality has subsided out of fear for his nearly constant need to mount Leia. And what Foster has done with the princess is bad enough that the resulting disturbance in the Force would incite feminists everywhere to have an aneurysm. The character who, after coming face-to-face with an inept rescue squad on the Death Star, shot out the grate on a garbage chute and commanded everyone to dive in now can’t go more than two pages without complaining about the mud on her dress, the lack of good makeup on planet Mimban, or the fact that Luke comes up with a half-dozen brilliant plans to save their lives by masquerading her as a servant. In the movie she was Rambo with a laser, and Foster transformed her into Willie Scott from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. At one point, Leia actually uses the phrase, “Do you know who I am?” and suddenly the book felt less like a Star Wars novel and more like watching Kermit the Frog carry Miss Piggy through a swamp.
What did I expect, though, when I heard this was supposed to become a low-budget movie? Another trick question: words are cheap. Just because a film has to use a limited number of actors and take place on a single planet doesn’t mean the story itself has to sound like it was pieced together from random pages pulled out of the dumpster behind Stephanie Meyer’s office. The book deserves credit for essentially starting the Star Wars Expanded Universe series, although honestly that’s like crediting whichever Medieval monk penned the first piece of erotica–it was going to happen anyway. The fact that this was the first is more coincidental than influential, but an interesting read for the hardcore Star Wars fan, or nerds like me who are interested in alternative drafts of stories. It had potential to be a fun little side-story to the main series, but then again, I could also say I have the potential to be the first Rock-star Astronaut President of the United States.