In the event that the first Star Wars film was not commercially successful, George Lucas had a plan for turning it into a lower budget franchise. In addition to ghost writing the novelization of Star Wars, Alan Dean Foster was commissioned to write a possible sequel to that could be shot on a low budget and utilize many of the props and sets already created for the original production.
In his 1996 introduction to the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of his book, Alan Dean Foster wrote:
George [Lucas], thinking ahead, wanted to be able to utilize props and backgrounds and the detritus of filmmaking in a second film, thereby reducing cost if necessary. So in writing the sequel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, I was asked to come up with a story that could be filmed on a low budget... It was, to say the least, an interesting way for a writer to approach a novel. (Foster, 1996)
When Star Wars was released in May 1977 it became clear that plans for a low budget sequel would not be necessary. Plans for a high-concept follow-up were put in motion and Foster’s proposed sequel was scrapped. But it wasn’t tossed out. It saw the light of day as the first Star Wars EU novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye followed the same branding as the first Star Wars novel, sporting the From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker subtitle. This helped to connect it to that work and validate them as companion pieces to each other. It also helped to suggest that both works were part of a larger series of adventures.
Consider that the first Star Wars novel was released prior to the release of the film. Well before, in fact. It had no movie poster for its cover, only a concept design from production artist Ralph McQuarrie. It lacked the now iconic logo and had no insert in the middle with the production stills from the film that can be found in later printings of the book. There was a teaser on the bottom of the back cover promising that the book was soon to become a major motion picture. Aside from this, the book for all intents and purposes looked like any other paperback science fiction novel.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye came hard upon the heels of the first book and the first movie, featuring an all new story about Luke and Leia taking R2-D2 and C-3PO to a distant world to face off against Darth Vader. This book was just a book with no movie tie-in at all. Like its predecessor, it sported a cover by Ralph McQuarrie. It also claimed to be from the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. To the casual observer, these books were not derived from the movie. The casual observer was justified in wrongly inferring that the Star Wars story actually began as a series of books.
As a child I had heard the rumor that Star Wars came from a series of books, and discovering an apocryphal tome like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye only helped support the claim. You have to remember that there was no internet or even wide-spread marketing media like there is today. What you saw in stores or in catalogues was all you knew about what was available, so outside of that you relied upon anything you either heard from someone else or decided for yourself based on whatever dubious data you managed to collect.
You may think the internet is an effective source of misinformation, but imagine that same misinformation spreading by word of mouth with no centralized communication tool you could use to research its roots. A savvy internet user can weed out unfounded rumors by judging their sources, but back in those days information was hard to come by. Whatever information you acquired had to be held as valid until a more credible source came along to refute it.
There was also a rumor going around at this time that Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was being filmed as a sequel to Star Wars. Most likely this was thanks to a bastardized version of the actual story behind the book’s creation. In any event, trust me when I tell you that misinformation and misconception were both alive and well long before the internet ever came into the mix.
The story of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was kept simple, in accordance with Foster’s task to deliver something that could be produced on a low budget. Instead of engaging in expensive space battles, Luke and Leia crash landed on a distant world with their faithful droid companions. There they were forced to race through jungles and ancient ruins to beat Darth Vader to a mystical Force-amplifying gem called the Kaiburr Crystal.
The story would have set the stage for a much different series of movies, partly because it didn’t push the mythology very far forward and partly because it didn’t include all the core characters. Han Solo and Chewbacca didn’t tag along, so as a sequel this would have excluded them from what is now considered to be the necessary ensemble for a complete Star Wars story. Of course, having fewer characters may have also been a budgetary consideration.
The story doesn’t overtly contradict the canon to follow, but there are some uncomfortable moments of sexual tension between Luke and Leia. In his foreword to the Dark Horse comics adaptation, Alan Dean Foster says that the tension between them could work in the context of future film canon, if it were interpreted to be more of a sibling rivalry than a romantic attraction. We can concede that to him; in The Empire Strikes Back Leia kisses Luke right on the mouth and no one ever even says anything about it in Return of the Jedi when they go around merrily telling everybody they’re brother and sister.
During the EU explosion of the 90’s, everything Star Wars came back into print. Among them was a special re-release of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. The new paperback edition bore a banner identifying it as “Classic Star Wars” and lacked the From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker subtitle. In the introduction to this edition, George Lucas wrote:
After Star Wars was released, it became apparent that my story – however many films it took to tell – was only one of thousands that could be told about the characters who inhabit its galaxy... This legacy began with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, published less than a year after the release of Star Wars. (Lucas, 1996)
By the time Lucas wrote those words the official Star Wars Expanded Universe had already contributed plenty of new stories to his galaxy. But that expansion began in 1978 with the publication of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. For that brief time it wasn’t the Expanded Universe or even Star Wars, for that matter. It was The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, according to the early novels. The Official Star Wars Fan Club Newsletter even referred to the movie series as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker until as late as 1980.
But it all started with Alan Dean Foster. The Star Wars novelization introduced the series as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker. And with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Foster introduced the first original expansion of the Star Wars Universe.
And that universe has been expanding ever since.