Legends of the Force: The Hermeneutics of Star Wars

As preparation for The Force Awakens, I decided to read a few selections of Star Wars fiction from the old and new canons. Published by Del Rey Books in 1978, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is set shortly after 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope and is the first Star Wars Expanded Universe novel. Because Disney is currently expanding the Star Wars cinematic franchise, Disney’s creative team has declared all the old Star Wars novels to be “legends.” The Lucasfilm Story Group is writing new stories that occur before, during, and after the classic movies. So Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a “legend” of Luke Skywalker. But I was prepared to take it as a more *accurate* legend within the mythos because it was, you know, the first Star Wars novel ever.

I’ve decided against that.

Alan Dean Foster wrote a marvelous and even poetic novel based on Star Wars: A New Hope, but his prose in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is godawful. Everyone is saddled with clunky verbiage and speaks with run-on sentences designed only to deliver exposition. A solid adventure story involving a search for lost Jedi artifacts rests at the core of the novel. Foster also adds some depth to Princess Leia, showing her suffering from PTSD in the wake of her imprisonment and torture on the Death Star. Unfortunately, that intriguing story is trapped beneath poor writing.

Ralph McQuarrie's beautiful cover illustration for Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Source: http://bit.ly/1RmJ407.
Ralph McQuarrie’s beautiful cover illustration for Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Source: http://bit.ly/1RmJ407.

Additionally, this novel was written before George Lucas decided to make Leia Luke’s sister. This means that, in Splinter, Luke is madly in love with her. Reading the novel today is awkward; one is constantly afraid that an Oedipus Rex-level moment of incest is going to befall us. Thankfully that does not occur, although there is the deeply bizarre incident of Luke and Leia mud-wrestling. I’m aware that Luke and Leia have some awkward moments in the films, but it’s very clear that they’re both focused on their respective missions and not each other, which makes the sibling revelation in Return of the Jedi easy to digest and not a franchise-killer. Reading Splinter today, however, knowing the revelations of the later Star Wars movies, is nearly impossible because Luke’s fascination with his sister is just soooo disturbing.

In the 1990s, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye became a well-reviewed comic book that, from what I’ve gathered, reworked the story to reflect The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Presumably that means Luke isn’t in love with his long-lost sister. Hopefully that means the dialogue is better. I’d recommend you to not ignore Splinter entirely: Seek out the comic book and read it. As I said earlier, a quality adventure story – a minor detour from the main franchise – exists here. I see no reason why a better rendition of that adventure can’t remain part of the new Star Wars canon, even as Disney rewrites details and buries old novels.

And that ultimately is the brilliance of Disney’s Star Wars Legends plan. There is room for overlapping chronologies and tales of the Star Wars universe, the same way there was room in antiquity for multiple tellings of the Trojan War cycle. People can assemble their own canons, based on their favorite tellings of these myths and the themes they choose to emphasize. The fact that people were once and are today invested in the cultivation and preservation of myth, even when different anecdotes of the heroes are contradictory, tells us that humans hunger for deep mythologies. George Lucas, Alan Foster, Lawrence Kasdan, et. al. have bequeathed a mythic realm as rich as that of the Greco-Roman gods. Star Wars belongs to all humanity. That is a major achievement, and one for which we should be grateful.

But don’t read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

Cover Photo: Concept art for the Star Wars franchise by Ralph McQuarrie.
Source: http://bit.ly/1JLTXCd.

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