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Vader Shrugged

Tonight I finished reading 1978's Splinter of the Mind's Eye, the first original Star Wars novel. Alan Dean Foster, who had ghostwritten the first film's novelization, worked out the book's plot even before the film had been released; George Lucas thought he might use the book as a basis for a low-budget sequel if his film did okay. Then Star Wars, in our timeline at least, became the biggest American film ever and Lucas could do the far more ambitious sequel The Empire Strikes Back, so Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye "stopped counting," so to speak, in 1980. The details of Empire mean Splinter's events could not have happened unless you do some very creative explaining. And, um, heal a major character.

I had fun with the book. Of course, the relatively few (so far) Star Wars novels I've read include Don Glut's Empire novelization, which was terrible, so this book would have to have been really bad for me to dislike it. Splinter is still a weird, low-key-for-Star Wars experience, with Luke, Leia, and the droids stranded on a planet with a secret Imperial mining operation. There are hostile miners and hostile (and potentially hostile) native creatures, plus a scavenger character Halla who I pictured as a weathered and sly Frances McDormand, and the MacGuffin of the story is a crystal that focuses the Force. (The splinter of the title is a fragment of the larger crystal that Halla found before meeting our heroes.)

Even with the low-key story, its language is kind of melodramatic. I can handle that — I recently read 1880's Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ ("She and Tirzah were — LEPERS!") — but here it seemed slightly out of place. I wanted a more low-key writing style: more "said," less "declared." Yes, sometimes I rewrite other people's writing in my head. And Darth Vader (not a spoiler; he's on the cover) really isn't much like how he developed later. He's more demonstrative. Demonstrative kind of like how Leigh Brackett later wanted Vader to be in her first draft of Empire ("The coordinates! The coordinates, man!"). And one time he literally shrugs.

So many factors in the past 40 years led to the Star Wars we know, the work and thoughts of so many people who added to it and are still adding to it. Like I've said, I love that Star Wars remains a vital presence in pop culture; that wasn't guaranteed. And I like that Alan Dean Foster, who was there early enough that his first Star Wars hit bookstores half a year before the first film came out, came back to write the novelization for The Force Awakens, which I'll read one of these days.

So. I've traveled through and around this cul-de-sac in Star Wars history. On to other readings.