91-Books – Splinter of the Mind’s Eye

From http://blogs.starwars.com/kaitco:

The Challenge! http://blogs.starwars.com/kaitco/2

😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
🙂 – I’d read it again.
😐 – Meh…
🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster
My rating ~ : 🙂 – I’d read it again.

The Review:
The novel, the first true instance of the Expanded Universe, felt like a complete lesson in Star Wars for me. Only two novels into the Star Wars universe, I already see the underlying story in a clear and bright light. So many things I had never considered sprang to mind while I was reading and when I got to the end, it seemed as if I had come out of the book a little wiser.

It was not until the scene where Luke was attempting to get Leia to appear less regal that it occurred to me that Leia was actually a princess and often behaved like one would expect a wealthy monarch to behave. In the films, she came across as simply bold, but the novel gave me a little more insight into that boldness.

Likewise, there were parts that, while pulling me out of the fictive dream (though, at no fault of the author), expanded my thinking about the characters/inhabitants of the Star Wars universe.

“‘I am told this mining is an expensive venture. The Empire is smart enough to save where it is able,’ he concluded with pride.
‘That probably extends to your pay and retirement,’ the Princess ventured maliciously.”

Even while reading “Episode 4” and gaining some insight on the idea that all or most of the Alderaanians actually perished in the first full test of the Death Star, I never considered the day-to-day folk that interacted with, or were part of the Empire; that they would have normal lives and even think of things like a salary and retirement.

Intriguing me further is what happened to all the people who had remained loyal to the Empire after Episode VI. Going beyond that even has me wondering about the people who possibly sided with the rebels before and during The Clone Wars, but then decided to “play it safe” and remain loyal to the Empire during the next rebellion, again finding themselves on the losing side. I suppose that is why I’ve got this great reading challenge, but still, I am intrigued.

Most striking in this novel, using my knowledge of the prequels, was how much Luke and Leia model their parents and how their personalities differ from what one would expect. Leia is often quick to anger and has an absolute surety in herself that goes beyond being raised a monarch and, by contrast, Luke is far calmer throughout all of their hardships and surprises. Leia’s personality reeks of her father, while Luke encompasses all of Padme’s rational and sensible, albeit sometimes passive, calm.

Just when I thought I could not be further intrigued, the idea that since Leia was the one who obtained the most of her father’s personality and spirit, would she have made the better Jedi of the pair if they had been trained simultaneously? I have to admit, she appeared rather powerful being able to somehow withstand one of the most powerful sith lords that had ever lived with no training in the Force. It just makes me wonder…

All of this pondering and wondering aside, I enjoyed the novel on whole. The underlying story of trying to find a crystal that could enhance the Force came across as fascinating, though it made Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha manga appear far less original for me. The new world was a treat to discover along with more of the Empire’s dealings and simply a wider view of how the people in the galaxy far, far away interacted with one another. All this notwithstanding, there were some parts that confused or disappointed me.

The mechanics of the novel were far different from the first; the sentence structure was far more jagged and broken, perhaps creating some misunderstood rhythm, but the change was definitely noticeable.
Parts of the story also seemed a bit rushed to me, especially Halla’s character. Halla’s appearance came across as far too easy and, while a part of me believes I think this way because my knowledge of the prequels, but the characterization just seemed off-balanced. It reminded me of reading Christopher Paolini’s Eragon for the first time and how the mythology he presented felt like he was just trying too hard to come up with something original.

In fact, even by the very end of the novel, I still did not trust Halla as I was not keen on our protagonists trusting this person who had come out of the blue with all this knowledge and a pension for help at no cost. I would have liked to see some more distrust coming from Luke, especially after their separation.

When Halla describes herself as simply ambitious, I started to suspect as ambition feels like a very un-Jedi-like quality and, as he knew virtually nothing about her, I wondered why Luke had not bothered to ask more questions.

Obi-Wan had mentioned that Vader had helped hunt down and destroy the Jedi after turning to evil, so why hadn’t the question come up about how Halla managed to escape Vader for so many years and, better still, why did Luke never questioned whether Halla was good or evil when he understood she was Force-sensitive? Vader was Force-sensitive, was he not?

There were also a few places were the characters seemed to contradict themselves, most notably Luke. In the beginning of the novel, Luke discusses some of his studies on Tatooine and his lack of interest in zoology, “only the stars.” Much later, however, Luke pulls an entire alien language out of almost nowhere, which means he must of brought his head out of the clouds for long enough to study languages and culture, i.e.: anthropology.

While zoology and anthropology do not fall hand in hand, in my eyes, if Luke was as focused on the stars as he had earlier said, he would not have been able to pull the language of the Yuzzem from past studies at the opportune time.

It sounds to me that Luke would have been just as interested in the ecology of other planets as with their cultures. It is like describing snow to someone who has never seen it. The listener is entranced with something the storyteller would find very simplistic. I imagine it would be the same with Luke; learning about all the flora and fauna of other worlds would preoccupy his time when he was trying to get off the sand-ridden Tatooine.

“The universe is full of dead people who lived by assumption.” (Best quote ever! ^_^)

I would have liked to see Grammel’s character expanded more. There was just so much potential with him, but we only got to chip the surface of what appeared to be a very deep character. From his initial descriptions from Halla to his final demise, I had hoped more would come of the character and, from the way he was written, a part of me wonders if more details of Grammel had been included in an early draft of the novel, but were shed by an editor.

What completely caught me by surprise was the outright violence of the novel.

“Luke refastened the heirloom at this belt as the four of them ran for the front of the building, leaving confusion and blood in equal amounts behind them.”

I am still unsure whether the violence gratified or disgusted me. On one hand, I am unaccustomed to getting a full dose of anything more than mild PG violence from Star Wars and, since reading something always makes it far more acute for me, I experience the violence to a greater degree. The higher detail of violence comes across as so foreign it is distasteful, but on the other hand, it enriches the story and truly brings it alive in front of my eyes.

What leaves the matter further muddled is that when compared with what I have seen in the films and Clone Wars, the violence is not really that bad, but it is only when I read such depictions that I think about exactly what happened. That is, thoughts of, “Whoa, that soldier is not just dead…he’s dead.” spring to mind to make the whole experience more real for me, which, again, can be both bad and good.

“Mostly parted in sleep, her lips seemed to beckon him. He leaned closer, seeking refuge from the damp green and brown of the swamp in that hypnotic redness.”

Luke and Leia’s…um, relationship, was rather interesting to read. Strange as it may sound, for the majority of the novel, I found it easy to forget that Luke and Leia were siblings as they wandered about Mimban. In fact, at times, I was so entrenched in Luke’s mind that it almost possible to forget that the mild sexual tension between them could have been perfectly normal…almost.

There were also points where I was simply amused by how close Foster came to the complexity of the emotions coursing through Luke and Leia. They both “feel” something and they (or at least Luke) think it is some kind of romantic love because they simply don’t know any better, which brings me to something I touched upon in my review of “Episode 4” and I know I will bring up again.

“‘He’s near, very near.'”

Towards the latter end of the novel, Luke picks up the “disturbance in the Force” and knows that it is Vader, which intrigues me to no end.
The scene was very creepy, though a part of me is romantic enough to believe that part of the reason Luke feels Vader’s presence so strongly is because they are father and son, meaning that George Lucas could have possibly had an idea of where the whole story was heading at the time of Episode 4, which leads us into Leia’s foresight:

“Leia inhaled in terror, her eyes widening. ‘No, not him again, not here.'”

Out of all beings in the universe, her mind jumped to Vader. Why? Why not Essada himself since she apparently goes into shock anytime anyone refers to him? Better still, why not think of something in regards to the jewel they are seeking? Hadn’t she been the loudest opponent of the expedition to find it and was she not distrustful of Halla, even at this late point in the novel?

These questions and more were running through my mind as I read and, while I suppose I was literally reading too much into it, several scenes in the novel seemed very much like they were a glimpse into Episodes 5 and 6.

There was one thing about the novel that I can honestly say I did not like, though it was more of a constant ideal or thought pattern than any singular event.

“‘Using energy weapons on primitive sentients,’ she muttered in outrage.”

I was a far cry into the novel when I simply could not overlook the ideas of “primitive” versus “civilized” any longer. Throughout the entirety of the novel, and most often through Princess Leia, was the subtle discussion of the primitive species on Mimban and how they were uncivilized in comparison with their visitors. Perhaps my ideals are more “modern” from growing up in the 90s, but I find it a bit far-fetched for any one or entity to determine what amounts to being civilized.

A culture rich in differences does not make it uncivilized or necessarily primitive and, likewise, a culture ripe with technology is not necessarily civilized or advanced; just different.

It reminds me of reading Anna and the King of Siam and reading as Anna Leonowens disregarded the Siamese people as simple and akin to primitives since their culture was nothing like that of the English. That titular character can be forgiven of her ignorance, but as there did not appear to be any of the same redemption from that line of thinking in this novel, I am unwilling to afford Princess Leia the same courtesy.

Somehow this unapologetic description of the native Mimbans dates the novel for me, as I cannot imagine a writer of this new century so boldly declaring a culture sad and primitive; it maintains a pre-Civil Rights and pre-Women’s Lib feel to it.

A part of me wants to pass off these sporadic claims as coming from Leia’s relatively sheltered and slightly spoiled upbringing, but she was not the only speaking or behaving in such a manner. The Imperials thought in this same manner, as did Luke and it was only Halla who first noted that the Coway considered them (Luke, Leia and Halla) to be the primitives, though this was not until close to the end of the novel.

Leia’s disgust with Empire’s dealings with the native Mimbans does not exempt her from a similar line of thinking. The same thought process that allows the Imperials to laugh at the “greenies” as they perform the most menial jobs for just a drop of liquor is the same thought process that goes into deciding what “like us” and civilized and what is not.

Those thoughts were almost…uncivilized.

Despite ringing declarations of what was civilized and what was not, there were parts of the novel that I simply adored and often brought a smile to my face.

“He rapped another of the growths, was rewarded by a totally different ring. They exchanged smiles, and then the cave was filled with crude but sprightly tunes as the natural chimes sang under their hands.”

Some scenes of the novel were downright wonderful and the above was no exception. Their experience in the cave right up to the point that they met the natives was incredibly well-written and, at times, so picturesque that I often wished there was a film made of this novel as well.

“‘I am afraid your slow-witted companions will no longer be able to help you or anyone else, Skywalker.'”

As always, Darth Vader stole the show for me and brought the novel from a close “Meh” into a definite re-read.

Cold, callous and simply evil to the end, Vader brought the Force back into focus and, from his toying with Leia and then Luke to his not-so-complete demise, he was exactly what I had hoped to receive from a “new” Vader appearance. Equally gratifying was that there were few inconsistencies with the character I have grown to love from the films.

I can accept just about every move he makes and everything he says as the last scenes seem to fall in line with what I “know” about the character. He is “devoid of any spark of humanity” just as he appears in the films and, while I still wish the irony of Vader removing Luke’s arm in Episode 5 as Luke had done to him could have somehow made it into the films as well, Vader’s character as a whole left me fully satisfied.

What I got most from the novel, however, was a great appreciation for Princess Leia.

In all the years of watching the films, she had always seemed just a really cool character, but with nothing of the depth of Luke or Yoda or especially Vader. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye allowed me to really “see” Leia as a complete character with a full, unwavering personality and history.

Her snarky running commentary, her proud and patriotic sureties, her desire to defeat absolute evil and, of course, how she beat the crap out of Luke after he slapped her in the bar. Leia’s character was so very well-defined and well-drawn in comparison with my first experiences with her that I think I might have found the novel generally satisfying even if Vader hadn’t made an appearance.

Foster’s first original foray into what would be known as the Expanded Universe was the complete treat to read and, now, I am primed to continuing delving further into this literary world. The excitement was not as thrilling as “Episode 4’s” novelization, but it was still a delight to read. I must say that it is rare for me to go into a novel with extraordinarily high expectations and, despite not living up to my ideal, still find it enjoyable enough to want to experience it another time. Splinter was not my blockbusting jaw-dropper, but it was still a great ride.

Next up: Lost Tribe of the Sith #1: Precipice

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