Long before the Disney Plus shows and the May the Fourth celebrations, before, "No, I am your father," and before Star Wars went into hyperdrive as a global phenomenon, there were fears it would it simply wouldn't, erm, take off.


George Lucas was hopeful about his new sci-fi, but there was every possibility it would become just another forgotten film. So he put a precaution into place: a potential low-budget sequel that would allow the story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) to continue.

Of course, that never happened, and we instead ended up with The Empire Strikes Back, which has been crowned by RadioTimes.com readers as the best Star Wars film of all time. But that forgotten sequel, titled Splinter of the Mind's Eye, lives on in a novelisation by Alan Dean Foster.

Celebrating Star Wars Day 2023, he chats to RadioTimes.com about the novel he wrote when Star Wars was "just a glint in George Lucas's eye", all the twists that never happened, and his impact on what the franchise has now become.

Writing out Han Solo, Chewbacca, and an epic space battle

"With Splinter of the Mind's Eye, I was asked to write a sequel novel and the only structure that was put on me – there were two, actually," Foster explains. "The first one was that I could not use the characters of Han Solo and Chewbacca because at that point in time, Harrison Ford had not signed on to any future projects.

"I didn't have to ask about Chewbacca, because with no Han Solo, there didn't seem any point, at least at that point in the Star Wars universe, of having Chewbacca included. So no Han Solo, no Chewbacca in Splinter of the Mind's Eye.

"The other instruction was it had to be a story that could be filmed on a low budget because George had in mind that, if the film Star Wars was not a big success, or not a colossal failure, he would still be able to make a sequel on a low budget that would use as many as the existing props and costumes and backgrounds and performers as possible.

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"That's why I set the book on a fog-shrouded planet. There was no CGI in those days so that would cut down on expensive backdrops, and a lot of it's underground for the same reason."

As for Lucas's reaction, Foster goes on: "George accepted both books as written, with the exception that I had to cut two things out of Splinter of the Mind's Eye. One I don't remember, it was quite small.

"The other was, the book originally opened with a very large, fairly complex space battle and I had to take that out because it would have been expensive to film... we've certainly seen plenty of exciting space battles in the history of Star Wars so nobody is really missing anything!"

However, even Foster had his doubts about Star Wars when he first went to meet Lucas.

"Privately in my mind, I'm thinking, 'There's no way there's going to get this down on film. There's no way this film is going to happen the way it's shown in the screenplay,' and of course it did. But that was my original thought.

"George said, 'Do you have any thoughts on anything?' This is why I don't work much in Hollywood or politics, I always say what I think... I remember saying, 'If this film doesn't hit, will you be alright?!'"

Luke and Leia's romance

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope

Of course, it's not until Return of the Jedi that Luke and Leia find out they're siblings. By this point, there have been a few awkward moments, including that kiss in The Empire Strikes Back, so it's not surprising that Foster decided there should be some romantic tension between the pair.

"I don't think George knew at that time – far be it for me to analyse George from half a century ago – but I don't think George or anybody else knew at that time that Luke and Leia, particularly based on George's original notes and preliminary scriptwork, that they were going to turn out to be siblings," Foster explains.

"Much less that Leia was going to play as important a role as she did in the following films. In fact, there's a very famous excised shot from The Empire Strikes Back, which shows Leia giving Luke a very non-sibling kiss while Han Solo looks on."

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He continues: "I thought from the beginning that you were going to have a fairly understandable love triangle there, with the two guys competing for the love of the princess. But George went a different way with it.

"At the time, of course, that was the impression I had. So there is this little, and fortunately it is little, frisson between Luke and Leia in Splinter of the Mind's Eye because that's the way the story seemed to be going. Certain things you can fix in hindsight and retrospect and certain things you can't!"

'Luke Starkiller'

Foster was there from the very beginnings of Star Wars, beginning his work on Splinter of the Mind's Eye before A New Hope had been released. He recalls giving George Lucas his thoughts on Skywalker's original, scrapped name.

"I said, 'I think maybe you've got too many stars in this movie.' You've got the Death Star, you've got Star Wars, and your main character is called Luke Starkiller, which he was at the time.

"George just kind of nodded, which I later learned was a method of his, and I forgot about it and, what do you know? The film comes out and there's no more Luke Starkiller. I'm sure I'm not the only one who pointed this out but I can say that I made that little contribution for whatever it's worth."

Vader not being Luke's father

In Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Darth Vader's arm is cut off at the end, a twist Foster believes could have been "easily fixed" to fit in with the rest of the stories. But while Luke and Vader's familial relationship is not explored in the book (after all, that reveal only came in The Empire Strikes Back), if he had his way, Foster says the pair of them would have a very different relationship.

"I do not think that Vader should have been Luke's father," he says. "I can see George sitting around, thinking, 'What can we do to really surprise people?' And of course, it really did surprise people.

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"The way I would have done it - as long as we're speculating here – was that Vader was actually Luke's older brother. This is how you would fix it so it would work with Empire, who killed their real father and pretended to be Luke's father. And that would have made a revelation at the end.

"Vader would have stayed a villain in other words. I couldn't accept Darth Vader's redemption."

The parts that made the cut

While Splinter of the Mind's Eye never made it to film in full, parts of the story actually did.

"I was able to introduce something called the Kaiburr crystal, which they changed the spelling of [Kyber crystal] and slightly the purpose of, and of course the planet itself, Mimban where they crash-land, lo and behold shows up in an entirely different Star Wars film later on," Foster reveals.

Kyber crystals were most recently referenced in Andor, with Stellan Skarsgard's Luthan Rael offering one in the form of a necklace to Diego Luna's Cassian Andor as payment. Mimban, meanwhile, was used in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

While he doesn't see Splinter of the Mind's Eye ever being put to screen as part of the Star Wars universe, Foster loves seeing parts of the book crop up elsewhere in the franchise.

As for what he wants to see from the future of the franchise? Other than the "complete elimination" of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker (he agrees with many fan criticisms on Rian Johnson's offering), he says there's plenty of expanded universe to explore.

"The Skywalker saga is long since done, whether you like or dislike how it ended! I would rather see Star Wars go off in things like Andor, for instance, and get away from the whole Empire versus Republic thing. It's a big, varied universe, it's been very heavily developed and expanded on, there's still a lot of fun things you could do with it."

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