The Star Wars movie sequel we never got to see

The Empire Strikes Back is considered by many Star Wars fans to be the best film in the franchise. What most people don't know, though, is that The Empire Strikes Back wasn't the first Star Wars sequel planned. That honor goes to Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which was written by sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster and published as a novel in 1978 but never filmed. So why did George Lucas commission a sequel and then decide not to actually make it?

Lucas hedges his bets

Fans can debate George Lucas's merits as a director and a writer for all eternity—and they probably will—but one thing nobody can deny is that the guy is a master businessman. Before Star Wars was even filmed, Lucas developed a master plan for the franchise. So when he hired Foster to write up the novelization of Star Wars, Lucas decided to sign him up for a second book as well. The plan: if Star Wars was a hit, the novel would hold over fans until a film sequel was ready, and if it wasn't a hit, they could use the book as a blueprint for a cheap follow-up film. Thus, Splinter of the Mind's Eye was born.

Foster had to write the novel without seeing 'Star Wars'

One of the biggest challenges facing Foster was the fact that he had to write it without ever actually seeing Star Wars. In fact, when he sat down to start the novel, Lucas wasn't even completely finished writing Star Wars. "I had a couple versions of the screenplay and they also gave me a 16mm reel of rough footage to take around to a couple of sci-fi conventions to publicize the film," Foster told Yahoo! News. Aided only by some concept drawings and a quick visit to ILM to see the models, Foster began planning Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Just one more problem: he wasn't even allowed to use half the characters.

Luke and Leia: secret lovers?

Given the fact that Foster wrote Splinter of the Mind's Eye before the final draft of the Star Wars screenplay was completed, it's no surprise that there are some discrepancies. Most of them are minor details, like terminology, or the color of Darth Vader's lightsaber. But one bigger thing sticks out: the relationship between Luke and Leia. Two years before the infamous scene in Empire where the two kiss, Foster wrote out a storyline where the pair are teamed up on a mission for the Rebellion and end up with some pretty clear, if unexplored, sexual tension. If Foster's vision for a sequel had been followed? " Luke and Leia wouldn't be siblings," he told cinelinx. "There might be a rivalry between Luke and Han (over Leia)." Mind. Blown.

'Splinter of the Mind's Eye' was planned to be super low budget

Beyond losing two of the main characters before he even started, Foster also had to write according to a very specific set of guidelines. Since Lucas' plans to film Splinter presumed they would have a tiny budget for the sequel, Foster was instructed to only write scenes that would be super cheap to film. "He felt that if the first film was only a modest success, he would still be able to do a sequel with existing props and such," Foster told Cult Film Freak. Hypothetical budget concerns also led to Splinter being set almost entirely in caves, inside buildings, or on the surface of the fog-shrouded swamp planet of Mimban. As for the big space battles that made Star Wars famous? Forget it. Lucas forced Foster to cut an exciting battle between Tie Fighters and X-Wings just in case.

Did Rey steal her moves from Leia?

If the fact that Splinter takes place on a swamp planet perpetually cloaked in fog sounds a lot like Dagobah from Empire Strikes Back, well, that's not the only bit from Splinter that ended up making its way into the films. Case in point: the climactic battle between Luke and Vader ends up with one of them having an arm cut off; unlike in Empire, though, it's Vader instead of Luke who loses a limb. More interestingly, though, that fight begins with Leia picking up Luke's lightsaber and going toe-to-toe in a saber duel with Vader. If that sounds eerily like a mirror image of the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, it might not be a coincidence: Foster was also hired to write the novelization of The Force Awakens. Hmm…

I am Obi-Wan!

The plot of Splinter of the Mind's Eye revolves around Luke and Leia searching for an artifact called the Kaiburr Crystal, which amplifies the powers of those who are Force sensitive. And that leads to the book's coolest moment—the return of Obi-Wan Kenobi. How? Well, if you were wondering how an untrained Luke could defeat Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel, the book implies it's because the Kaiburr crystal allows Obi-Wan's spirit to inhabit Luke's body, giving Obi-Wan a chance to exact some revenge on his former pupil from beyond the grave; during the fight, Luke shouts out "I am Obi-Wan," just in case Vader missed what was happening. In fact, Obi-Wan actually obliquely references this sequence in Empire Strikes Back when he warns Luke that he "can no longer interfere" in Luke's campaign against Vader. Cool.

No Han Solo

It's hard to imagine Star Wars without Han Solo. Frankly, we don't really want to imagine it, because Han is by far the best thing about Star Wars, and we'll fight anyone who says otherwise. But despite that incontrovertible fact, Splinter of the Mind's Eye features exactly zero Han Solo. Why? Simple: when Foster was getting ready to write the novel, Harrison Ford hadn't yet signed on to film any Star Wars sequels. And since the whole plan was to eventually film Splinter of the Mind's Eye, that meant Foster couldn't use Solo at all in the book, just in case—which also meant no Chewbacca.

The legacy of 'Splinter of the Mind's Eye'

Splinter of the Mind's Eye holds a unique and weird place in Star Wars history. It never was made into a film, but some of its ideas did trickle down into the official trilogy. It's no longer considered to be canon, yet has remained in print for nearly 40 years. For many fans who read it in the 1970s and 1980s, it's just as much a part of the Star Wars story as Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. It provides a fascinating look at what might have been—an alternate reality where Star Wars was a flop, Luke and Leia were lovers, and Han Solo abandoned the Rebellion. Most of all? It's still a darn good read. "I'm very proud of it, as I am of everything I write," Foster said. "I especially feel that it caught the spirit of the first film and continued it." Darn right.