– Spoiler Review –
Lost Stars is a YA novel in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” line of books and comics, written by Claudia Gray. While the novel comes off as fan-fiction and a little too melodramatic at times (as one might fear a Young Adult novel might), those things actually make Lost Stars that much stronger, giving the original parts not centered on moments from the movies a lot to build on and build up, both for the characters and the galaxy at large. In fact, it’s such an enjoyable ride it might even be better than some of the adult novels we’ve gotten so far.
Centering around Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree of the backwater planet Jelucan, Lost Stars takes us from their first meeting trying to sneak onto a Imperial shuttle to check it out to all the way, briefly, past Return of the Jedi. Their tale is one about star-crossed lovers, who start their military careers on the same side, the Empire, and end up finding themselves on different sides of the galactic conflict as the war rages on and they are both affected differently by the events we all know from the films. Thane, bullied by his entire family (for reasons never explored or explained other than they are bad people for bad people’s sake), has issues with authority figures and bullies, can be very cynical, and finds ultimate peace in the cockpit of a spaceship. Ciena, loved by her family, holds honor, loyalty, and oaths above all other things, and also finds ultimate peace in the cockpit of a spaceship. Their love for flying is what brings them together, despite growing up on different sides of the Jelucan tracks, and their friendship awkwardly but naturally progresses into a deep love for one another, despite any philosophical differences or allegiances.
They aren’t always entertaining protagonists seeing as they fit within the mold you usually associate with YA novel characters (brooding, love-struck, etc.), but they are easy to root for and go through a lot of thoughts and emotions fans would both imagine people involved in the events of the original trilogy might feel, as well as what fans can relate to in regards to relationships, duty, and the lengths one might go for the ones they love. The biggest issue I had with either character had to be Ciena’s loyalty to her oath to the Empire, which tends to strain the suspension of disbelief to the point where it can occasionally feel like it’s being used solely to continue providing conflict for the two lovers. But as Gray does with many factors one associates with YA novels throughout LS, she uses those assumption to enhance the story instead of making them the main crutch of why pre-teens would normally want to read YA. And by the end of the novel they aren’t in a place one commonly expects two young lovers in a YA novel to be in, which is both thanks to the unique if not always enjoyable characterizations and the strength of Gray’s writing and plot, leaving me excited for more from her and these characters.
Ciena’s dicey in-ability to break a oath, even when her conscious is telling her she should, is both a slight annoyance, but also part of a more interesting point and picture Gray paints of the Imperial service’s training methods. Most of, it not all of the training cadets get in the Empire centers around smashing their individuality and home-planet feelings into dust, instead placing the Empire and its interests first and foremost so they can more effectively help bring order to all the citizens of the galaxy. It helps to make sense of how people could keep fighting for the Empire even after it blew up an inhabited world and no one better exhibits that than Nash Windrider, a native of Alderaan. His final appearance in the novel is both chilling, exciting, and a little shocking, definitely leaving me wishing the book had spent some more time with him as a POV and secondary character since his arc is the one that goes along the most unexpected of paths within LS (Bria at Tosche Station has an excellent look at how the Empire’s training led Nash down the path he takes within LS). Overall, the idea and methods behind Imperial training are deceitful, manipulative, and a lot more interesting than I ever would’ve imagined, given form in subtle ways within LS.
It won’t be uncommon to feel like the novel reads like fan-fiction, given that Thane and Ciena (and their friends) take part in major moments from the films (Tantive IV‘s capture, Battle of Hoth and Endor, chasing after the Falcon in the asteroid field), run into characters even casual viewers of the films would recognize (Leia, Tarkin, Wedge, Mon Mothma), and even set into motion plot points from the films (dismantling the Falcon‘s hyperdrive). At times it feels a little much, especially when the novel is in the middle of events from one of the original trilogy films, but it’s the way Gray uses those moments to affect the characters and the world they live in which helps make the fan-fiction feeling really worth it. Ciena and Thane might both equally be appalled at Alderaan’s destruction, but they can’t help but feel like they were hit at home when their friend from the academy, Jude Edivon, and many countless others they knew die aboard the Death Star (she happened to be the one who discovered the weakness the Rebellion was trying to exploit). It might seem odd to have Mon Mothma helping a drunk Thane through the night, but it helps give her more personality and sets Thane on a somewhat better path. These original moments, and more, aren’t to be missed.
They shouldn’t be missed because Lost Stars‘ biggest strength is the original parts of the narrative, weaving in and out of what we all know and love. For starters, the Jelucan society of well-to-doers at odds with the native “valley” people, while nothing original in of itself, gives both characters extremely solid foundations for their point of views on the galaxy. It keeps them distinct, as each has a different sense of morals from their upbringing and interactions with the other’s society and values. They also get into situations that naturally expand upon what we’ve seen in the films, filling in some interesting blanks including: Thane goes along with an Imperial task force to investigate Dantooine after Leia names it as the Rebel base or how Vader got back to the Empire after the Death Star’s destruction. Ciena’s parts later on expand on what it’s like to be part of the lower level Imperials during the Galactic Civil War, highlighting how little they know of Vader and Palpatine or how insane the tests of loyalty get as one is being considered for a promotion (as Ciena finds out the very hard way). Thane, after defecting, finds himself aboard a Wookiee captain’s ship named the Mighty Oak Apocalypse (just about my favorite part/character of the book), having a talk with Wedge prior to Hoth who’s description on why he fights for the Rebellion turns Thane, and how the Rebels got wind of where to send Bothan spies about Death Star II. Thankfully the majority of the book is comprised of the originally set material, even culminating in a big moment post-RotJ, as that’s where it’s strength truly lies.
I’m going to go full-spoilers for the ending of the book in a moment, but here’s some non-spoiler thoughts first. Once LS gets past the Battle of Endor and starts treading into post-RotJ material, the book starts throwing out a lot of new and interesting facts, some of which are covered in Aftermath and some of which aren’t. In fact, LS goes further than Aftermath, out to a point some one and half years past Endor, including a battle over a little backwater planet to be seen in The Force Awakens, Jakku (the cover actually gives that away *hint, hint*). But these scenes post-RotJ aren’t just there to fill up extra pages or tease TFA, but instead are still critical to the story of Ciena and Thane, including a nearly sob-inducing moment when Thane uses Ciena’s phrase, “Look through my eyes.” But the final chapter, where we have a certain character’s POV for the very first time, practically gives LS a second-wind, despite already dragging on a little long, and leaving me wanting a whole lot more as it so tantalizingly ends (for the gamers out there, it reminded me of Halo 2‘s ending: just when things started picking up again, it abruptly halts).
FULL SPOILERS AHEAD FOR LOST STARS
AND SOME FOR AFTERMATH
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
(Scroll past to END SPOILERS if you don’t want to read any)
The Battle of Jakku (which takes place about a year after Endor) makes its first canon appearance (I doubt this will be the last we’ll see of the battle, starting with the DLC for Battlefront), where Ciena’s near suicidal attitude after the Empire has whittled away at her soul concludes with her Star Destroyer crashing into the planet, as seen in the opening shot of the second trailer (surprised Lost Stars got to show that moment, but cool nonetheless. This 360° video on Facebook lets you drive past the downed Destroyer!). But before that, we learn about Thane having to protect Naboo from three separate invasion attempts (#1 seen in Shattered Empire) from the Imperial remnants to retake their vaunted leader Palpatine’s homeworld (and ironically, the homeworld of the woman who gave birth to person who help bring Palpatine down). The New Republic leadership consists of Leia and Mon Mothma (who is Chancellor as seen in Aftermath) but Lost Stars introduces Sondiv Sella, a brand new character to Star Wars. Who is she and where does she come from that she’s now part of the leaders? But, as a side-note, if Sondiv turns out to be a woman, how cool is it that the New Republic would be headed by three women?!
A month or so after Jakku, their seems to have been a treaty between what remains of the Imperials (publicly) and the New Republic. Because of the battle, Mothma’s idea to demilitarize the New Republic in Aftermath seems to be taking a backseat, as a news reports quotes her as saying “…the New Republic Starfleet should be kept on a war footing for the foreseeable future,” even though many believe the war with the Imperials is over. Not so, as the final parts of the book take place from Nash Windrider’s POV, who sneers at the soon to be complacent NR, currently keeps Thane’s dim-witted older brother as an aide because he’s slightly sadistic like that, and is a commander of a vessel in the next part of the Imperial’s attack against the NR. Also, Ved Foslo, who I had written-off as forgettable since we hadn’t heard about him since the academy years really, turns out to behind deadlier weapons on TIEs. They both are part of a growing Imperial Starfleet in the Queluhan Nebula, who I’ve speculated (at length here) is being led by the mysterious Fleet Admiral at the end of Aftermath.
Here are a few other things:
- Thane and Ciena’s time at the Imperial Academy on Coruscant had quite the Harry Potter at Hogwarts feel to it, with points being given out to teams and characters flying on
broomsspeeders through hoops to play Quidditch, and it actually works rather well here.
- Not a book breaking error, but on pages 334 and 335, Ciena quickly goes from being on the Executor and saying she won’t be able to come down and visit Cloud City to suddenly being on Cloud City without explanation. In fact, she and Nash end up dismantling the Falcon’s hyperdrive.
- There’s a reference to the Star Wars Rebels season 1 finale, “Fire Across the Galaxy,” on page 501-502, regarding the attack on Tarkin’s Star Destroyer over Mustafar, though I was a little surprised Thane even knows about it.
- Thane’s trip to Dantooine as an Imperial leads them to find an abandoned base and I wonder if we’ll see it inhabited, briefly, in Rogue One at all.
- As the saying goes, “History is written by the victors,” it was cool to see, on page 39, how the Empire has rewritten history, specifically regarding the Jedi and their hand in the Clone Wars.
- Just prior to A New Hope, Thane and Ciena attend a ball on Coruscant and Thane, at the very least, gets to dance with Leia. As neat as that is, the truly interesting part is the mention of her address to the Imperial Senate about her plans to go on “mercy missions” on the behalf of Alderaan to planets left abandoned by the Empire. Talk about bold and brazen, definitely painting a target on her back.
- Much like Aftermath, LS is full of little details about the galaxy at large, re-canonizing and canonizing tons of new planets, people, characters, and even events.
- So there’s Zeitooine, Dantooine, Tatooine, and more…who decided to go with that naming scheme in-universe?
- Thane chats with Dak, Luke’s doomed co-pilot in the snowspeeder on Hoth. He describes him as being a youngin’ at 19, which seemed odd to me considering I always thought Dak looked/seemed older, like late 20’s – early 30’s.
- Just like Aftermath, LS drops a reference to the Anoat sector being locked down, as seen in the free-to-play mobile game, Uprising.
- It’s revealed that with enough bacta treatments, one could regrow organs or heal major, major wounds, something Ciena goes through post-Endor. And once you realize Vader could’ve gotten that done, it speaks volume to him as a character after Mustafar for not getting it.
- Claudia Gray will be returning to write Star Wars in spring 2016, though it’s not a sequel to LS. Instead, it’s called New Republic: Bloodlines. UPDATE: And now it’s called: Bloodlines! And here’s my review, where basically Gray makes a case for her spot amongst the EU greats.
- UPDATE 5/19/16: Interested in seeing what Ciena Ree officially looks like? The weekly Star Wars Show got to reveal the exclusive image, made for Fantasy Flight Games, while the Star Wars Twitter posted the image (for everyone to save to their computers).
- UPDATE 5/23/16: I didn’t mention it in my original review, but there’s a line that basically acknowledges, in a really cool and quick way, that transgender people exist in the Star Wars galaxy. This wonderful Tumblr post not only explains why this is exciting, but also has Gray confirming that’s what she wanted readers to get from the dialogue exchange.
While it’s not often we’ve gotten books which cover such a broad swath of time, and Lost Stars can feel a little too long on that end, it’s done more entertainingly than imagined by the talented scribe Claudia Gray. Whether it’s the feelings Thane and Ciena’s journeys tap into, the unique look at familiar events, or all the new tales being told, Lost Stars is a memorable read and shouldn’t be missed (and you might find yourself finding it more enjoyable than some of the adult novels released so far).
+ Galaxy and time-spanning tale
+ Original material naturally building off what we know
+ Using YA stereotypes to enhance the story, not be the only story
+ Exhilarating and intriguing hints for The Force Awakens
– Feels a tad long
– Gets a little too melodramatic at times
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening