With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soon, Star Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray (hardback, 2015)
On Force Friday, amid a massive Star Wars: The Force Awakens marketing blitz, several new novels hit store shelves. Often lost in the excitement (and controversy) over that day’s adult novel, Aftermath, were four junior novels (three character-focused adventures for the “Big Three” and Lost Stars). All of these five new stories were billed as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray is an oddity among these stories and, frankly, among Star Wars stories in general. It is marketed as a young adult novel yet deals with subjects in a more adult way than some of Star Wars “adult” novels in recent decades and addresses subjects such as sex (yes, that taboo S-word in Star Wars so often) in a fashion that befits a mature (but not gratuitous) presentation.
The book was touted as a sort of Romeo and Juliet in the Star Wars saga, but, speaking as someone who is a big “fan” of Shakespeare (particularly of Hamlet and Julius Caesar), I have always found Romeo and Juliet lacking. We know so little about the characters and what draws them together in Shakespeare’s classic play that, to me, their love story has always come off as impulsive teens who dive in too deep, too fast, and end up acting on extreme emotions without taking a breath to think, thereby causing their own deaths. That is not a particularly popular view, I would admit, but it caused me at first to shy away from Lost Stars, making it the last of the Force Friday novels I read, specifically because I was afraid of something as “blame it on the stars and throw away logic” as Romeo and Juliet or as trite and immature as Twilight. (See, I just angered another segment of the readership, didn’t I?)
I was wrong about Lost Stars. This novel has more depth and detail to its characters than several Romeo and Juliets and rarely made me draw comparisons to the wishy-washy, blind romances of modern works like Twilight. It is a solid read with a realistic romance.
In short, Lost Stars is, in my opinion, the best novel in the Story Group’s new Star Wars canon, hands down. Those familiar with my various podcasts and such over the years should recognize that I do not make such a declaration lightly.
The story centers on Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, the novel’s “star-crossed lovers.” Unlike Romeo and Juliet, who meet in their teens, fall madly in love in a matter of minutes (or seconds, depending on one’s reading of a partiuclar scene), then are dead together in a matter of weeks (or days, again depending on one’s reading of certain lines), Lost Stars‘ Thane and Ciena share most of their lifetimes connected in some form or another, though not always as they would prefer.
The tale begins in 11 BBY on Jelucan, where the Empire has just taken full control. Thane comes from a well-off family in the more “urban” class on the planet, while Ciena hails from a more “rural,” poorer (and more spiritual) class. The two are drawn together by their love of flying and a chance encounter during an Imperial ceremony with Grand Moff Tarkin. Their shared dream of becoming pilots for the Empire, which they initially believe is a positive force in the galaxy, carries them through into an Imperial Academy and further Imperial service. These formative years make them both best friends and, as they slowly realize, something more.
Once in Imperial service, we see the two start to diverge in their views on the Empire, their experiences with Imperial might, etc. Eventually, we see one of the characters drawn into the Rebel Alliance, while the other remains honor-bound to the Empire. This sets the stage for a tense final 2/3 of the novel, wherein we can see the Rebellion and Empire through both Rebel and Imperial eyes, enhanced by the connection the reader has formed to these two characters, neither of whom are “good” or “bad,” per se, just the most important thing of all in such a story: human.
Along the way, we see Thane and Ciena’s relationship to the events of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, then onward into their involvement in the Battle of Jakku in 5 ABY that creates the backdrop for a setting in The Force Awakens by explaining at least one crashed Star Destroyer on the surface.
Like any good relationship drama, there are times when you want to scream at the characters or shake some sense into them, but every step of the way, their decisions feel grounded and real in a vein that makes them valid, even when they are making mistakes. When things finally come to a head near the finale of the book, this became only the third Star Wars novel in decades to bring tears to my eyes. (The first was a classic death in Iron Fist, and the second was the end of Dark Disciple.)
I would also note in passing here that the novel is one of the longest in the Star Wars library, at approximately 550 pages, yet well worth the time.
This is a powerful story of lovers on opposite sides of the Galactic Civil War that surprasses the storytelling in not just its fellow Story Group Canon novels but the vast majority of the Legends Continuity novels that preceded this new continuity as well. It receives my highest possible recommendation.
Does the Label Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Actually Fit the Book?
Honestly, as good as Lost Stars is, I cannot really say that it fits the “journey to The Force Awakens” label. Unless we see Ciena or Thane in The Force Awakens, it feels as though the only thing the novel really does for the film is to explain how one of the crashed Star Destroyers ended up on the surface of Jakku and provide some details of that battle (29 years prior to TFA).
(Yes, I said “one of the crashed Star Destroyers.” If the Jakku “Graveyard of Giants” map for Battlefront is to be considered authentic, there appear to have been at least two Star Destroyers and one Corellian Corvette that crashed in the same general area on Jakku, if not more.)
A Chronological Note
As I noted above, the story starts in 11 ABY. It runs through shortly after the Battle of Jakku in 5 ABY. Most of the novel follows the characters in their teens and onward, rather than their childhood, which is explored to a lesser extent in the early chapters of the novel.
Lost Stars is an absolute must-read for Star Wars fans. It should not be written off as a “young adult” or “teen” book, nor do frequent comparisons to other love stories tend to do it justice, as those comparisons create impressions that rarely match the emotional impact of Lost Stars. If we do not ever see these characters or Claudia Gray in Star Wars again, it will be quite a shame.
Recommended for: Those looking for a strong story with strong characters with whom emotional ties can be formed, and those looking for alternate perspectives on Original Trilogy events.
Not recommended for: Those who think Star Wars should be free of relationship stories or who are bothered by seeing new characters frequently crossing paths with the films.
I purchased a copy of this book on Force Friday, though Disney Lucasfilm Press later provided a copy for review.
POST-TFA EDITORIAL ADDITION
One other connection to TFA does appear in the book, as the Resistance base planet in the film, D’Qar, is scouted by Thayne and his team as a potential Rebel base. Otherwise, seeing the film has given no new context to the story.