It’s the month of love and what better way to celebrate with the Star Wars version of “star-crossed” lovers. Of course, I am talking about Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, one of the first books tied into the marketing campaign for The Force Awakens release. As part of the “Journey to Force Awakens” campaign starting in September 2015, the book was the Young Adult novel released along with the adult novel Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. Being the adult novel, Aftermath was the centerpiece of the “Journey” campaign and it was the first in a trilogy of books that was chronicling the last battles between the Republic and the Empire after the destruction of the second Death Star to the Battle of Jakku and the official surrender of Imperial forces. But, while Aftermath was the main focus of the publishing campaign, Lost Stars ended up being the universal fan favorite and has remained one of the top canon novels. And now it is the C&C pick of February.
Lost Stars follows two childhood friends, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, as they grow up on the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan, join the Royal Imperial Academy and start to rise within the ranks. Thane slowly becomes disillusioned with the Empire while Ciena holds onto her loyalty to the Empire until things come to a head at the Battle of Jakku.
Lost Stars is the most Star Wars way of showing how good people could get mixed up in an evil organization. There are many correlations to the real world in Star Wars. In fact, I talk about some of the real-world themes in my series on Themes from The Mandalorian. The Empire has been a stand-in for the British Empire (some would say more so Nazi Germany) in their control of the galaxy and treatment of its’ citizens. The almost uniformly human makeup of the Empire governing over a mass number of non-humans and ruled by one leader portrayed as the ultimate evil.
But the Empire also provided opportunities for individuals, and families who were poor. Thane is from an aristocratic family on Jelucan and part of the Second-wavers (wealthy families that migrated to Jelucan). Ciena’s family are First-Wavers, people who had settled on the planet long before the Empire and the Second-Wavers. First-Wavers are poorer and looked down upon by Second-Wavers, so naturally, Thane and Ciena’s friendship has obstacles from the beginning. But they bond over their love of flying, and a chance meeting with Grand Moff Tarkin, in which we see a much softer side of the Imperial Leader as he encourages the interests of the two children by letting them tour his shuttle. As strange as reading about Tarkin not being a horrible being, that is all it takes for people to be loyal to a person or idea…a simple act of kindness. This is especially true for Ciena who has always had a one-track mind to fly and get off of Jelucan. Being in the Empire gives her this, and that’s that.
Then the Death Star destroys Alderaan and things get a little more complicated. A majority of the story takes place between the timeline of A New Hope to a year after Return of the Jedi, so Thane and Ciena do interact with familiar faces, but the focus is on them and their increasingly complicated romance against the backdrop of the Galactic Civil War. The pacing is great, toggling between Thane and Ciena’s perspective equally but the time spent with Ciena is more compelling as we usually don’t get perspective of day-to-day life within the Empire outside of the From a Certain Point of View short stories. Even in the Thrawn novels, most of the time spent with Imperials is Thrawn explaining to them his strategy or giving orders; but in Lost Stars, we get real friendships within the Empire that aren’t portrayed as purely opportunistic. Getting to know some of these characters make the stakes even higher, given the major battles, losses, and victories we know are coming.
Lost Stars is a romance, but it is also a story about class systems and how promises made: the promise of an escape from poverty, from the expectation of family, and the promise of a life of flying can push one’s conscious one way while ignoring the other path. Each side is portrayed as the antagonist and protagonist at different points so it is almost impossible to truly pick a side. We know that the Empire is evil but I bet you will find yourself questioning that while reading Lost Stars, and that makes it pretty compelling.
*Note- Like Leia, Princess of Alderaan, there is a manga series adaptation of Lost Stars but I still recommend the book as the series has three volumes that you have to purchase separately, but they are a nice compliment to fans of the book.