“Are you an Imperial or a rebel?” It’s a question that’s tossed around from time to time as a way to break the ice and generate conversation. I’ve always aligned myself with the rebels because they fight against the injustices of the Empire, and I know plenty of people who actively support the Empire because it creates order where there would only be chaos. Two sides to what seems like a perpetual war with intricate characters, like the protagonists of Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Lost Stars. Published as part of the Journey to The Force Awakens initiative, Gray’s thrilling young adult novel follows new characters into familiar territory. From the years leading to the Battle of Yavin to the battle that erupted on and around the forest moon of Endor—and beyond—Lost Stars is a refreshing take on the original trilogy through the eyes of well-written and memorable characters with their own morals and principles that fuel them but also tear them apart.
First off, when people see the words “young adult”, they immediately push the book aside because they have this preconceived notion that young adult novels are solely for a younger crowd and that there’s no real substance to find there. On the contrary, young adult novels can be just as complex, compelling, and engaging as any other novel, if done correctly. In the hands of New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray, this young adult novel set in the expansive Star Wars universe exceeds expectations, receiving high praise from a variety of fans in the community. It’s a mix between the personal, human story of Servants of the Empire (a junior novel series by Jason Fry based on the animated series Star Wars Rebels), the maturity and depth of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and all of the quality storytelling from both series combined. It’s the kind of Star Wars story you didn’t know you wanted, and it’ll pull you in and leave you wanting for more.
The novel follows the growth and development of two childhood friends, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, from the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan. The son of a wealthy and aristocratic family and the daughter of rural villagers from the valleys, the two share one common passion: flying. Despite that common trait, the two grow up under very different circumstances. He was abused and became defiant against authority figures. She was raised with strict cultural values and principles, above all which were honor and loyalty. As major events turn their worlds upside down, Thane, having been disillusioned by the Empire’s abusive and destructive power, and Ciena, having bound herself to the Empire by an oath, begin to drift apart while also embracing their feelings for each other.
Although their romance is an important aspect of the plot, it does not dominate every passage and every page. In other words, it’s a love story, but it’s not just a love story. There are still bigger issues at play, such as the obliteration of Alderaan and the Death Star, and how these events emotionally and psychologically affect the characters we see running around in the background. Gray does a spectacular job in giving these periphery characters a range of diverse faces as well as believable and morally complex background stories that are just as gripping as the stories of Luke, Leia, and Han.
That’s right—diverse faces! What made the story all the more exhilarating was seeing a wide spectrum of diverse characters. In visualizing her story, Gray regularly turned to the faces of actors, such as Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Ciena), Lennie James (Paron Ree), Harry Shum, Jr. (Ved Foslo), Michelle Yeoh (The Contessa), and Parminder Nagra (Kendy Idele) to inspire her during the writing process. She managed to inject a wonderful array of relatable and realistic characters into a set of movies that were primarily devoid of diversity, and on top of that, she also excelled at changing the way you see the original trilogy. The story successfully weaves in and out of the original films, providing a much-needed and in-depth look at the repercussions from actions committed on both sides of the galactic war. Reading Lost Stars is an eye-opening and refreshing experience, and it greatly expands upon the content you’ve seen a million times over.
Given the fact that the novel covers about ten years worth of character development, there are many instances of hopping dramatically between events. One moment, Thane and Ciena are in their young teens, and a chapter or so later, they’re on their way to the Imperial Academy. The story moves quickly, but it doesn’t prevent you from getting a real grasp of the characters, their personal obstacles, and developing empathy with them. Also, since Thane and Ciena are our eyes throughout the story, there are changes in perspective from time to time because we need to witness these events from the side of the Empire and the growing rebellion as well as from their own internal thoughts. Oftentimes, in other novels, the constant switching between perspectives can be confusing, but Gray handled it with great skill, making for a pleasant and captivating read.
What’s also great about the book is that a variety of fans can read and enjoy it. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Star Wars literature or someone who’s never picked up a Star Wars book, you’ll find yourself sucked into Thane and Ciena’s burgeoning romance, how Thane leaves one body of authority for another, how someone as good-natured as Ciena continues to serve the Empire, and the various shades of gray that exist on both sides of the war. Although the novel is categorized under young adult (specifically ages 12-17), if you’re planning to share this book with a younger individual, it’s best to know ahead of time that both Thane and Ciena grow into adulthood, and with that, comes adult situations. That said, there are no graphic scenes, but there are moments and expressions of normal and romantic intimacy.
Lost Stars is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a must-read book. It takes the reader on a personal and intimate love and war story through well-known terrain and scenarios from a galaxy far, far away. The characters are likeable and memorable, the pace is well-maintained, and the story itself provides more details and depth to the original movies, keeping readers reading to the very end. There are so many wonderful surprises in this book that would elate any Star Wars fan craving new and well-written stories, including the fact that it even takes you past the events of Return of the Jedi. As we all await the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015, our protagonists take their first step into that new territory and the results are action-packed and suffused with suspense. By the end of the book, you’ll be asking for more and demanding that it be made into a movie—it’s that good.
Star Wars: Lost Stars is currently available for purchase.
Part two of my review will contain spoilers and will be published on Monday, September 14, so as to give TWG readers and other Star Wars fans enough time to read it and experience the story for themselves. Share your thoughts about Lost Stars below!