“Other worlds had to be warmer. Brighter, busier, more fun in every way. He believed this despite never having visited another planet in his life; it was impossible to think that the vastness of the galaxy didn’t contain someplace better to be than here.”
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a boy and girl became friends on the mountainous Outer Rim world of Jelucan. Under normal circumstances, this would never have happened, for the girl was one of the valley people, primitive early inhabitants of the world looked down upon by the boy’s second wave family. But Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell were brought together by their shared love of flight, and the dream of one day flying the best ships in the galaxy by being accepted into the Imperial Academy. Thane is a cynic who dreams only of escaping Jelucan, and sees a term of service to the Empire as a means to that end. But Ciena is much more idealistic, and bound by a strong sense of honour that is deeply ingrained in all the valley folk. The Imperial Academy will test their values and their friendship, but that is nothing to what awaits them on their first posting as Imperial officers, on a top secret, newly constructed space station.
When I finally picked up my copy of Lost Stars from the holds shelf at the library, I was most surprised by the size of it, clocking in at 550 pages. But having finished it, the length now makes a great deal of sense; Lost Stars begins eight years after the fall of the Old Republic, when Jelucan is annexed to the Empire, and Ciena and Thane meet for the first time. From there we follow them, through alternating narrative points of view, to the Imperial Academy, and into the service of the Empire. They take their first postings as Imperial officers on the eve of the events of A New Hope, and continue all through the timeline of the original trilogy, and several years beyond, concluding shortly after the Battle of Jakku. This is a lot of ground to cover—about sixteen years by my brother’s reckoning—offering a whole new perspective on familiar events (and featuring cameos from some familiar faces).
Claudia Gray has the unenviable task of balancing sympathy for her protagonists with the fact that they are both, at least initially, on the wrong side of a war. Even after Thane chooses to defect, his actions are not always exactly heroic. Meanwhile, Ciena remains true to her oath, at increasing cost to herself, and her relationship with Thane. I understood Ciena’s dilemma but at the same time was sad for her, and disgusted by her choices and continued complicity in unconscionable acts. In terms of personality, Ciena is a much more likeable character than Thane, but this becomes more and more complicated as the years pass, the Empire’s atrocities grown, and still Ciena refuses to renounce her oath.
Overall, I think Gray deals magnificently with the moral ambiguity, and that starts with her flipping the original idea of Lost Stars on its head. When she initially took on the project, the concept she was given was that the idealistic character would join the rebellion, and the cynic would join the Empire. By switching that around, we get to see a much more nuanced portrayal of how good people can become complicit in evil causes. This is true of Ciena and Thane, the protagonists, but also especially evident in the character of Nash Windrider, a native of Alderaan who faces a terrible crisis when he is part of the force responsible for the destruction of his home world.
If many people were nervous about Star Wars receiving the Young Adult treatment, I was on the opposite side. As a fan of Claudia Gray’s YA novels, I was beyond excited to see her tackle the story of star crossed lovers on opposite sides of the Galactic Civil War. I have to admit that I haven’t read any other extended universe books, and I probably wouldn’t have read this one if it wasn’t written by Claudia Gray, so I can’t offer much about how this compares to other Star Wars novels. However, the feeling of the story fits in very well with the Star Wars cinematic universe, and Gray herself definitely has the nerd bona fides to pull off this project. She has not shied away from the thorny moral issues inherent in this premise, but she has also delivered the space battles and alien worlds fans have come to expect from Star Wars.