I surprised myself (and my yearly reading goal) by picking up a book yesterday and reading the whole thing for no discernible reason. Well, maybe there was some subconscious motivation — I had been thinking about Phasma, which I adore, and asked the author Delilah Dawson on Twitter what I should read next, and she suggested Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars. I remembered, suddenly, that my sister actually had a copy of this in her room, and so I borrowed it and stacked it atop my monstrous TBR pile. Yesterday, I received some upsetting news, so I took the day off and decided that if I could read a book entirely through, I would feel better. I didn’t think that I would actually do that — it was just one of those thoughts that came into my head and slipped away. But I picked up Lost Stars anyway, and despite its size, I completed it before bed time! So, today you get a Special Saturday Review!
I won’t begin to explain to you the dynamics of the books to films to comics to series to anything else that Star Wars currently has going on. I don’t know the rules or the chronology. I didn’t even think a lay-person like me could get into the novels simply because I liked the movies. At least, I felt that way until I read Phasma and read everything Delilah Dawson had to say about the books. She gave me the courage to strike out into territory that is fiercely and aggressively controlled by neck-beard geek boys. Phasma was mine dammit! I would slay any troll in my path to get to her. So when Dawson recommended a book by another female author in the Star Wars universe (multiverse?) I leapt on it. I wasn’t going to let some know-it-all nerds keep me out of the novelizations of great stories.
So, now we’re at Lost Stars. I will say that this one was a little harder to hold the reins on because it is structured in an entirely different way from Phasma. Phasma, which I will review in its entirety very soon, was set on a planet we’ve never heard of, with characters unseen in the films (save Phasma under her helmet), and the characters we did know only made vague cameos. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to be an insider to read Phasma. Lost Stars, however, is a different beast entirely and required a little more Star Wars knowledge, because it not only features characters we know (Leia, Skywalker, Solo, Antilles, Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, among others) but the action of the story takes place within the action of the original trilogy. In fact, it covers the entire span of Episodes 4, 5, and 6, with a touch before and touch after. It’s ambitious, but it works, and it reveals some information that the films don’t give us, or that exist the gaps between them. Hold on to your helmets, folks.
Our main characters Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are best friends who train to become Imperial Officers to escape their home planet of Jelucan, which is situated on the Outer Rim, and when the protagonists are children, is annexed into the Empire. They’re amazing pilots, especially when flying together, and they progress through the academy neck-and-neck at the very top of the class. Then, upon graduation, Thane is stationed on the Death Star as a TIE Fighter pilot while Ciena begins her career as an officer on a Star Destroyer. After they witness the destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star, alliances are tested, and while Thane and Ciena’s relationship grows, they find themselves pulled apart by the Empire.
We’ve got a good old case of Romeo and Juliet here, even from the beginning. The politics of their home planet see that Thane and Ciena are set up to be pulled apart, since Thane’s second-wave family and Ciena’s valley kindred don’t see each other as equals or even allies. Their cultural differences play a big part in this conflict, with Ciena’s honor-bound (and gagged) community and Thane’s more self-oriented ideology have them at odds throughout the novel. Even the to bitter end, these two people, despite being connected (but the Force? Depends on who you ask!) deeply and caring so much about each other, are unable to see eye-to-eye on situations that bring into question their values and ideologies. Still, they have a supernatural bond that is unbreakable, even under great duress, that sees them through. It almost gets old by the end — Ciena’s stubbornness is really exhausting to keep arguing about, and Thane’s quick temper exasperates conflicts over and over again. Long before the completion of the novel, we have a pretty good idea of the patterns — they fight, they separate, they come back together, and again and again until the novel ends. Again, it can get kind of old.
The love story itself is not my cup of tea. I don’t read Star Wars novels for brilliant and blinding love stories — I read them for the action and the politics and the world-building. The love story can at points suffocate the novel, especially when our heroes are more concerned with what the other thinks or is doing than the politics and the evil of the plot. Since Gray is writing over (or under?) the stories of the films, and can assume that her readers have seen the original trilogy, she does have a good excuse for turning her head from the politics of Empire and the Rebellion and onto something softer and less world shattering. She has room to play with the individual lives of some (relatively) minor characters and place the beginning and ending of the world on their daily lives and moral/mental conflicts. It works to give a human face to the endless stream of shot down aircraft and blasted up foot soldiers. Still, it felt like I was watching Romeo and Juliet played onto of Star Wars at some points, and I wanted to shove Ciena or Thane out of the way so I could see Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star or the fall of the Emperor. I wonder if the love story would have been more interesting to me if it wasn’t fighting for supremacy with the original trilogy. If the action of this novel would have stayed on the home planet, there is a chance that I wouldn’t have been so annoyed with the love story because it wouldn’t be in competition with a bigger (and more forceful) plot line. The war wins out in this one, where in other worlds or stories, that might not be the case. Readers like me would be too familiar with the action of the original story to be able to pay attention to what feels like a vastly inferior storyline. (But that might be just me! I’m not a romance person.)
The parts of the novel that did overlap with the action of the films were great. Gray supplied us with alternate camera angles on various battles like at Hoth and Endor. She could drop a lot of names too, so, though Luke Skywalker never made an actual appearance, it still felt like he was present and grounded us in the action of the films. Leia made a couple of cameos, which were great, and also gets me interested in Gray’s other Star Wars novel, Bloodline, which follows Leia between the action of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. I haven’t seen the original trilogy in a while, so I had to look up some things and some characters in those stories that were featured in Lost Stars, but overall, I was able to keep up with the bigger battles.
We also got some really cool information about the battlefield on Jakku that we see when we first meet Rey in The Force Awakens. I won’t spoil because that’s the end of the novel, but it was neat to get a little insider information on what happened there and why Jakku has a Star Destroyer crashed into its surface. It provides a cool link between the characters of Lost Stars and The Force Awakens. I’m sure someone with a lot more Star Wars knowledge than me would notice a lot more Easter Eggs, but for a regular fan of the films and new addition to the novel world, there was enough for me to keep reading and feel like I could keep up.
Overall, it was a cool read. I downed it in one sitting, and enjoyed picking out bits of information like I was Rey in the Imperial Fleet wreckage. I almost wish that it wasn’t quite so ambitious, merely because Ciena and Thane and their arguments became so familiar by the end. Two fewer arguments and dramatic reunions wouldn’t have made that feel so stale by the end. She did an amazing job of progressing us through the younger years and academy training quickly so she could get us to the meat of the story. Often, backstory can get tedious, but I think she really did a magnificent job of aquatinting us with the characters and their relationship before she could bring in Darth Vader and the rest of the universe that we know. She had some interesting moral arguments for both sides of the fight, but still, since we’re so conditioned to be on the side of the Rebels, it was harder for her to convince me that Ciena wasn’t being a huge stubborn idiot, a position I maintain at the end. I’m not one for love stories, so I felt this was extraneous, but that’s just me.
So, I recommend this book to anyone who was rooting for Han and Leia, or if you like your meant-to-be-but-not-allowed love stories. I also recommend it to anyone looking for a tough heroine, which Ciena totally is (despite our differences, I can recognize this!). If you’ve just seen the movies, I have full confidence that you can enjoy and follow this novel, so don’t be afraid of it like I was!
I’ll check out Gray’s other Star Wars novel and report back with my review!
May the Force be with you this weekend!
Have you read any Star Wars novels or comics? What did you think? Which do you recommend?