Biweekly Book Review: Lost Stars

This is it. The big one. Whenever people are asked to speculate on what they want to see in a Star Wars movie, there are always at least a few people that call for a movie version of this. It’s time for a tale of star-crossed lovers, of tested loyalty and questioned motivation. Yes, my friends. It’s time for Lost Stars by Claudia Gray.

I was asked on a podcast what my favourite Star Wars book was. I had said it was between Bloodline and Master and Apprentice. I would like to amend that statement now: my favourite Star Wars books are anything Claudia Gray has written. I barely remembered the details of this book when I started rereading it, and now I don’t think I’ll ever forget them.

*Spoilers Below* *CW: brief mentions of abuse*

The Story

Cienna Ree and Thane Kyrell are two kids from the backwater world of Jelucan. All they want is to get off their planet and fly ships. After meeting by accident during the Empire’s annexation of their homeworld (a joyous occasion, believe it or not), they train and study together, determined to get accepted at one of the Imperial academies as soon as they are old enough.

Before they know it, they are both accepted to the prestigious academy on Coruscant. A single orchestrated incident in their first year drives a wedge into their friendship and causes the former best friends to grow apart. Though they rekindle the friendship shortly before graduation, they are soon assigned separate postings: Cienna aboard Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer, and Thane aboard the Death Star.

The rest of the story runs along side Episodes IV to VI, culminating at the Battle of Jakku (a year after the Battle of Endor). After the destruction of the Death Star, Cienna becomes an even more fervent believer in the Empire’s cause, while Thane’s disillusionment drives him to desert his post and eventually join the Rebel Alliance.

Above all this is a love story. There is the love between comrades, the love of a cause, and the love of honour. But most importantly (and heartbreakingly) there is the romance between Cienna and Thane, which only comes to fruition after the latter defects from the Empire.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Cienna and her code of honour

When we meet them, Thane and Cienna are brand new characters, they haven’t appeared in any stories we’ve seen before. But in a way, Thane is a familiar sort of person. He had a harsh childhood, albeit harsher than most we see in Star Wars (scarring physical abuse at his father’s hands), and has a problem with authority. He doesn’t really want to go anywhere in particular, he just wants to get away from home. Over the course of his story, he finds both love and a sense of belonging. He finds a cause to fight for. In broad strokes, he sounds an awful lot like Han Solo.

Cienna, on the other hand, is just so unlike anyone we’ve seen before. She is descendant from the original settlers of Jelucan (unlike Thane whose ancestors came in the “second wave”), and her people hold their personal honour in the highest regard. When Cienna makes an oath, she keeps it, no matter what. To paraphrase, she will keep faith with the Empire, even when it has broken faith with her.

After the destruction of Alderaan, Cienna recognizes that the Empire is flawed, to say the least. But she holds so tightly to the promises she made in taking her oath to the Empire that she allows the planets destruction to be justified away. After all, the rebels have killed millions as well.

When she returns home after finding out her mother has been accused of embezzlement by the Empire, her father is hesitant to stand by his wife’s side. Because it is the Empire that has accused her, to deny it would be to break the oath to the Empire they implicitly made when their planet was annexed.

After Endor, when she has totally lost faith in the movement, and the Empire is crumbling, she still doesn’t have it in her to break the promise she made. She still believes the Empire to be the legitimate power in the galaxy, but with no clear direction forward, she decides her only way out is to go down with her ship on Jakku (she doesn’t, Thane saves her, more on that later).

What made this so interesting is just how strong her convictions are. Even when she hesitates, even in the face of destruction, her deeply held sense of honour causes her to not waver in the slightest. Even though that determination is channeled towards the Empire, it’s still damn impressive.

2. Nash Windrunner – actual fanatic?

Oh, Nash. Poor kid.

Nash Windrunner is an Imperial recruit from Alderaan, and one of Thane’s roommates at the academy.

Nash also had to stand on the bridge and watch Alderaan be destroyed.

Rather than have the destruction of his homeworld be the thing that turns him against the Empire, it unleashes a deep deep well of anger. He becomes an Imperial fanatic. He believes in the cause more than ever, outwardly proclaiming his entire planet to be full of traitors. Anyone who does not fall in line with the Empire is a traitor, anyone with the Rebellion is a terrorist.

It would be easy to dismiss him as a crazed fanatic, and I admit, that was my inclination. But ultimately, I just feel so sorry for him. He was a proud Alderaanian. He wore his hair in braids, which carries significance on Alderaan. When the Empire declares the whole planet traitors, he cuts his hair, removing any connection to his home. Star Wars is full of characters who have a tremendous amount of pain and rage and absolutely nowhere to channel that. So Nash channels it into the Empire.

Because Nash is driven by grief and rage, it makes him a very compelling pseudo-antagonist. I wouldn’t call him an actual antagonist, that honour goes to the system that created these kids in the first place. But he does serve as a foil for Thane and Cienna, and he is a wonderfully written character.

3. From an Imperial Point of View

While some of the books covered so far do deal with characters within the Empire, they are usually the higher ups. The ones who know the full extent of what the Empire is capable of, and they are totally here for it.

What makes this book interesting is that it deals with the little people. The kids just out of the academy. The pilots and junior officers who don’t know anything about the big picture and think they’re doing the right thing to keep the galaxy safe.

In the academy-set portions of the book, we get to meet Cienna and Thane’s roommates. One of Cienna’s is a scientifically-minded young woman named Jude. We as readers come to appreciate her kindness and her quirks, and her attempts to see the good in the Empire after the destruction of Alderaan (even if we know she’s way off).

So it does land like a gut punch when you realize this character you’ve spent all this time with was on board the Death Star when it was destroyed.

Many of the characters believe that the galaxy is better off under the Empire. That the accounts of suffering, abuse and poverty are fabricated or exaggerated. They believe that a planet’s people should be able to pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. They constantly refer to information being provided to them that we the reader recognize to be propaganda. But our main characters are so deeply entrenched in Imperial life that they don’t even begin to think of it that way.

4. Cienna and Thane operating in the background

Much like The Lion King 1/2 (or Rozencrantz and Guildenstern if you prefer), this story is set in the background of the more famous story the audience already knows. Thane and Cienna watch the destruction of Alderaan. They lose friends on the Death Star. They fight on Hoth and over Endor. But the best examples are the ones that are just casually dropped into the narrative. These include:

  • Referring to the Millennium Falcon offhand, and saying that whoever is flying that thing is one hell of a pilot.
  • In A New Hope, there is a scene where two Imperial officers note that one of the shuttles launched for Tatooine with no life forms aboard (the one carrying R2 and 3P0). The dialogue in the book is copied verbatim from the movie, and Cienna is standing next to them for the whole exchange.
  • Cienna and Nash are in the crowd on Vader’s ship when he greets the Emperor in Return of the Jedi
  • My favourite is that the only reference to Luke Skywalker made in any of the Imperial point of view chapters is on Bespin, when Cienna observes that they’ll probably be leaving soon since “the other pilot” Vader was waiting for just arrived. She’s pretty chill about it, meanwhile Luke is getting some life changing news downstairs.

5. A love story that actually ends in hope for a change

Star Wars has come very compelling romantic relationships.

They do not end well.

Way too many people die tragically.

This is an exception to this unfortunate rule. They don’t necessarily end up together happily ever after, BUT they are both in the same place and Thane is going to do his best to ensure the New Republic doesn’t execute Cienna for her role in the Empire.

This is one of those times where I will take a “no news is good news” stance and just pretend they lived happily ever after. The potential is there. Maybe in Lost Stars 2?

6. Dropped threads

I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t put anything under “dislike” for this one. How could I, when this book is as damn near close to perfect as I could hope?

So I will just say that if this is the last we are to see of these characters, I don’t like not knowing what became of Thane, Cienna, and in particular, Nash.

Nash ends the book thinking Cienna has died, and vowing that the rebels will pay when the Empire rises again. When the book was written, The Force Awakens was about to come out. So we knew that SOME form of evil had risen again. I would have expected Nash to pop up in the sequels in some capacity, even as an easter egg. Say, in The Rise of Skywalker, when we have a brand new late middle-aged First Order Allegiant General who is inexplicably loyal to Palpatine for some reason?


Random Thoughts

Tarkin recruits Cienna and Thane as 8 year olds by being nice to them and giving them a tour of the ship, which is one of the scarier things I’ve seen him do because it doesn’t look villainous in the slightest.

Little Cienna figures the old people at the annexation ceremony are sad because they’re remembering those lost in the Clone Wars, and not because they maybe don’t think the Empire is going to make their lives better.

History remembers Mace Windu as a gang leader who interfered with the legal executions on Geonosis, thereby kicking off the Clone Wars, which is just…that’s some next level propaganda

Thane gets blackout drunk and Mon Mothma holds his hair while he pukes. Nothing insightful to add, I just love this little moment.

Cienna’s reaction to seeing Darth Vader for the first time reminds me of how I reacted when I first saw Darth Vader at Disneyland (I squeaked and took three steps back). Dude is SCARY.

The second Death Star is ready to go within a couple of years of the first being destroyed. It took them about 20 years to build the first so I have to wonder if they were building backups just in case? (Have I said this already? I think about this a lot)

Though there are some quotes from the movie copied into this, I would like to thank Claudia Gray for not including “It’s a Trap” because that would have taken me right out of it.

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