“I don’t know what comes after the Empire. I can’t say that whoever gets power next will be any better—but it can’t get any worse. That’s not possible. If there’s even a chance I can do something that helps take the Empire down, I feel like I have to do it.” – Thane Kyrell
Went I first heard about Lost Stars, the new book by Claudia Gray, I was not interested in it. It was being marketed as a “young adult novel” which automatically makes me want to read a book less. The brief description of the book that I read on starwars.com made it sound like a sappy story about forbidden teenage love, a la Romeo and Juliet, or even Twilight. It did not sound like something that I wanted from a Star Wars book, or any book honestly. On top of that, Aftermath was getting promoted like crazy, while Lost Stars and the three other “junior novels” that were all released the same day as Aftermath got almost no promotion whatsoever. All of the hype was for Aftermath, and of the five books that came out that “Force Friday”, Aftermath was the obvious choice for which one to read. I didn’t really give any thought to Lost Stars or the other books that came out that day. All I was really interested in were the adult novels in the new canon.
So, I got Aftermath, and I read it, and I didn’t like it. After finishing the book I looked around online to see if others disliked it like I did. Somewhat reassuringly, it looked like Aftermath had split the Star Wars fanbase in half. Many fans disliked the book as much as I did (and, many fans loved it). Reading other people’s reviews and looking through comments on TheForce.net I kept seeing people say things along the lines of “Aftermath wasn’t very good; but if you want to read a good book, check out Lost Stars!” Really? Lost Stars? The praise I kept on seeing for Lost Stars amongst all the negative comments about Aftermath was surprising. Were these people sure they didn’t just mean “Lost Stars is good in comparison to Aftermath”? Because that wasn’t very reassuring. But as I kept reading through comments and threads on different websites, I saw that Lost Stars was getting nearly universal praise.
I became interested.
I didn’t rush out to buy it. I still wasn’t convinced that this was a book I needed to read. But I eventually picked it up and started reading the book. I didn’t really know what to expect, because my preconceptions about the book conflicted with the glowing reviews it was getting online.
Lost Stars takes place over the span of many years. The book starts off eight years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The Empire is still fairly young, and through various propaganda efforts a large portion of the galaxy sees the Empire as a good thing, and as something they want to be a part of. We are taken to a mountainous planet called Jelucan, which sits on the Outer Rim. Jelucan is about to fall under Imperial control, and the people of Jelucan are excited and honored to swear allegiance to the Empire. This is the home world of our two protagonists, Thane Kyrell, and Ciena Ree. Thane and Ciena are eight years old, and they already aspire to serve the Empire as pilots one day. On the day that Jelucan officially comes under the Empire’s control, Thane and Ciena are admiring an Imperial shuttle and are approached by Grand Moff Tarkin. In a surprising move, Tarkin is incredibly kind to the children, and invites them aboard the shuttle to see the inside of it, which is a dream come true for them. Tarkin gets the children excited to serve the Empire one day through his kindness, insincere as it is. It is a side of Tarkin I hadn’t seen before, and it was a great touch. Thane and Ciena leave seeing Tarkin as a kind man and a hero, and they can’t wait to become a part of the Imperial Fleet one day.
Then the book starts jumping ahead a few years at a time. Thane and Ciena become best friends and we get to see them practice flying together, in hopes that they will one day be accepted into the Imperial Academy. They are accepted, eventually, and head to Coruscant, where we get a fascinating look at what life is like at the Imperial Academy. We get to see Thane and Ciena after they graduate from the academy and start serving in the Imperial fleet, and this gives us some great new perspectives on pivotal battle scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy. In the final chapters of the book we get to see Thane and Ciena after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and we get to see how the Empire is doing a year after the Battle of Endor, in scenes that start preparing us for what is to come in the The Force Awakens.
As this book is a “young adult novel”, you can plow through it pretty quickly. Though it is about 550 pages long, the pages are small and the text is large and spaced out, so you’re turning pages quite fast. I read the first 100 pages very quickly the first night I was reading this book. And after 100 pages, I thought the book was pretty good. Not amazing, but interesting enough for me to want to keep reading the next day.
At around the 150 page mark the book really started to hold my attention, because at that point the book starts to tie in to the events of A New Hope. From that moment until the end, I could barely put the book down. My favorite moments of the book were all the times that we get to explore what it is like being a loyal Imperial, and what life is like for them while serving the Empire. Most of the Imperial characters in the story aren’t your stereotypical bad guys; they’re mostly just regular people. Good people. We get to see how there are heroes and good people on both sides of the war. We get to watch as Thane Kyrell starts to realize that the Empire he’s been serving so loyally for so long isn’t what he once thought it was. He witnesses evils and injustices and he decides to leave. Thane deserts the Empire and joins the Rebel Alliance.
My other favorite thing about this book is that we get to see big events from the original Star Wars Trilogy from new perspectives. Like I mentioned earlier, this book takes place over the course of many years. It starts eight years after Revenge of the Sith, it takes us through the Original Trilogy, and finishes about a year after Return of the Jedi. The scenes that show us important battles from the movies from the perspectives of Thane and Ciena as they Forest Gump their way through the Original Trilogy are really fun to read. I don’t want to go into detail, because part of the reason I loved it was because I didn’t know exactly which scenes from the movies we were going to get to see. But they were very enjoyable to me.
The characters in this book are great. You end up really caring about both Thane and Ciena, and you end up sympathizing with so many Imperial characters who truly believe that they are doing the right thing. Even the secondary characters are interesting, including Thane and Ciena’s families, and also their roommates at the Imperial Academy. You admire Thane for his courage to abandon the only life he ever knew in order to try to make a positive difference in the galaxy, and you feel for Ciena, who is trying her hardest to be the best Imperial she can be and to keep her oath of loyalty to the Empire. They both believe that they’re doing the right thing, and though they disagree with each other they still care for each other deeply, and they are terrified at the thought of accidentally killing each other in battle from opposite sides of the war. Their love story isn’t as sappy and annoying as I thought it was going to be. I actually didn’t mind it at all, and it drove the story forward in a way that worked without making the whole book a mushy love story. This book is kind of more of a war story. I was expecting a love story, but I got a war story, and I was very happy about that. Lots of training, lots of battles, many explosions. Characters from the movies make cameos throughout the book, and for the most part Gray does a great job of making these cameos feel natural, rather than being shoehorned in.
There aren’t a lot of negative things I can say about Lost Stars. The fact that it’s a Young Adult Novel rather than a regular novel is sort of bothersome. It did feel a little bit like I was reading something meant for younger readers, but for the most part I didn’t mind, or even notice it.
I did start to feel like I was being bombarded with references to new never-before-seen planets in this book. Claudia Gray made up new planets all over the place. From what I can remember there are about 15 new planets introduced in this book, though most of them are mentioned only briefly, or in passing. I felt the same about new alien species. I understand that Star Wars takes place in a gigantic galaxy, but I already have a hard enough time keeping track of the other thousand planets and species that already existed in this universe.
I have another complaint that isn’t so much about Lost Stars specifically as it is about the new canon as a whole: the planet Lothal, from Star Wars Rebels, is mentioned everywhere. Every piece of new canon literature seems to have at least one (usually more than one) reference to Lothal in it, even though Lothal is supposed to be an insignificant planet that is far out of the way of everything. Look, I get it, these stories take place in the same universe as Star Wars Rebels. I don’t need constant reminders of that. Lothal shouldn’t be mentioned in every new story.
Unlike Aftermath, I feel that Lost Stars is truly deserving of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” label. Though the majority of this book takes place before and during the Original Trilogy, the last section of the book takes us to Jakku, the desert planet we keep seeing in the trailers for The Force Awakens. As you might have guessed from the cover art, we get to see how a Star Destroyer ended up crashing into that desert. It doesn’t give away many details, but it whet my appetite just enough, and made me even more excited (as if that’s even possible) to see the new movie.
Is this book “required reading” before going to see the new movie? No. Neither Lost Stars, nor Aftermath is really that important in the grand scheme of things. None of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” books are that important. The one I’d recommend most to get you ready for The Force Awakens is Jason Fry’s junior novel, The Weapon of a Jedi. While I clearly haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet—and because the trailers aren’t giving anything important away—I can’t guess what will or will not be mentioned or referenced in the movie; but I get the feeling that Weapon of a Jedi will prove to have the most tie-ins to the film, despite the story taking place immediately after A New Hope.
Important or not, Lost Stars is a great read. In fact, I’m going so far as to say that it is the best book in the new canon so far. I loved this book, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the new canon novels, or anyone who’s just looking for something to hold them over until The Force Awakens comes out next month. If you read only one Star Wars book before seeing the new movie, this is the one to read.