Author: Claudia Grey
Publisher: LucasFilm Press/Disney
Unique Elements: Two friends join the Empire to improve their world and are ripped apart by its machinations
Series: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Number of Page: 560 pages
Discount Link: Click Here
Author Website: Click Here
Publisher Website: Click Here
Reviewed by: Veronika Gypsy
Final Score: 5 Moons (out of 5)
20 years before the events of A New Hope, the reign of the Galactic Empire reaches the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan, where aristocratic Thane Kyrell and rural villager Ciena Ree bond over their love of flying.
Inspired in their youth by a charismatic Imperial leader, the reality of them both enrolling at the Imperial Academy to become fighter pilots for the glorious Empire is nothing less than a dream come true.
However, as they are pulled to two different parts of the empire, their experiences cause one to solidify their Imperial loyalty and the other to join the Rebellion. Now on opposite sides of the war, will these friends turned foes find a way to be together, or will duty tear them—and the galaxy—apart?
In Episode IV, Obi-Wan Kenobi describes the light saber as “an elegant weapon… for a more civilized age.” No truer words could describe Claudia Gray’s storytelling in Lost Stars. Her ability to finesse story, pacing and prose to her will in this book is sheer elegance and grace.
Gray’s story arch follows its two protagonists from their childhood into their schooling then into service to the empire, using their expanding experiences and connections to showcase multiples sides to the events that happened throughout the current Star Wars movies and beyond.
Fans of the films will find this a mesmerizing way to re-explore the concepts and history of Star Wars from the perspective of actual inhabitants of that galaxy. (This is even more incredible when you realize that Gray features no Jedi as main characters in the book, yet their absence is barely felt because her storytelling is so integrated with the universe of Star Wars that you feel the presence of the Force throughout.)
You get to see characters from afar that you know well—like Luke & Leia—but you’ll also get to meet folks that were barely explored in the actual films including Wedge Antilles and Mon Mothma. (In fact, for other hardcore fans like me who felt this character got short shrift, you’ll even get to spend some time with Dax–Luke’s copilot who is barely given a name before he’s killed in Empire Strikes Back.)
As to the ending, not since Chris Nolan’s Memento or David Fincher’s Fight Club have I found the ending of tale to be quite so unsettling AND yet so perfect at the same time.
With that said, it also left me yearning for another book in the series! And since it concludes less than two years past Return of the Jedi, there are at least 28 more years of story I want to know about before Star Wars VII. As such, hopefully Disney will greenlight this as a trilogy!
Claudia Gray had the most untenable task ahead of her in this book’s interpersonal and narrative dynamics: turn the Empire into a sympathetic character from the eyes of two impressionable youths and tell their stories amidst the backdrop of episodes 4, 5, & 6, leaving hints at episode 7 along the way, yet without ever losing the human focus of a tale about two star-crossed lovers.
Somehow, the woman did the impossible and made the BEST Star Wars book of 2015. It’s light years ahead of the closest competitor and is the first book I’ve ever read in the Star Wars series to hold a candle to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy from 1992! (Yeah, the Thrawn books are non-canon, but they’re still incredible. And is it so wrong to have a girl-crush on Mara Jade? I think not!)
The interpersonal dynamics between Thane and Ciena (as well as their friends and coworkers) is where Lost Stars really shines. Intensifying these relationships are the internal dynamics that war within each of them. Internal dynamics are one of the areas most authors have trouble, with a tendency to substitute caricature for character. However, Gray manages to keep each character feeling authentic—making choices that are understandable and real, even when they’re the most heart breaking or will cause the most hurt to everyone.
The female characters are incredibly strong and very well written (which is not always the case with novel just because it’s written by a woman). On a recent episode of Collider’s Jedi Council, Kristian Harloff stated that if there were a Mount Rushmore of female Star Wars characters, Cienna Ree would belong on it and I couldn’t agree more. (Special thanks to Jedi Council for cluing us in on this great book, as well!)
But it’s not just the women, as the men are very well written, as well. (In chatting with Editor-in-Chief Hanke, who also loved the book, he confirmed that it was equally well written for both genders, which is quite an accomplishment.)
The rating of “Young Adult” associated with this book has nothing to do with the amazing quality of this book. Don’t confuse this with Twilight or Divergent or something like that. Just because the book is accessible to more readers, doesn’t mean that the concepts this book explores are any less adult. The only reason it has a Young Adult rating is because it hasn’t dumped in a bunch of unneeded graphic sex and the protagonists are younger than 21 for approximately half the book. (Don’t forget that the “YA” rating translates to “PG-13” in film terms—the same rating that all of the Star Wars films have been at or under.)
With Gothic intensity, Lost Stars refuses to flinch away from the truth revealed through its story, no matter where that truth shows up. In the process, it deals with some of the darkest concepts of humanity—from slavery to betrayal to racism to wholesale slaughter in amazingly clear and insightful ways, without dumbing down any of the complexities of people.
The chilling thing about this book is how reflective it is of our own history, shown through the “fictional” eyes of Star Wars. The Hitler Youth in the late ’30’s were told that they were propelling their nation to a place of dominance and national pride they “deserved” and that the Jews and Gypsies were the traitor races who had crippled their empire. We look back and can’t fathom what could cause people to ever buy so blindly into an ideology. Likewise, when I watched the old Star Wars movies, it was hard to imagine why anyone would ever follow Vader and the Emperor: tyrants who killed on a whim, enslaved races they considered subhuman, and committed genocide to make an example. But Gray shows you just how easy it can be to justify actions for a “greater good” for things you desperately WANT to be true.
However, as with everything else in this book, there is a balance. The dark reflection and introspection is present enough to set the stakes and the intensity of the situations, without being so constantly present that they take away the hope that is a hallmark of Star Wars.
Disney’s done amazing work with the companies they’ve acquired and it seems they’re continuing this excellence in the case of LucasFilm and Star Wars. With that said, in my opinion, the one misstep Disney’s made in their marketing for the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was not featuring Lost Stars as their flagship novel.
Lost Stars is not a really good Star Wars story, nor is it a great Sci-Fi/Fantasy book; instead, it transcends genre to become, simply, a masterpiece.
If you only read one Star Wars novel this year, make sure it’s Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars!
Story: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Dynamics: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Gothic Fit: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
(If you’d like to learn more about Lost Stars’
author, Claudia Gray, check out the embedded
video interview from Kristian Harloff
at Collider’s Jedi Council below.)
Cover Image courtesy of LucasFilm Press.
Banner image featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (courtesy of her movie, In Beyond The Lights).
Mbatha-Raw has recently been cast in an upcoming Star Wars film and was also the visual inspiration to author Claudia Gray for the character of Ciena Ree.