Lost Stars offers a tantalizing and hopeful glimpse into the beginnings of the new Star Wars canon.
This novel is targeted at the young adult demographic (but then again, most Star Wars novels tend to be written at that level, anyway). While this does involve a few stock YA tropes (young love, coming-of-age, oppressive authority figures) it emerges as a complete package, a novel that stands on its own two feet as a fully-conceived and well-written accompaniment to the Star Wars universe.
Lost Stars has an admittedly cliched story structure: two childhood friends (and later lovers) from the same village, growing up to fight on opposing sides of the Galactic Civil War. The narrative follows their respective life-paths through the major theaters of the war (read: the events of the three original movies). While both protagonists grew up idolizing the military and joining its ranks in order to experience life away from their backwater world, their paths diverge, as the bully-hating Thane Kyrell, disillusioned by the increasingly ruthless practices of the Empire, defects to the Rebel Alliance, while the honor-bound and duty-oriented Ciena rises up the ranks of the Empire, clinging on to the notion of the Empire as a stabilizing and civilizing force. Through a series of unlikely coincidences (that, in usual Star Wars fashion, are attributed to the inscrutable ways of the Force), the two protagonists always end up witnessing the war’s major events from opposite sides of the battlefield – the Death Star’s destruction of Alderaan and its own, the Battle of Hoth, the showdown on Bespin, the Battle of Endor.
The greatest thing about the novel is how it introduces a layer of moral complexity and nuance to the events of the original trilogy, which is something the new canon sorely needs (after all, its first few products so far have been a slew of children’s books and an animated series aimed at kids). Ciena’s perspective offers a good window into why people continue to serve the Empire despite its increasingly obvious brutality – an inertia, a sense of greater purpose, and the stifling atmosphere of conformity, that slowly shapes its officers into perfect servants of the Emperor. It is a good insight into how dictatorships maintain their structures of power through channels of privilege. Through this lens, anything can be justified towards the greater good – even the destruction of entire worlds. Ciena’s psychological journey through this process of indoctrination is one of the more compelling parts of the book.
Another thing I appreciated was how relatively close to the ground the book was. It could have done what so many Star Wars novels had done and be all about the main characters, but in Lost Stars only scant reference is made to them, and they never appear in the flesh. Instead, the efforts and achievements of the ordinary soldiers are the focus of the story. It humanises the unknown extras who played the soldiers of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance in the movies.
And in doing so, it expands upon the scope of the movies. It makes the galactic conflict into a bigger and more expansive event than the films could ever hope to portray, through broad strokes of evocative prose. It fills in the little details that were present but never commented on in the films. It also, to an extent, makes the Star Wars universe a little more progressive – Ciena, after all, is a woman, and women, in the films and the old Expanded Universe, were marginalised. There was an in-canon explanation for this – systematic sexism in the Imperial Navy (see Daala) – but it appears that Ciena’s rise through the ranks is meant to portray the Empire in a more gender-equal light, in line with the other Disney Star Wars properties (such as Rebels). It rationalizes some of the moments in the movies and adds to their depth, like the explanation of how the Executor was destroyed.
It even also at times gently lampoons some of the more questionable strategic decisions made in the films. Such as Ciena’s questioning of why Vader had to bother with sending the Executor through a damaging and fruitless asteroid chase when he could just have employed the services of Boba Fett from the get-go, thus saving thousands of lives. This is explained as being part and parcel of the Empire’s callousness towards its own troops, and a reason for Ciena’s gradual breakdown. Or why the Rebel Alliance decided to pass over more experienced leaders to make Han and Lando the leaders of the land and space efforts in the Battle of Endor.
It’s for these reasons that Lost Stars is such a good book to have in the franchise – it expands upon and fills in the details of the films in an intelligent and compassionate way. For their virtues, the films were morally simplistic. For a universe sandbox like Star Wars to flourish, there must be complexity, depth and a sense of verisimilitude. Lost Stars gracefully gives that gloss to the original films. Of course, the details it provides about post-ROTJ events like the Battle of Jakku don’t hurt either.
As such, I will be happy to see more books like Lost Stars grace the Star Wars mythos – injecting human stories into the universe while subtly detailing the elements of the universe that we all know and love. And I look forward to author Claudia Gray’s continued involvement in the mythos, with her new New Republic: Bloodline book that’s slated to come out next year.
I give this book: 4 out of 5 V-171s