Lost Stars is an extremely accessible book – all you need to enjoy this novel is to have watched the Original Trilogy. It spans across the entirety of the Original Trilogy, taking us right up to the Battle of Jakku. It’s the story of two young recruits, Ciena Rae and Thane Kyrell, as they join the Imperial training academy. Lost Stars follows their journey as they train together, ultimately fall in love before the conflict tears them apart, with one becoming a Rebel pilot and the other remaining in the Empire to become an officer.
Lost Stars excels at doing something we really haven’t seen before – humanising the men and women of the Empire. This is particularly painful to read as we see many key events through the eyes of these young recruits and watch as they try to process and justify some of the Empire’s most callous and despicable crimes, most notably of course, the destruction of Alderaan. From Rogue One we know that the Empire tried to justify the construction of the Death Star as a deterrent, a weapon so powerful that it would bring peace to the galaxy because no-one would dare oppose it. The Imperials thought of the Rebels as terrorists, criminals who sought to disrupt the peace and stability that the Empire had brought to the galaxy following the horror of the Clone Wars.
However, it is with the characters of Ciena and Thane that this book really excels. With over 500 pages, Gray really had time to develop the characters, they are both unique and fascinating – polar opposites of each other and yet neither feel like a cliche. They both have their flaws, which sometimes set them back or cause them to make mistakes, but this only makes them more human and relatable. In fact, because they are both brand new characters, they don’t come with any baggage so I found I was free to totally immerse myself in the story and really invest in Ciena and Thane.
I initially thought that the romance element was a tiny bit heavy-handed and forced, yet Grey throws enough obstacles at them which forces the relationship to burn a bit slower which I was grateful for. It was very clever because there were times when I wasn’t actually sure I rooted for them as a couple and ended up feeling just as conflicted as Ciena and Thane themselves. As I said before, they are very different people, they don’t always agree (in fact, they disagree vehemently about some of their most fundamental beliefs) which makes their relationship fascinating to watch and very believable. I actually enjoyed the opportunity to read a love story in Star Wars, there is plenty else going on in Lost Stars to satisfy the adrenaline junkies, but the romance was overall well done and the star-crossed lovers them suited the Star Wars universe very well.
The glimpses of famous characters was initially done very well. We get to glimpse Tarkin, Leia, Piett and even Darth Vader, but they never overpowered the story. Gray showed great restraint with her cameos – otherwise I’m sure it would have felt like too much fan-service if Ciena had met the Emperor, or Thane shared a cup of blue milk with Luke. You were just allowed a small squirm of delight when well-known character appeared, before your attention was brought firmly back where it needed to be – with Ciena and Thane.
For it is these two characters that are the heart and soul of this book, and they alone make it such a delight to read. Ciena really got under my skin as a character and I find myself thinking about her a lot. Despite being on the side of the evil Empire, she was such a likeable character. She was competent, driven and highly ambitious, yet also deeply flawed. Her misplaced sense of loyalty blinded her to the cruelty of the Empire which was going on right in front of her. Gray didn’t seek to justify any of the Empire’s most heinous actions, but she deftly portrayed how easy it was as a young Imperial officer to get swept up in the events and somewhat blinded by the truth.
This book does suffer from a serious case of small galaxy syndrome. The Battle of Yavin, Hoth, the attack on Cloud City – Thane and Ciena were present for all of these. Every major event and battle from the original trilogy, our two main characters were present at, which was slightly disappointing. Thane is more understandable, – the Rebellion was smaller after all – but Ciena was a cog in the Imperial war machine and it just felt a little bit much for me.
This book really excelled when it showed us things we haven’t seen before. Ciena and Thane’s home planet of Jelucan was fascinating. Some of my favourite parts of the novel took place on the Imperial training academy on Coruscant. I honestly thought when I picked up this book that it would deal with some of the skirmishes that we haven’t seen before. I was hopeful to see maybe something about the Imperial occupation of Kashyyyk, or even Lothal. But by having us see every major event of the original trilogy just a little to neat for me.
Overall: Despite the small galaxy, this is still a wonderful and moving book and I put this entirely down to the two main characters. Ciena and Thane are an absolute triumph. They are so well written, so compelling and vivid that you can’t help but root for the pair of them and spend the entire novel feeling utterly torn between the Empire and the Rebellion. They will both stay with me for a very long time and feel as ‘real’ to me and as much a part of Star Wars as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
Rating – 4 out of 5 Death Stars!