– By J. W. Fox –
Full disclosure: Lost Stars was my first Star Wars novel. For the longest time, I’ve avoided books based on movie or TV franchises. How could they ever measure up to the joy and excitement of the real thing? I was especially reluctant to dive into Star Wars. Given the whole changeover from Expanded Universe to new SW canon, I was not eager to try and sort through the mess of novels, wondering which were part of the new timeline and which were not. Lost Stars was specifically recommended to me as a great first SW novel in the new canon so I gave it a shot.
The novel takes place contemporaneously with Episodes 4-6, following the experiences of two aspiring pilots, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. Thane and Ciena grew up together on their impoverished, mountain world of Jelucan, dreaming of becoming Imperial pilots. Thane desires to escape an abusive family life while Ciena is obsessed with duty. Both love to fly. They are admitted into the Imperial Academy, rising rapidly becoming among the most promising cadets. In their rise, they grow even closer but galactic events threatens to tear them apart.
Sounds like Shakespeare right? Even the name of the novel suggests a tragic romance reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet (I mean come on: lost stars, star-crossed lovers). Author Claudia Gray draws you right into the close bond between Thane and Ciena, generating a genuine hope and fear for them. There’s is an amazing story, fitting perfectly with the style and depth of its source material. Just like the movies, the novel combines adult themes and content with things that younger readers will be able to relate to easily. The story follows their growth from adolescence to adulthood, the typical coming-of-age story arc. The star-crossed lovers theme is also something especially appealing to younger readers.
Along with the YA themes, the book also takes a more mature approach to war. Things are depicted as not being so black and white, which is generally a trait for mainstream adult fiction. The protagonists begin their journey as loyal Imperial citizens but grow to see the coldness, brutality, and hypocrisy of the Empire. In the movies, the Empire is obviously evil but the book depicts a different experience for Thane and Ciena. They grow up right as the Empire took over, when it was at its peak popularity. The Emperor just ended a war, bringing peace and order to the Galaxy. The brutal oppression and crimes against humanity came later.
While the bond between the protagonists was compelling, their moral and ethical discussions about the war were not as strong. Even as the protagonists grew into their twenties, their attitude towards the war still felt naive. Their thinking fails to evolve much over the 10+ year time span of the novel. The same thoughts and arguments that take place in early parts of the book are repeated later.
If you are looking for a great military sci-fi novel, look elsewhere. Star Wars is a sci-fi action franchise, but Claudia Gray is not really an action writer. The battle sequences move rapidly with very limited detail, as if she was rushing through it to get to the next touching, emotional scene. It didn’t help that I knew the outcome of these famous battles. As a result, the tension and excitement from battle is pretty weak.
Generally, I think Gray relied heavily on the reader’s prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe. She does very little world-building, with limited description of the worlds, ships, and battles. There is also plenty of fan service, with the characters witnessing events from the movies, even meeting some of the legendary characters. If this were a regular sci-fi novel it would be a serious problem but since this is Star Wars, Gray can get away with it. However, those not familiar with Star Wars will definitely struggle getting through this novel.
From a broader perspective, I think this novel is a perfect set up for the new movies. As the subtitle implies, it focuses on how the epic arrived at Episode 7, filling in a few gaps. The soft action and lack of detail held it back a little but the love story and strength of the main characters were more than enough to keep me hooked. To really get the most out of the novel, you need to be familiar with the original trilogy and perhaps Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Hardcore fans should love it.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.