In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker talked about wanting to go to the Imperial Academy. Thankfully, another path found him instead, but I’ve always wondered about the appeal of the Academy. For a kid like Luke on a planet in the middle of nowhere, it likely offered a way out and the opportunity to see more of the galaxy. The Empire leveraged the notions of possibilities and promise. Star Wars Rebels has provided a little more insight about how people get swayed by the Empire’s propaganda. I was still hungry to learn more, and I got it in Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars.
I feel like the young adult novel got a little lost in the shuffle of Force Friday releases. It’s been on shelves since September 4, but I come across many who aren’t aware of the title. Here’s my advice to those of you who haven’t read it: Attain a copy as soon as possible, acquire sustenance, and get comfy in bed or on the couch because chances are you won’t want to put Lost Stars down once you begin. That’s my one sentence review.
Lost Stars is a story of two friends from the same planet—Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree—who grow up working towards one goal: join the Empire and be pilots. They were ambitious and incredibly competitive with each other, but their relationship persisted and grew. However, all good things… Eventually one of them started to see through the Empire’s facade while the other remained loyal.
As Thane and Ciena progress through the Academy and rise through the ranks, you learn so much about how seemingly moral and decent people are twisted by the Empire and left misshapen. Lost Stars delivers insight about the Empire’s indoctrination; I began to understand why soldiers stuck around after tragedies like Alderaan. I still didn’t approve, but I felt like I finally spent some time in their shoes. There’s one of Thane and Ciena’s friends in particular who has an unsettling and intriguing journey: an Alderaanian who watched the destruction of his home planet and found a way to still believe.
One reason this book was so gripping was the rationalization Gray so beautifully articulated. Humans are skilled at talking around things to make them make sense. However, that usually applies to more trivial acts like buying another pair of black boots that are only slightly different than the other three you already own. It was frightening to see how deep people were willing to go in Lost Stars to convince themselves they were fighting on the right side.
The twists and turns Thane and Ciena experience together and apart also made this book compelling. Experiencing the Empire’s rise in power through their perspectives—cadets who were growing up at the same time as the Empire’s might grew—brought a fresh perspective. It’s tempting to go into the book expecting to choose a side, but that would be missing the point. It’s not as black and white as I thought it would be.
Lost Stars is a story both sweeping and focused. The scale of the war is a looming presence, but since we experience it through the eyes of Ciena and Thane, it is deeply personal in a way we haven’t had access to before. Gray’s story puts you among the ranks of soldiers and makes you question your notions about Imperials. The book is raw, thought-provoking, and unlike any other Star Wars story I’ve digested. It fills a gap in the universe and addressed questions I didn’t know I had.
After you’ve read Lost Stars, please come talk to me about it in the comments or on Twitter.
Images: Disney Lucasfilm Press