*This review contains minor spoilers*
There are some universal truths: there will be death, taxes will be paid, there will never be enough action figures swinging from the pegs. Another is that the way a child is raised will play a large part in who they become. An even further truth that decimates that assumption is this: war is hell. War is division. When the whole galaxy yearns to unite in a glorious community, it is broken up by the selfish ambitions of evil, destroying all who lay in its path. If our thoughts determine our lives, there is a great unseen struggle to be the one to infiltrate the thoughts of formable minds.
Star Wars: Lost Stars is just such a story. This expansive young adult novel brackets the Original Trilogy and expands the mythos, while doing what many of the novels have done before. It furthers the larger story through the eyes of well-developed characters and the struggles in their daily lives. From their days as carefree children, through their time in an Imperial Academy and the Battle of Endor and beyond, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree come to life on these pages – even if it seems their star-crossed lives are victims of the galactic stage. There will be devastation that can never destroy the heart.
They were raised in different societies on the planet Jeleucan – Ciena being from the earthy older community that lives a tribal sort of life, and Thane being from the well-healed and self-appointed keepers of culture. They became fast friends and encouraged each other to reach for the stars as they both desired to serve the Empire, which they had been taught to love so much. They were high achievers in the in studies at the Academy. What they forgot to learn was that the cold depths of space and the depravity of the Empire demanded utter loyalty to the Emperor alone. Friendships were expendable-even damnable. Through all of the struggles of their formative years, they were loyal to each other and had a love that could not be squashed. I am speaking a little vaguely because I want you to read this book and see how the perpetual war tried to destroy perfect love for two people. It won for a little while but the triumph of human relationships will always overcome the sterile fist of the Empire. Love manifests itself in some quite unexpected ways.
Lost Stars is a beautiful amalgamation of some great literary themes that deal with matters of the heart and the role of a malevolent government in its midst. It calls to mind 1984. That story of one man, compelled to serve Big Brother but feeling called to search for love and freedom. As with Winston and Julia (though neither of these are perfect reflections of their prototypes), there is a torrid love affair that struggles to identify itself within the larger context. In the end, Big Brother is always watching. How did they feel about him in the end?
The other piece of classical literature, which is often read by young adults dealing with these questions is Romeo and Juliet. Now, don’t think that Lost Stars is a Star Wars version of that great tragedy. There are touchstones that remind us of the familiar while forging an all new story besides. Thane and Ciena come from different worlds, yet love each other. Not for their pedigree or family name, but on the force of their own humanity. Their love is torn apart by the larger universe that refuses to cede its authority.
As a father of three kids, two of the in high school, I wonder and worry about the pressures of society and the expectations that I may be personally laying at their feet. Am I pursuing my own ambitions vicariously? Does the world look out for their own benefit? There are no answers to these questions, just attempts. In our schools, many negative utopian novels have, and continue to be, presented to our children. I remember Anthem, 1984, Atlas Shrugged, Brave New World among others. Now they are faced with The Hunger Games, Divergent and the copycat titles cashing in on the new wave of the phenomenon. That is what the Star Wars handlers are doing with Lost Stars. Beginning with the cover, there are strong echoes of the iconography of the negative utopian genre. A star destroyer flaming out through the Imperial cog and Rebel phoenix evokes The Hunger Games and Mockingjay, as much as the Divergent series does the same. Perhaps we have the optimistic antidote in Lost Stars. There may not be a utopia at the end, but the relationships and compassion between real people is palpable and survives.
The physical structure of the book in our hands is part of the story. It is large enough to demand effort on the part of the reader to carry the weight contained. In a stroke of genius, hopefully intentional, there are blank pages after both the destruction of Alderaan and Death Star I. Having seen these through the eyes of our heroes, it is fitting that a moment of shock and recollection should be afforded the reader.
Further on, it appears that there was a concerted effort to draw in a new demographic to Star Wars through this imagery. Claudia Gray has given us a thick book (thankfully) imitating the format that the youths of today are familiar with. But in the pages, I was perturbed by one of the particular ongoing choices made in the storytelling. Twice in the novel, the protagonists find themselves in carnal embrace. It is an organic expression of the vivifying love they have for one another in light of the division of the wars, but it seems to be a topic that does not need to be a centerpiece of a Star Wars novel. The two moments become more – constant callbacks to the throes of passion. The reminiscences by Thane and Ciena reflect the mind of young adults, but the texts constant recall, in bright imagery and continually, gave the book an air of voyeurism. Without giving this topic undue weight, it is my opinion that this was unnecessarily titillating and distracting from an otherwise excellent love story told in a young adult novel.
As we raise the next generation of global citizens, and potentially use the Star Wars mythos as a way of our sharing our human aspirations, this novel calls into stark contrast and divine detail the tension between personal relationships and the diabolical allure of the avaricious world. As they climbed higher in the ranks of the Imperial navy, Thane rebels while Ciena remains loyal to her oath. In contrasting scenes, each encounters classic leadership characters of great galactic importance that encourages their devotion to either ideology. One finds that relationships and altruistic gain are important, while the other main character is encouraged to lose the soul to the march of progress.
In the end, Winston and Julia loved Big Brother. In the end, Juliet chose her Romeo. In the end, did Thane and Ciena choose each other through all of the swirling vortices pulling them from each other? I encourage you to read this book and find out how these twinned stars endured the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
This IS the Podcast you’re looking for!
Please leave comments on this and all my posts – I really look forward to it. You can find me on Twitter at @adelphotheos and email at jamesw@CoffeeWithKenobi.com, occasionally at TheForceandFaith.blogspot.com as long as I am not listening to the latest edition of the Coffee With Kenobi podcast!