DISCLAIMER: As with our other Journey to the Force Awakens reviews, images will be taken from publicity stills for the new movie.
This review will contain NO SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I mention this because I was hesitant about diving into Lost Stars. My past experience with 'younger' Star Wars titles - in particular those awful Young Jedi Knights books from back in the day - had given me trepidation for current ones. All those kinds of books felt diluted, as if some of the writers didn't respect the emotional intelligence and maturity of the demographic they had targeted. They were the kind of 'soft' books, even by younger readers' standards, that contribute to the ill-deserved YA stigma.
But Lost Stars, YA or no, doesn't deserve to be slapped with any stigma. Because it is damn awesome.
Unlike Aftermath, clearly billed as the first step in the umbrella 'Journey to The Force Awakens' title, Lost Stars is a hybrid Original Trilogy recontextualisation and lower deck episode. The story follows Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, a pair of star-crossed lovers from the planet Jelucan. After a masterful used-car-salesman pitch from Grand Moff Tarkin, they join the Empire in the early days of its formation. Over time Thane and Ciena's love grows in proportion to their respective disillusionment with the Empire. Honour and loyalty threaten to tear Thane and Ciena apart while the events of the Original Trilogy - and one particular event after it - occur around them.
Surrounding Thane and Ciena are a plethora of supporting characters, including a couple we're familiar with a bunch that quickly become the same. Though sometimes only briefly sketched out, the supporting players feel like distinct, likeable characters. As much as I liked Aftermath's cast, I cared a lot more for the actions - and deaths - of a few of Lost Stars' people, and it's a credit to Gray's writing skill that I can feel such a reaction to the passing of a character I've only know for a hundred pages or so. The dialogue also crackles, further adding to the realism of the characters. We may be in a galaxy far, far away, but a lot of these people could be going through the same stuff you are, just on a bigger, fate-of-the-galaxy-hanging-in-the-balance kind of scale.
On the subject of the writing, as opposed to Aftermath's present tense that turned a lot of people off, Lost Stars flicks between characters with a snappy third-person style which deftly articulates introspection and character's thoughts without copious pages of text. The pace is such that the book never lags; while it could stand to dwell a little on certain moments or scenes to really flesh the world out a bit more, it's refreshing to have a book that feels purposeful and on a very solid course from Page 1. This is Gray's first foray into Star Wars, and I'd certainly be keen on seeing more work from her here.
Whether you read it and think of it as YA or not, you should really go check out Lost Stars. This is especially true for anyone who was let down by Aftermath; if the writing style, plotting and characters of that book weren't to your taste, Lost Stars may have you covered. I didn't think I'd be keen on what is ostensibly a Star Wars-inflected retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but it turned out I am when it's written this expertly. Lost Stars did not fail to impress.
Star Wars: Lost Stars is available in bookstores now.
Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens is in cinemas from December 18.
This review is part of our series on Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Other reviews from this series include: