I’ve always been tempted by the Star Wars tie-in novels or Extended Universe, as it is known by fans. I even dipped my toe into the water, trying one of the X-Wing novels but, to be honest, while there was nothing at all wrong with the writing, I felt the story required you to have at least some knowledge of the many, many books and comics and games and whatever else that had gone before it. So while Disney’s decision to reboot the EU, rendering its back catalogue as ‘legends’ and releasing its own slew of canonical novels, was understandably met with derision by many fans, it was an opportunity for people like me to reconnect. And reconnect I have.
Lost Stars is the first of the tie-in novels I’ve read thus far and it hasn’t disappointed. Spanning across the entirety of the sequel trilogy and beyond, linking in with key set-piece moments from all three movies, I found it very accessible. The story of two young recruits, Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell, entering the Imperial training academy, it also does something that the movies, perhaps, fail to do – it humanises the men and women of the Empire. This makes for some incredibly harrowing reading as we’re forced, through the POV of some of these young officers, to rationalise some of the Empire’s most heinous war crimes, such as the genocide of Alderaan, viewing it as something done in the name of peace, to bring the galaxy together for the greater good.
The Nazi Germany overtones are explicit and Gray does a wonderful job of exploring these themes in both a sensitive and powerful way. As the story progresses, one of our protagonists deserts the Empire and joins the Rebellion, allowing us an insight to some more key scenes, such as the battle on Hoth, from the POV of the Alliance. Key characters from the movies, such as Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Vader and Tarkin, have walk-on parts, but the focus remains on our young protagonists, events always seen through their eyes. And as time goes on, their respective views on what is happening become very different.
For a YA novel, Lost Stars deals with a lot of grown-up themes and this, along with excellent writing, pacing and characterisation from Gray, makes it as palatable a read for adults as it is for teenagers. For someone like me whose love of Star Wars has been rekindled by the hugely enjoyable The Force Awakens, this book makes the perfect first step into the broader Star Wars universe. And I really can’t recommend it enough.