Blog: Lost Stars – Ashley digs deeper

Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls digs deeper into her favorite Star Wars novel, “Lost Stars” by Claudia Gray. Haven’t read “Lost Stars” yet? Check out Ashley’s review first

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Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell approach life from two very different perspectives — Ciena is an idealistic Imperial, and Thane is a cynical Rebel. How do their backgrounds impact their perspectives, and in what ways are they right or wrong?

One of the things I appreciate most about “Lost Stars” is that Claudia Gray doesn’t allow the story to take the easiest (or the most obvious) path. It seems like it would have been easier to write about an idealistic Rebel and a cynical Imperial; taking a character who is passionately devoted to the Empire and making them sympathetic is a somewhat more challenging task.

That’s why Ciena and Thane’s backstories are so important, and Gray does a great job fleshing them out.

Ciena Ree may not have grown up with a wealth of financial resources, but she looks back on her childhood as a relatively happy time, thanks to her loving family. She’s not blind to the problems throughout the galaxy, yet she also doesn’t let the existence of evil and darkness shake her belief in goodness and light. She believes in fighting for justice, security, and prosperity for all, and she’s willing to make personal sacrifices to transform the galaxy into a better place.

Even when Ciena begins to have doubts about the Empire’s methods, she sticks around so that she can continue trying to make a difference from within the system. Her greatest weakness is that her idealism is carried too far, and she eventually realizes that the Empire has taken advantage of her.

By contrast, Thane grew up in a prosperous family that failed to provide the emotional support he so desperately needed. He doesn’t see the galaxy as a place that’s basically good, and he’s skeptical of the Empire’s so-called altruistic motives. Because of this, he sees the warning signs sooner than Ciena does.

Even when he defects from the Empire, Thane has a hard time really warming up to the Rebel cause, because he’s skeptical of their motives, too. It takes seeing the true depths of the Empire’s evil and the genuine dedication of the people working within the Rebellion for his views to really begin to shift.

Ciena highly values loyalty and honor, and she thinks that by serving the Empire she’ll be able to save other people. How does the Empire manipulate this?

Ciena fears bringing dishonor on herself and her family; this fear is so deeply ingrained in her that she remains loyal to the Empire long after she realizes what a terrible organization it is. By the end, she longs to be free of her vows to serve the Empire, but she sees desertion as a shameful abandonment of duty.

Ciena feels there is no way to escape from the promise that she made. She later tells Thane that the Empire set up the perfect trap for her, and that she was “so dedicated to honor that I became a war criminal.”

In one of the most heartbreaking passages in the book, Thane’s thoughts perfectly capture Ciena’s struggle:

“Her loyalty, once given, was absolute. The Empire didn’t deserve her, yet it had her in its grasp forever. She didn’t remain a part of the Emperor’s machine because she was ambitious or corrupt. No, the Empire had found a way to use her honor against her. The strength of her character was the exact reason she would remain in the service of evil.”

There are probably many stories like Ciena’s within the Empire: good people who joined up because they thought they could help others and prevent another devastating war on the scale of the Clone Wars. The Empire promises to bring stability and peace to the galaxy, but hidden behind this is a lust for power and a disregard for the value of life. The Emperor cares about nothing but himself.

The tragedy of “Lost Stars” is that Ciena doesn’t realize how deeply the Empire has betrayed her until it’s too late. The story is a good warning for all of us to be careful what causes and organizations we dedicate ourselves to, and to always be questioning our thoughts and assumptions. We don’t want to find ourselves in Ciena’s shoes: good people who have been tricked into serving an unworthy cause.

A major event in the plot of this novel is the explosion of the original Death Star. This event is celebrated in the original trilogy, but in “Lost Stars” we learn more about the people who died on the Death Star, including friends of Ciena and Thane. Were the Rebels still justified in blowing it up?

It’s interesting that Ciena initially tries to justify the use of the Death Star to blow up Alderaan (even though deep down she knows it’s wrong). “By ending the war now, before it truly begins, the Death Star will save more lives than it took.”

Of course, the use of the Death Star is absolutely NOT ethical, and there is no justification for committing a war crime like destroying an entire planet full of innocent civilians. And yet, was blowing up the Death Star — and killing thousands of Imperials, not all of whom were evil psychopaths like Palpatine — the right choice?

I honestly don’t know, and I’m glad “Lost Stars” adds more nuance to this pivotal event in the Star Wars saga. The Death Star had to be stopped, to prevent other planets across the galaxy from meeting Alderaan’s fate. But ending thousands of additional lives by blowing up the Death Star does not seem morally justifiable, either.

War is always full of situations like these, which is why it’s so important to try to stop the violence before it even starts. The ideal time to stop the Death Star would have been before construction even began; the Jedi Council and the Republic Senate should have been more observant and suspicious of Palpatine and realized he wasn’t the man he pretended to be. If they had been able to peacefully prevent Palpatine’s rise to power, there would have been no Death Star in the first place.

The book ends on an ambiguous, bittersweet note — was this the most effective ending, and did it do the book justice? Should there be a sequel?

Despite their love for each other, Ciena and Thane’s paths always seem doomed to diverge. In “Lost Stars,” their journey ends with Ciena trapped inside a Rebel prison cell and Thane looking in at her. As the book states, “they mirrored each other, almost touching but forever apart.” Though they still care about each other — and always will — their future together is uncertain.

As much as I wanted a “happily ever after” for these two characters, I don’t think that ending would have felt authentic. Their relationship is heartbreaking but thought-provoking, and the story just wouldn’t have the same impact without the tragic love story.

Gray could have written about Ciena defecting not long after Thane did, and have them spend the rest of the book fighting alongside each other in the Rebellion. Maybe that would have been cool, and I probably wouldn’t have complained. Yet I’m glad Gray chose to keep them on opposite sides of the war, and to force them to confront the ethics of the causes they serve and to explore how this impacts their relationship.

I’m always game for another Claudia Gray Star Wars book, but I’m not really sure if I want a “Lost Stars” sequel. Though I love these characters and don’t want their story to end, I like the poignant ending just as it is. Star Wars has a long history of bittersweet endings (rather like real life, in fact) — we all experience loss and pain and regret, but there is always, always hope.