If you've ever wondered what the STAR WARS universe would be like if it got translated into a teeny genre romance novel along the lines of the Divergent or Twilight series, then Lost Stars by Claudia Gray may just be the book for you. If you are not one of those people, then you may be in for a hard read on this one.
The basic premise is interesting enough: On the remote planet of Jellucan, two local children become friends on the eve of the planets induction into the Galactic Empire: Thane Kyrell, a member of the affluent Second Wave of the planet's settlers, and Ciena Ree, a simple girl from the valley. Thane is a boy and Ciena is a girl. It will be necessary for you to know this (but impossible for you not to) because this dynamic dominates every aspect of their friendship and their lives. People divided by their social classes on Jellucan do not typically get along, but Thane and Ciena instantly bond over their mutual love of flying. An inspirational encounter with Grand Moff Tarkin leaves them both anxious to attend the Imperial Academy and train to become pilots in the service of the Empire.
Though Thane is cynical and rebellious toward authority and Ciena is idealistc and strictly adheres to her family's code of honor, the two spend their childhoods together, studying and training in flight simulators until they are both accepted into the Academy. The book promises to span the early period of the rebellion all the way to the era that leads up to EPISODE VII, but most of the book's story centers on their experiences in the Academy. While Thane and Ciena compete for the top spot in their class and work to master their increasing hormonal feelings towards one another, the subtle differences in their ideologies begin to manifest. Ciena believes that the Empire brings order to the galaxy and can therefore do no wrong, while Thane is more realistically inclined to believe that all governments become corrupted and eventually fall.
Everything's great for both of them, hanging out with their friends at school and being utterly oblivious to the Empire's more sinister underpinnings. Until one day, one thing happens that makes them disagree and they don't talk for years for very little reason. During a standard assignment where the students are tasked with building a fully functioning laser cannon and demonstrating it in the classroom (seems the Imperial Academy has the same safety protocols as the Jedi Temple when it comes to what they will allow kids to do in the classroom), disaster strikes when Thane's cannon will not power up and his chance at finishing first in his class is jeopardized by what appears to be an overt act of sabotage. Ciena is immediately implicated, until her super-smart nerdy friend (every girl in this type of story should have one), uncovers the subterfuge and reveals evidence that Thane deliberately sabotaged his own laser in order to implicate Ciena - his top rival - and therefore discredit and disqualify her. Using typical Imperial logic, their instructors decide the fair thing is to punish them both. This leads them to work together, digging even deeper to discover that someone in the Academy's administration is to blame for the whole hoohah. Thane wants to pursue this and reveal the exact identity and intent of the saboteur, but Ciena believes that taking action against the Academy's administration - especially making accusations without any solid proof - will get them both expelled. This disagreement leads to a very heated argument that causes the two to stop speaking to each other.
Years later, at the space prom, Thane and Ciena learn that it is a common practice for the Academy to create rifts between friends, especially those from the same world, because the Empire discourages such attachments and requires unconditional devotion from its soldiers. This makes them friends again, and all is presumably good between them.
After graduation, Thane and Ciena begin to drift apart. Thane is stationed on the Death Star and Ciena is assigned to the Star Destroyer Devastator. Tensions rise when the Death Star destroys Alderaan, and this is the beginning of an irreparable rift between them. Thane deserts and becomes a rebel pilot while Ciena retains her belief that the Empire is the only hope for order in the galaxy. She rises through the ranks, vindicated in her loyalty by the rebels' destruction of the Death Star. Remember, the dark truth about that glorious victory for the rebels is that it resulted in over a million Imperial casualties. That makes for a pretty powerful propaganda tool for the families and friends they left behind.
Ciena tracks Thane down and tries to convince him to return. They argue and, failing to convince each other to come around to their way of thinking, they decide to have sex instead. This is a teen romance novel, so this was bound to happen. They go their separate ways and have separate adventures interwoven into the events of EPISODE V.
Ciena's loyalty is later challenged when her mother is wrongly accused of a crime by a corrupt Imperial official on her home world. No one is willing to defend her, but Thane actually comes to show his support. This doesn't help out at all since Thane is a deserter and a rebel, but it gives him and Ciena another chance to argue and have sex.
This goes on through the course of the events of EPISODE VI, following them in their respective positions in the Empire and the Rebellion. Ciena takes command of the Star Destroyer Inflictor. This eventually puts her in the Battle of Jakku. The Inflictor is brought down during the battle and Thane boards the ship in an effort to rescue Ciena.
As a point of trivia, this is the Star Destroyer wreck we see Rey pass by as she crosses the Starship Graveyard in EPISODE VII.
The story ends with Ciena as a prisoner of the New Republic. Thane tries to convince her to testify about what she knows, because there are still Imperial remnants building a power base in the Unknown Regions, but nobody seems to care about this any more than I do and the book comes to an end.
I don't want to say this book is terrible, because it is exactly what it says it is, but I had a hard time getting through this one. The premise was interesting, offering the opportunity to see the history of the Rebellion and the moments leading up to the Battle of Jakku, but these concepts are so peripheral to the pouting and bickering of the characters who take us through the narrative that it only amounts to name-dropping. The final battle could be anywhere, but it's on Jakku because it's a tie-in to EPISODE VII, and Ciena's Star Destroyer is the one we see in EPISODE VII for the same reason.
Like I said, this is what it is. It doesn't much feel like STAR WARS to me and the central story is tedious. I don't like any of the characters and I don't really relate to them, but I'm not the audience this book is courting. I'm apparently not in the majority on this either, since this book has been very well embraced while the Aftermath trilogy, which I find to be much more interesting and entertaining, has gotten a lot of negative feedback from fans. Oh well.
This is an interesting insight into Disney's STAR WARS, though. While they're opening moves have all been to introduce new characters and stories by inter-weaving them with legacy characters and events (almost exclusively from the original film trilogy), this approach has been very successful for them. They're opening up the STAR WARS universe, which means playing with new genres and reaching out to new audiences. That guarantees that if you're a STAR WARS fan, no matter how die-hard you are, there are bound to be a few stories that you just aren't going to like. With the amount of content Disney is producing, I'd say there's room in the world for that.