With an iron grip on systems across the universe, the Empire took control of planets one by one, and when doing so, promised its inhabitants that transformation would come, the kind to change their lives for the better as they came under their auspices. Promises and propaganda would encourage the best young talent in the galaxy to reach for the heights of attending and graduating from the Imperial Academy, where students would study in the hopes of one day leading a Star Destroyer into battle. In the Outer Rim, two such children—Thane Kyrell and rural villager Ciena Ree—develop a deep bond as they promise to become soldiers for the Empire, and then face the testing of those bonds through fires forged by the Galactic Civil War, the death of friends and comrades, and the unstoppable flow of destiny.
Star Wars: Lost Stars is a three-volume manga based on the beloved young adult novel by Claudia Gray. Originally adapted as an online manga in Japan, Yen Press released an English translation, with the final volume launching this week. Taking place over a period of roughly fifteen years, from a time before A New Hope to shortly after Return of the Jedi, the manga follows Thane and Ciena as they play roles in the conflicts that are at the center of the Star Wars universe. The two are residents of the same planet, Jelucan, but are from different classes—he of aristocratic status and she a second citizen. The youngsters, however, become fast friends via their affection for the Empire and especially Grand Moff Tarkin, and even more intimate once they enter the Imperial Academy and test their mettle against other students from across the universe. However, shortly after graduation, and thrust into the Civil War and especially the aftermath of the rebel victory against the Death Star, their paths diverge, one more tightly entrenched with the Empire and the other toward the Rebellion, one tangled in the dark and the other toward the light.
It’s thrilling to have an honest-to-goodness Star Wars manga, and even better, one that’s very, very well made. Structured around the events of the original trilogy, it would be easy for the series to go astray, lost in a sea of Star Wars fanservice, a charge levied against The Force Awakens, to which the original Lost Stars YA novel was connected. But while it’s fun to see several original trilogy characters play semi-prominent roles in these manga (look for a damaged Darth Vader following the first Death Star’s destruction—possibly the reason why his strength decreased so much between episodes IV and VI?), the setting and events are more than table dressing—they create a tone of discomfort that exists right from the start, and presses harder and harder as the story progresses. We know the end of the larger tale, and the epic, powerful flow of these events crush the characters, whom we quickly come to care for, under their weight. The destruction of the Death Star and Alderaan personally and greatly affect those we read about, as do the various missions carried out by both sides of the conflict.
The idea of “destiny” plays a tremendous role in the franchise, and especially in the movies associated with Lost Stars‘ time frame, and it’s difficult not to think of that word as Lost Stars progresses, particularly in relation to Ciena. Born into a society that keeps her people in poverty, is she doomed to live a painful, unjust life until she dies at an early age, repressed first by Thane’s people and then the Empire? And does the title suggest that she and Thane are star-crossed, a Romeo and Juliet type but among literal stars and representing metaphorical families in an intergalactic conflict? The heaviness of these questions and others lie over the whole of the three volumes, and at certain key points thumps harshly through, even while the rest of the work contains enough humor and action elements to keep it from collapsing into a depressive read. Indeed, the manga is highly entertaining both in a surface-level sort of way, and in one that will test the readers’ convictions and thoughts, particularly through the conclusion of the tale.
As the Skywalker Saga nears its ends with the release of Episode IX next month, Star Wars: Lost Stars demonstrates that the closing chapter really isn’t the end. Wonderful fare like this manga has been and will continue to be developed regarding the time period of the saga films, reminding us that there’s plenty of wonderful content to read in this galaxy, even for otaku.