Claudia Gray’s Star Wars book Lost Stars has been a hit among fans so far. Originally described as Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars, it explores the Empire and Rebellion in-depth through the eyes of two young adventurers, Thane and Ciena. Ciena, a member of an indigenous culture on her home planet, joins the Empire, while Thane, the victim of an abusive upper-crust father, drops out of Imperial service to join the Rebellion. Their story weaves in and out of the Original Trilogy and culminates in an important event for the galaxy leading up to The Force Awakens.
Gray’s second Star Wars novel, Bloodlines, is coming from Del Rey in the spring. We talked to her about that, as well as the construction of Lost Stars.
You’ve talked before about being interested in being able to develop Thane and Ciena’s homeworld. How did that begin?
It came primarily from two things. I knew that if the Imperial character was going to stay sympathetic at all that there had to be a counterbalance. Obviously, they’re going to catch on to that fact that the Empire isn’t everything they thought, and there has to be something that would counterbalance it. Why is she staying? So the idea was that she comes from a culture where [loyalty] matters a lot, where that’s really important, and you see her living that out in other ways. It’s not only about her loyalty to the Empire. You see her working hard to express that loyalty and honor to other people and things in her life, too. So that was the biggest cultural component.
In terms of what it would look like, I just tried to think of something they hadn’t shown in Star Wars before. The idea was sort of the Himalayas, some place that was really, truly mountainous. While the culture isn’t actually based on anything in Tibet or Nepal, there were a few things I borrowed, like the sky burial. They actually do that in the Himalayas because you can’t bury people there. You just can’t do it. So I was able to use some elements like that to make it believable and to show that these are people who live at altitude, they’re used to mountains. I wanted them to feel like they came from a place that felt distinctive.
Another character that really struck fans was the Alderaanian Nash Windrider. Did you know he would choose to stay with the Empire after the destruction of his planet when you developed an Alderaanian character?
That was his idea from the beginning, that somebody that we cared about was going to have to not only stay with the Empire but become full-hearted [Imperial]. The idea is how many compromises do you make, and how does it change you? You had to see somebody make that whole trip to the point where they’re beyond rationality or their own morality. They’ve completely gone over to that. I knew it had to be somebody you liked and you thought a lot of and emotionally wanted better things for. So that was the idea for Nash from the get-go. I gave him the name Windrider because that’s the most like Skywalker, a little subtle signal that this is a heroic character. At least that was my idea. I have no idea if it actually worked.
What were the challenges to fitting your characters into the Original Trilogy scenes without making the cameos too blatant? Were there any scenes where that was particularly challenging?
There were a few. Originally, I had more stuff in the outline, and they said take a little out. So I took some out, and when they read the book, they were like put some more in! So it was balancing those things. It was interesting, though. It was fun. Also, since she’s on Darth Vader’s ship, and he has joined the Rebel alliance, it makes sense for them to be in most of these locales.
This book is dark. It deals with some abuse and emotional trauma. Why was it thematically important to add these elements?
For Thane’s father, the core of [Thane] is that he is fairly cynical about things. He’s not somebody who believes in a lot. While this is certainly not universally true by any measure, one reason that might be so is a very early realization that people who are supposed to be looking out for you aren’t looking out for you. So that was one of the big foundational things for him, is that he has no reason to invest in the idea of loving authority for its own sake, believing in it, putting faith in it. He doesn’t have friends.
Ciena has a wonderful relationship with her parents and all her life has been taught about loyalty. She’s going to see that in a fundamentally different way. That was the primary reason for that. I also didn’t want it to feel like their lives started the day they got into the [Imperial] academy. They should have lives and personalities rooted before that.
Were there any particular challenges in portraying the academy? Did you reference other Star Wars material?
I didn’t reference that much else. It was really a question of figuring out how much is there to know. [I would ask] can you explain x, y, and z, and [Disney-Lucasfilm] would say they hadn’t set it out yet. So I had a little freedom to invent, but at the same time I couldn’t make it too restrictive. But it was fun to look at it as [a place where] you’re learning to fly, you’re learning battle tactics, but you’re also being indoctrinated into galactic culture and Imperial culture, as opposed to wherever you came from. So that was fun.
How did you feel when you were asked to write a second Star Wars book?
In all honesty, I’m sort of like “right now”? It’s quick. It’s being written under a tight deadline. But I was excited. I knew that Lucasfilm was happy with Lost Stars and generally hoped and they hoped that there might be something else. I just didn’t realize it would be so fast!
Is there anything else you’d like to add about the book or about Star Wars?
I’m going to see the movie, I think, with a group of people. I’m from New Orleans, and we have a Mardi Gras group called the Chewbacchus. It’s celebrating all things geeky: science fiction, fantasy, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Men in Black, Ghostbusters, everything. We’re getting a theater. They offered for Chewbacchus members a separate screening. So we’re going to have costumes and t-shirts and we’re all going to go, and it’s going to be awesome.
Thank you, Claudia Gray!
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.