“Believing in something greater than ourselves isn’t crazy. It’s proof we’re sane. Look how vast the galaxy is. Don’t you have to admit we can’t be the greatest power within it?”

This very weekend, hundreds of thousands of fans are flocking to San Diego for one of the greatest nerd-fests of the year: Comic Con. And one of the much-buzzed about properties of this year’s con (and last year’s con, and many SDCCs to come) is Star Wars. Following the rad new trailer from Star Wars: Rogue One that aired last week at Star Wars Celebration, excitement for the new films and rejuvenated franchise has been building—and, like so many other Star Wars fans, I’ve been relishing every second of the awesomeness.

In the midst of all the news of new characters in the film and animated television show canon, I’ve been eager to find a way to get even more Star Wars in my life. So, what better way to expand that universe, than with books? I’ve been diligently reading many of the books in the new SW canon (Bloodline, Moving Target, Shattered Empire, A New Dawn to date) and made a decision—before Rogue One comes out this December, I’m going to read ALL of the official new canon novels. Starting today, in fact, with Lost Stars by Claudia Gray—a very fitting choice, as it follows two aspiring Empire cadets as they become friends, officers, lovers, and bitter enemies divided along the ideological lines of Rebel and Loyalist.

It begins as most Star Wars tales do: a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, on a small outer rim planet. On this particular planet, Jelucan, there are two young children: a “second-wave” affluent colonist named Thane Kyrell, and a valley-born girl named Ciena Ree. Though unlikely that the two would ever meet and become friends, they do; and before long, they are best friends and confidantes, helping each other study and practice for entrance exams to the Imperial Academy. The years pass, and the pair become top-ranked cadets at the most prestigious Academy in the galaxy, and as the competition to graduation increases, the bond between Ciena and Thane deepens to something more than friendship.

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But then, the pair witnesses the true meaning of being officers in the Empire—and see firsthand the might of the Emperor and his fleet. One will defect from service; one will vow to bring the other to justice. As the Rebel threat grows and succeeds in its desperate stand against the Empire, two former friends find themselves on opposite sides of a galaxy-shaking war.

So. All cards on the table: I loved Lost Stars. And I truly wasn’t really expecting to! The book is positioned as a star-crossed romance between a Rebel fighter and an Imperial Officer—and it is. What the marketing approach fails to tell you, however, is that this is not a cheesy, forced romance between two impossible teens. Rather, Lost Stars is an emotional examination of what happens when two best friends discover they love each other, only to then find that their values and ideals—while so close, so very close—are not perfectly aligned. This is the story of two wide-eyed students who are rudely awakened to the reality of the Empire and the Rebellion and find themselves on opposing sides. In other words, this story is kind of awesome. Spanning the events of Episodes IV-VI, from the first Death Star’s destruction of Alderaan to the triumph of the Rebellion, Lost Stars tells readers the tale of two soldiers on the other side of the equation—and does it with grace, nuance, and dignity. Both Ciena and Thane are protagonists to yearn and cheer and cry for; both are right, and both are wrong. There are no absolutes here, only shades of morality in gray.

Claudia Gray’s writing is as smooth and even-handed as ever; I’ve always had a soft spot for Gray’s romantic entanglements (see the Evernight series), and I know she’s capable of delivering pitch-perfect characterization of existing icons in the Star Wars universe (see Leia in Bloodline). What I was so impressed with in this book, however, was the empathy she shows both of her protagonists—flawed, hurt, and in love. Writing new characters into such a beloved universe is no small feat, but Gray does it with ease—and I loved every moment of this novel.

In the overall scheme of things? Lost Stars is currently my third favorite novel of the new canon—I cannot wait to read Gray’s next endeavor, or for my next trip in the SW official universe.

In Book Smugglerish, 8 and a half locked-speeders out of 10.