Star Wars: Lost Stars

Overview

Lost Stars is by Claudia Gray, and it is the first Star Wars young adult romance novel. I was apprehensive about picking this up when I first saw it. I don’t remember hearing about it when the Journey to the Force Awakens line was announced. But word of mouth has been positive. In fact, word of mouth has largely been that Aftermath, the “adult” novel set after Return of the Jedi in the new canon was a disappointment and that Lost Stars is the novel we had all been waiting for. I haven’t read Aftermath, so I can’t judge this, but I do know of its reputation. I’ll get there soon enough.

Lost Stars Cover

Story:  7

Lost Stars is about Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. Both are from the planet Jelucan. Thane is an aristocrat and Ciena is more of a peasant villager. Their positions in society would normally keep them apart, but they bond over their love of flying. When they were young, they met (and impressed) Wilhuf Tarkin. Both dream of joining the Imperial Academy. They spend their youth training with the Kyrell V-171. They eventually join the Academy, they become star pupils, and they each have promising careers ahead of them. Well, until the Death Star and Alderaan. After Alderaan, Thane finds his loyalty shaken. Ciena’s loyalty is shaken as well, but the loss of innocent Imperial lives (and friends) at the hands of Rebel terrorists ultimately strengthens her resolve. Soon, the childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of the galactic conflict and struggling with their growing feelings toward one another. In all, a very personal story played out on the galactic scope we have seen in Star Wars. Everything culminates in the Battle of Jakku, the final stand of the Empire against the Rebels.

While the story is well told, it shines with the new material: the Jelucani culture, the experience of the Imperial Academy, Thane’s time on the crew of The Mighty Oak, and the Battle of Jakku. But I confess I lost interested when the novel covered episodes from the original trilogy. Sometimes it seemed like Thane or Ciena were doing things just off camera. Ciena disabled the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon on Bespin; Thane was a soldier who investigated the abandoned Rebel base on Dantooine. It put me in mind of some Lord of the Rings video games where your character is part of the B-Team, having the same experiences as the leads, though of slightly less importance. This can be fun, but I think I have grown weary of it. So much of the emphasis in Star Wars right now is on the Imperial/Rebellion era. This feels like the Star Wars galaxy is shrinking. But this is also why I enjoyed the moments that took us to new places. I’m eager to see this new era of Star Wars build the canon, not give fans more of the same.

Characters:  8

Ciena and Thane are memorable and distinct. Because Gray goes deep into their heads and emotions, we get a lot of information about who they are and what motivates them. I enjoyed Gray’s perspective on why someone would continue to support the Empire after Alderaan. She created Imperial characters that were not evil or corrupted by Sith. These were people in conflict with their personal ideologies and trying to find a way to remain faithful to their beliefs even when evidence challenged that. This is a very human struggle. And since the Empire as portrayed in the original trilogy was not based in religion or mysticism, this had to be a secular struggle.

But along with Ciena and Thane, many of the secondary characters are good. We meet people who are killed in the first Death Star. We see how an Alderaanian officer responds and copes with his loss. We meet new friends and old, and all the characterization seem to fit.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Lost Stars tried to be an entertaining, YA Star Wars novel while shining new light on what happened after Return of the Jedi.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yeah, I would say so. I can’t speak for where it ranks in the YA romance genre, but it was largely entertaining.

Was this a good Journey to the Force Awakens?

Yes and no. Again, where we covered old ground, I was less engaged, but I enjoyed learning about the Battle of Jakku. Even more, I enjoyed seeing some of the power struggle after the Emperor’s death. There was good stuff in these sections, though far too little.

Style: 8

Gray’s style is immensely readable. I only had two complaints: the font (not her fault) and a few places where transitions weren’t clear. This may have been an editing issue. While we spend far more time in characters’ heads and emotions than I was accustomed to for a Star Wars novel, this is likely due to YA conventions. Regardless, this book can probably be read over a couple of days, despite being over 500 pages.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

As stated before, the parts of this novel I didn’t enjoy as much were the “behind the black” moments, the moments where this novel takes place just off camera of the original trilogy. I would have preferred more post-Jedi content, but what we got was good. And I really enjoyed the moments on Jeluca and with The Mighty Oak crew. Lost Stars isn’t my favorite of the new novel in the canon, but it is certainly an enjoyable one.

Final Rating: 7.6/10

Star Wars Legends: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords

Overview

Knights of the Old Republic was made by Bioware, but KotOR 2 was made by Obsidian. I have enjoyed games by both companies. I was a bit nervous about KotOR 2, however, because I wasn’t impressed with KotOR 1 and I had read that KotOR 2 has many bugs due to a less than ideal release schedule. I picked the game up during a Steam sale and used the Sith Lords Restored Content Mod, which purports to restore much of the content cut from the game and to fix most of the game-breaking bugs.

kotor2loadscreen

Characters:  9

As with its predecessor, KotOR 2 has very good characters. You play as the Exile (named Meetra Surik in later Star Wars Legends novels. I will refer to the character as Meetra). The Exile has been traveling the Outer Rim since she was removed from the Jedi Order, her punishment for following Revan against the Mandalorians. The Exile was the only Jedi to return to the Council for judgment. As the game progresses, you pick up a number of companions, each is memorable, and a couple even start as adversaries. The characters have distinct motivations, and your interactions in relation to their motivations increases or decreases your influence, which dictates how much about themselves they reveal. The NPCs are also interesting. When you find the Jedi Masters that exiled you, each has a distinct personality that makes them memorable. The NPCs help make the game-world feel fleshed out.

Story:  8

The story of KotOR 2 is much more complex than KotOR 1. Where the first game was a straight-forward Star Wars story of good versus evil with a very good twist, KotOR 2 is a meditation on war, consequences, autonomy, power, meaning and hope. It is a far darker game, and this darkness comes from the ideas it explores. The titular Sith Lords also represent ideas, from Sion who is the Lord of Pain to Nihilus, the Lord of Hunger. KotOR 2 lives in the grey areas of the Star Wars mythos. It outright rejects the idea that the Sith are evil and the Jedi are good. Instead, the Jedi are flawed humans with immense powers whose philosophy didn’t help them when they faced near annihilation. The Sith are also humans, but they are ruled by desires that have taken over all other impulses. Much like C.S. Lewis’s description of damnation, the Sith Lords are humans who have given themselves over to an idea to such a degree that they have ceased being human and are now a living expression of that idea.

As part of this exploration of the grey, the Exile awakens on Peragus Station, an Outer Rim mining station. She doesn’t remember how she got there, but after exploration she finds only two living beings on the station: Atton, a rogue, and Kreia, a Force user. Hostile droids roam the station, and dead bodies of station workers fill the halls. As you investigate the station and try to find a way off, a Republic cruiser arrives at the station, and Kreia warns of the Sith Lord on the ship. This opening is extremely creepy and unnerving, and it strongly sets the tone of the game through the music and visuals.

Eventually you learn that the Jedi have vanished. Many people think you are the last Jedi. With the Jedi gone, the Republic is on the verge of collapse due to the cost of the Jedi Civil War. The Republic has also committed to restoring the planet Telos, one of the first planets to be devastated by Revan. Telos has become a symbol of the Republic’s ability to restore peace and heal the galaxy from the war. Unknown interests have placed a large bounty for any Jedi, so you have bounty hunters hounding you. Also on the hunt are HK-50 droids that are being produced from an unknown location. Their mission is to kill you. And through all this, Revan, once Sith Lord now hero of the Republic has vanished. With a new Sith menace striking quietly from the shadows, the Exile and her team are the only ones who can stand against the new threat, and your decisions in the game determine if the Jedi Order will be restored or if it will die out, and the Republic along with it.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

I think it was trying to continue the story of KotOR while adding new depth and philosophical analysis to the Star Wars mythos.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yes . . . though with caveats. The game was full of bugs, and while the mod fixes many game-breaking bugs, there are still quite a few issues with pathfinding, team warping/response, and random background changes during dialog scenes. These bugs are distracting and take away from the story. Additionally, sometimes the plot and motivation are not clear unless you take certain dialog options. While I don’t think there is anything drastic here, these small issues add up over the course of the game.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

This is a great story with a lot of critique of the dualism present in some Star Wars stories. So, yes, I would love to see this story adapted into the New Canon in some way.

Gameplay: 8

As mentioned above, there are a lot of bugs. While nothing broke the game, there was one bug that I feared would. While dealing with the Red Eclipse assault on the Ebon Hawk, when the mission ended, the game would load the next map, and my character would die. On the third attempt, I made sure I had maximum health before initiating the final dialogue for the mission, and this fixed the problem.

There isn’t much change in basic gameplay from KotOR 1. There are a few new Force powers, new Feats, and new Influence mechanics. I also liked that my ratings on different skills sometimes offered different dialogue options . . . and these weren’t always better choices. Sometimes they might annoy the other character. But while the gameplay hadn’t changed much, there was something about the game that was more fun than KotOR 1. Maybe I understood the combat better; maybe Obsidian tweaked it a bit. Either way, I enjoyed it more.

The level design was much improved in this game. I think the only places that I didn’t enjoy the level design were revisiting levels from the first game, and that was only Dantooine and Korriban. All other planets in KotOR 2 were new, which I appreciated. They felt like real spaces, and I could often get a feel for where things were without constantly referring to the map.

Also, there are a few places where you get to play as NPCs or as one of your companions. One mission had you play a re-programmed protocol droid, one was a solo mission for HK-47, there were frequent instances of playing solo as Mira, and in one section you get to choose a team to rescue the Exile. These missions broke kept me on my toes and forced me to use characters that I hadn’t specifically used. They forced me to branch out a bit, and I appreciated this.

And the music definitely fit the game. While Jeremy Soule’s music in KotOR 1 was good, Mark Griskey’s score for this game was atmospheric, dark, brooding, and always seemed to fit the situation.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

I struggled to quantify this category. Up until the end of the game, KotOR 2 was a solid 9. The ending, however, is sudden and lackluster. A third game was definitely being set up, but that has, sadly, never come to fruition. (Although, the Revan novel builds off some of the ideas that were setting up the sequel, though doesn’t go in the direction that Obsidian was initially planning.) When I finished the game, I didn’t have that feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing a great game. While I enjoyed most of my time playing the game, the ending definitely doesn’t feel worth it. I was very glad that I was reading Revan alongside KotOR. It provides a type of epilogue. But more on that later.

In general, I think KotOR 2 is a conceptually stronger game than KotOR 1. The improvements made to level design and the new Feats and Force Powers are great, and I love the philosophical questions and the story in this game. There are a few places where KotOR 2 could have improved on gameplay over the first game, and the bugs that are still present even with the mod are highly distracting. And again, that ending is just not satisfying. Overall, even with these flaws, I still prefer Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords over its predecessor. If you liked the gameplay of the first game and want to wrestle with some deeper questions about the Force, the Jedi, war and mass destruction, hope, and redemption, I recommend checking out this game . . . with the Content Restoration Mod, of course.

Final Rating: 8.2/10