Dear Amazing Star Wars Fans/Readers: Love's Stars is Book #1 in a trilogy of stories I've written as a follow up to Claudia Gray's amazing novel, Lost Stars: Star Wars - Journey to the Force Awakens.
For readers who are unfamiliar with Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, this first chapter is backstory. Of course, nothing can replace reading Lost Stars in its entirety, but this should be sufficient for you to understand and (hopefully) have a vested interest in the characters, their feelings, and the significance of their circumstances in Chapter 2 and beyond. *Of course, none of the following is mine...
Ch. 1: BACKSTORY
A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away...
Eight years after Order 66 and the rise of the Galactic Empire, on the outer rim planet of Jelucan, two wide-eyed children attended their planet's formal induction into the Empire. Like the Empire, they, too, were born eight years before.
Never in their lives had there been such an occasion! Ships of all shapes and sizes filled the skies above - some seen and others only heard - but all causing Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree's hearts to race with excitement. It was magnificent!
Stormtroopers in their gleaming white armor marched in perfect formations, and a single flag now waved everywhere the eye could see. It was a symbol that their outer rim world, that they, were now unified with the rest of the Galaxy. They would have futures far beyond the ones they'd dared to dream of before this day.
And for Thane and Ciena, they each knew where they would be when their destiny came calling. All they needed to do was look up, and for the first time in their lives they could see the future.
But for today, they needed reminding to pay attention to their feet on the ground as they made their way with their families into Valentia City for the grand ceremony. For the first time in Jelucan's history, an event was bringing the wealthy, high mountain citizens together with the poorer, Valley Kindred folk.
Deep seated prejudices existed between the two societies. As such, there was minimal interaction between their people.
The "New Wavers" (as they were called by the Valley Kindred because they were more recent arrivals to the planet) were known to be very materialistic and politically minded. It was true that most looked down on the poor, rural, valley dwellers.
The Valley Kindred, whose ancestors chose exile on Jelucan in lieu of betraying their oath to their deposed ruler, were people of little means and remarkable fortitude. Their priorities were the intangible, placing honor and integrity above all else. They deemed the New Wavers to be people who lacked the things they valued the most.
Thane was a young child of privilege who dreamt and thought about ships and flying every second of every day. After the ceremony he risked breaking the rules to see a shuttle up close.
Ciena, a child from the Valley who dreamt of living a life of honor by serving as an Imperial officer, had already found her way to the shuttle, and was being mercilessly teased by a group of older New Waver boys.
When Thane found the shuttle, he came upon the group of bullies threatening this seemingly helpless little girl. With an abusive father and older brother, there was one thing Thane had no use for: Bullies! So, without a second thought, Thane - younger and smaller - took on the group of bigger boys. He did an admirable job all things considered, but knew after the first punch or two he'd be on the receiving end of one good beating. He had practice on that end of things, so he figured he could handle it. Sure enough, after catching them off guard with his unexpected act of bravery, the biggest boy was poised to strike a blow.
The little girl seemed to have her own streak of courage. She made a banner effort to pull the boy off Thane. He could hear her yelling at the bully to let him go.
And he did... when Grand Moff Tarkin, flanked by storm troopers, discovered them. Only Ciena and Thane stayed as the others ran.
Instead of being punished, Ciena and Thane were invited aboard the shuttle! The experience was beyond their wildest dreams. Grand Moff Tarkin allowed them to sit in the cockpit while he quizzed the children on their knowledge of the ship's controls.
As if that wasn't exciting enough, Grand Moff Tarkin talked to them about the future! They hung on his every word. First, he asked them how they would like to become officers in the Imperial Navy one day. Nothing in the universe sounded more glorious, and Thane and Ciena could hardly believe the moment was real.
He said other things.
"You see, Piett? We should never hesitate to use the lash, when necessary - but there are moments when the lure is even more effective."
Neither child wanted to admit they didn't truly understand it all. But the Grand Moff didn't seem to notice. And it had to be good as the Grand Moff was smiling.
Yes, Grand Moff Tarkin would surely remember them after this. They knew they were the luckiest two kids on Jelucan!
It would be many, many years later when Ciena and Thane would come to understand how significant those minutes truly were. As they sat beside the person with whom they would come to share the most powerful love they'd ever know, they were in the presence of the very evil that would endeavor to destroy it.
For the next 6 years, Thane and Ciena grew as close as friends could be. They shared the same dreams, strived for the same goals, and supported each other at every turn. They started this journey together on that Lambda Class Shuttle, and they were determined to see each other all the way to the real starting line at the best Imperial Academy two Jelucani kids could dare to dream attending.
Despite their families intense dislike of their friendship, their parents seemed to recognize that the other's child was benefitting their own. Thane's family would consider Thane's involvement with Ciena to be an act of charity for which she should be grateful. Ciena's family - primarily her father - would insist Thane was using Ciena to benefit from her superior intellect and skill, and would betray any oath of friendship should he decide he didn't need Ciena to further his own advancement.
Ciena and Thane simply chose not to discuss what the other's family said or thought. Thane's family had the aircraft and needed a c-pilot, while Ciena provided Thane a partner of equal, if not superior talent in the cockpit. They understood this, so what did it matter what anyone else thought? As the years passed, their friendship endured never ending resentment and tension at home when the subject of their friend came up. The few times they actually spent time with the other's family, the experiences were so uncomfortable they made an unspoken pledge never to intentionally repeat the experience.
Thane would say it was luck, while Ciena would insist it was "The Force", that the kids found their own secret sanctuary to escape the outside world while exploring one day. It was a cave along the mountain trail behind the Kyrell's hangar. They filled their secret hideout with trinkets, treasures, and comforts they covertly borrowed from their homes to make it a space in which they could spend countless hours. They studied, talked, laughed, and shared nearly everything about their lives and dreams with each other.
For Ciena, this always included stories of her family and the Valley Kindred's beliefs and traditions. Ciena was always open and eager to share everything about her happy, albeit simple life at home and school. Her parents were attentive and loving, with high expectations for Ciena to live an honorable life of meaning. Thane enjoyed listening to anything Ciena wanted to talk about, although his mind did sometimes wander when she spoke about "the Force" and other religious and spiritual things.
Thane's family was nothing like Ciena's. His mother was preoccupied by her quest to elevate the Kyrell name in social and political circles. His father was verbally and physically abusive. His older brother was a chip off the old block.
Unlike his father and brother, and likely because of his father and brother, Thane was purposefully thoughtful and could be a tad reactive when he was witness to an injustice. Perhaps the other legacy of his childhood was that Thane was also a devout cynic. He believed in what he could see, feel, and touch. That was it.
So, Thane didn't speak about his family and home like a Ciena did, and this was okay. They had so many other things to talk about.
They often went to the hideout alone, and if they found the other was already there, they might spend hours barely saying a word. They were, without a doubt, the very best of friends.
It shouldn't have surprised anyone when Thane and Ciena were both invited to attend the top Imperial Academy on Coruscant. It was rare for a single person from a remote, outer limit planet to receive such a prestigious honor. In Ciena and Thane's case, they proved to those that discouraged their partnership how misguided and wrong they were.
In their first year at the Academy, Thane and Ciena took turns leading their class in the rankings. Contrary to the ruthless competitiveness that was the norm in the Academy, they'd congratulate one another when knocking each other out of the top spot. They were competitive and supportive, which didn't go unnoticed by their classmates and instructors.
But their three years at the Academy were hard in other ways, and for reasons for which no young person could anticipate, let alone prepare.
Late in their first year, a project of Thane's was sabotaged. Attempts to frame Ciena, and then make it seem Thane did the framing to hurt Ciena - his biggest competitor - failed. They would never believe the other capable of such a betrayal.
The perpetrator failed in the effort to fracture their bond by damaging their trust in each other. But the plot succeeded in exploiting a different vulnerability in their friendship - one that caused a rift much deeper and wider than the culprit likely thought possible.
Thane believed there was a force pulling the strings (as in actual people - not the nonsense that Ciena always talked about). He believed it was the sinister work of superiors working within the Imperial Academy. They were wronged, and Thane wanted to act!
But Ciena argued they could not accuse the Academy of a criminal act. To question their method of instruction was to attack their honor - a violation of the upmost significance! She refused to confront the Academy with Thane.
They had never disagreed like this, and Ciena had never seen Thane so angry. When he accused her of naively thinking the Empire was without flaws, she responded by accusing him of thinking the worst of people because of his father.
The argument left them stunned, angry, hurt, and - worst of all - estranged.
Even more shocking was the duration of the rift between them. It lasted for years. No amount of angst or regret managed to compel them to reconcile during the few brief encounters they shared.
To anyone watching, the friendship of the Jelucani cadets had ended. There were no more high fives. There was no good natured teasing or collaboration. In fact, there wasn't any communication of any kind. Thane and Ciena were now on seemingly parallel and nonintersecting courses.
It was what could not be seen that told the true story of their relationship.
Simmering beneath the hurt and disillusionment Thane felt over those years not speaking was something deeper. The timing of their argument had coincided with a confusing period during their friendship when Thane had begun to notice Ciena in ways that he hadn't before. She had always been... well, Ciena. His friend. Until one day he noticed a young woman from a distance as she was jogging with classmates. His mind knew it was Ciena, but before it registered that it was his friend, he saw pretty hair and maybe a few other admirable qualities that young men find attractive. It stunned him, to say the least. Thane carefully avoided discussing this with anyone. This took endurance, as his roommates, Nash and Ved, were quite relentless when it came Thane's curious lack of interest in spending any of their rare downtime on amorous pursuits.
At the same time, not long before their break up, Ciena had noticed how Thane was growing taller. At least, that's all she would admit to when her roommates, Kendy and June, began to point out how handsome, nicely built and, yes, tall he had become. The teasing had not yet reached the relentless phase, though it did succeed in causing Ciena to feel a few pangs of discomfort at the thought of other girls showing interest in her best friend. She couldn't help noticing that Thane had suddenly lost a lot of his boyish features. His jaw was more square, and he was filling out in his shoulders and chest... a lot. And the blue in his eyes seemed to stand out more when his hair was more red than blonde due to their heavy indoor schedule.
But she was certain she noticed all of this only because he complained about having to have his uniforms replaced every month and how he actually missed their heavier physical training schedule outside (which he usually hated).
Only when they neared graduation did fate (or possibly the Force?) put them in a situation where ignoring one another was impossible. They were both invited with a small number of cadets to attend a ball at the Imperial palace.
The event was a shimmering spectacle unlike anything Ciena and Thane had ever experienced. Ciena had never worn a gown or looked more beautiful. Thane was dressed in his officer's uniform. Under the glittering lights, they stood amongst the Empire's most powerful citizens, including Senators and royalty. (Princess Leia Organa from Alderaan was there!)
When the pairs for the first dance were announced, Thane was paired with Ciena. He had been mesmerized when the instant he saw her that night. She was breathtaking. He risked making an overture for reconciliation and Ciena was more than receptive.
It was later that night that an inebriated classmate - who happened to be Thane's roommate and the privileged son of an Imperial General - made a cruel confession while taunting them, and they learned Thane had been right all along. In order to foster undivided loyalty to the Empire, the Academy openly discouraged lingering attachments to old friends, home planets, and families. In Thane and Ciena's case, the Academy felt further action was needed. Ved denied his father was directly involved, though he conceded a General's son being elevated above two outer rim "bumpkins" was likely an "added incentive".
Ciena's deep shame and remorse were overshadowed by Thane's insistence that they had paid too high a price to waste time on regrets, and neither of them were to blame.
The question of how much their rift had truly cost them was one neither Thane nor Ciena could answer with confidence. They wouldn't speak about it in those final days before they graduated. But that didn't mean they didn't think about it.
Graduation day came, and before they parted and were sent their separate ways with no guarantee of ever seeing one another again, they embraced. It was awkward in that Thane had to wear his entire Tie pilot ensemble, which included a chest plate and bulky gear. But for the first time in their lives, Thane Kyrell dared to bring his face down to Ciena's and he kissed her... on the cheek.
History and the odds should have left little optimism that they'd ever cross paths again. They'd be stationed in different parts of the Galaxy with trillions of citizens. And where Ciena would likely visit her home if given the chance, Thane had no loving family or close ties to a Jelucan.
Yet as they said goodbye and parted, Thane and Ciena believed that somehow, someway, they would see each other again. Their certainly was not based on anything they could see or touch, rather on feelings powerful enough to make a cynic like Thane suspend disbelief.
Even after what they'd experienced, one could not fault Thane and Ciena for failing to appreciate the degree of evil that permeated virtually every facet of their lives. Who could have predicted that Thane's top secret assignment would be on a base station called the Death Star, and that Ciena's Star Destroyer, the Devastator, would arrive just in time to see the Death Star obliterate an entire planet? How could they have envisioned the Death Star being destroyed when the Devastator was scheduled to be docked there, leaving both Thane and Ciena believing the other might be dead?
This is why, when Ciena spotted Thane in a crowded hangar, their reunion was so overwhelming and the relief so great that they didn't spend time sharing their inner most thoughts about the Empire.
When Thane held Ciena in his arms in their stolen moment together, their relief gave way to passion and they finally shared their first kiss. It was a warm, beautiful moment amidst their cold, stark surroundings and the organized chaos of Imperial troop redeployments. It was the beginning to a future they feared had been lost. They didn't know how or when, but they knew they would be together. They were even more certain of this when they parted for the second time.
And then Thane came face to face with the truth they both failed to see as children in that cockpit, as cadets in the Academy, and young adults in their first months serving in the Imperial Navy.
On Kerev Doi, Thane witnessed the Empire enslaving and torturing an entire species of beings. He then realized his patrols as a Tie fighter pilot were creating the atmosphere of fear that made this oppression possible. Worst of all, he was helpless to do anything more than stand by and watch the injustice as it unfolded before his eyes.
There was only one right choice he could make. Thane had to defect.
But Ciena would not accompany him. She believed whatever actions they took needed to be done without violating the oath they made. She argued it was their honor at stake.
Ciena went to where Thane was waiting for her on Jelucan and they fought desperately to argue their cases to one another. In the end, neither of them believed they could live with the consequences of doing what the other felt was necessary. Had Ciena not been stationed in space, detached from the worlds below, she may have come to accept what Thane tried to get her to see. But she couldn't.
They shared a single night together, professing their love even as they believed those were the last hours of their lives they'd spend together.
In the years that followed, Thane found his way to the Rebellion where he could do something to fight the Empire. His incredible feats in the cockpit from the Battle of Hoth to the Battle of Endor, and the many missions in between, proved Thane to be an invaluable asset in the Rebellion's fight to free the Galaxy from tyranny. In every battle, for all the good he was doing, Thane was haunted by fears that his actions caused harm to Ciena.
Over these same years, Ciena had remained true to her oath by trying to serve the people of the Empire from within the Imperial service. Eventually she discovered Thane joined the Rebels from battle footage, which put them on opposite sides of the war. The betrayal she felt was acute.
A series of events over many years gradually opened Ciena's eyes to the truth about the Empire. Even as her belief in the Empire crumbled, Ciena rapidly advanced in the ranks due to massive losses of key officers in the destruction of the Death Stars and Darth Vader's original flagship, the Executor. With her promotions, the grip the Empire had on Ciena tightened.
Thane rarely bothered to check the news from Jelucan. It was merely a coincidence that one of those rare times he learned Verine Ree, Ciena's mother, had been accused of embezzlement. Thane knew this was impossible and likely a scheme to cover up a corrupt Imperial official's wrongdoing. He also knew Ciena would be there for the trial if she were alive.
Thane had to know. He risked traveling to Jelucan with the hope that Ciena would be there, and if she was he would make one last plea for her to leave the Empire.
When Thane arrived, he was relieved beyond measure to find Ciena alive and safe, though she was very cold and distant. Thane suspected Ciena somehow learned he had joined the Rebellion. This would be a problem, as Imperial propaganda painted the Rebels as terrorists. Even Thane believed this before he defected and witnessed the Rebellion risking their lives and sacrificing their limited resources to aid the worlds and people oppressed by the Empire.
In spite of the unspoken tension, Thane suggested they visit his family's hangar and see if the old aircraft they grew up practicing in was still there. He knew his family was not home and it would be safe. While in the air, the connection between them was effortless. They soared over and between the mountains, laughing and working as a team to perform the exciting maneuvers they once did as children.
Afterwards, Ciena surprised Thane by walking towards their secret hideout. Thane followed her there, and it was there he learned his suspicions were true. Ciena angrily confronted Thane, but as betrayed as she felt it was her love for him that ultimately guided her actions. When Thane asked her if the only reason she brought him there was to yell at him, she threw herself in his arms and kissed him passionately.
As they lie together in the coolness of the cave, rain fell outside. Ciena wanted nothing more than to stay there in the warmth of his arms forgetting everything else. But even then, there was no escaping the life that awaited them when they were forced to leave in the coming hours.
Thane tried to make his case and convince Ciena to leave the Empire. Thane argued the Empire was rotten to its core and needed to be destroyed. He told Ciena how wrong they had been about the Rebellion, and tried in vain to reason with her.
Finally, Ciena admitted she now saw the Empire was not what she once believed it was, but she insisted it needed to be fixed from within. Without the Empire, she believed the Galaxy would devolve into chaos. More important than anything else, she held fast that honor required that she try to do whatever she could to change what was wrong without breaking her oath.
Once again, they parted believing it was for the last time. It simply was too much to hope for another chance. They both understood the war was escalating and second chances were more than the Galaxy gave most people. It was impossible to believe there would be a third.
Finally, at the Battle of Endor, the Rebellion had achieved the impossible. They had defeated the Empire and were organizing the New Republic. The Galaxy was on the cusp of a new era that brought hope for peace and prosperity to all beings.
For Thane, the Battle of Endor was also the moment of his greatest loss. Ciena's ship - the Devastator - was destroyed.
Thane's grief over Ciena's death led him to seek solace by performing as many of the mourning rituals of the Valley Kindred he could recall from their childhood conversations. It was his last connection to the woman he knew he would love for the rest of his life.
Thane spent the following year coming to terms with his loss. He wore a mourning band around his arm and tried to meditate several hours each week. While his fellow squad members celebrated their successes and socialized during down times, Thane read Holonovels and spent most of his time enjoying the peaceful moments after so many years of fighting.
Unfortunately, the peace was not absolute. Remnants of the Empire had begun to coordinate and conspire to retake control. They amassed their forces on and above the planet of Jakku, where they were discovered by the New Republic - setting the stage for one last, epic confrontation.
Thane was called on to lead a team on a mission to infiltrate an Imperial star destroyer during the battle. This would have been an impossible task in that past. Those vessels would have been manned with thousands of zealous Imperial crew members who would die fighting for their Emperor and Empire.
Things were different now. The Imperial remnant was a collection of bickering Moffs who were angling to take power for themselves. The fleet's warships were no longer under a unified Imperial command. It was the New Republic's belief that this would make the crews less committed in a fight.
As Thane prepared to carry out his mission, he considered removing the mourning band he'd worn on his arm in remembrance of Ciena. The Valley Kindred custom was to remove and burn it after a year, and it had been four days more than this. But Thane decided to wear it through the coming battle.
Afterwards, he'd remove it. He would never get over losing Ciena - he knew this. After all, a part of him died with her. But he had to move forward. He owed this to Ciena and all of the beings who wouldn't have a chance to live in this better universe they were creating.
So he would do this... after the battle of Jakku.