Major Spoiler Warning!!!!
Bright Suns traveler!
Zoraida Córdova, author of the short-story “You Owe Me a Ride” from the anthology book, “From a Certain Point of View” makes her Star Wars novel debut with the brilliant and enchanting teen love-story, “Star Wars: A Crash of Fate”.
Like Delilah S. Dawson’s “Star Wars: Black Spire”, this novel is part of the Galaxy’s Edge theme park media project, but also like Dawson’s book, stands apart as an intriguing and enchanting Star Wars tale all its own.
If you read either of these books prior to visiting the park, your experience will be enhanced somewhat I suspect, having an image planted in your head of the people and places of Black Spire Outpost. But, I’m not here to review the entire media project or the park itself, I’m here to talk about Izzy and Jules.
The set-up is straightforward as we follow childhood friends and auspicious lovers Izal Garsea and Julen Rakab at the Black Spire Outpost on Batuu. They were the closest of friends growing up when suddenly one night for reasons unknown; Izzy’s family left Batuu when she was six years old. Flash forward thirteen years and Izzy, who is now a good-natured smuggler, returns to Batuu after taking a job from Rodian Pall Gopal, and it isn’t long before she runs into Jules who never left.
They’re both a little god smacked by the reunion, but neither can deny the strong attraction towards one another, even after all those years apart. And as Izzy’s world becomes that much smaller, they grow even closer than ever thought possible as new details come to light about her past, information that makes their bond seemingly unbreakable.
We spend the entire time, save a chapter, on Batuu at the Black Spire Outpost navigating the streets, markets, and back alleys of this backwater town. We get up close and personal with some of its denizens but only as they relate to the pathway Izzy and/or Jules are on. We do break away from the two leads, but only momentarily.
While the jilted Izzy was off world experiencing the highs and lows that the universe has to offer, forlorn Jules stayed behind and took a more traditional path, farming, scraping by, and dreaming of one day taking off in a freighter of his own. Something has kept Jules from leaving, and up until now he wasn’t completely sure why.
This is a love story first and foremost and if that’s not your thing this may not be the book for you. Zoraida pulls no punches and makes the point clear and concise, using a lot of internal dialogue to express their sometimes-carnal yearnings and desires, at the expense of a larger conflict. Is that a bad thing? Maybe in lesser hands, but in this case, I found it to be expressive in a way we don’t often get in this genre.
Like Dawson, Zoraida has two strong leads that propel this narrative forward and gives us the time-honored approach to that notion of star-crossed lovers, beating the odds. Given the choice they’d like to be together, but there are strong forces at work, both internal and external, that are keeping them apart.
And in that sense, it’s very much a traditional story where Izzy and Jules have had no choice but to believe in the conventions of old-fashioned love, where their hearts have holes that need to be filled. They don’t necessarily subscribe to the fact that they are meant to find someone they deserve, or at least that’s what the universe has told them so far. So, they ignore the fissure in the chests and go about the business of life until as the title suggests, fate comes crashing in.
So, when they do find themselves staring at each other after so many years, it re-ignites a passion for each other that they feel in the pits of their stomachs, like something pulling at them from the center of the earth. Like most any teen crush, it ties them up in knots, makes them sweat, and course corrects every instinct they have. Zoraida doesn’t shy away from this and is unabashed when it comes to her adoration for these two characters she’s created.
In “Black Spire”, where characters Vi Moradi and Archex internalized almost nothing, Izzy and Jules are more about internalizing everything, and Zoraida’s writing is more poetic and metaphorical. Take this passage…
“She dragged out the moment and let herself sink into the easy comfort of his presence. He evoked soft, beautiful edges. She felt like blaster fire and chaos, even if the chaos was all in her head.”
Exquisite writing and the use of the word “chaos” here is inspiring, inferring Izzy has at least temporarily lost her mind, or perhaps control of it. But metaphysical connotations aside and using much more simplistic language, Izzy is in love with Jules in every way someone can be, including a molecular one. And isn’t that what falling in love is supposed to be like? Don’t we act irrationally and lose our minds a little bit?
I love Zoraida’s use of language and normally when you’re taken out of the story it’s not necessarily a good thing. In this case Izzy and Jules seem to lose themselves when they can’t control their impulse to stare at one another with almost seraphic eyes. Time stands still and they forget themselves and their surroundings completely.
For Izzy, she’s learned that being happy and fulfilled are mutually exclusive, having never accomplished anything that would require self-esteem. After a “series of bad choices and worse luck” she’s never really given herself the opportunity to be happy and has let other people determine her worth.
She’s already experienced all the trappings of navigating your way through life including responsibility, fear, disloyalty, danger, and abusive past relationships, in her case a rogue named Damar. To give yourself to someone, to let your guard down, is to make yourself vulnerable to any and all these dangers. This is something she has remained guarded against for so long, and it seems Jules might be just the person that helps her open up.
Indeed, as the story keeps moving forward, Izzy is becoming increasingly self-aware, and is slowly becoming more comfortable with herself and her past.
The thing with Izzy is that she’s smart, tough, and a survivor, but she’s also not unfair, and she’s not of poor quality. She’s kind, she’s forgiving, and most importantly for the purposes of this story, she’s a hopeful romantic. But, for the better part of her life, it’s not reasonable or practicable that she spends any energy on such whacky notions. For her, love was something that leads to vulnerability, not strength or advantage.
And what I found surprising was that she’s perhaps for the first time, slightly chagrined of what she’s done, especially with Damar, but only when she’s around Jules. Indeed, his judgement is the only one that matters after the death of her parents and she wants Jules to forgive her for whatever it is he thinks she’s done. While that may seem unreasonable or illogical given that she’s generally a good person and done nothing wrong, in contrast to his radiance, she feels she has some atoning to do.
So, what’s the deal with Jules anyways? Well, Jules is as good as they come. He’s handsome, altruistic, well-liked, and has every reason in the world to stay on Batuu. Being a little more grounded, a little more righteous, and a lot less experienced than Izzy, he believes in the adage that good things happen to people that work hard and help others.
But for 13 years there’s been something gnawing at him, some call to adventure that he can’t quite put his finger on. As it turns out, that yearning, that feeling he gets when he stares up at the night sky considering the stars, is Izzy. He’s come to understand that’s there’s two phases to his life now, before Izal Garsea, and after Izal Garsea.
You see, ever since Izzy and her family left, Jules has been trying to get her back in some form or another, he just didn’t know it. He tied a piece of his sister Belen’s thread to the Trilon Wishing Tree hoping for the return of his friend, and he’s been trying to replace her with a steady stream of crushes and heartbreaks. He’s failed of course for one reason or another but when she comes back, he’s simply awestruck and in his words sees “…a thousand worlds in a single person.”
Yes, it was Izzy who held Jules’ complete devotion growing up, as she did for all the many years since, and likely would for all the years to come.
None of these traits are wholly unique proposals and there’s nothing particularly special about Izzy and Jules other than the fact that they are meant to be together. I mean, we’ve seen some version of these characters and this star-crossed lovers’ motif before, although Zoraida does play around with gender roles. Something, that in the wrong hands would seem self-important or stuffy, but in Zoraida’s, it’s so natural and earnest that you’ll hardly notice it, or even care.
A quick pause to mention something else about Zoraida’s writing which I personally find attractive, and why. I believe the adage that modern words, when used for the reasons of comfort or providing a false sense of security, are mostly useless. Maybe it’s my now traditional approach to things, but I find Zoraida’s style to have an old-school pleasing aesthetic, and I find comfort in that.
What else Zoraida has done with this novel, and very well, is write a love story that avoids pretention on every level, it seems more delicate than that, more sincere. It’s also incredibly saccharine as both Izzy and Jules from the moment they are reunited are completely into each other, Jules more so, and their love seems idealistic and perfect. I understand this might sound annoying to some, it’s not.
But I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the day after. Izzy herself mentions this in a couple of instances where she questions Jules’ somewhat misguided pining as nothing more than infatuation, and what happens one, two, maybe three days later when reality sets in? I reminded of the final shot of 1967’s “The Graduate” where immediately after this incredibly romantic gesture, the look on the faces of Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross’s characters is fear, not elation. As in “what have we just done?” or “what do we do now?”
Hyperbole aside, break-ups aren’t a big part of Star Wars and we shouldn’t expect any different here if their story is eventually allowed to continue. Besides, it’s no different than most any John Hughes film, which I was also reminded of, where the “day after” isn’t something we should concern ourselves with, rather focus on the now.
Because of this there’s no sense in denying that the adulation and desire is palpable, and often relentless. In fact, Córdova focuses a huge amount of energy on them simply adoring each other, I blushed several times myself.
It even affects the narrative on occasion as the tension, sexual or otherwise, is distracting at times for the normally steadfast Izzy. On one hand she’s trying to complete her job for Gopal and leave, but on the other, can no longer deny this unquestionable truth that warms over her whenever her and Jules are together.
And the book is filled with these kinds of moments, stolen glances and soft touches, as they learn to navigate each other’s physical space. The texture of their skin, the curl in their hair, the freckles on their face, everything is explored with a kind heart, thoughtfulness, and precision. This all comes to a head when they slip away to a secluded cenote deep in the ruins and consummate their love, but not in the traditional sense.
Comparing Izzy and Jules to Lost Stars alum Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree wouldn’t be out of line, but there are obvious differences, like this story takes place over a day or two, not years like that story did. And the stakes aren’t nearly as high, giving this entry more of a laidback and subdued approach overall. But like Claudia Gray’s outer space versions of Romeo and Juliet, to fall in love with one of them is to fall in love with both.
There is a downside, this ability to infatuate others, as it leads to some anxiety for the pair as trouble finds its way to the Black Spire Outpost and threatens to ruin everything.
The book starts off with Izzy going through two break-ups at the same time, one with her boyfriend Damar Olin, and the other with her adopted gang of smuggler’s, led by the feisty Ana Tolla. They leave her to fend for herself when a small skirmish breaks out in a cantina on the planet Actlyon, and although it would seem like the end of things, fate would intervene. It’s here she meets Pall Gopal and takes a job that would bring her back to Batuu.
Damar is a fantastic snake of a character that will make your skin crawl one second and laugh the next. He’s incredibly full of himself and values all the things in life that are generally unimportant in the grand scheme. And although he’s mostly harmless, he did do a number on Izzy during their year or so together including making promises he had no intention of keeping.
He held her under his thumb by filling her head with lies and falsehoods about a great many things, including herself. This put Izzy in a constant state of emotional numbness and impotence.
Basically, he’s kind of a monster, and he’s the exact opposite of Jules. So much that when the two come face to face, the tension and anger in Damar leaps off the page, you can feel his anxiety and jealousy ooze out of every pore. But, that’s the power of Jules, he’s able to build Izzy back up and reaffirm to her that there is someone in the galaxy who knows her name, and soon, everyone in Black Spire would as well.
When Dok-Ondar, the local antiquities dealer and the person Izzy is supposed to deliver a package to mysteriously goes absent, she’s forced to wait around a bit. This gives her and Jules a chance to catch up and make up for lost time before she leaves again, which is her plan.
However, as one thing after another transpires, and Izzy’s stay on Batuu keeps getting extended, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s no way they’ll be able to keep their hands of each other. But that would be beside the point; there are greater forces at work here and love like this doesn’t come around that often.
Like, when Izzy’s former boss, Ana Tolla, shows up with Damar in tow, they risk ruining everything Izzy is trying to accomplish in the short term, including spending quality time with Jules. I love how protective Izzy gets here and the more you get to know Tolla and Dammar, but also Izzy, you can start to see how awful her past year must have really been. The mere presence of Tolla and Damar gets Izzy fired up and she reacts very strongly to even the mention of Jules by either one.
It becomes a bit of a balancing act, keeping these two lives from running into each other, and Izzy is doing everything she can to keep her past decisions from interfering with her current ones. But it’s proving more difficult by the second.
I don’t want to get into too many plot specific details, but there’s quite a lot of intrigue and action squeezed in between the softer moments. And because of that, it’s a worthwhile read even if you’re a little queasy at the gooey romantic stuff. Zoraida takes us on wild ride that covers a lot of geography on Batuu in a relatively short amount of time, like I said, the whole story only lasts a day or two.
And don’t look for an overabundance of character work or backstory for any of the new characters besides Izzy and Jules, although we get enough to move the story forward. Zoraida is quite a skilled and efficient writer, and that comes through in her character work, you get a lot with very little. Like with key characters such as Delta, Tap, and Volt who all play important roles, but who we know next to nothing about. It doesn’t dull their effectiveness in relation to the story at all, and we know just enough to make them important, but with the focus mainly on Izzy and Jules, these folks don’t get fleshed out as much. Again, it doesn’t hurt the story or the book, just an observation.
I suppose one of the advantages of being part of a larger project is that Zoraida wasn’t required to fully extrapolate on everyone and everything, but we do get good stuff from the likes of Oga Garra, Salju, and Dok. And even those threads have already been pulled; she gives us much more detail on Dok and his famous antiquities, and officious big wheel Oga.
And like Black Spire, some of Oga’s more amiable sides are explored and play a vital role in helping Izzy learn more about her past, and herself. Dare I say by the end of the book, Oga is likable? Basically, the idea is, if you’re an outsider, be careful who you mess with because Oga is always watching and is a huge homer.
This book takes place months after the events in “Black Spire” so the First Order has amalgamated themselves into the day-to-day coming and goings of the outpost. They routinely patrol the streets, harassing folks, looking for information on the Resistance which is rumored to be holding up in the ruins outside of town. There seems to be an understanding between them and Oga, who is still running things in BSO, and most folks consider her still in charge. But how long can that last? If the First Order is anything it’s bullish and won’t stand idle for too long if it doesn’t suit their purpose.
But there’s no doubt that tensions are increasing on the streets, and some locals have even joined the First Order, preferring their mandate over the local rule of law. And as for the Resistance, Izzy and Jules drop off a package at the mouth of the ruins to two mysterious folks who don’t announce themselves as being with the Resistance but, wink, wink, nose scratch, ear pull.
For those wondering where all the Star Wars is, rest assured there’s more than enough familiar vernacular and axioms to remind you that you’re still in a galaxy far, far away. The story takes place in almost real-time but in that short period we get Stormtroopers, First Order officers, Resistance members, lots of species of aliens, a snippy droid, and even a certain five-sided light freighter! There’s even some big kahuna name-dropping going on as Maz Kanata and Hondo Ohnaka both get shout-outs. You'll also learn the names of more alcoholic Star Wars beverages than you thought possible!
And like Black Spire, A Crash of Fate shows us that the Force is still very much in a dogmatic state with followers of the Church of the Force making a home on Batuu. While merely implied, it’s understood that the ancient ruins on Batuu near Black Spire Outpost hold many secrets and act as a conduit for many pilgrims seeking knowledge.
Jules even meets a young pilgrim, who goes by the name Nate Grattonius, and appears at two instances when Jules is unknowingly in need of direction. Nate is almost a living embodiment of Jules inner thoughts, a mirror for Jules to seek guidance through. And while on the surface it appears as though Jules helps Nate out of sticky situations, which is true, it’s Nate who is helping Jules in a more profound way. Each time, pointing Jules in the right direction, course correcting his path towards Izzy.
And that, after all, is the point, because if this adventure ends with Izzy and Jules apart again, then Zoraida has a mean streak a mile long in her. But luckily for us she doesn’t, and we get scenes such as the one near the very end at Oga’s Cantina when the two are celebrated as heroes. It’s a scene you could pull from any number of John Hughes or similar romance films where the two people we care most about, come together full circle.
Izzy’s been travelling around trying to find a home that her parents could never give her, and when she finally finds one, it’s not in Batuu, but in Jules. This, along with a final lesson from her mother via a holo-message, helps her realize that putting down roots wouldn’t be the worst decision.
Perhaps for the first time in her young life, Izzy is deciding for herself what she wants. She’s not living in the shadow of her parents, or Damar, or anyone, and this had made her immensely strong. She learns in the end that to be a strong woman you don’t necessarily have to remain independent; but should be willing to find help or gain strength from friends, something she’s never really had.
Izzy is becoming increasingly self-aware and comes to understand that Jules doesn’t validate her existence; he compliments it in the best way a partner can. And his wanting of her is like an injection of gratification straight to the heart, it has made Izzy feel confident and powerful beyond words.
For Jules, he’s been unleashed and is surer of himself than ever before. With Izzy now by his side, he’s got the confidence to forge ahead, that missing piece has found its way home. He’s free to be the hero Batuu needs him to be and he’s made stronger by the realization that reverence isn’t a burden bestowed on folks for no good reason, it’s the result of a life well lived. Like Izzy, their crash of fate has made him bolder and more courageous than even he thought possible.
Indeed, by the end of the book when it looks as though war has finally come to Black Spire Outpost, there is a strong sense of unity amongst most of its peoples. Some of them will join the Resistance in their fight against the First Order and some of them will sit it out, choosing to remain on the sidelines.
But that isn’t an option for Izzy and Jules, not anymore. They’ve had a taste of selflessness and liked it, more than Cookie’s “tip-yip” special anyways. So, if the First Order plans on making an example of the Black Spire Outpost, looks like they’ll have their hands full.
Look, this is an unapologetically, hit you over the head, make you see stars, punch-drunk love story, and I’m all for it. Its pace is quick but not unclear, and at no time does Zoraida belabor the point or meander through the story. She moves her characters from one point to the next like she’s playing a game of RISK, and indeed during the writing process she literally used maps and figurines to plot the trajectory.
But her methodology wasn’t militaristic nor was the end-goal world domination. Zoraida (as far as I know) isn’t a biologist who’s here to tell us that love is the interplay between our neurochemical reward system and historical cultural constructs. No, she's teaching us about the kind of love that can't be quantified, or calibrated, or ascertained.
She’s telling us about that time when childhood friends Izal Garsea and Julen Rakab, who after being apart for 13-years and despite great odds, were reunited and quickly fell in love, saving many lives in the process. It's really kind of that simple.
Did they live happily ever after? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I’d like to think so.
Until next time...may the spires keep you!
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