This column involves spoilers for Lost Stars. Read at your own risk.
When you’re a lover of all things Alderaanian, you come to expect a certain type of character in the post-A New Hope galaxy. You expect to see characters who felt the effects of their homeworld’s destruction right to their very core and who could not continue to stand by and actively support the Galactic Empire. Perhaps they don’t join the Rebel Alliance like Tycho Celchu but they definitely don’t continue to be believers. It’s something that we’ve seen time and time again. It’s expected.
And then we met Nash Windrider.
When first we meet Nash, he’s a young, energetic cadet from Alderaan with an endearing crush on Princess Leia. More importantly for our story, he proves himself to be a good friend to Thane Kyrell all the way through graduation. And then Grand Moff Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan. Nash watches. It’s difficult for readers to really be able to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who instantaneously finds himself a person without a planet much less someone like Nash who literally watches 2 billion people die while being forced to remain at his station and show no weakness. Weakness would have been interpreted as support for the Rebellion and there would have been no room for such sympathies in the Empire. Instead, he squeezes Ciena’s hand like a lifeline and doesn’t let himself collapse until he’s alone.
It’s at this point that Nash’s story becomes so striking.
Nash doesn’t take Alderaan’s destruction well, to say the least. He cuts off the long, braided hair he’d continued to wear throughout his years in the Academy and looks as if he’s sleepwalking through his duties. It seems as if he’s clinging to the stability and the surety of his life as an officer in order to keep going. It’s not unexpected. The fact that he’s able to even stand is remarkable.
And then something weird happens: Nash doesn’t desert. He keeps willingly serving the Empire that just destroyed his entire planet and mostly likely his family just to make a point. It takes time but eventually he returns to his old self…albeit someone who is very touchy about the subject of Alderaan.
What. The. Kriff.
At its very core, Nash Windrider’s story is disturbing and it serves to make the Galactic Empire more terrifying than ever. Here is a government and a military that has found a way to justify the destruction of Alderaan not just to some of its citizens and soliders but to some of those who are from that planet. They have justified genocide to a survivor. They have convinced Nash that Alderaan’s death had a purpose. That it had meaning. That it was unavoidable. We never hear exactly what the Empire’s official line is but we do hear Jude’s rationalization… and it seems reasonable if you’re desperately looking for a logical reason why two billion people had to die for the crimes of two. The threat of the Rebel Alliance is real (and even more real once they destroy the Death Star) and with that threat comes war. There was to be no reasoning or negotiating with these Rebels. The only thing they could understand was a brute show of force. Alderaan was a necessary sacrifice to avoid the deaths of billions more. An act of evil in the name of peace.
If this is sounding familiar, it should. The history lesson doesn’t need to be retaught here and this is in no way intending to minimize the deaths of hundreds of thousands of real people but the metaphor is still apt.
There’s a story to be told here and it’s the story of Nash in the years between Yavin and Hoth. At what point did he stop clinging to the familiarity of the Empire and embrace it again? How did he push past the feelings of grief and despair? Why did he stay? What did the Empire do to him?
It’s not hard to imagine the Empire continuing to reinforce its message of being forced to take such drastic action and make the necessary sacrifice especially to its own military. Most of their soldiers aren’t bad people. They believe in the ideals of the Empire: stability, order, opportunity for the worthy. They aren’t like Agent Kallus who gleefully commits genocide. They have the silent doubts about whether Alderaan’s destruction was justified and the Empire knows this. That’s why they have loyalty officers. No one has a better propaganda and brainwashing office than the Empire.
The Alderaanians officers would have been the mostly watched and the most targeted for indoctrination but at the end of the day, they all had a choice and Nash made the choice to stay and not desert. But why didn’t he? Someone with strong feelings about Alderaan might have yelled things like “You dirty traitor to Alderaan! How could you?!?” while reading about his blind and unwavering loyalty to what we see as such a corrupt government. How can any self-respecting Alderaanian remain truly loyal and committed to the cause?
Nash’s story has the potential to be absolutely fascinating and we can but hope that Claudia Gray will have the chance to do so in the future.