The Star is a bright card indeed. It is a card of regaining hope, of inspiration and generosity.
Mostly I think it refers to Merle because there isn't a lot else that speaks of hope in Lost Paradise.
Lost Paradise opens with Hitomi desperately trying to awaken Van and failing dismally as the darkness that engulfed Escaflowne in Dangerous Wounds reaches out to engulf her rendering her unconscious.
The Escaflowne's energist stops glowing.
This is the moment when the The Star and the episode title are revealed, which I find deeply ironic.
The scene changes to Hitomi running through fog and then lines of marching warriors, including some of Dilandau's Dragonslayers.
As Hitomi runs she calls out for Van.
The colouring of this scene is noteworthy. Hitomi is in colour, most of the marching figures are in black and white. Van is sort of washed out, there's some colour there but not a lot. The symbolism is clear and disturbing.
Then as Hitomi catches up to Van her hands pass through him and back in the real world Hitomi's pulse stops.
Then the episode takes the left turn at Albuquerque.
Suddenly there is a sunny sky, a beautiful city, and draconians flying about their daily business. Hitomi wakes in this scene and tries to work out what's going on. In the distance, on a plateau under an enormous tree she sees Van curled into the fetal position.
Running over to him she tries to pull him out of it but the lights aren't on, and nobody's home.
Suddenly the city burns, the earth shakes, and the sky turns red, and the draconians are caught in the flames. Hitomi redoubles her attempts to awaken Van as the plateau begins to crumble and collapse into a volcano beneath.
Back in the real world Merle starts yelling at both of them and slapping Hitomi in the face to wake her up.
Catgirls: no subtlety at all. :)
But what the hey it works after a fashion: Merle's voice is heard in the dreamworld and supported by a beam of light that guides Hitomi and Van as they fall.
Van awakens, reveals his wings and flies up towards Merle.
The energist reactivates, Escaflowne turns white again, and Van exits the cockpit.
Hitomi meanwhile notices her sore cheek which amuses Merle who expects her to be angry about it. That lasts about half a second before Hitomi gets this wicked expression on her face and thanks Merle for saving them by pouncing on her in a very catgirl like manner.
I always get a laugh out of that, and its one of the few laughs in this episode.
Back on the Zaibach fortress Dilandau is still broken and getting worse. Suddenly there's a flashback to a young girl crying and Dilandau collapses. Dornkirk is getting more and more worried about the dragon but Folken has a plan.
Back on Dryden's ship Van is attempting to practice with the sword but flashbacks to the last battle have him seriously undone.
He is having trouble facing the deaths he has caused. Hitomi is worried but Allen speaks of his own tests of faith as a swordsman and the guidance he received from Balgus.
The resulting flashback shows a younger Allen that bears more than a passing relationship to Van as he is now.
In terms of the romantic plotlines this is an interesting point in the series. Although Hitomi clearly cares for and is deeply worried about Van, I think that his excesses and lack of balance frighten her.
Although "frighten" is the word I chose instinctively there, I'm not sure it carries the right connotation. The key point is that at this moment of concern, Allen is there with some reassurances about Van but is also someone who is much more stable and reliable.
The resemblance to Amano doesn't hurt either.
Cue the teenage romantic trope of Hitomi confessing that she likes Allen* before fleeing.
Meanwhile Dryden is engaged in research about what has been going on, as Millerna brings him some food and to apologise for her earlier rudeness.
He plays upon her feelings to get Millerna to extract the final diary of Allen's father from Allen. Allen is not impressed, especially when it turns out that Dryden is researching Atlantis.
For a bit of light relief cue the next teen romantic trope of Millerna seeking advice from Hitomi for "a friend" (ie: speaking in the third person about herself), whilst Merle is eavesdropping. Inevitably, courtesy of Merle :), the truth comes out resulting in Hitomi and Millerna being open "rivals".
Enter the glorious silver and gold catgirls Naria (silver) and Eriya (gold) in their guymelefs (complete with matching hair) calling Escaflowne out.
And don't forget their amazing synchronisation when they fight, almost dancing in the sky.
Van, naturally, heads out immediately. Van doesn't do all that well, but suddenly sees Eriya's face and completely loses it to fear. At this stage he cannot bear to kill again, especially a woman.
As the Fortune Twins move in for the kill, Merle stands in their way with arms outstretched. Suddenly there is a flashback to a young Naria and Eriya facing an angry mob with Naria in the same pose.
The Fortune Twins leave because Merle is also a cat, and they are not prepared to risk her health.
Dryden has found something in the diary of Allen's father and the group set off for the Mystic Valley, legendary home of the draconians.
As I mentioned above the Star card is Merle all over on two very different levels. First, it is Merle's refusal to give up hope who ultimately saves Van and Hitomi at the start of the episode. Second, Merle has been the recipient of generosity all her life.
For all of her life Merle was clearly welcome in Fanelia, she wouldn't have been that close to the royal family otherwise. When you compare this to the obviously vicious fantastic racism suffered by Naria and Eriya it says a lot about Fanelia, and explains why Merle is fundamentally an optimistic, hopeful, character.
This is an overloaded episode in many ways with far too much going on. However it still works and transitions the story arc nicely from wrapping up the battle for Freid to centring on the search for the mysteries of Atlantis.
Not to mention really confusing the hell out of Hitomi.
*Whenever I stop to think about it I find the age differences between Allen and Hitomi more than somewhat disturbing although I suspect that this was less of an issue in Japan. cf Card Captor Sakura, and Maison Ikkoku for anime where similar age differences were accepted (albeit in relationships that existed before the series).
It also helps that Allen is aware of the age difference and given the choice I think he would act appropriately.
Day 1 - Fateful Confession / The Tower
Day 2 - The Girl From the Mystic Moon / Ace of Serpents
Day 3 - The Gallant Swordsman / Death
Day 4 - The Diabolical Adonis / The Hanged Man
Day 5 - The Seal of the Brothers / Judgement
Day 6 - Capitol of Intrigue / Justice
Day 7 - Unexpected Partings / The Chariot
Day 8 - Sub vs Dub
Day 9 - The Day the Angel Flew / Temperance
Day 10 - Memories of a Feather / Ace of Birds
Day 11 - The Blue-Eyed Prince / Knight of Beasts
Day 12 - Prophecy of Death / The Devil
Day 13 - The Secret Door / High Priestess
Day 14 - Red Destiny / The Emperor
Day 15 - The Gender of Escaflowne
Day 16 - Dangerous Wounds / The Magician
Day 17 - Lost Paradise / The Star
Day 18 - The Guided Ones
Day 19 - The Edge of the World
Day 20 - The Gravity of Destiny
Day 21 - Operation Golden Rule of Love
Day 22 - False Vows
Day 23 - Reaction of Fortune
Day 24 - ???
Day 25 - The Black Winged Angel
Day 26 - Storm Premonition
Day 27 - Fateful Decision
Day 28 - Zone of Absolute Fortune
Day 29 - Eternal Love
Day 30 - Looking Back at The Vision of Escaflowne