“It’s people like you who continue to inspire me to play a part in exposing the Empire’s machinations. Not everyone understands the sacrifices necessary to stop them. If we don’t use every opportunity, every secret, every weapon available to stop them, how can we face our children? How can we hand them a future with such injustice?” – Saw Gerrera
This is weird for me. A new Star Wars movie is coming out in just over a week, and I just read a lead-in novel for it. I’ve never gone into a new Star Wars movie with real background knowledge from tie-in books before. Though there was a novel called Labyrinth of Evil (also by James Luceno, I might add) that led directly into Revenge of the Sith, and I almost bought it before seeing the movie, I decided against it, making Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel my first time reading a Star Wars novel that is meant as a prequel to a movie, before seeing the movie.
Like with the Ahoska novel that I recently reviewed, I expected something different than what I got with this book. With Ahsoka, I expected an immediate continuation of Ahsoka’s story following her last appearance in The Clone Wars TV series, but that was not at all what the novel was. With Catalyst, I expected a story that would take place much closer to the actual events of the upcoming movie. Instead, Catalyst starts during the Clone Wars.
Galen Erso is essentially the main character in this story. He is the father of Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso, though when this novel starts Jyn isn’t born yet. This is another thing that caught me off guard. I didn’t expect this to be a book about Jyn’s father. I thought it would be about the main rebel characters we keep seeing in all the Rogue One trailers. I have to say, I’m actually happy it didn’t end up being like that.
Though the novel starts during the Clone War, there are no Jedi in this story. They are mentioned, but never seen. I liked this touch, because the movie is being branded as the first Star Wars movie without Jedi in it (*cough* except for the Ewok movies… *cough*). It’s nice to get some Star Wars stories about “normal” people for once. Not even Vader or the Emperor make an appearance. There are no Force-users in this story, light side or dark side.
The story centers on Galen Erso, a scientist (played by Mads Mikkelsen in Rogue One) who specializes in kyber crystal research in hopes of discovering a way to bring renewable energy to systems that need it. I briefly talked about kyber crystals in my review of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was the first Expanded Universe Star Wars novel ever written. In that review I said that kyber crystals are lightsaber crystals in the Star Wars canon, and that they also power the Death Star. The Jedi see kyber cystals as sacred, and have kept the crystals mostly to themselves, preventing them from being thoroughly studied.
Enter Orson Krennic, the man in the white Imperial uniform who we keep seeing in the movie trailers. Krennic works for the Republic (remember, this starts during the Clone War, before the Empire exists). Krennic is part of the Republic’s Special Weapons division, and he is one of the very few people in the galaxy who knows about Palpatine’s plans to build a superweapon / space station that will go on to be known as the Death Star. When they were younger, Orson Krennic and Galen Erso were both part of the Republic’s Futures program, where exceptionally talented young people studied and worked for the Republic in different fields of expertise. Krennic remembers Erso from those days, and knows that with his experience studying the kyber, Erso would be a tremendous help in the development of the Death Star’s superlaser.
Galen Erso is politically neutral, wanting nothing to do with either the Republic or the Separatists, and works for a company that has no allegiance to either side of the war. Eventually, Krennic is able to convince Erso to begin doing research on the kyber crystals, telling him it is for an energy renewal project, when in reality it is for the weaponization of the crystals to be used for the Death Star.
This is not the most exciting Star Wars story in the world. It’s not an adventure story, and there’s little action. In a way, Catalyst is more of a history lesson on the development of the Death Star than anything else. Part of me wants to be disappointed by this, but there is another big part of me that loves getting this background information. We get to know Galen Erso and his wife, Lyra Erso very well, and we even get to meet a very young Jyn Erso. We get to know Orson Krennic, and we get to see some other characters who will appear in the movie. I’m eager to see what watching the film will be like, knowing all of this background information about the characters and their motives. The story is very character driven, and it works.
While the purpose of this novel is to tie-in with Rogue One, Luceno does a great job of connecting it with other Star Wars stories as well, making reference to other novels in the canon, and to The Clone Wars. There were little details that made me happy too, like the brief appearances of certain alien species like the Ryn, who first appeared in Luceno’s Agents of Chaos duology in The New Jedi Order book series, and the Tynnan, who are otter-like creatures from Brian Daley’s Han Solo novels (plus, the Tynnan appeared in the Corporate Sector of the galaxy, which was the setting of Daley’s novels). Though the novel is a prequel to Rogue One, it also feels like somewhat of a prequel to Luceno’s 2014 novel Tarkin, as Governor Wilhuff Tarkin plays a fairly big role in this story, showing us some of the events that took place in his life prior to his eponymous novel.
Catalyst takes place over the span of only a few years, starting during the Clone War and ending in the early years of the Empire’s hold over the galaxy, so there are still many years between the end of this novel and the upcoming movie which takes place immediately before the original Star Wars movie. Like in Ahoska, Tarkin, and a few other novels set in between Star Wars trilogies, this novel does an excellent job of showing us the damage that the Empire is doing to the galaxy. Worlds are being occupied and scourged, people are being killed, and most of the galaxy is unaware of it. These stories make the fight against in the Empire that we see in the original Star Wars trilogy feel so much more justified, and it makes every victory that the Rebellion has over the Empire feel that much more satisfying. We know the Empire is bad from the movies, but these stories show us that the Empire is really, really bad. And I love it. Having more reasons to hate the bad guys is always fun.
Whether you’re reading this before or after you’ve seen Rogue One, if you’re looking for background information on some of the characters and events seen in the movie, then I would definitely recommend this book. Having not seen the film yet, I feel I already have a good grasp of who the Ersos are, and of who Orson Krennic is. If you’re just looking for a new Star Wars book to read, and you don’t really care about the movie tie-in, then this might not be at the top of my recommendation list unless you’re fascinated by the development and history of the Death Star (which I totally am).
Catalyst was a good book, though it is one of the weaker Luceno novels I’ve read. I definitely enjoyed it, but I don’t know that it is exciting enough to hold the attention of more casual Star Wars fans. It’s just a little too slow-paced I think. James Luceno is one of my favorite Star Wars authors out there, so I’m always very excited to check out anything Star Wars with his name on it, and this book didn’t disappoint, but holding it up to his other novels, and to a lot of the other books in the overall Star Wars canon, this wasn’t the best. I liked it, but I don’t see more casual readers enjoying it as much as I did. Still, I this book is worth checking out. This book definitely did it’s job of making me even more excited to see Rogue One! December 16th can’t come soon enough! Especially after reading this book.