Chronology Placement: Set during “The Clone Wars” and after “Revenge of the Sith”
Synopsis: War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war. As a member of Chancellor Palpatine’s top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a super-weapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic’s, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key. Galen’s energy-focused research has captured the attention of both Krennic and his foes, making the scientist a crucial pawn in the galactic conflict. But after Krennic rescues Galen, his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn, from Separatist kidnappers, the Erso family is deeply in Krennic’s debt. Krennic then offers Galen an extraordinary opportunity: to continue his scientific studies with every resource put utterly at his disposal. While Galen and Lyra believe that his energy research will be used purely in altruistic ways, Krennic has other plans that will finally make the Death Star a reality. Trapped in their benefactor’s tightening grasp, the Ersos must untangle Krennic’s web of deception to save themselves and the galaxy itself.
As its title suggests, Star Wars: Catalyst acts as a prequel to the events of Rogue One – specifically giving context to the events of the film’s opening sequence as well as detailing how a good man like Galen Erso was influenced to perform research and work on the most devastating weapon in the galaxy: The Death Star. The novel also succeeds in tying Rogue One closer to the events of the prequel trilogy by weaving new characters Galen Erso and Orson Krennic into the tail-end of The Clone Wars and the aftermath of Order 66. While both the Emperor and Vader’s presence is felt, the novel focuses on the bureaucratic side of the Empire with careerists such as Grand Moff Tarkin and Orson Krennic performing underhand tactics in order to gain favour and rise up the ranks. This rivalry between Tarkin and Krennic is seen in the movie itself, and it is interesting to see the characters at odds in this prequel novel too.
Played by Mads Mikkelsen in the movie, Galen Erso is an interesting figure – a scientist consumed by his own desire for knowledge, he is led blindly into turning the Jedi’s kyber crystals into the weapon that will ultimately destroy the planet of Alderaan. While his sabotage is what eventually leads the rebellion to blow up the Death Star, it is difficult to sympathise with the character when he blindly aids the Empire. The most sympathetic characters in the story are his wife Lyra and his daughter, Jyn – both of whom pay the price for Galen’s mistakes. Catalyst reads like a Shakespearian tragedy at times as Erso is manipulated by his malcontent friend Krennic, and it is Erso’s inability to question his actions and make a decisive choice that leads to further misfortune. Knowing how Rogue One ends, it is even more bittersweet to see Jyn Erso’s childhood as her parents make decisions that ultimately result in her death.
James Luceno is a tremendously talented writer, utilising the series’ continuity in smart ways to create a story that answers almost every question you ever had about the construction of the Death Star. It was fascinating to see the blanks filled in and understand how characters like Poggle the Lesser and Mas Amedda had an impact in the creation of the deadly space station. I also enjoyed how the events of The Clone Wars, Order 66 and the downfall of the Jedi were presented to ordinary people, understanding how the populous of Coruscant were manipulated by Palpatine into believing the Jedi were traitors and how his Galactic Empire would protect them all – at the sake of their liberty. It is eerily prophetic to see how the Empire use “fake news” to spread disinformation and even as justification to invade other planets.
Unlike the majority of Star Wars supporting material, Catalyst focuses on the bit-players that are working behind the scenes of this grand space opera. There are no Jedi or Sith indulging in lightsaber battles, or bounty hunter blaster fights – instead, Luceno focuses on the administration of the Empire and the ordinary people that act as cogs in the machine. Despite this different perspective on events, Catalyst remains an utterly thrilling and engaging read with the tension between Krennic and the Ersos’ fuelling a lot of the conflict in the book. One minor criticism was the ending of the book and how it sets up the events of Rogue One, but fails to overlap. It feels as if the novel ends a bit abruptly – to be continued in the events of the movie or its own novelization. While I doubt anyone would read this novel independent of the movie, it feels incomplete as its own piece of work and would have benefitted from the inclusion of the scene on Lah’mu from Rogue One as a coda – as much as a bummer that would have been.
Machiavellian and suitably dramatic, Star Wars: Catalyst is one of those novels that showcases an entirely different side to the Star Wars universe. Much like Rogue One itself, it enriches the original trilogy and provides valuable continuity details for rabid fans like myself, without neglecting the importance of a good story. I was extremely impressed with the depth of the world-building and the character development of Krennic and the Erso’s, and I would argue that Catalyst is an essential addition to the Rogue One experience, providing added context and understanding to the events of the movie. Equally as important to the mythos as Rogue One, Catalyst is the other half of the story in unlocking the secrets behind the construction of the Death Star and its planet-obliterating laser weapon.
Score – ★★★★
Star Wars – Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel is available in paperback format on Amazon or as a digital eBook on Amazon Kindle. An audiobook version is also available as part of a free-30 day trial of Audible.