All of the recent Star Wars novels can basically be grouped into one of three basic categories: film-adaptations, story-driven novels, and character-driven novels. While the adaptation of The Force Awakens and the recent story-driven Aftermath: Life Debt were fantastic reads, there is something special about the more character-driven novels like Bloodline, Tarkin, and now Catalyst that keeps me coming back book after book with a renewed fervor.
There is just something about the book medium that fits these types of stories so well, allowing the reader to really get into the heads of the characters to more fully understand their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Two years after his very well-received introspective look into the mind of Wilhuff Tarkin in the aptly named Tarkin (2014), Luceno strikes again with another character-driven book that centers on eccentric genius Galen Erso (portrayed by actor Mads Mikkelsen in Rogue One) and the ambitious Republic/Imperial officer on the rise Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).
While the story focuses on these two characters, Luceno also gives readers a fantastic look at Galen’s wife Lyra, who, as it turns out, is one of the strongest characters ever written for the franchise in my opinion. She is Galen’s heart and soul – his anchor, his strength. If Jyn (Felicity Jones) possesses a modicum of her mother’s character traits in Rogue One, I think we’re in for a real treat and another great character to add to the plethora of amazing Star Wars characters.
Catalyst is very much a spiritual sequel (or “prequel” technically) to Luceno’s Tarkin. The author accomplishes his primary goal of providing a backstory for the upcoming film and fleshing out the film’s new characters quite nicely. However, in the end, Catalyst is so much more than a simple tie-in novel. Luceno uses the new storyline to build upon some small foundations that he laid in Tarkin as he gives readers a detailed glimpse at the galactic powers that be as the transition was made from the Republic to the Empire.
We are even treated to some small passages with Tarkin himself as Luceno establishes an intense rivalry between the moff and Lieutenant Commander Krennic. It was a real joy to see the two men attempt to undermine and outmaneuver the other, especially given that we already know Tarkin’s position in A New Hope. It will be very interesting to see what happens with Krennic in the Rogue One storyline next month. By the end of Catalyst, he has definitely built up no small amount of bad karma, and he still has about 15 years of shady management and underhanded dealings to go through before the timeline of the movie. Given his position at the end of the book, his ongoing rivalries, and apparent character flaws, Krennic should be quite the villain in Rogue One.
Along with the unique character perspectives that Luceno provides in the book, he also delves into a lot of really cool information surrounding the backstory of the Death Star’s construction, especially that of its planet-destroying-super-laser. If you want to learn more about the innate properties of the kyber crystal, the logistics of supplying and constructing a moon-sized battle station, and whatever happened to the Geonosians that provided the original design for the Death Star, then you’ll find what you’re looking for in Catalyst.
Ever since the initial teaser trailer for Rogue One was released, fans have raised many questions surrounding the Death Star, especially after learning of Galen Erso’s and Orson Krennic’s roles in the upcoming movie and seeing the construction still taking place almost 20 years after having witnessed what seemed to be a mostly completed framework for the station in Revenge of the Sith. Why has the construction taken so long? Who designed the Death Star? What about Tarkin?
Luceno addresses all of these questions, and for full detail, I strongly recommend you check this book out for yourself. But to answer some of these in short, I will say this much – the original design of the Death Star was provided by the Geonosians, however, it was more of a concept than a full-fledged battle station. After the design wound up in Palpatine’s hands, he sequestered the station to begin construction in secret during the Clone War, but the weapon itself took years of research, trial, and error to complete.
The mastermind behind its development was Orson Krennic, who was ultimately responsible for stripping down backwater worlds of their resources and assembling the top minds in the galaxy to accomplish the task. The secret ingredient was the altruistic scientist Galen Erso, whose research (which he believed was being used to provide safer and more efficient means of generating electrical power) would ultimately lead to the creation of the most destructive force the galaxy had ever known.
Orson and Galen were old friends from their school days in the Futures Program, and Krennic takes constant advantage of their relationship throughout the book as he places Galen in situation after situation where Galen becomes indebted to him and eventually goes to work for Krennic and the Empire.
Catalyst is an essential read for any fan of the franchise in my opinion, especially if you have a soft spot for the Empire like myself (I can’t help it if the Empire has all the coolest ships, weapons , and armor…so don’t judge me…rebel scum…). If you don’t like to read, I still recommend that you check out the audiobook. It’s a compelling story and a great tie-in to what I hope is a fantastic film. My excitement for Rogue One continues to grow and Catalyst has only served to increase that excitement.
I really enjoyed this book overall and have no glaring complaints or criticisms concerning Luceno’s execution. He does go a little heavy with the scientific and pseudo-scientific lingo that went over my head a little at times, but this is to be expected with the genre and actually serves to add complexity rather than confusion. It may not be as exciting as some of the more story-driven books in the franchise, but the the story is engaging enough and the characters are compelling enough to earn a pretty impressive score from me. I give Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel…
4.5/5.0 Kyber Crystals