Rogue One: Catalyst by James Luceno should be considered the opening crawl to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Catalyst should be thought of as the opening crawl to Rogue One.
Catalyst is the story of how Galen Erso and his family are indoctrinated into the Empire’s war machine by their old acquaintance Orson Krennic. Krennic, tasked with building the primary weapon for the Death Star.
No real spoilers below, but you can read the review with spoilers if you want.
Short Synopsis: Galen, obsessed with his research on the Kyber Crystals but morally against participating in war, is manipulated into developing the primary weapon for the Death Star. The grounding force of his wife Lyra and young daughter Jyn and help provide him clarity has he navigates the emerging Empire.
We’re introduced to the Erso’s right from the beginning. In an era that is marked by corruption and moral quagmires (the Prequel era), the Erso’s are an inspiration.
One theme throughout the book that I think is important to observe is that Galen Erso is not ideologically driven. Whereas characters such as Orson Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin are very ambitious and willing to undergo any suffering to accomplish their goals, Galen is pretty well incorruptible. This is different than most of the characters we’ve encountered in Star Wars. Everyone had ideological buttons.
A second theme of the book was the comparison of Galen’s character being comparable to that of the Kyber Crystal. It doesn’t readily give their insights, but if properly coerced, they will provide the power inside. It’s an elegant comparison that helps us to better understand the nature of the Kyber crystal outside the various technical descriptions.
Orson Krennic understands Galen’s nature, almost as well as Lyra Erso. Krennic is an expert at manipulation and Galen as his biggest challenge. It takes years of patient tending, but his insight into Galen’s nature serves to get him to do his bidding – kind of.
It is ultimately his family, Lyra and Jyn, who wake him up to his imprisonment and manipulation.
The result of this book is a heavy emotional attachment to these characters. In this sense, it’s a great setup for Rogue One without giving any insight into what happens in Rogue One.
We get some great things
This book also addresses some additional questions about the Death Star: What role did Tarkin have? Why did it take so long to build while the second went seemingly faster?
We’re also treated to more characterization of the Empire’s brutality. We see the environmental devastation of formerly protected worlds and intentional attack and destruction of innocent people – all to support the Death Star effort.
Some things I didn’t like as much
I only didn’t like some stylistic issues with how the story is presented.
Most of the biggest moments of action take place “off screen”. There were a number of incidences by the Empire that would have been great to witness. That’s fine, but we’re ultimately left with just a suspenseful thriller and not something that is action-oriented.
The story seems to bog down a in the middle chapters, a trade-off made to enable more back-story to be told. This is good as the time period – during the Clone Wars and the years post – is very interesting. But we get a lot of broad jumps in time that are a bit disorienting, but allow us to understand how our characters fit into this specific time period. Ultimately we are pushed from an action-oriented Star Wars story at the start to more of a drama where we are shown the lengths to which Orson Krennic goes to accomplish his goals. That’s cool too, but that’s what this book is. There’s no real mystery or intrigue. No particular revelation. Just a great dramatic novel with great characters with a great plot.
We get a few mentions of events that refer to various episodes of The Clone Wars that are always very exciting for Star Wars fans. More so, they serve as storyline guide posts that help to anchor where in the timeline certain events took place. Lost Stars does masterful job at this, going as far as giving a new perspective of some very well-known Star Wars moments (such as the destruction of the first Death Star and the Battle of Hoth). I would have been elated to get this type of detail in Catalyst, but Luceno did a great job nonetheless.
Overall, this is a great novel! While I didn’t like it as much as Lost Stars which had many more emotional touch points and action elements, Catalyst introduces us to some great characters and increases our investment in them in preparation for the Rogue One film.