Catalyst – A Rogue One Story
By James Luceno
With the release of Rogue One last year there was a novel tie-in and much like Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith we got a prequel to our prequel. Written by the masterful James Luceno, Catalyst tells the story of Galen Erso as events unfold drawing him and his family into the Death Star project and setting the stage for the movie. While the concept of following around a scientist and his family might not sound exciting this novel bring enough twists to make any reader lament the paint by numbers movie that comes after this story.
The book begins during the Clone Wars as the Galactic Republic is considering moving forward with a new battlestation program. Orson Krenic starts getting the program rolling as he begins to plot how to get his old friend Galen Erso to develop the kyber crystal based weapon. Meanwhile, Galen and his wife Lyra are dealing with the difficulties of the war and Jyn’s upcoming birth. As the story progresses Krennic develops a rivalry with Governor Tarkin as the Death Star project meets more and more problems. Meanwhile Galen gets drawn into the Empire and as time passes he begins to wonder exactly what he is building. The story concludes on an optimistic note as it leads into the Erso family arriving on the planet they live on at the beginning of Rogue One.
As this is a James Luceno book the characters are well developed. The Erso family is very three dimensional and you will grow to care about them. Galen is studious and kind, but sadly has poor choices in friends. Lyra is strong willed and curious and stands out as a Star Wars heroine as she doesn’t have to use violence to prove she is strong. Young Jyn is cute and fun making what happens to her in the movie far more tragic. If you have read Luceno’s “Tarkin” then you know how deep he can get with Imperial politics and characters. Krennic, Tarkin, and all other Imperials that show up in the story have that sense of intensity that he often gives those characters. Tarkin is serious and deep thinking as well as patient and manipulative. Krennic on the other hand is very similar to his movie counterpart having little patience, an overly developed ego, and as much subtlety as a squad of death troopers will provide. These two rivals work well as their different approaches to the future of the Empire clearly demonstrates why they do not get along.
Like any good book, there are plenty of side characters that help flesh out the story. These characters help define the early days of the Empire something that hasn’t been explored much during the new canon. There are a few recurring characters from other stories, this includes Saw Gerrera from Rogue One and Clone Wars. His role is small, but important as it ties him into the Erso family and explains how he knew Jyn. One of the interesting new characters was Has Obitt who only appears in this story and plays a major role as a new smuggler who gets tied up in all the drama between Krennic and the Erso family. Obitt interacts with all members of the main cast and works as an outside observer who is in way over his head. Overall, the side characters make this into a more real world making this a much more enjoyable read than some other Star Wars books.
If you have read a James Luceno book in the past you may be aware that he tends to get very technical with some things. However, he tones this down in Catalyst. While some of the fictional science and Imperial protocols are referred to, he does not go super deep into those topics like he does with “Tarkin”. The biggest explanations come around the Kyber crystals and the divisions of labor within the Imperial ranks. Those scenes do not slow the book down like “Tarkin” and grant the reader a better understanding of the Empire and the ‘science’ of Star Wars.
A run of terrible books shook my willingness to explore the new expanded universe. Reading Catalyst helped remind me why I love the expanded universe so much. Even small stories about families and political bickering can be very enthralling. It is a shame that there aren’t as many James Luceno’s and Timothy Zahn’s in the ranks of the EU writing staff because that would make the difference between these books being trash Sci-Fi and being enjoyable adventures that expand your view on a universe that you love. Even if you were not a big fan of the movie “Rogue One” you should check out Catalyst as it will give you a deeper view of the Empire and make you wish the movie had as much character as this book. This novel is up there with “A New Dawn” and “Lords of the Sith” as some of the best books in the new canon.