‘Catalyst’ looks to take the existing lore about the Death Star in the new canon and wrap it up in one cohesive package. Does it succeed?
It is a period of civil war. No, not THAT civil war. The OTHER civil war. The one between the Separatists and the Republic. The Clone Wars if you will. The Clone Wars have just started and the Republic has gotten its hands on the plans for a mobile battle station the size of a small moon. To counter the Separatists’ likely attempt at building their own version of this battle moon, the Republic decides to build one themselves. Orson Krennic takes it upon himself to fabricate the weapon for this battle station, termed Project Celestial Power. He manages to take over by suggesting a brilliant scientist by the name of Galen Erso for the project. Erso, a theoretical crystallographer, has the knowledge of kyber crystals to possibly be able to bring out untold amounts of energy out of them. Krennic hopes to use this knowledge to build a weapon for the battle station. Unfortunately Erso is a pacifist, so Krennic must devise a way to get Erso to build a weapon capable of destroying a planet, all without his knowledge.
And so starts, Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel.
The author of Catalyst, James Luceno, is known in Star Wars circles for writing books that take complicated subjects (such as the political intrigue of Darth Plagueis) and writing them in such a way that not only do they make sense but they are riveting to read. On top of that, in the Legends Universe he had such a profound grasp on the continuity that he was able to weave existing stories seamlessly into his work without the notice of an unassuming reader. Those in the “know” got the references but those oblivious to the EU (what it was called at the time) rarely would bat an eye at the passage.
And so we come to Catalyst, Luceno’s second novel in the still fledgling (however growing by leaps and bounds) official canon universe after Tarkin. Catalyst starts off very shortly after the beginning of the Clone Wars, however exactly how long after the beginning is never stated. It also proceeds by jumps of weeks and months throughout the Clone Wars to a couple of years after Revenge of the Sith. As a timeliner (I have my own Star Wars timeline where I chronicle exactly where all the canon universe stories take place) I mark pages that denote passages of time so I can figure out where they go into the overall picture. This book proceeds at such a fast pace through the timeline that the story is riddled with continuity nods. (As can be seen below in my copy of the novel. Yes, I dog-ear the pages. Yes, I know I’m a monster.)
Catalyst starts off in a very wordy manner. It feels like we haven’t set up much of the plot, yet Luceno uses a ton of words to get us there. One of my biggest issues with starting a new book in general, is it taking a while for me to get into the story. Here the writing style adds an extra barrier to that, causing me to not even pick up the book for a few days after reading the first chapter.
As I go on, the book continues to drag along. Not only is it wordy, it’s a rather simple plot. I don’t feel the depth from this story that we normally get from Luceno. I do love the parts where it weaves in and out of the Clone Wars series though. It allows the reader to follow the timeline of the story along with the TV series without needing to provide a definitive date for each chapter as it progresses. The majority of the book appears to take place during the Clone Wars, and with only a three year time span, they need to go from nothing to the shell of the Death Star, which is present at the end of RoTS (and they sure take their time about it in the story).
The book centers on the relationship between Galen Erso and Olson Krennic, two “friends” from the Futures Program, a program for gifted youths. It is often repeated throughout the narrative that nobody felt like Krennic really belonged in the program. Well, except for Krennic, who more than felt he belonged in the program. It gives an interesting dichotomy about who Krennic really is. Is he a genius who also had a tremendous personal drive that resulted in him being the head of the Special Weapons program? Or did he somehow stumble into the program and proceed to stumble his way throughout his career? Krennic’s interactions with Erso are also rather interesting. Krennic proceeds to try and manipulate Erso throughout the entire story to join the program that is set to design the laser for the Death Star (not that they are calling it that). But his manipulations seem weak and haphazard most of the time. Also, they are supposed to be good friends from the Futures Program but never in the entire story do I ever feel like they liked each other very much. And never do I like either of them very much. Their interactions seem forced a majority of the time. Galen never really wants to talk with Krennic. As a matter of fact, Galen never really wants to talk to anyone. It makes for a difficult novel when your main protagonist is essentially a recluse.
The other main characters are Lyra and Jyn, the wife and child of Galen Erso. As predominantly the only two females in the story (there is one other one but she plays a very minor role) you would hope that they have a good chunk of the storyline. However, that’s not really the case. Although in the story a lot, Jyn is a baby/toddler through the majority of it and therefore doesn’t really play a major role. And Lyra, although the wife and sometimes partner to Galen, is often relegated to background status. She’s always there but not really doing much. She’s a pain in Krennic’s side, but I never feel strongly for her. I wish she got to DO more. Or do much of anything for that matter. But I guess she’s not much worse off than any of the other characters. I never really FEEL for any of them. Personally, as I read this I’m just biding my time to see how we end up where we are at the beginning of Rogue One. Which we do find out and I’m generally pleased with how we got there.
Catalyst, in association with the Tarkin novel (also by Luceno), have reproduced essentially what the Death Star novel tried to do in the old EU/Legends universe. The goal of Death Star was to combine all the disparate parts of the various Death Star lore introduced across role playing games, short stories, video games, and others of the ilk, into one story that cleans up the story and retcons all of them into making sense together. Luckily, Catalyst has a much smaller pool of stories to integrate together. The canon stories about the Death Star are mostly from the main seven movies, the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoon shows, the Tarkin novel, and most importantly Rogue One, where major plot threads for Catalyst originated and germinated from. And while Death Star was a rather uninteresting book that is frequently forgotten in the plethora of Legends novels, Catalyst reinvents the story to something at least much more interesting.
As the story comes to a close, I feel the urge to actually sit and read the remaining chapters. This is a feeling that has eluded me for a good chunk of the book. I just didn’t really care all that much. Maybe it was because I had only seen Rogue One once as of the reading of this book (I know, I know, I’m a bad Star Wars fan) but the Krennic-Erso plot just wasn’t that interesting to me. On top of the main plotline, the author weaves in a plotline focusing on Tarkin, which makes sense given his importance to the Death Star project, and a smuggler named Has Obbitt, which left me baffled for the amount of time that was devoted to him in the latter third of the novel. I kept wondering, why? Yes, it ends up making sense in the long run, but still, why?
The novel ends rather abruptly, shortly after the flashback scene from Rogue One. This is the scene where Jyn is remembering a conversation with her parents and Krennic in a Coruscant apartment. Afterwards the book ends with a teaser page that the story continues in the novelization of Rogue One. This advertisement could be justification for the abrupt ending of the novel, however, I get the feeling I don’t have the complete story (which I know I don’t). At least with the Death Star novel, I got the construction of the Death Star all the way up to A New Hope. Here they cut me off two or so years after Revenge of the Sith, with the promise of a continued story in another novel.
Overall, the story isn’t bad. If you were to sit down you could chug through it pretty quickly. But I just felt the story itself was kind of ‘meh’ and I could have done better spending my time reading something else. It also felt like half of a book with the Rogue One novelization taking the place of the other half. Perhaps I’ll like the sequel better, which is what I’m off to do now. Just after I watch Rogue One again.