Star Wars: Catalyst - Review
If you have watched 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story', you are most likely to notice the palpable and matured storm raging underneath the interactions between Director Orson Krennic, Galen Erso and his wife, Lyra Erso, in the first act. Jumping right into the peak of relationships between these characters to flag off the film is by any means is a risky move, as you tend to get lost in the here and now of the film's timeline. But this is another ingenuity of 'Rogue One' that is mostly overlooked. You realize immediately that these three characters have a history with one another that is not enlightened by any sort of prelude in the film itself.
I speak from my personal experience, as I watched 'Rogue One' without any prior knowledge of the events that led to the first act. Enter James Luceno's 'Star Wars: Catalyst'. Luceno's latest venture into Star Wars lore offers a massive network of interconnecting dots that serves as an essential overture for the film's first scenes that focus on Krennic, Galen, and Lyra.
The Quieter Side of War
In a nutshell, Catalyst transports you to the hidden side of war and gives you a microscopic point of view of the players that are responsible for the fluctuating states of peace and war. Beneath the multiple layers that constitute the hostility between the Jedi and Sith and its macroscopic interpretations as the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War, mere mortals and humanoids species contribute to the war efforts with responsibilities just as important as a general's role in the battlefield.
One of the strong points of 'Catalyst' is its ability to focus on a narrative that is more grounded in reality. Or at least, a reality that is closer to Star Wars' definition of reality. Instead of Jedi, Sith and swashbuckling shows of the Force as you might expect from a Star Wars fanfare, Catalyst has its spotlight trained on ordinary beings who are gifted with extraordinary talent and authority. Amidst a background of normal routine, the characters' decisions and actions add up with one another that ultimately gives shape to the state of the galaxy which they are a part of. The themes of deception and betrayal are written all over in Catalyst. In fact, I found that it's quite impossible to go through a single chapter without encountering a slight trace of them. On the other hand, the themes of romance and honest relationships come in a scarce quantity in Catalyst. Except for the love letter that Galen sends to pregnant Lyra while they are incarcerated and a smuggler's change of heart, nothing else in Catalyst made me resonate with the good side of human nature.
A Catalyst for Trivia
Catalyst aims to elucidate the early relationship between Galen and Krennic before what they come to be in 'Rogue One'. But another worthy note to be made of this novel is the depth and dedication of Luceno's storytelling. There were times when I felt like flipping through pages of an encyclopedia instead of a novel, which is a huge added-value to satisfy my insatiable thirst for Star Wars facts and trivia. The history of the Death Star project is mostly covered that spans from the Clone Wars era until the rise of the Galactic Empire. I learned a great deal about the properties of kyber crystals, its potential power and its sacrosanctity with the Jedi Order. Geonosians' structure of caste and their outlook on life and death are explained through Krennic's dialogue with Poggle the Lesser. The term 'Legacy World' made its debut in this novel, which plays a central role in the Death Star project. I could go on and on about the valuable intel that I picked up from this novel alone, but that would defeat the purpose of this review.
In most cases, kybers are brought to the surface by seismic activity - movements along slippage fault lines, and typically only when an oceanic plate is sliding against a continental plate. But even then the movement has to be horizontal. The crystals rise, gathering impurities or other minerals along the way. That's why it has always been said of kybers that they are more often grown than mined.— Galen Erso, on the origins of kyber crystals
The Spiraling Relationship of Krennic - Ersos
Reading Catalyst is like reading the obituary of Krennic - Ersos relationship in their better days. The dynamic chemistry between Galen and Krennic comprises the crux of the novel. Their connection goes way back to their adolescent years when both of them were drafted into the Republic Futures Program, which is akin to a scholarship scheme that is reserved for the cream of the crop of the galaxy. It wouldn't take much to discern the difference in Krennic's and Galen's personalities. Galen is the archetype character of a prodigy who excels in academic endeavors and prefer to withdraw to a state of contemplation in isolation. Being an ambivert, Galen chooses to be part of circles that vibrate with his frequency and has a hard time reaching out to the ladies.
Krennic, on the other hand, is a street-smart extrovert who knows a thing or two about being the life of parties and getting the ladies. Having an innate talent of psychological profiling boosted Krennic's ability to thrive in the throat-cutting nature of politics, which is an alien world for a man of Galen's personality. It just makes sense to have Galen settles into an academician's life and for Krennic to be recruited into the Republic Corps of Engineer and subsequently drafted into the top-secret Republic Special Weapons Group.
Violence is hardwired into most of us and there's no eliminating the impulse - not with an army of stormtroopers or a fleet of Star Destroyers. That's why we've embarked on a path to a different solution. We have a chance to forge a peace that will endure for longer than the Republic was in existence.— Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic, justifying the application of superlaser to maintain peace
The third force in the Krennic - Ersos relationship is Lyra, the wife of Galen and the mother of Jyn who leads the ragtag rebellion crew in 'Rogue One'. Lyra plays a major role in the novel as the moral compass for Galen, Krennic and the others in her vicinity. Her belief in the sanctity of the Force keeps her grounded to pure intentions and goodwill, although sometimes her intentions for the greater good put her on a collision course with her husband and Krennic. Whenever the scale between Galen and Krennic is tipped heavily to the latter, you can count on Lrya to counter the imbalance in making sure that her family will come to no harm from Krennic's devious schemes. Smart, independent, and fiercely protective of her family are the qualities of Lyra that will definitely qualify her as one of the female role models in this modern age of Star Wars. Had she been alive in 'Rogue One' script, I can bet that Lyra will be the most formidable foe that Krennic has ever faced instead of Tarkin and the Rebel Alliance. That is the ultimate measure of Lyra's indomitable strength and spirit.
If Tarkin is in it, You Know it's Going to be Good
'Catalyst' boast an impressive dramatis personae of established Star Wars characters and new ones as well. Has Obbit is a contender for memorable characters among the new faces besides Krennic, Galen, and Lyra. Starting off as a regular Joe-smuggler, Has goes through moment after moment of trials as a result of his involuntary participation in Krennic's web of deception. A revelation from his trip with Lyra is one of his best moments, which may be for the best for his own good and the galaxy. Saw Gerrera leaves behind a significant mark in the novel which is more impactful than his cameo in 'Rogue One'. In the absence of the Rebel Alliance and its famous members, Saw gives the impression that he is the ideal hero of insurgency against the Empire that the galaxy deserves. Which is a fact that is not entirely true if you are familiar with his exploits as the leader of Onderon rebels during the Clone Wars. 'Rogue One' reinforces the unique problem with Saw's radical approach in fighting the Empire during the exchange of lines between Jyn and Mon Mothma. Unfortunately, other new characters don't leave lasting impression to me, as they are only there to serve as minor links to drive the narrative forward.
The biggest nods to the Prequel and Original Trilogy come in the forms of Vice Chair/Grand Vizier Mas Amedda and Grand Moff Tarkin. Luceno did a brilliant job by weaving the significance of these two men into the fabric of Krennic's scheme to construct the Death Star and climbing the ranks of Imperial hierarchy. While Krennic has no problem pushing Amedda around and cultivating a positive relationship with the Chagrian, the same cannot be said about Krennic's relationship with Tarkin. Hats off to Luceno for staying true to his version of the Grand Moff from his previous masterpiece, 'Tarkin'. Even Sentinel Base, which is a big part of 'Tarkin', makes a cameo in Catalyst. It's fun to witness Krennic's plan to entrap Tarkin going through its motions, but honestly, even without going through the details, you can tell right away which one of these Imperial hotshots will come out on top. An ingenuity with Catalyst that I really admire is how you will be compelled to empathize with Krennic in 'Rogue One', especially after the appropriation of the Death Star project by Tarkin. It's amazing how much emotional weight can be imparted to the famous CGI-Tarkin scene in 'Rogue One' if you can appreciate the amount of sweat and blood that Krennic has invested into the Death Star project over the years.
Ready the in-close batteries. It'll be a cold day in hell when the Empire has to be provoked into taking preemptive action.— Grand Moff Tarkin, preparing for battle
The length to which Luceno dived into the details of politics, bureaucracies and Death Star technology in Catalyst stays true to Luceno's past signatures in Star Wars literature. I have to admit that sometimes I did face difficulties in comprehending Luceno's prose in the past, but this time around the pacing of the narrative is easier to latch on. Having a solid grasp of the events in the Clone Wars and in the early days of the Galactic Empire is a major leverage, as it helped me to appreciate the narrative in a greater deal by being able to look at the whole story from a third-person view. All things considered, Catalyst is a worthy page-turner in the list of Luceno's Star Wars, besides 'Darth Plagueis' and 'Tarkin' which are my personal favorites. It didn't take much effort to visualize the vivid details of the various planets, the appearance of characters, the chain reaction of events and the complicated mechanics of Death Star main weaponry.
So, the obvious million dollar question is...should you read this book? As I have mentioned in the beginning of this review, I didn't have the chance to go through Catalyst before I saw 'Rogue One'. But it didn't stop me from being pulled into the film and enjoying every minute of it. Even after I had flipped the final page of Catalyst, I would say that it's not an essential read to appreciate 'Rogue One'. There's no substantial backstory on Jyn that will add value to Jyn's journey in 'Rogue One'. Information on the planet Jedha, Scarif, the Death Troopers, and the members of Jyn's crew, all of which are key components of 'Rogue One', are nonexistent in Catalyst.
As a matter of fact, I could only think of two good reasons for you to pick up Catalyst. One, you look forward to history lessons on Krennic - Ersos relationship and the history of the Death Star. Secondly, as a veteran Star Wars fan, you have an obligation to explore every nooks and crannies of the vast Star Wars universe. That being said, I wouldn't recommend Catalyst to casual Star Wars fans and the general audience as it doesn't serve well as an entry point into the larger Star Wars universe that exists outside the seven trilogy films and 'Rogue One'.