Review: Star Wars: Catalyst by James Luceno

Posted by DarkChaplain at 12/03/2016
For years, the Clone Wars have raged across the galaxy. Countless worlds have been ensnared in the conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Separatist army led by the devious Sith Lord Count Dooku. While rumors spread that the Separatists are nearing completion of a superweapon, fear grips the Republic. In response, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine has tasked a secret team of researchers with perfecting a battle station for the Republic: The Death Star.
While I am not yet sure if I'll run into cinema for Star Wars: Rogue One, I certainly wanted the prequel novel (to the prequel movie, heh?) under my belt. I wasn't sure what to expect from the book, but am quite pleased with it.

The Story:
"For years, the Clone Wars have raged across the galaxy. Countless worlds have been ensnared in the conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Separatist army led by the devious Sith Lord Count Dooku. While rumors spread that the Separatists are nearing completion of a superweapon, fear grips the Republic. In response, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine has tasked a secret team of researchers with perfecting a battle station for the Republic: The Death Star."

The Review:
Star Wars: Catalyst is a relatively slow novel. It kicks off during the Clone Wars and spans about 4-5 years from then until after where Revenge of the Sith leaves off. There aren't many action/battle scenes in the book, which I loved. Instead this book focuses on the Erso family's personal relationship drama, orbiting Galen Erso's scientific pursuits in researching crystals to provide a powerful new energy resource to the galaxy. The antagonist of the story comes in the form of Orson Krennic, a driven, highly ambitious official in the Republic/Empire's weapons research group - and an old friend of Galen Erso.

Galen and Lyra Erso are, for all intents, pacifists. They want nothing to do with the war against the Separatists, and have no desire to see Galen's research abused to create terrifying weapons. So it is up to Krennic to manipulate, lie and scheme, and create the perfect circumstances for Galen to act to his tune and provide the results and theory for him to apply to creating the iconic Death Star laser. Galen seems pretty oblivious to what is going on, whereas his wife, Lyra, is suspicious of Krennic all throughout, and attempts to steer her husband in the right direction. A lot of the book thus focuses on both Krennic and Lyra working against one another behind Galen's back - which isn't too difficult as he gets utterly absorbed by his research in many instances.

Entwined with the drama unfolding are the Erso's young daughter Jyn, who we know to be the protagonist in Rogue One, and a dressellian smuggler named Has, who is exploited by Krennic to create opportunities for planetary exploitation to aid the Death Star's construction. I liked his role in the book a lot, especially as he grows closer to the Ersos and turns from puppet to rebelling against Krennic. I am actually sad that he doesn't seem to be in Rogue One, as he worked very well for the story and would fit well into the rag-tag group of rebels, one of which is actually featured in Has' storyline.

Since James Luceno also wrote the great novel Tarkin, you can expect the Moff to make an appearance or five here. We know he is going to oversee the Death Star project, and has been involved in it all along, but that puts him into direct rivalry with Orson Krennic. I originally feared Krennic to be a Tarkin stand-in for the movie, a new face filling the older character's shoes. Instead, the two are significantly different, one being all-in on the Emperor's plans of order for the galaxy, the other selfish and in for only his own advancement, not caring one iota about the galaxy at large or the skeletons in his closet. Seeing these two pitched against one another and their schemes to weaken the other's position pan out, often through the involvement of Mas Amedda, Galen and Has, was cool and satisfying to me.

In general though, this book is high on subterfuge and character drama, with almost no weapons fired besides a few scenes. The Erso family is front and center, offering a plot full of love and understanding but also a sense of sadness as Krennic tears into the relationship with his lies. Jyn, being just a small child, still turned out to be a great character for what scenes she has, and felt like a believable child to me. But in the end, she feels more like a connecting piece between Galen and Lyra, and their friends, than a character of her own. She is used to full effect, but it isn't her story, but her parents'. It will still add a lot to her appearance in Rogue One, though, and I wouldn't want to miss out on that.
To elevate the book a little further, there is a lot of added context to the Republic's transition to the Empire, various characters' roles and the way the general population views the changes and rumors, while trying to continue on with their lives as more restrictions are implemented.

However. If you want lightsaber fights, Star Destroyer action and bounty hunters, you'll be disappointed. It isn't that kind of book. Its strength are the way it expands on the setting, the genuine relationship of the Ersos, the under-the-table schemes and rivalries, not how many stormtroopers fail to kill the protagonists. It does the job it set out to do well.
Still, there was a little something that I felt missing from the book. I still cannot pinpoint what it is, but it made the difference between an consistently enjoyable and engaging book and one that absolutely wowed me. Maybe it is the lack of big twists for the reader, since we follow Krennic's duplicity and his ideas straight away. Maybe it is simply that the novel plays it a little tame with its methods. Or maybe it is simply that the fate of the Ersos was already telegraphed by Rogue One trailers.

Whatever it is, it simply made the difference between a damn good novel that I enjoyed coming back to and one that blew me away. Either way, Catalyst is a recommended read for anybody invested in Star Wars, especially the new canon under Disney's reign. If you're planning to watch Rogue One, I'd advise you to read this book as well, preferably first, so you can get the full perspective on the characters. You won't regret it.

Star Wars: Catalyst on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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