Rogue One: Catalyst by James Luceno

 

Lauded Star Wars author James Luceno returns to pen an intense tale of ambition and betrayal that sets the stage for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war.

 

As a member of Chancellor Palpatine’s top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a superweapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic’s, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key.

Galen’s energy-focused research has captured the attention of both Krennic and his foes, making the scientist a crucial pawn in the galactic conflict. But after Krennic rescues Galen, his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn, from Separatist kidnappers, the Erso family is deeply in Krennic’s debt. Krennic then offers Galen an extraordinary opportunity: to continue his scientific studies with every resource put utterly at his disposal.

 

While Galen and Lyra believe that his energy research will be used purely in altruistic ways, Krennic has other plans that will finally make the Death Star a reality. Trapped in their benefactor’s tightening grasp, the Ersos must untangle Krennic’s web of deception to save themselves and the galaxy itself.

 

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Catalyst gives you a couple of nice bells & whistles before you start: a cutaway view of the Death Star graces its prefacing pages along with a timeline of the Del Rey books, which will include the upcoming Thrawn novel- whom I’m curious to see how he’ll fit into the canon going forward.

Like a movie or a play, Catalyst is divided into three acts- each one focusing upon a particular aspect of the storyline. You start with the time during and immediately after the war with the Separatists led by Dooku, Act 2 is about establishing the Imperial presence and Act 3 brings us the realization of life under Palpatine's rule- and how these events relate to the construction of a technological terror.

Pacing is a little uneven as it waxes and wanes between all the time spent on Galen’s idiosyncracies and quirks, Has Obitt's conversion from rogue to rebel, Orson’s manipulations of his former comrades, Lyra’s suspicions and constant musings upon the Force… you get the picture. It’s all pieces of the puzzle and bears out on the story, but did slow things down.

Speaking to those characterizations, Luceno did a very good job of them. The conflict is more about character than hyperdrives. At the heart of it all are the people behind the events- who they are and why they’re driven to what they do. From the Vallt rebels who’re just trying to hold onto their planet to the smugglers kicking back at the Wanton Wellspring bar- it’s all about those just trying to survive in the galaxy. Save for a few examples, Galen and company all came across as living, vibrant people. Galen, your typical genius-level scientist who only wants to be left to his research, is critical to the plan but getting- and keeping- him involved is the trick. Orson’s Machiavellian machinations while clever, were just as often very clumsy and his own motives were never really delved into- mostly he was just there to move the plot along. And his Vader-esque moment at the end of the book was unnecessary.

Lyra’s character was confusing. She’s… sorta implied to be an untrained Force-sensitive, yet she never really does anything other than lecture everyone about the Force and lament the fall of the Jedi Order. Palpatine is always referred to and Vader makes a cameo, but I suppose he’s being saved for the next books. Tarkin appears during the second half when construction begins and brings his usual suaveness when dealing with insurgents.

We’re all familiar with the setting, but the story is both old and new- the origins of the Death Star: its conceptualization, planning, engineering, construction, etc. There’s some overlap with, reference to and expansion on events from the Prequel Trilogy- Geonosis, the fate of Poggle the Lesser, the fall of the Jedi & the sudden appearance of Vader, how the Death Star plans were drafted and who acquired them. What I really enjoyed was the exploration of the science behind kyber crystals- their nature, how Jedi might interact with them and the possibility of their possessing a latent sentience. Luceno admits to doing a lot of research on lasers, crystals and synthetic diamonds and it showed.

Luceno, as always, delivers a tightly woven tale from a galaxy far, far away. It gets a little bogged down at times, but more than does the job of helping stage the events of Rogue One.