Star Wars Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
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.
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on the horizon, Del Rey has released a prequel book, Catalyst, that gives fans an introduction to key new characters from the film and how they came to be in their situation. Where it succeeds in giving excellent setup and neat connections, it struggles to find its own story. Come inside to check out my full review!
Rogue One will introduce audiences to a plethora of new characters as they journey to fight the Empire and steal the Death Star plans. While the cast is certainly broad, we know the primary character is Jyn Erso and, as we've learned from the trailers/TV spots so far, her father was integral in the creation of the Empire's super weapon and there's some connection between them and the new villain, Director Orson Krennic.
It's this connection that Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel explores and puts all of its focus onto. So if you're going into Catalyst looking for introductions to other characters like Cassian Andor, Baze, or Donnie Yen's Chirrut you're out of luck. That's okay, however, as you're given a lot of extra set-up that gives Star Wars fans a behind the scenes look at everything that went into creating the Death Star.
Before I dive into my review, I'm going to preface with a quick spoiler warning...but not in the way you probably think. As I always have, I'm going to be keeping this review spoiler free. Where the warning comes in, is if you want to go into Rogue One entirely blind...you may want to read this AFTER you've seen the movie. While the book obviously doesn't give away any plot from the movie itself (it's set nearly a couple decades before Rogue One happens), but shows off some interesting connections that could impact your viewing of the movie.
Connecting the Dots
Some of these connections are really neat. After reading Catalyst and going back to some of the Rogue One trailers, there were many moments I felt were enhanced due to what I learned from the book. In this way, Catalyst makes the case for being essential reading for the movie. Not because I think the explanations will be necessary to enjoying the film, but it seems that I will enjoy certain aspects on a deeper level because of it.
Far and away, the best thing about Catalyst are the connections the book makes. I'm not talking just about how it ties into the upcoming movie either. Catalyst does an impressive job of connecting the Star Wars Prequels, Clone Wars cartoon, and the Original Trilogy all while feeling cohesive and clear.
The story starts off smack in the middle of the Clone Wars, showing how the pacifist Galen Erso is trying to avoid the conflict between the Republic and Separatists, while Krennic ruthlessly climbs his way up the ranks within Palpatine's circle. Because of this setting, we get some interesting name drops from the Prequels themselves, as well as a good helping of nods to the Clone Wars cartoon series (a LOT of them actually). As Catalyst moves forward in time through the end of the Clone Wars and rise of the Empire, the connections just keep coming with the backdrop of the Death Star being built thrown in to boot.
I'm impressed with how well it came together in terms of those connections. The amount of name-drops, allusions to cartoon plot-threads, and more could have easily become a tangled mess, especially to those who may not have watched the series. Instead, Luceno manages to weave all of these things together in a way that not only makes sense, but is presented simply enough to be easy to understand. If you haven't watched the show, the allusions aren't explicit enough to leave you in the dark, or hinder your overall experience, but if you're a fan of The Clone Wars they're sure to make you smile.
As far as connecting to the Original Trilogy is concerned, Catalyst does an incredible job of showing just how much work the Empire put into developing the Death Star. The sheer scale of the undertaking is brought to light, giving clear insight into exactly WHY it took so long to bring the battle station into operation (since we saw it's husk at the end of Revenge of the Sith, but wasn't completed for another 20 years or so).
While the Death Star on the screen impressed audiences by its appearance, Catalyst will give you a new respect for the massive space station. There's a lot of technical aspects sprinkled throughout the novel which are complex enough to be science fiction, but explained in a manner that leaves you in awe. You can see how the engineers, run by Krennic, are struggling to do something that's never been done before. When they figure out one part of it, you see how the rest comes together.
It's very much a learn as you go process, and Catalyst makes that abundantly clear. It provides a firm explanation to fans on why it took so long to build the first Death Star, while showing why it was quicker to build the second one in just a few years (something stickler fans often point out). All the hard work of figuring out how to do it was done with the first Death Star, they knew what to do the second time around.
It's one of James Luceno's greatest skills as an author. He can take a bunch of convoluted ideas, with many moving parts, and somehow connect them together all while presenting them in an understandable way. Catalyst is the epitome of that, and by the time you finish the story you'll walk away feeling you understand all the background stuff.
Looking for a Story
The problem, however, is Catalyst feels like nothing more than a few hundred pages of explanation. There's no real plot to speak of and it flows more like a series of events from one into another. There's no connecting plot point that everything moves towards. Aside from the general "let's build a Death Star" theme, none of the characters have any real goals or things to accomplish specifically in this story.
The characters (Erso's especially) are just sort of there while things happen around them. Sure, we get to see how they react to certain circumstances, but that's also part of the issue. Everything feels reactionary, rather than a story moving forward and doing it's own thing.
In a lot of ways, Catalyst feels like a Rogue One prologue. It's all setup and introduction, without providing any substance of it's own. The story didn't take any big steps forward, with real conflict, until the last couple chapters, which means we won't get an actual conclusion until Rogue One is in theaters. It's not all bad, as I said the amount of background and explanation has already enhanced footage from Rogue One for me, but it really keeps the book from feeling complete all on its own.
In some ways, it feels like exactly the kind of book Star Wars fans wanted before The Force Awakens hit theaters; pure explanation of what's been going on leading up to the new story. It's good explanation, don't get me wrong, but it comes off as a history book rather than a new story. The characters are interesting enough and I'm interested in seeing more about them, but I wish they would have been given a more complete story in which to thrive.
* To be honest, it sounds like I’m coming down kinda harsh on Catalyst, but that’s simply because it had a lot more potential. It’s solid writing, good characters, and excellent set up, but it didn’t go anywhere. I thoroughly LOVED it while I was reading, and I breezed through it in a couple days; it’s when I sat and thought more about it, the issues really stood out.
* I loved how young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones’ character in the movie) is portrayed. It feels like one of the most accurate portrayals of a toddler in a Star Wars book.
* The internal politics within the Empire remain a neat element of this time period, and seeing how Krennic tries to play “the game” is a lot of fun.
* The interior of the book is one of the coolest Del Rey has done with Star Wars. It’s not plain, and features art/inserts at the right points to really make it stand out. I hope they continue with this moving forward.
In Search of its Own Story
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel has a lot to offer in terms of background material and is one of the best books to make connections between the Prequels and cartoon series with the rest of the new canon. The way it sets things up is impressive and offers some much needed insight into new characters and ideas from the films, but it stumbles in trying to find a story of its own.
Catalyst is so concerned with giving in depth explanations and setting things up, it fails to give the characters a plot to move them forward. The result feels like something more akin to a history/resource book than a fully fleshed out novel. As a companion piece to Rogue one, it's pretty great, but as a standalone novel, I can't see myself coming back to it.