Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: 'Star Wars: Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel'

(C) 2016 Del Rey Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. Jacket design by Scott Biel
On November 15, 2016, Del Rey Books, an imprint of Random House, published Star Wars: Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel. Written by James Luceno (Star Wars: Cloak of Deception and Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader), this 352-page book is the exciting prequel to director Gareth Edwards' Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Lucasfilm's first film of its stand-alone Star Wars Anthology series. 

Released a month before the theatrical debut of Edwards' film and Alexander Freed's novelization (also published by Del Rey), Star Wars: Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel tells how Galen Erso, a brilliant research scientist, is recruited by his friend, Lt. Cmdr. Orson Krennic, to work on Celestial Power, a top secret project for the Galactic Republic. 

It is a time of turmoil in the galaxy. As the Clone Wars flare up across thousands of planetary systems, Erso, a polymath with a special interest in the mysterious and powerful kyber crystals, is an idealist as well as a neutralist. His loyalties lie not with Supreme Chancellor Sheev Palpatine's Republic nor Count Dooku's Confederacy of Independent Systems (aka the Separatists). Rather, Galen is concerned with providing the galaxy's poorer worlds with reliable and inexpensive power generation systems.

What Galen and his pregnant wife Lyra don't know is that Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's government is secretly developing a heavily armored battle station based on "captured" schematics of a similar Separatist superweapon.

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.  - James Luceno, Star Wars: Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel

One of the leaders of the Chancellor's secret Death Star is Orson Krennic, an ambitious officer in the Republic's Corps of Engineers. Before maneuvering himself into the graces of Wilhuff Tarkin and Vice Chancellor Mas Amedda to become the Director of Advanced Weapons Research, Krennic supervised the construction of several government installations on Coruscant. Now, Krennic is in charge of developing the planet-killing main weapon for the embryonic "battle moon" being developed over Geonosis. 

Krennic is not a scientific genius, but his old friend Galen Erso is. But he is a pacifist and not particularly interested in working for either the Republic or the Separatists. Recruiting a man like Galen, Krennic realizes, will require patience, guile, and a perfect set of conditions that will result in a successful recruitment. 

 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.
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 the Republic’s 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.
SEE LESS
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 the Republic’s 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.
SEE LESS
 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 the Republic’s 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.
SEE LESS
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. - Dust jacket blurb, Star Wars: Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel


The novel is divided into three parts:

Part One: Life During Wartime

Part Two: The Pursuit of Peace

Part Three: Dead Reckoning

Catalyst's story takes place in a five-year-long period (22-17 years before the events in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope), beginning with the start of the Clone Wars and ending with Galen, Lyra, and Jyn Erso's escape from Coruscant and self-imposed exile on the remote world of Lah'mu. In essence, it's the backstory to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and explains in great detail the relationship between the idealistic Ersos and their friend-turned-antagonist Orson Krennic. 

Luceno, who worked closely with John Knoll, Gary Whitta, Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, and the Lucasfilm Story Group also populates this canonical novel with prominent Star Wars characters such as Poggle the Lesser, Saw Gerrera, Mas Amedda and Imperial Governor Tarkin, as well as new supporting cast members Has Obitt, Republic operative Matese, and Imperial scientists Reeva Desmene and Sahali. Their destinies are closely tied to what Galen will later code-name Project Stardust - and will shape the future of the galaxy, for good...and ill. 

My Take

I have been a fan of Luceno's Star Wars fiction since I read Cloak of Deception, his 2001 prequel novel to Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace. He won me over with his power to create vivid renditions of such familiar characters as Palpatine, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, and make them come alive on the printed page in all-new original stories that somehow blend in with the films created by George Lucas and his creative heirs. I've read Luceno's Labyrinth of Evil, Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, and Tarkin,too; none of them has let me down. 

Because the author consulted with the team that made Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Catalyst feels like a natural extension of Gareth Edwards' 2016 film. The novel's narrative flows seamlessly from its own narrative track right into the movie; it explains, in great detail, how Krennic was able to get an unwitting Galen to work on the Death Star.  So faithful is the tone of Luceno's writing to what we watched onscreen that fans who saw Rogue One will surely hear the voices of actors Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Valerie Kane (Lyra Erso), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), and Peter Cushing (Wilhuff Tarkin) in their heads when they read Star Wars: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. 

Del Rey published the hardcover edition of Catalyst in November, 2016, as well as the e-book,  abridged and unabridged audiobook editions. On May 2, the publisher will issue the mass paperback edition as well.