BOOK REVIEW – JAMES LUCENO’S CATALYST – A ROGUE ONE NOVEL

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There is a small section of James Luceno’s fine new book Catalyst that represents the book in microcosm. In Chapter 15, entitled On the shoulders of giants, there is a six page segment that gets straight to the heart of the book.

The scene opens with a three and a half year old Jyn Erso interrupting her father’s settling in period to a new research facility. Her parents watch on the display screens as their young daughter plays on a gravboard in a nearby room having run off down the corridor. Galen Erso her father is preoccupied with work, largely oblivious to his wife Lyra, and the security measures which surround his research facility and staff.

Lyra’s inner monologue refers to Galen conveying a mad scientist look, caused by sleepless nights obsessing with, and being distracted by the subject of his research. That research subject is the Kyber crystal. In the scene she warns him quietly of the reverence the late Jedi placed in such crystals which Galen is studying for their energy potential. Galen responds by asserting that the Jedi may have only protected the secrets of the crystals so closely for fear of surrendering their power.

Lyra’s husband’s words echo those used previously by their old student friend, now Galen’s senior officer in the Project Celestial Power, Orson Krennic.

“[The Jedi] doomed themselves by clinging to their outmoded traditions instead of embracing the science of the new age. Think of the good they could have done if they had been willing to share their secrets instead of allowing themselves to be drawn into a war — against their own principles. But they had no choice once they saw their Order threatened by one of their own”

Orson Krennic, Catalyst

Galen goes on to tell Lyra that his research into the Kyber crystals, formerly the sole preserve of the Jedi, “could lead to a dramatic shift in the paradigm”. He tells Lyra, “its not unreasonable to feel threatened…we’ll investigate with judicious care. But who knows maybe one day we will even get to the root of the Force itself”.

Lyra’s thoughts in the passage convey that her husband is now willingly living in a prison of his own making. “Project Celestial Power”, the official Imperial name of the research that will be later weaponized within the Death Star, has consumed him. Lyra’s view of Galen’s circumstances are effectively confirmed in the next paragraph when the reader finds out that the entire moment shared between husband and wife has been watched by Krennic, through secret surveillance channels. The chapter concludes with his ominous conclusion of Krennic that, “just as he’d suspected, Lyra needed to be watched”.

Orson Krennic. He permeates this newest contribution to the new Star Wars Canon. This is his book. Luceno gives us a deep insight into the character who went on to hit our screens in Rogue One.

In doing so the author presents us with a new type of lead Imperial. Krennic is a Star Wars villain for our times. This character isn’t blessed with Thrawn’s penetrating academic analysis, or Tarkin’s cool clinical steeliness, or Vader’s supernatural mysticism and “sorcerer’s ways”. Krennic is a parasite, a largely untalented lowlife whose limited attributes combine a high degree of emotional intelligence with utter ruthlessness, and a level of connivance that will be rewarded within the emerging structures of Palpatine’s government.

He has taken full advantage of the corrupting influence of Palpatine on the Republic, and has used the decay of government and moral institutions to his full advantage. His sole skill is in manipulating and “playing” those that are more gifted than he is. He uses to maximum effect. The roll-call in this book of people used by Krennic in this way is truly remarkable and worth noting.

Krennic effectively manipulates every character he comes across with varying degrees of success. The list includes Galen Erso a man so academically gifted that he is fought over between rival political factions at the highest levels, Mas Amedda (Palpatine’s Vice Chair of the Galactic Senate), and various successful smugglers. Then you effectively have his whole retinue of research staff within the cell that has been arranged for the “project”.

Even old Wilhuff Tarkin isn’t entirely certain of when to resist Krennic’s insidious brand of misinformation. The clinical Tarkin, veteran of the Carrion Plain, is however blessed with the cunning of a predator and can sense something is awry.

Krennic’s success comes in the fact that he always has a little strain of truth running through his lies and deceit. He is a slight of hand merchant, a confident trickster extraordinaire. His talent is that he recognizes his limitations and fills the talent gap with others’ skill. It’s a strategy that has propelled him to the top.

Catalyst as a tale is about the lives of others, those subject to a manipulative regime. Not only Lyra and Galen but their daughter, their colleagues, their fellow citizens, those that will follow them, and those that went before.

Image result for lyra erso

Of all the central characters, it is Lyra that doesn’t buy what Krennic is selling. She consistently has her suspicions as to his motives, she knows something is off about him. She is a much more courageous character than the academic, and lets face it quite selfish, Galen. Her strong traits are embodied within her daughter Jyn in the sequential installment of their story.

Galen himself is academic and cold. His character is used effectively by Luceno to highlight interesting concepts around science and its uses, particularly the point on whether knowledge should be pursued at all costs (the personal toll of the pursuit of knowledge on Galen’s family is significant). Here is a man who is pursuing knowledge for knowledge sake, who is immersed in that quest to a level that means he pays little or no attention to his loved ones.

In the end the pursuit has led to no benefit for him, and no benefit for his family. His talents are corrupted for evil purposes by Krennic, a true bottom feeder who has just been biding his time to snap up the fruits of the Erso’s hardships from the ocean floor.

No wonder Jyn is rebellious coming from that family background and circumstance. We now know that because of her father’s background she was born while he was jailed, has been moved around all over the galaxy, and used as a tool of blackmail by a particularly nasty offshoot of the Imperial military machine.

Luceno’s Catalyst is an interesting story, and is a solid addition to the Star Wars Book shelf. I have read it once and listened to the audiobook twice.

As character studies go I truly enjoyed this work. Reader beware however it is a study of the corrosive influence of Krennic, and as such is a very dark read. I can see myself returning to this book for several further reads, especially as contemporary events unfold.

There is a deep value to this book: I feel that there is a distillation process that will need to be undertaken before I can truly evaluate its full worth.

Save the Dream. Save the Rebellion

Score 9/10

Star Wars — Catalyst — A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno is published under the Century Imprint in the United Kingdom and is available in all good retailers.

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7 Comments

  1. Of all the novels to join the Disney Canon thus far, this is the one I find myself thinking about most often. I thought the story was brilliant and I was impressed with how perfectly it tied to ‘Rogue One’ and the rich, important dimensions it added to the characters in the film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Man, I just can’t get into Catalyst like everyone else. I am a big fan of Luceno but for some reason I just cannot love this book like other people do. That isn’t to say I disliked it by any means, just that I read it and was just left with a “meh.” I think part of it was the sense that I just could not place it in the larger context of the Clone War, I could not experience those parts in connection with the war (as depicted in the animated series).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll grant that; the timeline was difficult to wrap my head around. I ended up distancing myself from the timeline so I could lose myself in the rich characters and the dramatic tension of the story. For me, I’ll maintain this is one of my favorites of the Disney Canon and I love how it tied to ‘Rogue One’…even if it didn’t tie as well as it could to ‘The Clone Wars.’ But I think the Disney Canon’s been hit or miss with connecting to Lucas’s work already so I can take that as par for the course :).

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Catalyst was an intricate and important book to me. I feel it is essential reading for Rogue One (perhaps too essential which is a distinct point). I do acknowledge that in packing in that sense detail it walks a tightrope with a risk of coming across as marginally clinical. For me it navigated that risk and avoided the pitfalls: I can however appreciate how others would feel that the balance struck didn’t rest as well with them.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. While I’m not sure how to fit it in yet, I think that could be an interesting assignment in the Star Wars class I co-teach. I’d like to give students the opportunity to read ‘Catalyst’ and then watch ‘Rogue One’ and write a paper exploring the interplay between the two and how two different mediums can work together so well to tell one larger story.

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  2. Interesting analysis, and I agree on many points. I fall short of characterizing Galen as selfish, however. I believe that he honestly feels he is doing the right thing for his family and the Galaxy. That doesn’t mean he does not somwtimes lapse into the selfish near-sightedness that can befall the genius or highly-specialised academic, but I don’t believe it is his primary characteristic.
    Also, I concur with your comment above that the book may have perhaps been made too essential in the telling of the Rogue One story, as many fans do not actually read the books, so they never really learn the full depth and motivations of the characters– for example, Galen’s noble motivations or Krennic’s escalating machinations, nor the long serpentine twin paths of those two characters. And that’s a shame really, because there’s so much more to the story than what we see unfold on the screen. Thanks for the interesting review and analysis. I have been enjoying your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the kind words. It’s interesting as I had originally read Catalyst prior to seeing Rogue One and my notes highlighted that selfishness in Galen. That sense is definitely tempered by what we see in Rogue One; but even in the early years (when he was pursuing science and Lyra could tell something was off with Krennic and the research situation) I agree that his selfishness was that of the brilliant artist/academic/scientist. That then raises the question of whether we need to judge that persons career achievements separately from his or her family life. Despite the fact that he cares for them, I don’t think that Galen puts them ahead of his obsession with his work. His lack of presence is ultimately more to do with that obsession than selfishness I suppose. He is incapable of allowing anything else to interfere with that as his primary driver (until the end of the book when it’s too late for his family). I see his life as a tragedy brought on by his unique gifts. Very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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