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.
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
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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