As a busy mom of two kids I find reading to be one of the least relaxing exercises of my free time. It’s impossible to hold a book without my 19-month-old trying to flip the pages continuously (or worse, rip them). When it came to James Luceno’s Catalyst, between hype for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and reading excerpts online, I was determined to finish the book before the movie hits theaters next week.
I decided to skip on a physical copy of Catalyst altogether and picked up the e-book the day it was released. As soon as I dove in, I knew I wasn’t going to have any trouble finishing this book as I have had with some of the other recent offerings in Star Wars publication. It’s tough to nail down what exactly Star Wars “is.” Each person’s interpretation of the universe is subjective, so nailing down how Star Wars looks or feels or reads is no easy feat. Luceno’s effortless descriptions of worlds and species within the Star Wars universe quickly settled me comfortably into an environment that was both familiar and new.
Catalyst begins with Galen Erso’s researching into the power output possibilities of kyber crystals. Kyber crystals have been an important part of Jedi culture and Galen believes the Jedi haven’t gone far enough with their use. Galen and his colleagues believe the crystals could be the source to efficiently powering the entire galaxy. As the story picks up while the Clone Wars are still raging, Galen and his pregnant wife Lyra find themselves caught up in the fray when the world on which they are researching is sold out to the Separatists and an old friend comes to their rescue.
Lieutennant Commander Orson Krennic is an old school pal of Galen’s working on Coruscant for the Corps of Engineers and at the time that he rescues Galen, has been recruited into the Republic’s new super-secret weapons development project. Unsurprisingly, Krennic sees his old friend as a means to make headway in the weapons project and gain favor with the Emperor. The interplay between Krennic and Erso is truly some of the most stunning writing in the book. Krennic is playing the long con and Luceno keeps us as readers always on the brink of screaming and we watch helplessly as Erso falls deeper into his web.
Galen for the most part is written as fairly aloof but not in a standoffish way. He is simply a brilliant scientist often lost in his equations and theories. For this reason, I think Galen is pushed back a bit and the real standout characters overshadow him. In truth Galen is a loving father and husband who struggles to balance his work with family, as many do. Having Mads Mikkelsen cast in the role of Galen Erso before this book’s release helped to add a bit to his voice in the novel.
Lyra Erso, on the other hand, is nowhere near as quiet at her husband and throughout Catalyst, she is always there to bring us back to reality when even as readers we may have fallen under Orson’s spell. When the book shifts into the early era of the Empire after Order 66, Lyra sees the galaxy changing drastically around her and begins to question much of what she once considered safe. It’s Lyra who eventually leads her family to the reality of its situation. It’s also a little harrowing to be reminded occasionally that while turmoil and war affect the galaxy and the Ersos, a very young Jyn is along for the whole ride. Catalyst clearly gives some, if small, context to adult Jyn’s “I rebel” attitude.
The real star of Catalyst, however is Orson Krennic. Krennic’s ability to play both as compassionate friend and conniving manipulator is brilliant writing on Luceno’s part. I personally found the most moving moments in then book to be when Orson has Galen wrapped around his finger and as readers we see Galen begin to fall headfirst into the manipulation. Additionally, Krennic’s personal struggle with making a name for himself within the newly-formed Empire and facing off against detractors like Governor Tarkin and Mas Amedda is a truly interesting interplay of politics and personal grudges. Throughout Catalyst I found myself hoping Krennic both succeeded and failed. Luceno does an excellent job of writing Orson Krennic as that bad guy you love to hate.
Overall I found Catalyst a thoroughly enjoyable time. Thought it doesn’t feature as much action and romance as some other Star Wars novels, the relationship interplay is much more interesting to me and delivered on all levels. Even the completely new characters were well written and fleshed out, unlike some other recent offerings. Has Obitt definitely won me over.
I highly recommend reading Catalyst before you see Rogue One if possible, but I believe checking it out after the film will likely also add a lot to your viewing. It’s important to remember that as important as Krennic and Galen seem to be to Rogue One, in a major film with a cast that size, we likely won’t get the kind of backstory for these characters that’s found in Catalyst. In that respect I consider Catalyst essential reading!
I would rate Catalyst 8.5/10.