Thursday, January 5, 2017

CATALYST: the prequel to Rogue One

I don't often get to go to bookstores these days, but on a visit to a slightly larger smoke than my current home town, I bought a copy of Catalyst, a Star Wars story written by James Luceno.

At the time (several weeks ago), all of my fellow contributors to Spacefreighters (except Donna) were hangin' out for Rogue One as much as I was, so this book jumped into my hands without even asking. It is marketed as "a Star Wars Rogue One" novel, and it is the back story of the Death Star development, Jyn Erso and her parents, and a number of the folk we get to know in the new movie.

The story revolves around Galen Erso, a brilliant physicist whose skills are essential for completion of the weapons system, but he is a principled pacifist. Orson  Krennic, the white-uniformed villain  in charge of the secret weapons project, needs Erso, and he'll do anything to gain his cooperation. We all know that in the end the Death Star is completed, and that is it destroyed by a well organized rebel group. As well as the Death Star, this novel also introduces the first stirrings of the rebellion. At the end of the story, Jyn is still a small child. 

I'll have to be honest. Catalyst isn't exactly huge on excitement and page-turning. To some extent I think that's the author's style. I've read one other of his Star Wars novels and he's not a favourite. Like (IMO) far too many of the Star Wars books, it's written in omniscient. We get POV from Orson Krennic, Moff Tarkin, Hals Obitt (smuggler), Galen Erso (Jyn's dad) and Lyra Erso (Jyn's mum). To be sure, Krennic is well-drawn as a clever manipulator with an eye on the main game - himself. He and Erso had been friends and Krennic uses the friendship to coerce Erso into working on his project. He tells the scientist that what he's actually building with kyber crystals is a device capable of powering whole planets at low cost. The parallel to Oppenheimer, who was part of the team which developed the atomic bomb, is evident. To quote the Wikipedia article, 'Oppenheimer remarked later that it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."' Perhaps the difference is Oppenheimer knew where his project was going. Erso does not. Luceno did his homework on using crystals. For those interested in the specifics, there's some detail in how the power source actually works.

The tension between Krennic and Tarkin is excellent, as each maneuvers to take over ultimate control of the Death Star project (it's never called the Death Star, by the way). Galen is a driven man who rarely has his head in the real world. I liked his wife, Lyra, who is much less likely to be manipulated. Jyn, it seems, is very much like her mother, even at that early age. Catalyst finishes a few years before Rogue One kicks off.

The book didn't keep me up reading at night, but I feel it was worth my time. I think when I saw Rogue One the background story was well worthwhile, adding three dimensional detail which is so often lacking from movies.

I'd give it 3 and a half.


4 comments:

  1. Interesting review, Greta. I picked up Lost Stars as a companion to The Force Awakens and had somewhat the same reaction. It was well-written and provided interesting insights into the Empire and the rebellion, but it didn't really grab my full attention. Still it was a good story and worth the read. It sounds like Catalyst is, too. I may have to pick it up sometime this year when I need another Star Wars fix.

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    1. Sounds about right, Laurie. In stark contrast to the book version of Rogue One. I post a review of that next week. I might take a look at Lost Stars. Didn't know about that one.

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    2. I'll look forward to your review. :)

      LOST STARS is considered a TFA book, but it takes place before and leading up to the destruction of the first Death Star and the aftermath. The hero and heroine are childhood friends from an outlier planet who end up on opposite sides (don't think that's a spoiler since it's in the blurb.) It's a good story and a romance, though IMHO the romance could have been better fleshed out and compelling with the monumental conflict. It also brings new meaning to some of the visual landmarks on Jakku.

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    3. Oh-ho. Then I'll definitely look that one up. I did take a peek at Aftermath, Chuck Wendig's book set after the battle of Yavin. But I passed - on the writing style. I'm hangin' out for Thrawn, though.

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