Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016 by Jacob Hall
James Luceno‘s new novel Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel has to fill a very specific gap in the Star Wars timeline – it’s a prequel to a prequel, while also being a sequel to the prequel trilogy.
Specifically, it explores the backstory of key characters from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, following them as they survive the Clone Wars and the rule of the newly formed Galactic Empire. Even more specifically, it tells the stories of Galen Erso, a genius scientist manipulated into helping build the Death Star, and Orson Krennic, the vicious Imperial commander in charge of building the new moon-sized super-weapon.
If you plan to read Catalyst, this article is not for you. It’s a pretty good book, albeit in a “for dedicated Star Wars fans only” kind of way. It’s brisk. It’s fun. It’s full of little details that will please and intrigue the already initiated. But if you’re a more casual fan, the kind of person who wants to know the backstory of various Rogue One characters before you see the movie but don’t want to actually read a Star Wars novel, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about Catalyst.
The Strategic Advisory Cell
Catalyst begins with the Clone Wars in full swing, roughly a year after the events of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. While the Jedi are frequently mentioned and characters like Chancellor Palpatine and Count Dooku play important roles in the background, none of them actually appear in the book, with the action driven entirely by those working directly on the Republic’s top secret battle station project.
The weapon that will eventually become know as the Death Star is initially cooked up in a committee that hides behind an innocuous title: the Strategic Advisory Cell, a group of 150 influential politicians, scientists, and military commanders who meet in secret on the capital planet of Coruscant with one goal – complete the construction of this mammoth super-weapon before Count Dooku and his Separatist forces can complete one of their own. Catalyst never delves into what followers of Star Wars already know: there is no second battle station and Count Dooku and Palpatine are secretly on the same side.
It’s at a meeting of the Strategic Advisory Cell that we first meet Lt. Commander Orson Krennic, the ambitious former engineer in charge of the actual building of the battle station and it’s here that he realizes there is only one man who can actually create a weapon powerful enough to make it a true military threat: Galen Erso.
Before he was a (slightly eccentric) genius scientist with a specialization in using crystals to create energy, Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikkelsen in the Rogue One film) was a child prodigy born on the backwater planet of Grange. His parents supported his innate intelligence and desire to learn and he was eventually accepted into the Republic’s Futures Program, where he honed his skills, befriended a fellow student named Orson Krennic, and fell in love with a woman named Lyra.
When Catalyst begins, Galen is working for the Zerpen corporation on the planet Vallt, using crystals to generate energy with the longterm goal of low-cost, renewable energy for the entire galaxy. And while he knows there’s a war on, he’s a pacifist and a conscientious objector. Galen has chosen to remain neutral, even as the Clone Wars reach Vallt and he’s captured, alongside a very pregnant Lyra, and taken prisoner by Separatist forces.
After many months in prison, the Erso family is rescued as part of a daring Republic operation led by Lt. Commander Orson Krennic, who has a message for his old school chum. Before taking Galen back to Coruscant, he swings by his home planet of Grange, which is the site of an ongoing battle between Republic and Separatist forces. Horrified by seeing his home world in flames, Galen begins to doubt his neutrality, putting him on a very dark path… and walking him right into the hands of his so-called friend, Krennic.
Before he was the secret coordinator of the Special Weapons Group and personally overseeing the construction of the battle station that will one day be the Death Star, Orson Krennic (played by Ben Mendelsohn in Rogue One) was a member of the Republic’s Corps of Engineers. But overseeing the construction and renovation of buildings throughout Coruscant was not enough for this ambitious young man – he sees himself as destined for great things and will lie, cheat, and manipulate to get through any door, change any mind, and coerce any victim to do his bidding. Unlike the shy, soft-spoken Galen Erso, Krennic is a man about town and a natural socialite, capable of working a room like a natural politician. He never directly injures and kills anyone during the events of Catalyst, but far too many people are harmed thanks to his machinations. His words, and his basic lack of empathy, are as powerful as a legion of Stormtroopers.
Naturally, Krennic arranges the rescue of Galen, Lyra, and the newborn Jyn not because he wants to assist an old friend, but because he knows his old school mate is the only person in the galaxy who can build a weapon worthy of the time, money, and energy being put into his battle station’s construction. But Krennic is a smart guy and knows that Galen would never agree to join the project if asked – he’ll have to make the decision himself. Thus the rescue attempt, which immediately puts Galen in Krennic’s debt. Thus the trip to Grange, to show Galen that his own people were suffering. That’s only the beginning, though, as Krennic quietly has Galen accused of espionage and encourages the Zerpen corporation to not rehire their lost scientist, putting pressure on his family and deliberately limiting his options. After taking a job far below his talents and barely surviving a Separatist attack, Galen finds himself officially trapped in Krennic’s web, ready to join his old buddy on “Project Celestial Power,” entirely unaware that his old friend has maneuvered him to this place and that his groundbreaking energy research is being weaponized in a different facility.