Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno, Review by Corinne Donnelly
In the heat of the moment, especially in tumultuous times, it is often difficult to distinguish between right and wrong. As the prequel to Rogue One, Catalyst by James Luceno perfectly captures the saying, “hindsight is 20/20.” Beginning twenty-two years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY), the novel follows Republic strategic advisor, and later Imperial commander, Orson Krennic, as he masterfully manipulates friend, colleague, and scientist Galen Erso into working on his weapons project, the infamous Death Star.
Orson, Galen, and Lyra, the three main characters, narrate chapters to an equal degree, which provides a well-rounded perspective of the fall of the Republic. Where Galen is highly focused on his kyber crystal research, Orson is heavily plotting his ambitious plan to become a high-ranking figure in the new Galactic Empire. Meanwhile, Galen’s wife, Lyra, his equal in intelligence, passion, and determination, spends much of the novel as an activist for the teachings of the Jedi Order. Lyra acts as the moral center of the novel, and her pronounced influence on Galen, as well as her suspicion of Orson drives much of the plot forward.
Since the Rogue One movie concentrates on Galen’s and Lyra’s daughter, Jyn, there is not much time devoted to understanding their choices. Consequently, when the novel focuses on their relationship with each other, as well as Galen’s friendship with Orson, the plot is both illuminating and fascinating. The narrative occasionally diverts into Galen’s research, which entails detailed descriptions of kyber crystals and how they can be synthesized. These technical diversions, while important to a degree, become tiresome. Galen’s dynamic character arc from passionate scientist to Orson Krennic’s pawn also plays out extremely well on the page, and the Erso’s story becomes more heartbreaking when Luceno delves into their eventual active subversion and the dangers they must face both together and apart.
The novel is ripe with incredibly timely themes, all revolving around power and corruption. Heroes are not born, they are made, and both sides think what they are doing is right. While Lyra defies the Empire in her own subtle way, Orson insists he is keeping the galaxy safe by creating a weapon. Meanwhile, Galen spends his time so focused on work that he ignores the many signs pointing to Orson’s selfish and untrustworthy nature. Is rebellion necessary and how does one rebel in a constructive manner? Does willful ignorance do as much harm as acceptance of violence and destruction? None of these questions are fully answered, but they are certainly food for thought.
James Luceno’s Catalyst successfully sets the stage for the beginning of the Rogue One movie, as well as adds some much needed characterization to Jyn’s parents. While the novel is not necessary to read prior to a viewing of the movie, it is an excellent supplement. The deeper themes that the novel addresses are captivating, and while I could do without some of the technical parts of the narrative, they were not altogether pointless. Above all, the novel perfectly reiterates the need for critical thinking and a level head in times of crisis, since it is often difficult to foresee being on the wrong side of history when one is blinded by power.