Review: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno


Just a month ahead of Rogue One releasing in theaters, the prequel novel, Catalyst, has hit bookshelves. Does it bode well or ill for the spinoff movie?

Apparently, Disney and Lucasfilm looked at their massive Journey to The Force Awakens book campaign and thought it slightly excessive. Instead of multiple books, all meant to built up hype for the new Star Wars film, Rogue One gets, well, one book. That book is Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, from James Luceno of Tarkin and Darth Plagueis fame.

On the one hand, the book fills in a lot of blanks about what to expect from Rogue One. On the other, it heavily concerns itself with weapon building and science. (Read: lots of lasers.) This may not turn off all readers, though.

Overall, we give Catalyst 3.5/5 stars on the strength of its general plots, effective use of multiple viewpoints, and for providing plenty of insights going into Rogue One. On the other hand, the pacing sometimes suffers from so many viewpoints, and the more technical aspects of the story may cause some readers’ eyes to glaze over.

The Good

The book does not actually focus on Jyn Erso much — she’s a child throughout the entire novel. Instead, it fills and in more about her parents, Galen and Lyra, as well as Orson Krennic. All four characters will actually appear in the film. Catalyst does a fine job of explaining the tangled threads between all of them. In fact, Krennic and Lyra effectively read as romantic rivals for Galen Erso, despite Lyra already being married to the man. To be slightly more accurate, you could say that Krennic wants to woo Galen’s brain, and Lyra wants the whole package.

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Lyra and Krennic’s viewpoints were actually both engaging, with Krennic’s manipulations taking center stage while Lyra focuses primarily on uncovering the layers of secrets surrounding her husband’s new job. In fact, all of the narrative threads ended up being engaging. There are just a lot of them.

Additionally, intriguing the reader had to be a main goal, and it accomplishes that. Let’s be honest. If you pick Catalyst up, you’re likely already into Star Wars beyond the level of a casual fan. You may have concerns about Rogue One. Putting this book into Luceno’s hands may have helped reassure you, and the book itself will reassure you further. It has all the trappings we’ve come to expect, including lots of appearances from Governor Tarkin and other already-canon characters, but the focus changes the feeling of the story. It appears this may be a dry run for Rogue One itself, and if so, I think I’m fine with it.

The Not-So-Good

If you’ll recall, building the first Death Star took a long time. Revenge of the Sith shows the skeleton, and, some 19 years later in A New Hope, it’s finally completely operational. Catalyst also takes a long time, because it has to explain a lot of the research that went into the Death Star’s earth-shattering kaboom laser. The parts which focus on the science of the superlaser drag on. Though it’s not necessary to have a level of understanding beyond “harnessing these sources is hard”, the jargon can build up at points.

“Catalyst also takes a long time, because it has to explain a lot of the research that went into the Death Star’s earth-shattering kaboom laser.”

Additionally, because of the multiple viewpoints, the pacing can feel like it jumps around. Luceno covers several years in the course of the novel, because Jyn starts the book out as an infant. Her growing up marks passing time effectively, but because she’s not the primary focus, a reader may get the sense that things happen far faster than they actually do.

This final issue happens to be a minor one. The book also involves planets and moons that have real-world names like Samovar, Salient One, and Epiphany. It feels a little strange, especially compared to other planet names like Hypori and Coruscant.

The Recommendation

If you’ve plans to see Rogue One, you should pick this up. It doesn’t actually spoil anything from the film, but it does provide a lot more context that may deepen your enjoyment of the movie. Prepare for some math, though.

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You can find Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel at your bookseller of choice.