Thursday, 15 December 2016

'Star Wars: Catalyst', by James Luceno

Title: Star Wars: Catalyst
Author(s): James Luceno
Release Date: 17th November 2016
Publisher: Century
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war. As a member of Chancellor Palpatine’s top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a superweapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic’s, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key.

Galen’s energy-focused research has captured the attention of both Krennic and his foes, making the scientist a crucial pawn in the galactic conflict. But after Krennic rescues Galen, his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn, from Separatist kidnappers, the Erso family is deeply in Krennic’s debt. Krennic then offers Galen an extraordinary opportunity: to continue his scientific studies with every resource put utterly at his disposal. While Galen and Lyra believe that his energy research will be used purely in altruistic ways, Krennic has other plans that will finally make the Death Star a reality. Trapped in their benefactor’s tightening grasp, the Ersos must untangle Krennic’s web of deception to save themselves and the galaxy itself.
 

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In my seemingly never ending quest to catch up with the Star Wars book canon, I could not miss out on the chance to, first, read a novel written by such a big Star Wars name and, second, to learn more about a chapter of the saga that we thought we wouldn't go back to, hand in hand with the release of the standalone film 'Rogue One'.

This novel is a prequel to 'Rogue One', but I was incredibly surprised by the immensity of its scope. It begins roughly halfway through Episode III (if I got my math right) as the Clone Wars are in full swing, and it leads up all the way through the gap until the stage for 'Rogue One' is set. Its overall arc throughout all these years covers the construction (and mishaps) of the infamous Death Star, and seeing how ominous the station was even when it was little more than a thought in the minds of the Separatists really contributed to the state of fear and respect it has instilled in fans of the franchise throughout decades.

The story begins with Galen Erso, a renowned scientist who specializes in energy enrichment and wants nothing to do with the war. Refusing to take sides, he takes on a project to provide energy to poorer planets, but the Republic (and, later, the Empire) has other plans for him. As he conducts his efforts to synthesize kyber crystals, the ever elusive material, his offices are taken over and him, along with his wife Lyra, are taken prisoners. All of this while she is just two months away from giving birth to their daughter, Jyn.

As with any Star Wars novel this one spreads its focus through several points of view, and here Galen shares the spotlight with the omnipotent Orson Krennic. Even from the 'Rogue One' trailers it was possible to see that this was not a man you wanted to cross, and the book only further pushed that belief into my mind. It was surprising to learn of his history with Galen, and the unexpected similarities between the two. I'm always a fan of a brilliant strategist for a villain, and Krennic is now very high on my list of favorites in that regard. While everyone praises Galen for his intelligence throughout the book, Krennic doesn't tread far behind him, but the ways in which he keeps that intelligence under wraps is fantastic.

While the world changes around the characters, with Palpatine taking power, an elusive man named Darth Vader surging, and the Empire being established, we follow the one constant line of the Death Star. A project that provided more headaches than breakthroughs, Krennic essentially spearheads the entire thing and does whatever it takes to make the mammoth space station a reality. However, he depends on Galen to finalize the most important aspect of the station: its weapon. Luring the scientist in with the one thing he's always wanted to get his hands on, true kyber crystals, a facade of humanitarian projects is created to bring Galen into the fold, while his research is used for other means behind his back.

As I said earlier, the expanse of this novel is to be commended. It is not unnatural for that to be the case in Star Wars novels, but this one particularly, with its heavy aspect of political intrigue and scientific jargon could not have been easy to accomplish. While at points I did get a bit lost into the explanations of how all the pieces of the station came together, the overall picture was easy to gather, which for me is a feat in itself. There isn't, however, a big focus on plot in this novel; it could essentially be broken down to 'a man tries to convince another man to help him construct a giant space death machine'. The focus here is on character, which I personally love but others might not find as interesting. Character development, when done right (which it does here) is one of my favorite things to read about, and having an entire book of mostly that set in such a universe was fantastic. The battle of wits between Orson and Galen, the surprising spunk of Lyra, and the adorable rascal that is Jyn were all delightful to follow from page one. There are also other characters of notice in the book, some that you will know from before and others that are present in 'Rogue One', so this is both a reminiscent look at the past and a smart introduction of the 'future'.

Overall, 'Star Wars: Catalyst' is an absolutely essential prologue to 'Rogue One'. If I had to recommend a Star Wars book to film fans that have yet to venture into the canon, it would definitely be this one. An eagle eyed view into the motivations and character of all the major players of this new cinematic venture, 'Catalyst' will bridge that gap between films and leave you feeling as knowledgeable as the great Yoda himself! Really read this book, you should.

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