Star Wars was born in print. Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker was published in November of 1976, a full six months before the release of the original film. Though credited to George Lucas, it was ghost written by Alan Dean Foster. Foster would go on to write Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and novelization of The Force Awakens. Over forty years countless novels, comics, and stories have been written. Some are regarded as classics (Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy) and others, well… less so.
When Disney acquired the Star Wars intellectual property, they reset what had become known as the “Star Wars Extended Universe” (or EU for short) and started from a fresh slate. Since that time, there have been some great novels released. I’m a particular fan of Claudia Gray’s work in the franchise. Whether its the surprisingly deep young adult novel Lost Stars or the political thriller Bloodline, she knows how to tell a rollicking good tale. But alongside new literary luminaries, fans of the invalidated EU, or Legends, there are also fan favorites. Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, and James Luceno come to mind.
Luceno joined the new canon with his novel Tarkin and continues to prove he can weave a rollicking good yarn with his latest release: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. What could easily be a simple movie tie-in and cash grab reveals itself to be a complex character study and an engaging character drama.
Catalyst opens during the Clone Wars and focuses on two characters who will feature prominently in Rogue One: Orson Krennic and Galen Erso. The story unfolds over the course of several years, paralleling the transformation of the Republic into the Galactic Empire. The relationship between Krennic and Erso is the driving force behind the narrative, though Galen’s marriage also plays a key role. Catalyst isn’t a simple action serial set in a galaxy far, far away. Instead the reader is drawn down the path of paranoia and complacency as an entire galaxy trades freedom for security.
Behind the scenes, Emperor Palpatine’s indomitable will and maniacal will lingers like a miasma and though he is barely visible his power is undeniable. Without going into spoilers for the novel, the reader follows both of our protagonists as they are each consumed by their own darkly mirrored obsessions. It’s no spoiler to say that the Death Star is key to the narrative, and this terrible battle-station serves as a reflection for the growing might of the Empire. By the time Catalyst reaches its climax, the galaxy almost willingly sleeping under a blanket of darkness – save for a few rebels clinging to a hope that can only be served with their deaths.
Catalyst offers something that was rare in the old EU: an adult story. Characters are well-written, subtle, and complex. Their motivations are clearly defined, but never fall back on simple tropes. The entire story builds to a fever pitch and though it never quite pays off on the page, I feel that can be forgiven since it is meant to serve as a direct prequel to Rogue One itself. Readers will undoubtedly be rewarded with a richer experience when Rogue One releases in a month, but Catalyst still manages to stand on its own as a Tom Clancy-esque tale of espionage, betrayal, and politics. It is easily one of the strongest additions to the new canon, and well worth picking up.
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel is now available in digital, print, and audio-book formats. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th.
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