Note: You're safe from spoilers in this review of Rogue One: Catalyst!
Do you wanna build a Death Star? That, in a nutshell, is the plot of Rogue One: Catalyst by James Luceno. The newest Star Wars novel just arrived on shelves as a direct lead-in to December 16's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The book isn't exactly required reading before you see the movie, but it focuses on two characters we'll see in the film—Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn)—and is packed with all sorts of information on the Death Star, Krennic's association and history with the battle station, and how he pulled the Ersos (Galen, his wife Lyra, and their daughter Jyn) into the fray.
Though I've had troubles getting through Luceno's prose in previous works, I was rarely bogged down here, and felt compelled to keep turning the pages. The action and tension pushed the story and characters, and I found myself invested in the Erso family early on.
In Rogue One: Catalyst, Luceno excels at conveying key personality traits and information in just a few sentences. Within a minute of first meeting Krennic, you know what he's about. Krennic reminded me of Tarkin in some ways, but his fanaticism is in such contrast to Tarkin's measured actions that they were never in danger of being too similar. And yes, Tarkin pops up in the story, but Catalyst only barely crosses over with the book Tarkin (also by Luceno).
The novel has the challenge of covering a large chunk of time, spanning the era of the Clone Wars to not long before Rogue One. To the story's benefit, Luceno didn't get hung up on "X months later" sort of transitions. The timeline's easy enough to figure out, and it's fascinating to track how the mindsets of the Ersos and Krennic evolve.
I enjoyed getting to know the Erso family and seeing Krennic's enthusiastic devotion to his job. The characters hooked me, but I have to admit the notion of learning more about how the massive Death Star came to be was appealing to me. Catalyst is an absolute treasure trove in that regard. If you've ever wondered how the Empire kept it a secret, how they obtained supplies, and how they came to the idea of using kyber crystals to make the superlaser, this is the book for you.
Catalyst wasn't without flaws. I was particularly let down with the story of Lyra. I won't go into details, but I'll say I wanted more of an independent arc for her—one not all about Jyn or Galen. She was absolutely an admirable, strong, key part of the story, but she deserved more. But other than that and a few "insert background info dump here" points, my criticisms are minor. Nothing big enough to stop me from recommending the title.
Overall, Catalyst is an exciting read providing insight into one of the most interesting points on the Star Wars timeline. What does the galaxy look like when it's on the edge of oppression? A large portion of the universe is buying into the ideals the Emperor is spouting, but some are asking questions and pushing back instead of becoming complacent. Luceno goes to the precipice and shows both sides, and it's by turns an exciting and soul-crushing ride.
Have you already devoured Rogue One: Catalyst? Head to the comments and share your thoughts with me or come talk to me on Twitter.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm/Disney
Images: Penguin Random House, Lucasfilm/Disney
This review was completed used a copy of Rogue One: Catalyst provided by Del Rey.
The correct way to build a Death Star, according to science!