Star Wars: Catalyst Five Year Anniversary Review

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Catalyst, a novel now five years old, is arguably one of the best Star Wars books released for the new canon. Set during the Clone Wars and the post-war period, the book explores the origins of one of the most well known weapons in sci-fi, the Death Star. Strong political themes permeate throughout, developing ideas found in the prequel series of movies. The main narrative follows scientist Galen Erso, a pacifist, as he tries to navigate his way through a rapidly changing galaxy. The antagonist, Director Orson Krennic, is manipulating Galen behind the scenes so that he can help create one of the most feared weapons of the galaxy… The Death Star.

Firstly, the problem of prequels should be addressed. The audience are already aware that the Death Star will be created, and as this novel was released just under a month before Rogue One, many will know that Galen is heavily involved in its construction. Therefore, there is no tension as to if Krennic will wield Galen into creating the Death Star. Instead, the audience are positioned as an omniscient presence, forced to witness events play out that they already know the ending to. The curse of this knowledge serves as the form of tension, not suspense. Galen will be manipulated and the Death Star will be built; it’s just a matter of time. 

The unique placement also allows for exploration of a key time period in the galaxy. While this era of Star Wars has been explored extensively in previous Star Wars media, this book explores it in a new way, by looking at the imperial bureaucracy. The transition is explored by figures inside of the totalitarian system, and though they see it for what it is, at the end they spend a large portion of the book following its lies. Galen can be found defending the exploitation of Legacy Worlds, and the destruction of the Jedi, until he realises he has been manipulated. This book is a unique look into how the Empire operates. 

The stand out character of the book is Krennic. Whilst his appearances in the Star Wars canon are limited (being only this and Rogue One), he has undoubtedly made a mark on the Star Wars universe. Rogue One didn’t do Krennic justice, only allowing him limited screen time and is quite one note. Catalyst, however, gives Krennic a lot more to do, and his character is improved all the more for it. The book explores a new side to his character, a manipulative bureaucrat instead of just a begrudged Imperial. He not only serves as the primary antagonist, but throughout his storyline the audience can see his own struggles within the Empire, notably with Tarkin. Galen and Lyra also have their characters expanded on, with Galen shown to be a pacifist scientist and Lyra an explorer. 

Krennic also develops the main theme of the book, that of manipulation. Many of the characters in the book are manipulated by Krennic: Galen, Lyra, Tarkin and a smuggler named Has Obitt. The Empire is run on manipulation, and Krennic will stop at nothing to achieve his goal and obtain favour with the Emperor. Manipulation is present elsewhere, indeed the Clone War was manipulation on a galaxy wide scale, all for Palpatine to create his Empire. Galen wilfully buys the manipulation of both Krennic and Palpatine, arguing that the Jedi were secretive and thinking that Palpatine would be so altruistic to create energy for other worlds. 

Has gets the last laugh, however, as he manoeuvres both Krennic and Tarkin in order to allow for Galen Erso’s escape. The author, James Luceno, recognised in an interview that Has Obitt is Krennic’s foil. Not only because of his successful manipulation of Krennic, but because he shows morality in questioning (and eventually disobeying) the Empire’s orders, yet Krennic submits his morality to gaining power. 

Catalyst provides a strong political drama in one of the most interesting time periods for Star Wars. Krennic rises above his film interpretation, for he is no longer a traditional, one note villain, but now more of a Machiavellian figure. The political intrigue serves to keep readers interested, linking the book to the more political aspects of Star Wars found in the prequels. Catalyst is an essential read to anyone who enjoys the political world of the franchise, along with anyone interested in the rich lore of the Star Wars universe.

Words by Kieran Burt

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