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Sunday, 18 December 2016

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'CATALYST: A ROGUE ONE NOVEL'

The men who made the Death Star. All will be revealed in CATALYST: A ROGUE ONE NOVEL.

It’s a well known fact that some of the greatest avenues of scientific discovery and enlightenment discovered by mankind have often ended up being used for purposes less than benign, and no less true than within the incredible fantasy realms of the STAR WARS universe, either, and at the critical point in the saga’s timeline where the tyrannical Empire has emerged to develop the immense and powerful Death Star space station after years of construction setbacks, now housing at its eye core a terrifying prime weapon crafted for the destruction of entire planets- a weapon created from the very best of science used for the very worst and most perverted of intentions. The story of how such evil power came to fruition via its two inventors and primary players for good and evil on Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, a story of matched wills and differing viewpoints, and the dangers that will echo across the universe from their actions, chronicled in the all-new STAR WARS adventure lead-in to the eagerly awaited anthology spin-off movie ROGUE ONE: Catalyst, by respected fan favourite James Luceno, out now in hardback from CENTURY PUBLISHING.

Starting just as the galaxy ravaging Clone Wars is fully underway, power and stability are the goals for both the seemingly benign Republic and the angry and ever pushing forward Separatists to whom they are at war with, a technological race seemingly underway by both sides to create the ultimate weapon to end the conflict but neither yet have the key to unlocking the fateful secrets needed to create that weapon.

Galen Erso: a scientist with a long-term fascination for Kyber Crystals. ROGUE ONE images: Disney/ LUCASFILM.

Enter Galen Erso, the scientist who will bring about the power that will nourish a space station, at first a neutral scientist working for a neutral company on his exploration of the untapped energy potential of those mysterious Kyber Crystals used by the Jedi to power their lightsabers, a mineral off limits to all but the rare few, so far only available to research via synthetic replication. A life of untapped research suddenly opened after a change of allegiances on a far off world sees him captured by Separatists, alongside his research assistant wife, the caring and equally resourceful Lyra, then heavily pregnant with their child, Jyn, in a scenario that provides the Republic with an opportunity to get Galen over to their side of the battle lines and their unique research, and with the perfect man to win him over to their cause.

A once child prodigy, Galen Erso is dedicated and clever, sometimes to the point of being coldly calculating, yet he also manages to show his dedication and love to his family in ways that many never expect- making him a walking idiosyncrasy. For him, the work is not just to the advancement of science but for the benefit of all, and primarily for his beloved family in Lyra and Jyn, the latter soon his little “Stardust”, both of whom he so deeply loves and will do anything to protect.

But being so bright, so resourceful, so passionate, Galen ultimately fails to see the bigger picture and couldn’t be more naive and all too trusting when a once friend and equal riser up the food chain suddenly comes to his aid at the most fortuitous of times.

A prime mover for the Republic turned Empire: Orson Krennic.

Enter Orson Krennic. Not to be trusted and certainly not one to underestimate, Krennic is the shining star of the Republic Special Weapons Group, at the top of the team totem charged with devising the secret super weapon to fight against Count Dooku, from the start knowing that only Galen has the talent and mind-set to fill in the blanks of their stalled project, aware of how to manipulate his friend like the finest of chess players into getting the results that will keep both the scientist under this thumb and equally advance his own career and ambitions to be beside the Emperor in ruling the galaxy.

Caught in the middle of the drama and the crises between such strong willed talents, Lyra Erso is the key player, the innocent, who will help Galen decide their ultimate future. Warm, dedicated, intelligent and capable in her own right, fiercely protective of her husband and little Jyn, she is a woman of science though nonetheless has a belief in the powers of the enigmatic Force, shocked and surprised, as Galen is, with the Jedi’s sudden extinction, and the floodgates to his research that have now opened. Lyra possesses instincts that will not blind her to Krennic in the way that her husband, under the worst kind of invisible house arrest, has been, with her adversary soon realising what a threat she could be to his long-term plans…

Seeing the dangers ahead, Lyra Erso.

As told in three parts, with character drama and consequences building, Luceno, always making the page turn easily and a dab hand at fusing Prequel and Classic Trilogies together whilst filling in potential story/continuity problems along the way, doesn’t forget to incorporate other vital elements central to the overall ingredients of a STAR WARS tale. A spattering of the saga’s favourite characters make welcome appearances in Catalyst, some of whom will also go on to appear during important sections of ROGUE ONE, notably Luceno’s writing favourite Grand Moff Tarkin, whom Krennic soon locks pithy competitive insults and power play rivalry with, plus horned creep Mas Amedda, Palpatine’s right hand man in lies and deception to the Emperor, proving more important than ever before in the all-new Expanded Universe - more so than he ever actually was in the filmed Prequel Trilogy. Also present early on, prior to their ultimate disappearance in the STAR WARS REBELS animated series, the Geonosians participation in the Death Star’s construction continues, their unusual working methods bordering on cruel barbarity, part of a bloodthirsty way of life previously seen with their arena games and the control of the species by its ruthless leader, Poggle the Lesser.

The young Jyn Erso, as seen in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

Branching the story out into other avenues that stop it from being too bogged down in sometimes quite heavy (but plausible) technobabble, additional shades of grey plot and character motivations come from the surprise cameo of a battle hardened veteran of THE CLONE WARS and the upcoming ROGUE ONE- a man with soon important links to the later life of Jyn Erso. There’s also the inclusion of Luceno’s new character of Dresselian smuggler Has Obitt, whose early allegiance to Krennic in his shadowy and exploitative tactics against outer worlds (with resources needed for Galen) at first seem profitable enough, and conscience free, though his feelings soon falter when the true cost to the galaxy starts to reveal itself…

With the Death Star on track for completion by the book’s final act, its here that Catalyst starts coming to vital life, Luceno injecting some much-needed action and conflict before the true lead-in to ROGUE ONE is cemented. Conflict of battle comes in the form of Tarkin's fleet attacking a system needed by the Empire, whilst conflict of character builds as Galen’s singular focus changes away from his work towards fully protecting his family, and the realisation that all has not been what it seemed with Krennic these past few years. But how to escape? And to where?

AFICIONADO RATING: Ticking all the right boxes for the Lucasfilm STAR WARS Story Team's unification of the franchise, Catalyst works well enough as a prelude to ROGUE ONE, mainly thanks to the strong main characters of Galen and Orson that are effectively catered to by Luceno. As an original and satisfying standalone STAR WARS story in its own right, however, it may perhaps be too bogged down in continuity for its own good. Though clearly a rewarding challenge for the author to bring to life, it’s ultimately a medium success in his overall strong track record writing for the Expanded Universe, especially in comparison to earlier, similar film related pre and post publishing lead-ins like Labyrinth of Evil and Darth Plagueis. 3.5 out of 5

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