Rogue One: Catalyst

Rogue One: Catalyst

Rogue One: Catalyst is, as the name might suggest, a tie-in novel to the standalone Star Wars movie, Rogue One. Written by James Luceno, I had high hopes for this novel, which were sadly not borne out by the end. Let me explain…

The story is basically that of Orson Krennic’s ambition to oversee the Death Star project, and details his machinations as he climbs the corporate ladder. Along the way, he makes use of a variety of people, notably Galen Erso, a former school friend (unlikely though that may seem), to advance his career. Galen is portrayed as that typical scientist-type who is so wrapped-up in his own work, he’s barely aware of his surroundings, including his own family. Which I thought was weird, based on his portrayal in the movie…

The novel begins while the Clone Wars are still in full-flow, though Galen is notably undertaking research far from the front line, attempting to synthesize kyber crystals to create a renewable energy source. He is soon wrapped up in the fight between the Republic and the Separatists, however, and it is Krennic who comes to his rescue. Over time, Krennic manages to seduce him into working indirectly on the Death Star project, as Galen researches the energy output of the crystals that is then weaponised by a separate team of scientists.

During this time, we do get to see the fascinating upheaval from Republic to Empire, which is something that I enjoyed. It’s interesting how quickly people seem to forget the Jedi – I’d always liked the alternative idea that is often hinted at within the Dark Times comics, that the idea of the Jedi carried with it such inherent danger that people chose not to involve themselves. Anyway!

Another strand to Krennic’s ambition is his use of the smuggler, Has Obit. Has is used to basically deposit weapons on the so-called Legacy Worlds – worlds that are the Star Wars equivalents of National Parks. With this, Krennic is able to claim the worlds were arming themselves against the Empire, and so their Legacy status is stripped from them – and the strip-mining of all natural resources can begin. Over time, Has sees what he is doing and, thanks to Galen’s wife Lyra, turns against Krennic and helps the Ersos escape Coruscant for good.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but the basic gist of the story is here. So what’s so bad about it? Well, first of all, Galen Erso has got to be one of the most infuriating characters ever to grace the pages of a Star Wars novel. He just annoyed me so much, I found myself wishing his bits were over so that we could get back to Krennic, who is actually quite interesting, for all his naked ambition.

While the book is a really nice marriage of the Prequel era and the Original Trilogy era, these ties are somehow relegated to the background in comparison with other Luceno novels. There was a nice sequence with Krennic and Poggle the Lesser, as he tries to get the Geonosians to construct the focusing dish for the battle station. Also, Krennic’s patron throughout the book is Mas Amedda, who comes across as slightly more competent in this book than, say, his Aftermath appearances. Tarkin also has a significant role, though he serves more as an obstacle to Krennic than anything – he doesn’t quite come across the same as he does in, say, Luceno’s Tarkin.

Which is a bit weird, as they’re by the same author, but I think herein lies the main gripe I have with the book: it feels a bit rushed. I can’t quite decide if I mean it feels like it was pushed out to meet a deadline, but the action sometimes feels entirely too glossed-over. True, a battle station the size of the Death Star is going to take years to build, which could be tedious if we had to have all of that detailed to us, but there were several instances where I felt we could have done with more detail. Whether all new canon novels need to conform to a certain page length, who knows, but I definitely felt like we could have benefited from a bit more.

So, while I did feel a bit let-down overall, there were still some good bits to be enjoyed. Mentions of the Corporate Sector and COMPNOR were particularly nice, as it’s always fun to see the old canon being referenced. And the way the novel straddles the Prequel and OT eras was nicely done, too. While the Jedi stuff could have done with more time spent on exploring how they just dropped out of the galactic consciousness, I guess this book isn’t trying to tell that particular tale.

I don’t think it really adds anything to Rogue One, save perhaps explaining Saw Gerrera’s relationship to the Ersos (which itself seemed a bit forced). Which brings me on to my final point – why can’t we have Star Wars novels for their own sake anymore? It feels like everything that has come out so far has been trying to tie into something, either a new movie or an appearance by a beloved character in a cartoon. Why can’t we just have a book for its own sake? Heir to the Jedi springs to mind as perhaps the only one, so far, and that was originally planned as the third in a loose trilogy prior to the abolition of the old EU. I’d love to have something that tells its own story, that can run to 500 pages or more, and just brings back some of the old Bantam magic. We still don’t really have that feel right now, I think, where the galaxy feels like a cohesive whole. Where’s the new canon’s Mara Jade, or Talon Karrde? The novels feel like they exist in some kind of weird vacuum, and I’m really not sure that I like it. Sure, plenty of them are good, but they’re good by themselves, with no real reference to the wider galaxy. The hipster in me is thinking, this is what happens when a franchise hits the big time, and everything has to have a mass-appeal. Whereas previously we could have novels that reference comic books, which reference other comic books, which reference other novels, which reference RPG material. There was an expectation that people reading these things would be immersed to the next level at least. Now everything seems to need only the films – the widest audience for this material – to rely upon. It’s just feeling kinda fractured, and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep myself interested in this way of doing Star Wars.

Anyway, I don’t mean to be quite so down on the book, or the franchise as a whole, but sometimes I do wonder what’s happening to the GFFA…

Star Wars: Tarkin

Continuing to make my merry way through the new Star Wars canon, I’m just done reading Tarkin by my old favourite, James Luceno. What a good book! It wasn’t what I was expecting, and it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but my goodness, it was good all the same!

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70ish pages in, and I'm loving this book!! #StarWars

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First of all, this is essentially a biography of Grand Moff Tarkin, but principally told through flashbacks, as Tarkin remembers key moments from his upbringing that clearly inform his actions as an adult. I wasn’t really expecting or hoping for this, as I don’t honestly feel that we need to know that Tarkin’s childhood was a harsh one, with very primal lessons drilled into him as he was mentored by his great-uncle in the wilds of Eriadu. I know he’s the villain of A New Hope, and his ruthless, uncompromising nature led to such atrocities as the Death Star – and that’s fine, I don’t need to see why he is like this; it’s enough that he is. I think I was hoping for something that shows us the Grand Moff in his prime, not necessarily working on the Death Star project, though that is of course a big part of his story.

We do get some of this, as the main storyline involves Tarkin pursuing a group of dissidents who have stolen his ship. Vader is along for the ride, and there are some really great moments between the two that show why the Dark Lord was essentially willing to play lapdog to Tarkin during A New Hope. I actually found myself really liking the fact that Tarkin doesn’t truly know who Vader is, but has a strong suspicion that it is in fact Anakin Skywalker, with whom he worked briefly during the Clone Wars.

Vader is very much Vader, but we do get to see more of Emperor Palpatine, especially in Tarkin’s flashbacks as we see the Senator help him on his way. There were a couple of mentions of Palpatine’s master, and I feel like I would probably have gotten a lot more out of this book if I had also read Luceno’s Darth Plagueis. It’s still annoying to me that I haven’t gotten round to that one yet, but it’s increasingly in my sights, so expect a review once I’ve read it!

Perhaps most strongly tied to this book is Luceno’s earlier novel, Cloak of Deception. That book is one of my all-time favourites, and so I was really happy to see that they haven’t written it off entirely. While there are several bits and pieces scattered throughout this new continuity that make me feel like, “oh, that’ll mean x will be part of canon” or “y is out, then!”, there is much more than merely referencing the fact that Tarkin was a native of Eriadu and once held the post of Sector Governor; the majority of the book’s plot is discussed as historical fact within this novel, which makes me feel that Cloak of Deception can pretty much be the first old-canon novel that can be considered to be new canon, too. Of course, we may yet be proven wrong, but I hope not! On the subject of books that we can assume are definitely no longer canon, Admiral Daala is not mentioned at all in this book, so take from that what you will…

Luceno can be very verbose, and sometimes goes to great lengths to tie in bits of continuity that sometimes feel forced. This was particularly a problem for his first Star Wars novel, Hero’s Trial, but had been less and less of an issue, but it’s now back here, unfortunately. There was also a cute little meta-moment where Tarkin is being fitted for a uniform and remarks on the importance of boots that fit properly, recalling Peter Cushing’s experiences on the set of the film. That’s pretty much the only thing I can find to say that’s actually bad about it. Sure, I wish Tarkin had been treated much as Palpatine was in Cloak of Deception, and have him be the centre of attention without delving into his background like this, but aside from making Tarkin appear somewhat sentimental, it doesn’t really hamper the plot – indeed, it should probably be expected, with a title like Tarkin!

So overall, I liked it a lot!

This is also the 50th book I’ve read so far this year, counting all of the comics as well as the more traditional novels, so I thought that was impressive! I wonder if I’ll get another 50 read by the end of the year…