Have any undercover officers become villains?

Second review: Catalyst by James Luceno

After the colleague Florian gave you his opinion on James Luceno's new novel a few days ago Catalyst I would like to give you a second perspective on the book today.

At Catalyst it is a prehistory too Rogue One, in which the reader already gets introduced to the most important actors from the film with Jyn and Galen Erso as well as Orson Krennic. However, the action does not start immediately Rogue One but transports us back to Jyn's childhood. The story begins when Galen's wife Lyra Erso is pregnant with Jyn and ends when Jyn is kindergarten age. The transition from republic to empire also falls in the narrated time of the book.

The plot
What is the Catalyst? - Galen Erso is a sought-after scientist in the field of energy research. In particular, he deals with the mysterious cyber crystals. Since Galen is a staunch pacifist, but at the same time researches an area that is extremely important for arms production and the war industry, he keeps getting caught between the fronts. When Galen and his pregnant wife fall into the hands of the separatists, his old friend Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic, whom he knows from a scholarship program for young researchers, is suddenly there to bail them out. But of course Krennic's help is not entirely altruistic, because the ambitious young officer tries to recruit his childhood friend for a secret project in which he is involved: the construction of the Death Star. When Galen is not so easily dissuaded from his pacifist ideals, Krennic begins to weave a web of intrigues and deceptions in order to still be able to use Galen's ingenious spirit for the construction of the super weapon ...

The villains: Orson Krennic and Tarkin
As in his others Starwars- Novels (i.a. Tarkin and Darth Plagueis) James Luceno succeeds in creating a fascinating portrayal of an unscrupulous figure, in this case Orson Kennic. It is exciting to see how he slowly and unnoticed by Galen Erso pushes Galen Erso in the direction in which he wants him with moves that have been planned over the years. Krennic also switches effortlessly between his friendly, cooperative face and his mercilessly threatening face. In one scene in which Krennic displays this behavior, I caught myself thinking “Typical Imperial officer!” Only to remind myself that the empire didn't even exist at the time of the story. Interestingly enough, however, Krennic shows all the imperial “qualities” before as a member of the republic. Since Krennic is one of the characters from whose perspective we are told the story, we also learn a lot about his thoughts. For example, he sees through Mas Amedda's gestures and facial expressions down to the last detail and knows exactly how to play the chancellor's advisor - this morbid kind of empathy is a fascinating facet of the figure. Actually, Krennic can only stand up to one person in this novel: Governor Tarkin. The interactions between the two rivals for power and influence, who surpass each other in intriguing, are really delicious to read. Luceno can write these types of characters ingeniously and appropriates both of them properly.

The brilliant scientist: Galen Erso
Unfortunately, things are different with the “good guys”. As far as Galen and Lyra Erso are concerned, I cannot agree with Florian, who praises their performance in the highest tones. In my opinion, Jyn's parents stay pretty flat as characters and especially in their relationship. Galen is the typical cliché scientist - ingenious like no other in his field, but completely incompetent socially. Before Lyra he never had any women’s stories and in the heat of the moment he often forgets to eat something. That is very pleasant and amusing, but nothing that we have not read or seen in exactly this form in every second story in which a scientist appears!

The housewife and mother: Lyra Erso
But the real excitement of the book for me is Lyra! On starwars.com she was advertised as a “complex and engaging personality”, so I'm looking forward to another strong female figure Starwars was pleased. But I was deeply disappointed. Lyra is not only boring and shallow as a figure and does almost nothing throughout the book except to report her (quite justified!) Concerns, but without actually taking any action herself. No, she is also by far the most unemancipated female figure that the canon (and perhaps the EU) has ever seen. We learn that she used to go on adventurous expeditions and that she is a very talented scientist. From the birth of Jyn, however, she limited herself to looking after the house, going for walks with Jyn and "taking care of her husband," as the saying goes. She puts her own scientific career on hold, only serves as a secretary who transcribes her husband's notes and in general puts her needs completely behind Galen. Even when Galen is unemployed for an extended period of time, it does not occur to the woman (or even her husband) that she could look for a job while Galen takes care of the child. This division of roles appears to be in Luceno's version of the Starwars-Galaxy to be unthinkable! What is Luceno actually thinking of presenting us with such a figure in 2016 and in the new, more tolerant and diverse canon? In Starwars it's about the fact that every viewer and reader can dream of being a Jedi, Sith, smuggler, bounty hunter or world explorer. In his novel, Luceno unfortunately excludes women who are mothers from these dreams and cemented gender clichés from the 1960s in what is actually much more modern and open Starwars-Galaxy. I think that's pretty sad and this fact has spoiled my reading fun a little.

Also, Galen and Lyra's relationship never became understandable to me while reading. What Galen finds in Lyra is well explained. But what does Lyra find in Galen, who is buried in his work? Here Luceno completely neglects the female perspective. In the course of the plot, Galen is lulled more and more by Krennic, reveals his ideals, becomes more and more distant to his wife and daughter and only buries himself in work. Here I would have expected Lyra to speak clearly to him, tell Galen that she would no longer take part, or even consider a separation. But such a thought is not remotely addressed. This shows how little Luceno succeeds in writing a female figure. He only manages to catch her husband's gaze on Lyra, but not Lyra's inside.

The child: Jyn Erso
Jyn Erso, the heroine of Rogue One, plays only a minor role in the novel as a child. Most of the time she is only told that she is playing somewhere, drawing a picture or sleeping. She is not characterized as great as a figure with special peculiarities. She is just "the child", as Orson Krennic always calls her. (I'm curious to see if he'll call her that in the film!) It seems as if James Luceno has little use for both female characters and children's characters. After all, on the last few pages we get a little glimpse into Jyn's thoughts, linked to the film.

The secondary characters: Has Obitt and an acquaintance from Rogue One
In addition to Krennic and the Erso family, the smuggler Has Obitt also plays a bigger role in the novel, which Krennic uses as a henchman. I think the choice of the name of this figure was not very successful, because when reading an English text it is always irritating for a short moment to see the word "Has" and then to have to realize that it is a first name and not a verb. Apart from that, I found the character of the smuggler, in contrast to Florian, more and more interesting in the course of the plot, as he always becomes the plaything of the intrigues of Krennic and Tarkin and for a long time you cannot be sure which side he will take .

In addition, I was very happy, surprisingly in Catalyst yet another figure Rogue One to be found, which does not play a major role, but whose basic traits are already clear here.

Informational value
So, as has been shown so far, one can argue about the quality of Luceno's characters, but not about the added value, the Catalyst for background information. Luceno clearly scores here. The novel offers many details about the structure, the functionality and the course of the construction work of the Death Star not only for those interested in technology (to which I do not belong). The phenomenon of cyber crystals and their special connection to power is also examined more closely - from a philosophical as well as a scientific point of view. We also learn a few interesting things about politics and power relations in the empire, for example about the fact that Palpatine and Dooku must have jointly fueled the belief that the separatists are building their own version of the Death Star somewhere in secret and that the republic is therefore also involved had to counteract such a super weapon. The transition from republic to empire is also shown for the first time from the perspective of “normal” citizens. The question of how normal galaxy inhabitants think about these processes, especially about the end of the Jedi Order, and what they know about it has always haunted me and is in Catalyst at least repeatedly briefly addressed, if not discussed in detail.

Build-up of tension
But does the whole thing also make an exciting story? - Anyone who knows Luceno knows what to expect from him. He is a master of telling fine intrigues and clever intrigues. If you can get involved and like to follow its slow development, then you are with Catalyst spot on. However, I am missing Catalyst nevertheless a little tension, because somehow there is not enough at stake. The Ersos are actually never in serious danger. One thing is always clear: Galen is too important to the Empire to have him killed, and Krennic knows that he is too stubborn to allow the threat of violence and imprisonment to break him. The death of Lyra and Jyn would also be unfavorable for the Empire, since in this case Galen would probably no longer be able to concentrate on his research. So the tension of the book lies only in whether and how Krennic gets Galen to develop the super laser of the Death Star against his will and his conviction. This story is told in an exciting way, but a little more threat would have been good.

I was a bit disappointed in the end. In the penultimate chapter, tension is built up here, which should actually lead to the climax of the whole book. But then the story suddenly breaks off without telling this climax to the end. The last chapter then suddenly takes place some time later and then only describes the situation in retrospect. Here I was really confused: Why doesn't Luceno describe the climax of the story to us in detail and completely when the whole novel lacks a bit of tension anyway?

As far as the language of the novel is concerned, Luceno knows how to convince, as always, with a varied, demanding writing style and a rich and accurate vocabulary. I would say that Luceno is certainly the most linguistically demanding author who has worked in the canon so far. In a way, he is exactly the counterpart to Chuck Wendig with his two-word sentences and his sometimes childish language. Accordingly, I would advise readers who do not have a very good knowledge of English from reading the novel in the original language, as otherwise some of the importance may fall by the wayside.

Overall judgment
Overall, I find it difficult to agree with my opinion Catalyst to the point in a number of holocrons. On the one hand, I definitely had fun reading and learned a lot about the characters Rogue One experienced so that I would be inclined to give four holocrons. On the other hand, I have a few complaints about the book, so that the four overall rating seem too good to me compared to the amount of criticism in my review. Therefore, I ultimately choose three holocrons with a tendency of four. Ahsoka I also rated it with three holocrons. But if you stand in front of the bookshelf and don't know whether you Ahsoka or Catalyst should read, then I would always Catalyst recommend. It's just the better and more relevant novel.

We thank Penguin Random House UK and Century-Verlag for providing the review copy!

Catalyst you can order the British edition of Century on Amazon.de¹. If you want to read the book in German, you have to wait until May 15, 2017. Then Luceno's novel will also appear in this country as The trigger. The German edition can already be pre-ordered on Amazon.de¹.

What is your opinion on Catalyst?

Ines trains numerous Padawan students in real life at a grammar school in English and German. Starwars she prefers to consume it in novel form. She loves stories about Jedi and the Force and basically celebrates everything from Claudia Gray's pen and the project The High Republic.