How did the Death Star come into existence? That’s the main question of James Luceno‘s novel Catalyst, which lays the groundwork for the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Catalyst explores the Erso family’s history with Director Orson Krennic, the film’s main antagonist. The novel spans only four years, overlapping with Revenge of the Sith. It also establishes real-world links to World War II and the Atomic Age, setting the stage for Rogue One‘s own WWII-style tone. Join us as we explore the main revelations from Catalyst.
Major spoilers follow, so if you haven’t read Catalyst yet, then you should bookmark this article for when you’re done!
The Geonosians Built the Death Star
Back in 2005, Revenge of the Sith established that even before the founding of the Galactic Empire, the Death Star had already entered construction. Catalyst shows how the Galactic Republic, the Empire’s predecessor, generated a labor force for work on the Death Star. The answer? Orson Krennic’s recruitment of the Geonosians via their leader, Archduke Poggle the Lesser.
The fact that Geonosians built the Death Star dates back to the Legends continuity. But Catalyst explains why the Geonosians — who lost not once, but twice to the Republic during the Clone Wars — would agree to build the Death Star. In effect, Krennic releases Poggle from Republic custody to convince his people to work for the Republic. However, Poggle’s alliance with Krennic is a sham, for he secretly preserves his loyalty to Count Dooku.
Catalyst shows how Poggle escapes from the Republic in time for Revenge of the Sith. Poggle has languished in Republic custody ever since the Second Battle of Geonosis from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Toward the end of production on The Clone Wars, supervising director Dave Filoni pitched a story arc showing how Poggle, Wat Tambor, and other Separatist prisoners escaped before Revenge of the Sith. But George Lucas rejected the pitch, so it’s thus fallen to Catalyst and other stories to fill in those gaps.
Despite their prominent role in Catalyst, the Geonosians aren’t likely to return for Rogue One. Star Wars Rebels establishes that the Empire sterilized Geonosis, slaughtering most of the planet’s population of 100 billion. The likely reason for the genocide? To preserve the Death Star’s secrecy. It’s yet another crime that gave rise to the Empire’s weapon of mass destruction.
Tarkin and Krennic are Rivals
Some fans have wondered why Krennic is the main villain of Rogue One instead of Grand Moff Wilhiff Tarkin. According to Catalyst, Tarkin is an outsider to the Death Star project. The weapon is Krennic’s brainchild, while Tarkin isn’t initially involved. Yet, whereas Tarkin rises to command the project, Krennic misses out on a similar promotion. Krennic instead remains with the Empire’s Advanced Weapons Research, focusing on constructing the Death Star’s superlaser.
LucasBooks wisely enlisted James Luceno to write Catalyst as a follow-up companion to his 2014 novel, Tarkin. Without a doubt, Krennic is the main antagonist of Catalyst, while Tarkin serves as more of a secondary antagonist. That relationship will likely carry over to Rogue One, since the film has more freedom to devise Krennic’s fate. Tarkin will also be in Rogue One, but he will likely have a smaller supporting role, as Krennic needs to serve as the film’s primary antagonist.
How Kyber Crystals Work
Kyber crystals are the heart of a lightsaber. However, they also have a more nefarious potentiality. Since the Death Star’s superlaser is powered by eight enormous kyber crystals, Catalyst shows that scientist Galen Erso‘s research into kyber crystals is, unintentionally, a direct inspiration for the weapon’s devastating capabilities.
Even though there are no Jedi in Catalyst, one of the novel’s recurring questions is whether the Jedi were fully aware of how kyber crystals could be used — or misused. According to Galen, “The Jedi were certainly aware of the [kyber crystal’s] tremendous potential, but they restrained themselves.” Krennic, like his rival Tarkin, is a critic of the Jedi and believes that had the Jedi used their full powers, they could have quickly ended the Clone Wars. Regardless of whether Krennic is right, the fact remains that kyber crystals have dark capabilities.
While writing Catalyst, Luceno researched the science behind refraction and wound up getting a crash course in lasers and crystals. At the same time, Star Wars has established that its science doesn’t work the same way as it does in the real world. Perhaps the best example is that the vacuum of space isn’t supposed to allow sound transmission, yet it does in Star Wars. Still, if you’re curious about how kyber crystals intersect with real-world science, then Catalyst is worth reading.
Jyn Erso Has a Mother
This isn’t an exclusive revelation from Catalyst. Nevertheless, Lyra Erso hasn’t received as much press coverage as her husband Galen, or her daughter Jyn. Both Lyra and Galen are the protagonists of Catalyst, as they work for — and then against — their old friend, Orson Krennic. Part of the mystery surrounding Lyra stems from the fact that unlike her husband and daughter, Rogue One‘s trailers haven’t confirmed whether Lyra survives to see Jyn become an adult.
Based on Lyra’s limited press coverage, it’s possible that she will have a smaller role in Rogue One than those of Jyn and Galen. Or perhaps the reason for Lyra’s limited press coverage is the fact that she doesn’t survive all the way through Rogue One. However, in Catalyst, Krennic recognizes that he must keep Lyra alive if he has any hope of working with Galen. Does that mean Lyra has a better chance of survival?
Perhaps the most telling detail from the trailers is that Jyn has been living on her own since the age of fifteen. Since Galen is helping Krennic with the Death Star once more, what happens to Lyra? In any case, hopefully Rogue One won’t get too obsessed with family drama like its predecessors.
Galen Erso, Conflicted Scientist
In addition to Lyra, Catalyst offers a wonderful snapshot of Galen as a character. He’s a scientist who dedicates his work and life to a moral code. Yet, after he and his family spend a year as Separatist prisoners of war on Vallt, and then witness the bloodshed that the Clone Wars have brought to their homeworld of Grange, Galen becomes more conflicted than ever about whether to contribute his expertise to the Republic’s war effort.
Through Galen, Catalyst provides some intriguing social commentary about how warfare and science are codependent. Warfare advances science, and vice versa. (World War II and the Atomic Age, anyone?) Catalyst also explores how some scientists might sacrifice their morals in order to help their country or government win a war. Yet, even though Rogue One hints that Galen ultimately assists Krennic with the Death Star’s superlaser, Catalyst leaves no doubt that Galen’s work for the Empire is anything but voluntary.
Director Krennic, Manipulator Extraordinaire
I’ll be honest: Unlike most of my friends and fellow fans, I found Orson Krennic to be underwhelming when I first saw him in Rogue One‘s early trailers. Krennic looked like the standard, middle-aged white man who serves the Empire, replete with a billowing white cape. He almost seemed like a cheap imitation of Tarkin. Yet, Luceno’s Catalyst does an excellent job of previewing how actor Ben Mendelsohn will bring Krennic to life for Rogue One. And Catalyst further convinced me that Krennic is a worthy Star Wars villain.
Catalyst truly shows what kind of villain Krennic is. Like many up-and-coming Imperial officers, Krennic has a large dose of ambition, much like his contemporaries Tarkin and Count Denetrius Vidian. Yet, what sets Krennic apart is his complex mix of manipulation and patience. Over a period of several years, he manipulates his friend Galen Erso into helping design the Death Star, in a manner that would put many con artists to shame. And despite his numerous failures, Krennic has enough patience to bring his vision of the Death Star into reality. Ultimately, the takeaway from Catalyst is that Krennic shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Death Star’s Final Piece is the Superlaser
Why did the Death Star take over two decades to build? The answer is that despite the aid of Geonosian workers and Wookiee slaves, Krennic had an extremely hard time getting Galen Erso to contribute to the project. According to Catalyst, the final piece of the Death Star is its planet-killing superlaser. Because Galen is the galaxy’s leading expert on kyber crystals, Krennic needs Galen in order to complete the superlaser.
It’s not yet clear whether the Death Star’s superlaser will be finished by the time Rogue One begins. However, it seems as though the superlaser will have neared completion, since the film focuses on the weapon’s testing. Will the planet Scarif serve as the first test site for the superlaser? Or will that burden instead fall to Jedha, the desert moon that was once sacred to the Jedi Order? Only Rogue One has the answers.
Saw Gerrera is Jyn Erso’s Family Friend
One of the most surprising revelations from Catalyst is that before Rogue One, Jyn Erso has already met Saw Gerrera. As a creation of George Lucas, Saw Gerrera is the first TV character to cross over to the cinematic side of the Star Wars Saga. During Catalyst, Gerrera helps organize a campaign to preserve the Salient system’s independence from the Empire. He also helps Jyn and her parents escape from Coruscant before Orson Krennic can detain them.
Gerrera brings the Erso family to the planet Lah’mu, where they will likely remain until Rogue One, when Krennic comes knocking at their door with a squad of Death Troopers. It’s hard to say how much Jyn gets to know Gerrera during the many years between Catalyst and Rogue One. Nevertheless, their friendship is sure to be an important part of the film’s ensemble of characters.
As the first standalone Star Wars film, it’s evident that Rogue One requires a substantial amount of setup. Catalyst offers an intriguing glimpse into the relationships between the film’s core characters, and Star Wars Rebels will probably find some way to tie into the film as well. Whatever the case, make sure your plans for December 16, 2016 are operational.