Final Score: 6.4

    ★★★☆☆ Plot

    ★★★★☆ Characterization

    ★★★☆☆ Writing

    ★★★★☆ Star-Wars-iness

    ★★☆☆☆ Personal Enjoyment


This book review contains spoilers for those who have not yet read Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno.

I had a lot of trouble getting into this book, and even though I finished it I’m not sure I ever really connected with it. I was mostly finishing it to give full validity to this review. While Catalyst contained interesting backstory info that gave context when heading into Rogue One, the execution was very poor. I’ve come to expect better from Luceno as an author. The characters were okay, but the story around them, and even his writing style were very disengaging. Flat and boring, and lots of missed opportunity to use the character/plot elements he spends forever setting up in act one. Not worth the time. Just read the Wookieepedia page instead.

The first half is mostly backfill info, and when something happens its ruined by laziness in the plot devices… “This is a dangerous mission, because we (Krennic’s stand-in smugglers) might be recognized. Oh but wait… on this planet we will need masks to breathe, so that means our faces will be covered. Ha! Good thing the guy writing this can make up whatever he needs to make it work without having to be clever. We’ll be fine, gents.” (I’m obviously exaggerating in a mocking way here but I’ve read better in Luceno’s work.)

Regarding Galen punching the sloppy drunk, and Krennic being happy that he didn’t even have to pull strings for the mishap to occur: Luceno has been telling us the whole book how great Krennic is at orchestrating logistics and playing chess with people, but when an opportunity arises to prove it we get this in place of some built-up deceit!? Come on. Also, this doesn’t really fit Galen’s character up to this point, or his attitude throughout the rest of the book. He’s painted to be a man of integrity, for whom anything takes time; it doesn’t make sense that his fuse would be short enough to constitute hitting someone.

Missed opportunity with Krennic: It would have been more captivating for the reader if we went into situations with Krennic already knowing what he wanted his moves to be, similar to how Frank Underwood on House of Cards pulls you into a scene. Luceno could have written prose that uncovered Krennic’s thoughts even more than he did, and had it been more playful or downputting of the other character he was dealing with, the reader would have seen even more of a glimpse of evil in his bidding and string-pulling as its happening. As it is, we do hear some of his plotting in his thoughts, but the reveal of what he’s been doing any why is just boring and takes way too long to line up the pieces playfully.

The narrative keeps jumping from character to character during Part Two, which does the story more harm than good in this case. I’m not a fan of the smuggler, Has Obitt (ripoff, anyone?), nor the fact that he’s simply in the book as a device for Krennic to pull strings with. Luceno later writes him into a plot line with Saw and Lyra, but the whole things just feels a bit contrived. Once again, when it comes to characters who play with deceit, it would be nice if the audience were surprised to find things out when the characters in the story do. Catalyst isn’t written this way. I’d likely feel better about it if Has and Saw had a bit more character background or reason why I would care about them.

I thought it would have been a clever reveal if we find out later (at the same time as Lyra) that Galen had known all along that they were under surveillance, because he’s cautious and brilliant. Or that the dark side of the force from somewhere/one was shrouding Galen in his work and down a hole of depression. His realization happened very quickly right before they left Coruscant. Another missed opportunity here.

My main gripe about this book: there’s lots of exposé and setup without providing much attachment to any of it. If you take this book as nothing more than an extended prologue for Rogue One, fine, but I like books to be able to hold their own.

Pros:

  • The characterization is plentiful, and the worldbuilding is good when it happens.
  • The story provides more than enough story of Rogue One’s main characters, which is the main point of this book existing.
  • It definitely feels like the Star Wars universe: jumping from planet to planet via hyperspace, smuggling, Geonosians building the Death Star, etc.

Cons:

  • The storytelling is flat and generally quite boring.
  • The characters don’t do anything to make me like them or hate them, it’s just a bunch of description of who they are and what the political situation is.
  • I never connected with Has Obitt at all, or any of the characters really.
  • Lots of exposé without providing attachment to any of it.
  • Easy to spot missed opportunities where the story could have been more interesting.
  • Had to listen to the audiobook during the last third of the book just to finish.

-Will Reinhardt