Thursday, August 31, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Catalyst Review

Within mere hours it will be September 1st, or as it's known in retail stores, Force Friday II, the Star Wars focused product onslaught meant to dupe poor nerds like yours truly out of their valuable cash with toys, books, games, and the like. Not that I'm one to fall for such empty consumerism...though there is a new starter set for the Destiny game...and a new Claudia Gray novel. Shit, they got me! With a whole new wave of Star Wars goodies on the horizon along with the start of the four best months of the year, I thought it best for us to take a look at yet another expanded universe novel.

In all fairness it's been a little longer than usual since my last review, mainly because after going through so many books and seasons of The Clone Wars, I needed a small break from the franchise. I promised myself that upon my return I'd check out one of the books I was most interested in. The novel in questions is Catalyst by James Luceno who previously gave us Tarkin. Catalyst is a prequel to Rogue One that aims to better explain the history and relationships of the elder characters from said movie along with their roles in creating the Death Star. I was so eager to plumb the greater depths of these figures, what I got is something else entirely.

There's a scene in Rogue One, where Jyn recalls a night in her childhood when Krennic was visiting her parents and she wakes up, only to be escorted back to bed by her father. In this part, her parents and the future villain seem to be having a good time, a far different vibe than when he finds them in hiding years later only to kill Jyn's mother and take her father. That disparity hinted at a deeper emotional story that sadly isn't present within these pages. We're gonna have to tackle this one piece at a time.

Having read the over three-hundred pages that make up Catalyst, I hardly know anything more about Galen Erso than what was presented to me in the film. He's an incredibly intelligent man with strong morals who loves his family. His wife, Lyra on other hand I've now learned too much about. She's such an irritating goody-two-shoes it's downright sickening. She's smart, strong, one with nature, has high morals, is a good mother, physically fit, the woman practically shits gold bricks.
On the flip side I almost feel as if I understand Orson Krennic even less. Having him be underdeveloped in the movie was something of a given, I mean it was servicing a huge cast with just over two hours of story. Any potential for added depth here is thrown out the window as he's played up as a cartoonish, power hungry, ghoul. That scene of the three adult enjoying each-others company can't happen in this book as Lyra practically pulls out her cross and stake every time Orson comes around.
As for that other elder character begging for greater development, Saw Gerrera doesn't even show up until the last quarter of the book, and doesn't meet Galen and Lyra until the last 15 pages or so. Instead we get large chunks devoted to a smuggler named Has Obitt whom Jyn names one of her dolls after.
Tarkin makes his presence felt here as well, which should be a saving grace given how nicely Luceno portrayed him in his previous novel. Like Krennic, Tarkin has also taken a significant downgrade in depth for this outing. Even some of his dialogue seems uncharacteristic which makes no sense when Luceno's last crack at the villain was nearly flawless.

You might be wondering then, if these relationships aren't properly developed, just what exactly is going on in this book? Think of this as a sloppy road map of how the empire took on the massive undertaking of developing the Death Star, from gathering a work force, to securing supplies by stripping planets of natural resources. Many of these elements serve as tangents. For instance the subplot about the alien workforce constructing the station sorta fades away. There's an entire portion in the final quarter that deals with Tarkin waging war on a defiant solar system. This is meant to serve as something of forming event for the eventual rebellion but it could have been it's own separate story rather than be forced into this one.

There are some interesting bit pertaining to kyber crystals, hints that these stones may have something of their own will or an ability to influence people. The notion that being in close proximity to kyber crystals makes it difficult for normal people to sleep is very strange as that's clearly not an issue the Jedi faced. Of course there are no concrete answers to the mysteries these stone possess, perhaps that's something being built up for another story somewhere down the line.

I really can't stress enough how much of a disappointment Catalyst turned out to be. What could have been a neat mixture of character drama and espionage ended up as a dull collection of awkward interactions and go-nowhere plot threads. The structure of the writing, grammar, all of that is solid but it's a dull read, far below the standard set by the author's previous work. Let's put this one on the leaderboards.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Catalyst by James Luceno
12. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
13. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
14. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
15. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
16.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

And with that I now declare Summer officially over! Yes, I know there's technically still a few weeks left but you'd be hard pressed to convince me of that considering the current weather, let alone the decorative Halloween village above the cupboards. Every year I try to make both September and October on this site all about the wonders of the Halloween season, and for once I think there's actually enough content on hand to accomplish it. Look forward to some new unboxings, movie reviews, candy hauls, spooky crafts, you name it. We're finally at the last and best third of the year, it's gonna be great. Have a solid labor day, everybody.

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