15 December 2016

Books: Star Wars: Catalyst By James Luceno (2016)

It’s been well established that the novels that make up the Star Wars (AKA Expanded Universe) have always been non-conical. Only the novelizations of movies are the true tales. But since Disney acquired Lucasfilm and has created a completely new universe timeline (and thus making those old novels null and void, even though they will remain in-print), the Mouse House has gone out of its way to start making the books connected to newest movie trilogy. But besides those novels, two animated TV series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and latest Star Wars: Rebels have been folded in as well. Which means those shows are now considered canon and have subtle ties to the movies.

Same has come with the books, which is clever in two ways. First it re-introduces the books as a viable resource for fans and non-fans that wait the two years between films in latest iteration of Skywalker saga. Plus for both new and old fans, the books are constructed in way that tells readers there always going to be hints and back stories to ideas and characters appearing in the newest trilogy. 

And while this year we get what is to the first in potentially many stand-alone films, Star Wars: Rogue One, let’s not fool ourselves. Yes, it’s a film detailing how rebel spies acquired the plans to Death Star that Luke Skywalker help destroy in the 1977 film, but this movie has a few potential storylines that will probably intersect with Episode VIII and IX. And this prequel novel to a prequel film, Star Wars: Catalyst begins to set them up.

“War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war. As a member of Chancellor Palpatine’s top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a superweapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic’s, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key. Galen’s energy-focused research has captured the attention of both Krennic and his foes, making the scientist a crucial pawn in the galactic conflict. But after Krennic rescues Galen, his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn, from Separatist kidnappers, the Erso family is deeply in Krennic’s debt. Krennic then offers Galen an extraordinary opportunity: to continue his scientific studies with every resource put utterly at his disposal. While Galen and Lyra believe that his energy research will be used purely in altruistic ways, Krennic has other plans that will finally make the Death Star a reality. Trapped in their benefactor’s tightening grasp, the Ersos must untangle Krennic’s web of deception to save themselves and the galaxy itself.”

James Luceno prequel novel is being labeled as “essential reading” for those planning to see Rogue One. However, I don’t think this is really true, though it does accomplish fleshing out characters and setting the stage for the film. Part of the books –and most likely the film- role is to set up (what I assume) will be further explored in Episode VIII: the introduction of kyber crystals and the Jedi Temples. 

Kyber crystals are living, Force-attuned crystals that grow randomly throughout the galaxy, and occurred in abundance in some places more than others. The crystals concentrated energy in a unique manner through the Force, resonating with it. These crystals power the Jedi’s and Sith’s lightsabers. They were first introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series The Gathering, the sixth episode of the shows fifth season. They were officially named an episode later. The EU novels would develop these ideas further including making the connection between the crystals and the Death Star’s super laser weapon. 

While not as explored as much as the crystals, the book drops hints about the legendary Jedi Temples (something most fans of Star Wars already know will be featured in Episode VIII). One of the temples on Coruscant is being used by the Empire to further study the kyber crystals so they can be weaponized. So there is irony here.

As noted, the book fleshes out the characters of Galen Eros, his wife Lyra, and Orson Krennic, the Imperial scientist who fully understand that if he can get Galen, a known pacifist, to help the Empire create a super weapon,  his place in history is all but assured. The book is set in the waning years of The Clone Wars and continues into the rise of the Empire and Galen often reminded me of how many times scientists are portrayed in this type of fiction, where they’re so dedicated to their work, they’re blind to the realization that their work, which was suppose to supply unlimited cheap power to planets in need of it, will be used to hurt more than to save. It's not a bad trope, but one that could be better presented.

And Orson is a manipulation machine, clearly able to move Galen closer to creating the ultimate weapon for the Empire; all while dealing with Lyra, who was always suspicious of Orson’s goals, and Governor Tarkin, who clearly hates Krennic. 

There are some interesting things here as well –mostly dealing with politics. Since the election of a new president this past November, and the general dislike he has gotten from the more liberal minded folks, the politics of the Star Wars universe becomes clearer. Rogue One has already been called to be boycotted by the Alt-Right because it dare present a Star Wars movie that is inclusive and multicultural. More so, than it appears, than The Force Awakens which some tried to boycott because its leads were a woman and a black man. Of course, that film went onto to score $2 billion in ticket sales, so I guess we can those folks who tried to affect the box office totals met with a dismal failure. 

True, the first three Star Wars films were not overtly political, but the Empire was clearly designed to represent the Nazi’s. They were, in those films, presented as white supremacist and mostly human organization. Lucas chose not to hammer the point home, but his allegories and his metaphors were unmistakably present. And then they were expanded in Episodes I, II, and III.  In those films, Lucas openly wanted to show how a once multi-cultural universe can easily be torn apart by fear and xenophobia, which leads to Chancellor Palpatine’s power grab and his words to the universe “In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society which I assure you, will last for ten thousand years.” Which then leads Padme to the obvious conclusion "So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause." 

Say what you will, Lucas was being political. Star Wars was being political. He may have been using World War II has his metaphor, but history has and will continue to repeat itself. Catalyst does have some very relevant and often moving discussion of how far people are willing to ignore their moral codes to comply with a regime during wartime. So all of this has always been part of the Star Wars universe. It just takes on a more obvious aspect with this new trilogy and this first stand-alone film.

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