How the 'Rogue One' Prequel Novel 'Catalyst' Sets Up the New 'Star Wars' Movie

Warning: This post contains plot details for Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. Continue at your own discretion.

Those wars in the stars rage ever on, this time with a cast of characters we barely know. This week’s release of Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel aims to help; author James Luceno’s prequel book sketches out the backstories of several of the key players from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which arrives in theaters in less than a month.

For those who want to get up to speed on the Erso family, Imperial schemer Orson Krennic, idealistic freedom fighter Saw Gerrera, and the creation of the Death Star, Catalyst offers an in-depth guide. Readers will be well-prepared going into Rogue One, and we encourage you to dive in. We also suggest you come back later if you’d like to avoid any potential spoilers.

The novel picks up during the latter part of the Clone Wars, the epic battle between Chancellor Palpatine’s Republic (aided by the Jedi knights and the great clone army) and the Separatists, comprising Count Dooku and the Trade Federation and their legion of battle droids. Against the backdrop of the intergalactic conflict we are introduced to the Erso family.

Meet the Ersos

Galen Erso (played in the film by Mads Mikkelsen) is an idealistic, brilliant, obsessive scientist who specializes in energy and crystallography. When we meet him, ensconced with his research team on the Outer Rim ice planet of Vallt, the pacifist Galen is trying to synthesize kyber crystals — the mysterious, rare gems that power Jedi lightsabers — in hopes of discovering a renewable energy source for “worlds in need.”

By his side is his pregnant wife Lyra (Valene Kane on screen), intelligent, brave, and independent, possessing a deep love of nature and respect for the Force. The Ersos find themselves imprisoned when Vallt switches allegiance. Their daughter, Jyn (who grows up to be Felicity Jones in the movie), is born in captivity; the distraught Galen wonders how he can save his wife and daughter he nicknames “Stardust.”

Enter Orson Krennic

Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is Galen’s former classmate in the Futures Program (the Republic’s school for the gifted). Whereas Erso had a genius for science, Krennic’s talents were more political. Scheming and unscrupulous, Krennic believes he can exploit his old friend’s altruism, using Galen’s research to power a new weapon the Republic has begun constructing in secret above the planet Geonosis. Krennic thinks he can win Galen’s cooperation by rescuing his family. Krennic ingratiates himself with Palpatine’s and takes the lead on the construction of that battle station.

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The Death Star

Using plans purportedly stolen from Dooku, Krennic commissions the insectoid denizens of Geonosis (site of the climactic battle in Attack of the Clones that commences the Clone Wars) to begin construction on the unnamed orb-shaped station that will become the Death Star. Catalyst goes into detail about how the Death Star was built, beginning with a prime meridian and then to the trench which houses the shields and hyperdrive engines, everything built from material strip-mined from formerly pristine planets since rendered uninhabitable. Krennic sees the Death Star as his big ticket, “a world of his own, replete with a power to rival that of the Emperor and Darth Vader.” But Krennic struggles to build the superlaser — his team of scientists cannot perfect the weaponry. He waits while Galen, still believing he is working on a clean-energy source, harnesses the secrets of the kyber crystals.

Kyber Crystals

During the course of the novel, the Clone Wars end and Palapatine transforms the Republic into the Galactic Empire, with himself in charge. The Jedi are gone, leaving Galen with a steady supply of kyber crystals that are pried from temples, removed from lightsabers, and pulled from sacred ground. He begins to discover that the crystals are almost alive and are sensitive to other life forms. He also ignores warning signs, choosing to believe the Empire wants to use his work to benefit the galaxy, as Krennic insists.

Krennic vs. Tarkin

While Palpatine and Vader are minor figures in the novel, mentioned largely in passing, another iconic Imperial player figures prominently in Catalyst: Wilhuff Tarkin. Tarkin is as ruthless and ambitious as Krennic and the two are engaged in a bitter power struggle. Krennic tries to maintain control of the Death Star, while Tarkin attempting to wrest it away. We know that Grand Moff Tarkin eventually commands the Death Star, so Rogue One might reveal how that all shakes out.

Birth of the Rebellion

Catalyst suggests that at least some of the seeds of the Rebel Alliance were sown by the Empire itself, which tried to frame Separatist sympathizers for weapons shipments as a ruse to take control of strategic planets. One of Krennic’s pilots realizes the scheme and, with the help of a fiery colleague named Saw Gerrera, warns the government of the next Imperial target, the Salient system, which takes up arms against the Empire. Although eventually defeated, the novel strongly hints that the ragtag group of survivors would continue to pester Imperial forces.

Saw Gerrera

The Onderonian fighter helps lead the turncoats against the invading Imperials in the Salient system, offering a rousing reason for taking a principled stand: “Believe that your actions mattered, and believe that a good end would come of them, even if you didn’t live to see the results.” At the novel’s conclusion, Saw smuggles the Ersos off Coruscant once Galen realizes that Krennic is trying to weaponize his research. Saw strikes up a fast friendship with the family, and especially bonds with Jyn (now about 6 years old) as he transports them to the distant planet of Lah’mu, which might be the location we see in the second Rogue One trailer, where Krennic arrives with his Death Troopers to collect Galen. Meanwhile, there is no mention in the book of any physical problems with Saw, meaning the cybernetic attachments sported by Forest Whitaker in the trailers happened sometime later.

Catalyst is available in print, ebook format, and as an audiobook.

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