This Star Wars article contains major spoilers.
With Catalyst: A Rogue One Story, we get our first look at the very earliest seeds of rebellion. Focusing on Rogue One hero Jyn Erso’s parents, the novel that came out on Nov. 15 fits together some of the puzzle pieces fans have been wondering about since we learned that Rogue One would tell the story of the Death Star plans.
With that story comes some meticulously detailed additions to the Star Wars timeline, including the Ersos’ transition from peacetime researchers under the Republic to carefully manipulated cogs in the wheel of the burgeoning Empire. Our full review is here, but for just the facts, read on. Obviously, this list will contain spoilers.
The Origins of the Death Star
The roots of the Original Trilogy battle station go deep into the Clone Wars in Catalyst. We know from Attack of the Clones that there was a battle station being built in that era, but Catalyst details how the Death Star was built using Separatist plans and a Geonosian workforce. The original Death Star plans had been given to the Geonosians by Count Dooku, then captured by the Republic, starting whispers of a super laser Cold War. In Catalyst, Orson Krennic negotiates with Poggle the Lesser to supply workers to create the shell of the battle station. Meanwhile, he needs to unlock the secrets of kyber crystals in order to make the superlaser work, and for that, he has to recruit Galen Erso.
Jyn’s father is a brilliant scientist who sometimes gets lost in his own ideas. Determined to remain politically neutral, he continues to try to develop new methods of generating clean energy even while his research is being secretly used by the Empire. Galen wants planets to be able to sustain their own environments, and he’s also obsessed with kyber crystals, the “living” crystals the Jedi use to build their lightsabers.
Some of the crystals have a particularly grisly history, even if Galen doesn’t know it: it’s implied that Palpatine gave the crystals of the Jedi he killed in his office to Krennic for the crystal program.
Orson Krennic and Galen Erso’s History
Before they were embroiled in the construction of the Death Star superlaser, Galen Erso and Orson Krennic were friends. Both attended the prestigious Futures educational program on the planet Brentaal, but Krennic took a career as an architect in the Corps of Engineers and began engineering a war instead. Eventually, he becomes the coordinator of the Special Weapons Group, building weapons for the Republic. Krennic uses their friendship to his advantage when he sets Galen up with a secret research project.
Krennic and Palpatine
Although his influence is all over what’s happening in the galaxy, Palpatine isn’t directly seen in the novel. Instead, the alien advisor Mas Amedda was Krennic’s primary contact in Palpatine’s inner circle. He is portrayed as having a bit more backbone at the height of the Empire than he did in the Aftermath series – appropriate for a sycophant of Palpatine’s.
An Early Rivalry
It looks like we might see Krennic butt heads with Darth Vader in Rogue One. In Catalyst, he’s already tangling with Imperials in his own way. Wilhuff Tarkin is working on the construction of the Death Star’s super structure, and becomes frustrated with Krennic’s political maneuvering and delays on the kyber crystal project. By the end of the novel, Krennic has to contend with both the Ersos and Tarkin.
Lyra Erso’s Belief
Galen’s wife, Lyra Erso, was critically important to Galen’s eventual defection, and we’ll presumably see in Rogue One how her upbringing affected her Rebel daughter. Lyra was an adherent of the Force, an explorer and researcher who likes to walk in the wilderness and commune with the Force. While Galen is concentrating on his crystals too much to see what’s going on around him, Lyra takes it into her own hands to investigate the Empire.
Lyra and the Jedi
On that note, Catalyst gives us a brief but interesting look at the culture around the Jedi. Lyra exercises in public gardens at the Jedi Temple, and her faith in the Force is an important part of her free-spirited personality as well as an interesting connection to other religions that grew up around the Jedi, such as those practiced on the world of Jedha where some of Rogue One will take place.
Although she spends a lot of her early life on Coruscant, Jyn isn’t a citizen of the Core. She’s technically a citizen of Vallt, a world of gregarious, blue-furred people known as the Valltii. She also sees war from a very early age, as her parents are captured by warring factions and have to evacuate during a Separatist attack.
The Beginnings of the Rebellion
The fourth major character in the novel is Has Obitt, a Dresselian smuggler known for working with the Jedi and going into dangerous places. After he learns about the Empire’s environmental depredations and double-crosses, he starts a small group that won’t follow the Empire’s orders, and helps remove the Ersos from their nefarious influence. Has and his crew are all characters who are new to this book, but there’s a familiar face among them.
Saw Gerrera, seen in both Rogue One and The Clone Wars, seems to have been part of Jyn’s life much earlier than the Rogue One trailers may have lead us to expect. He joins Obitt’s team and urges the smugglers to defy the Empire, as well as to believe in their own actions – even if the proto-rebels might die before they see any results. Eventually, Saw is the one to take the Ersos off Coruscant and away from the Empire. On a planet called Lah’mu, a very young Jyn asks whether Saw could stay with the Ersos. Saw says that he can’t, but he gives Lyra a card that will let her call him if she needs help. That might come into play in Rogue One. We also know that Saw will eventually form the Partisans, a group that will fight against the Empire on Onderon.
The Western Reaches
Many of the Empire’s mining operations took place in the Western Reaches, the same region of space where the planet Jakku, where Rey grew up, is located. We still don’t know whether Jakku has any significance besides being the place where Rey grew up, but the emphasis on this region of space could point to Imperial activity there. We also know that Emperor Palpatine discovered something ancient on Jakku some time during the reign of the Empire, and left a young Gallius Rax, later a member of the Empire post-Return of the Jedi, to guard the site. That’s a central mystery in the Aftermath series, which will conclude in February.
In order to acquire the raw materials they need to build something as large as the Death Star, the Empire needed to do a lot of mining. We’ve seen in other Star Wars stories that a disregard for the environment is one of the Empire’s many evils, and that’s an important plot point here, as it becomes harder and harder for the Empire to hide the extent to which they’re strip-mining previously protected “Legacy” planets, which the Republic set aside to remain wild.
The Preserve on Coruscant
On a similar note, the Empire destroys environmental protection sanctions on Coruscant, too. Although the Republic capital has been described as a “city-planet” innumerable times, we see in Catalyst that there was one wild area: a sanctuary set aside for a peaceful species called the B’ankora. It’s here, thousands of stories beneath Coruscant’s highest levels, that Krennic sets Galen and his fellow scientists up with a lab facility where they can study the giant kyber crystal that will become the heart of the Death Star.
The Subjugation of Geonosis
We know from Marvel’s Darth Vader comics that Geonosis is devastated after the rise of the Empire, its population almost destroyed and its queen driven mad. In Catalyst, Poggle the Lesser and Krennic encounter their own troubles with the Geonosian drones, which tend to slaughter one another as part of their natural behavior.
One fun tidbit from this book in the return of the Ryn, an Expanded Universe species of clever, nomadic aliens. Their portrayal can tend to be stereotypical, and they’re no different here – trying to sell cheap electronics to people on the streets of Coruscant – but it was an amusing inclusion of a species introduced back in The New Jedi Order.
By the end of the book, the Ersos are on the verdant planet of Lah’mu, and the stage is set for the catastrophe which will presumably throw Jyn into the fight in Rogue One.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.