Catalyst is the prequel to the new Star Wars movie Rogue One, which deals with the Rebel Alliance forces who recovered the plans to the Death Star prior to the original film. So this is the prequel to the prequel and for the most part it is…pretty tame. The book was by no means bad, author James Luceno has previously written some of the best Star Wars novels in both the Legends canon and the current Disney canon. But the book largely feels like Disney did not let him do a lot with the story.
Despite this being a prequel, there does not seem to be anything that is really need-to-know in here. That is understandable because most people going to see Rogue One will probably have not read this first. Catalyst more deals with the logistics behind the construction of the Death Star. We already knew from Attack of the Clones that the plans for the Death Star were created prior to the Clone Wars. This story starts in the middle of the Clone Wars and branches out over a few years as the schematics of the Death Star are being finalized.
Protagonist Galen Erso is a pacifist scientist who is also an expert in energy production, which antagonist Orson Krennic (also the antagonist of the Rogue One film) wants to use to power the Death Star’s planet-destroying laser. And…that is kind of it. The book deals heavily with the “science” of making the laser while also touching on the Empire building the rest of the station in the meantime. This is a transitional period where the Republic is still becoming the Empire; people are starting to slowly realize that under Emperor Palpatine’s iron fist things like slavery and genocide are going to become the norm.
The book ends up being a classic story of “scientist wants to do a good thing but the military wants to weaponize the research”. Seeing as everyone reading this has probably seen the original Star Wars movie and knows what happens to Alderaan, you get the idea of how that struggle ultimately turns out. While Catalyst is not something you would call a necessary read, it is helpful for fans who want the full story. Some of the things in this book, such as the Geonosians role in constructing the Death Star (touched upon in the Darth Vader comic books and the Star Wars: Rebels TV series) are firmly cemented into the canon here. For the Star Wars nerds this is worth the read; for everyone else, just go see Rogue One.