Origin stories are a tricky proposition when we already know roughly what awaits us at the finish line. Star Wars should know this better than anyone else, although thankfully, Catalyst avoids the pitfalls of the prequel trilogy by actually being quite good.
Starting off in the latter days of the Clone Wars, prodigiously gifted scientist Galen Erso (soon to be played by Mads Mikkelsen in the feature film) works away in an isolated facility with his wife Lyra, highlighting his ‘general goodness’ credentials by beavering away on a project aimed at producing safe, sustainable energy.
But as the war he’s sought so hard to avoid lands on his doorstep, his former colleague Orson Krennic – an ambitious rising star in Chancellor Palpatine’s Republic – intervenes to rescue Galen, Lyra and their young daughter Jyn. However, with one of Orson’s eyes being firmly on plans for a certain superweapon, it seems that his motivations may not be as altruistic as they first seemed.
A stalwart of the Star Wars Expanded Universe – and previously responsible for the excellent Tarkin standalone novel – James Luceno as as close to a safe pair of hands as they come, and he makes a decent fist here of answering the crucial question: “How could a genius scientist be tricked into helping build the Death Star?”
His sadly-no-longer-canon Darth Plageuis novel proved to be a masterclass in knitting together the disparate strands of the Expanded Universe, and Luceno pulls a similar trick here, doing the job of the films by explaining exactly why it took so long for the Death Star to be built, especially seeing as how we see it seemingly in an advanced stage of contruction at the conclusion to Revenge Of The Sith. In the meantime, there are nods to other events from different media – even Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2D Clone Wars series seems to get canonised at one point.
More importantly, Catalyst serves as a decent introduction to two pivotal characters without giving the game away. Erso is established as a flawed but otherwise well-meaning individual, whereas Krennic is self-serving and manipulative, a match for even Tarkin in the scheming department. It just makes us look forward to witnessing Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayals all the more.
Released at just the right time, this is the perfect appetiser for Gareth Edwards’ standalone Star Wars anthology movie. Bring it on