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Now that all of Star Wars literature, starting with 2014's A New Dawn, is considered to be officially canon rather than part of the Legends line, that makes it all the more important to pick up the occasional Star Wars novel and absorb adventures set in a galaxy far, far away that aren't being told on a screen. One of the more important Star Wars books out right now is James Luceno's Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, which, in case the title isn't obvious enough for you, is the direct prequel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While it's not absolutely crucial to read Catalyst before seeing Rogue One, it does pull back the proverbial curtain on certain character motivations and relationships that will surely make watching the movie more enjoyable.
In case you haven't read the book yet or won't be able to finish it by the time Rogue One comes out, don't worry, we have you covered. Here are the main things you need to know about Catalyst before seeing the first Anthology spinoff.
Warning: there will be full spoilers for Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel ahead!
Galen And Orson Were Classmates
Orson Krennic didn't just pick Galen Erso's name out of a hat to draft him into the Death Star project (albeit discreetly, but more on that later). The two of them were enrolled at the same time in the Futures Program as teens, which only the most gifted of students could attend. While both men are intelligent in different ways, Orson was more the "brawn," as he defended Orson from those who gave him a hard time for his unusual personality.
Once graduated, Orson and Galen went on separate paths. Orson went the military/government route and was eventually accepted into the Republic Corps of Engineers, which paved the way for him to be involved in more sinister affairs in the Special Weapons Group. Galen opted to take the private sector route so he could continue his research. What is he studying? I'm glad you asked...
Galen Is Researching Kyber Crystals
Longtime Star Wars fans are familiar with kyber crystals as the power source that the Jedi use for their lightsabers. The problem is that these mystical warriors have barely shared any information with the rest of the galaxy about how these crystals work because of their practically symbiotic relationship with the Force. That hasn't stopped Galen Erso from trying to understand their secrets. He believes the kyber crystals can be used for sustainable energy for everyone.
There are two main problems with this. One, kyber crystals are extremely hard to find, and two, even if you manage to find one, it's difficult to tap into its power, let alone contain that energy once it's free. Nevertheless, Galen pushes on with his research, which eventually leads to him being hired by Zerpen Industries and being sent to work at a facility on Vallt. That's where Catalyst begins, but we'll re-circle to that in a bit.
Lyra Believes In The Force
Sometimes that saying, "Opposites attract" is quite astute. While Galen studies kyber crystals purely from a scientific perspective, his archaeologist wife Lyra is a firm believer in the Force. She's so attuned to this mystical energy that binds all living things that she can actually feel it at times during meditation or while in nature. However, don't think that means she's a Jedi. Much like Donnie Yen's Chirrut Îmwe, Lyra can't harness the Force in ways the Jedi can. The most she can do is feel its presence, but that's enough for her.
Lyra has always supported Galen's kyber crystal research even if she doesn't understand his formulas and methodology on the subject (like most people), but as the story progresses and the Empire takes an interest in Galen's kyber crystals ideas, she starts to realize that some natural secrets aren't meant to be discovered, at least if in the wrong hands.
Orson Rescued Galen And Lyra During The Clone Wars
At the start of Catalyst, Vallt goes from being a Republic world to Separatist territory. This led to Galen's research being interrupted and him and Lyra being imprisoned by the government. While held in captivity, their daughter Jyn was born, and had Orson Krennic not intervened, Galen, Lyra and Jyn might have lived on Vallt for a long time. Fortunately, thanks to the Ersos' personal droid sending a secret message, Orson learns of their situation and is able to free them. Unfortunately, he's not doing this out of the goodness of heart. Orson knows about Galen's kyber crystal research and wants to subtly maneuver Galen into working for him.
Following Order 66 and the rise of the Empire, Orson recruits Galen into Project Celestial Power to study kyber crystals under the assumption that their energy will be used for benevolent purposes, when actually his findings are being used to power the superlaser that will one day be attached to the Death Star. You'll have to read all of Catalyst to see specifically how events unfold from there, but to cut a long story short, Galen eventually discovers that his research is being weaponized, which rightly enrages him.
Orson And Tarkin Are Rivals
Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin will always be closely connected to the first Death Star, but he wasn't the only man who wanted to command the battle station. It's been reported several times how Orson Krennic doesn't get along with other Imperial officers, and his main rival among the bunch is Tarkin. Orson sees Tarkin as his main obstacle to one day gaining control of the Death Star, so he does whatever he can to stay several steps ahead of the competition. Tarkin, on the other hand, considers Orson to be reckless, impulsive and overly ambitious. He especially doesn't care for Orson's "disdain for authority," which is primarily shown through Orson keeping his superiors out of the loop with obtaining resources and labor for the Death Star's construction.
Thanks to A New Hope, we know how Tarkin comes out of this, but it remains to be seen what Orson's ultimate fate will be. Side note, if you're interested to learn about Tarkin's rise to power and how he became the grand overseer of the Death Star's construction, read the novel Tarkin, which was also written by James Luceno.
Saw Gerrera Helped The Ersos Escape The Empire
One of Catalyst's side characters is Has Obitt, a smuggler who Krennic blackmails into working for him. He's eventually assigned to watch over Lyra and Jyn during a mission, and during his time with them, Has realizes that he can't work for the Empire any longer. Pretending to comply with Orson's directions for a new mission, Has instead recruits some of his fellow smugglers to help him warn the planet Salient about how the Imperials will exploit its natural resources to the point that the world will essentially be "killed."
One of Has' smuggler allies is Saw Gerrera, a Clone Wars veteran who is all too experienced with fighting back against an oppressive force. Still feeling sympathetic for the Ersos, Has tasks Saw with rescuing the family from Coruscant after they learn about what the Empire is doing with Galen's kyber crystal research. Saw successfully relocates the Ersos to the planet Lah'mu, and because Galen kept most of his findings in his mind or written in his notebook, the Empire now faces delays with the Death Star construction. This also lays the groundwork for how Saw will be connected to the adult Jyn in Rogue One.
Now you know the main plot points from Catalyst, but most of these characters' stories aren't over yet, as they'll return in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which hits theaters starting on Thursday evening, December 15.