Crafting Catalyst: James Luceno Discusses His Rogue One Prequel Novel speaks with the acclaimed author about Galen Erso, Orson Krennic, and much more.

What is it called when some person or happening precipitates a larger event? Why, that’s a catalyst, and the new Star Wars novel, Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel is exactly that in relation to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. On sale today, Catalyst is written by James Luceno, New York Times bestselling author of Tarkin and Darth Plagueis. This novel from Del Rey helps set the stage for Rogue One, introducing some of the film’s characters at a key period of time earlier in their lives — during the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire. called Luceno to learn more about what Catalyst is all about and how it connects to Rogue One. Since Catalyst is the lead-in to Rogue One, how much of the Rogue One story were you given to use as the basis for the novel?

James Luceno: The book and the film were coming together in parallel because the book is very character-driven and so are great parts of the film. I was brought in fairly early, going back to 2015. I read the treatment, and then read the shooting script and had a couple of meetings with the Story Group to discuss various ways to go about writing this prequel. I was shown art and then got to see some early footage that informed some of the book. The book is set much earlier than the film, so for me, it was just getting a handle on the characters rather than the plot of the film.

Galen Erso stands in a grassy field in Rogue One. Two of your main characters are Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, who are two of the key characters in Rogue One. They have a long history together — what is their relationship like?

James Luceno: This is what I had to give most thought to because Star Wars just starts off in the midst of things. I had to figure out when these guys first met and what the nature of their relationship was. So the way I structured it, they go back to before the Clone Wars, when Krennic was working for the Republic and Galen was a research scientist. They were friends in what I call the Futures Program, which was a program developed by the Republic to find beings of genius and bring them into the fold. Years have elapsed from their time together in that program and when they come together during the Clone Wars. They’re kind of like college buddies?

James Luceno: In a sense, they are college buddies who were separated, went on different paths, but Krennic keeps careful track of what Galen was up to. When Krennic is brought into the Death Star project, he thinks of his old buddy Galen.

catalyst Another key character that you have is Lyra Erso, a scientific expedition leader who is Galen’s wife and Jyn’s mother. Who is she and how does she fit into the story?

James Luceno: Lyra is the person who keeps the genius Galen grounded. I wrote him as this brilliant researcher who doesn’t have a great facility for communicating with other people, so she sometimes acts as his interface with the real world. More than that, she’s very physical to his cerebral qualities. They make an interesting team and I wanted to show that team, because both Galen and Lyra play an important role in who Jyn becomes. Lyra’s background is that she started off as a surveyor who would be sent to a planet to help out with mapping. She later became a team leader for scientific groups in search of one thing or another on remote worlds. She meets Galen on one of those expeditions where he is the chief scientist, and they become a couple. It’s not love at first sight, but it unfolds slowly. In some sense, they both find their opposite but, for some reason, it seems to work. You refer to Galen as a brilliant genius who has trouble communicating with the real world. He chooses an interesting stance in not wanting to get involved in the Clone Wars. What consequences might he face in that time frame?

James Luceno: I would guess you would call him a conscientious objector rather than a conscientious collaborator. He wants no part of it. Even if you offered him a job as a researcher on the side of peace, he doesn’t want to be involved in politics or warfare. This, of course, makes him suspect to not only military members of the Republic but his own peers in the scientific community. They wonder why he is not volunteering his vast talent for the war effort since so many of them are. Galen is as if someone was told about the atomic bomb but just said, “No way.” Even though it was really brilliant research, he would refuse to get involved.

director-orson-krennic You’ve written a lot of Star Wars stories that focus on the villains of the saga: Darth Vader, Palpatine, Tarkin, Darth Plagueis, Maul. How does Orson Krennic stand out as a bad guy? Or is he not a bad guy?

James Luceno: Krennic’s a bad guy. [Laughs] He’s a bad guy because he’s a liar and a manipulator. Krennic was really interesting to write because I’m not writing about a Sith or a fallen Jedi. He’s not as calculating as Tarkin and he’s doesn’t bring an alien sensibility to the game like Thrawn. Orson Krennic prides himself in being able to get his way through manipulation and whatever devilish things he can come up with. He also has the ability to stay on his feet even when punches are being hurled at him. He can change strategies in the middle of things. This, combined with his innate volatility, makes him a very different kind of villain than we’ve seen. What’s important to remember is that in the novel this is Krennic many years before we see him in the film. You have to take a little bit of a leap in terms of who we see on the screen versus who we get in the book. In his case, he gets even more brash and more volatile. You also get into the point of view of the Dressellian smuggler Has Obitt, who ends up working for the Republic — who is he and what is his role in things?

James Luceno: I needed another foil for Krennic, someone who he could bring into the mix that would become important to the ultimate plot of the book. Krennic is trying to manipulate Galen but is also trying to manipulate Wilhuff Tarkin. Obitt will end up playing an important part in Krennic’s schemes to get his way and increase his personal power base, in part by getting everyone else into trouble. You mentioned earlier that Catalyst is set during the Clone Wars, decades before Rogue One. How did choosing this time frame come about when most lead-in novels typically take place just before the main event?

James Luceno: That was also something different about this. The novel spans the course of about five years. In some ways, it is almost a prequel to Tarkin. I get to delve into the early years of the Empire as well as the Clone Wars. The reason for setting it then has to do with the film, but I can’t reveal it without spoiling some of the plot points of the movie. There was no real option to do it any other way because the way the film is structured. There wasn’t a way to do it the way I did with Labyrinth of Evil or Cloak of Deception where the story ends almost where the film begins. It was a little bit challenging but in a way it makes for a more interesting book than just to have dealt with the Death Star already nearly completed, leading right up the movie, in that sense. It gives a chance to go more in-depth with these characters as we see younger versions of them. The goal is to show you what these people will become, just by depicting these early relationships. It does play into the movie in some very real ways. Speaking of the Death Star, it has a convoluted history, as we see it in plan form at the end of Attack of the Clones, a bare framework under construction at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and then it’s going to be a big part of Rogue One, and become operational in A New Hope. How does Catalyst fit into this larger picture, which also includes Tarkin and Star Wars Rebels?

James Luceno: Well, this was also a lot of fun because, while these early stages of the Death Star construction have been referenced in other sources, in Catalyst, I got to show that it got its start even before the Clone Wars ended. Krennic is in charge of Special Weapons, so he’s trying to bring scientists together to create the weapon of the Death Star itself: the super laser. At this point, the scientists aren’t even sure what kind of weapon they are going to use. I’m not trying to give a full history of the construction of the Death Star. There are lots of other scientists working on all sorts of other elements of the Death Star, but at least in this novel, we get to literally see how the ball got rolling and who built it. And there’s some subtext in there that plays into how Palpatine maybe had a plan for getting this thing built well before the Clone Wars ended because of a far reaching plan of his. You’ve been involved in writing Star Wars novels for a long time now, since working on the New Jedi Order back in 1999. Catalyst is your tenth Star Wars novel — how do you think this one is different from your previous journeys into the galaxy far, far away?

James Luceno: It is! It’s a real character-driven novel. When I was first thinking about it, in my usual way, I was way too ambitious. I wanted to make it much broader, and bring in all sorts of other characters and really jump around a lot. Given the way the film developed, I realized that I had to scale back those kinds of thoughts and really focus on the dynamics of the relationships between Orson Krennic and Galen Erso, and as well as between Orson Krennic and Lyra Erso. That relationship turns out to be extremely important. What real world influences help shape your Star Wars storytelling in general?

James Luceno: I’ve always been a traveler. I think I’m a frustrated travel writer, to tell you the truth. I try to bring some of my travel experiences or at least some elements of the places that I’ve visited around the world into the Star Wars franchise. Then, of course, I tweak them and change them and enhance them any way I can. But often, I am thinking of real world places when I am creating planets. In some cases, some elements of the plot are taken from things that I’ve either heard or experienced on the road. For Catalyst, Ethiopia and Bolivia made their way in there. There’s this place in Ethiopia, a very low-lying volcanic region that just seemed perfectly suited to one of the settings in Catalyst. Anything final thoughts you’d like to share?

James Luceno: I do want to stress that Rogue One does tell the story, so I think of this book as a companion piece. This book does not set up or lead directly into the movie, but gives a much more complete picture of the relationships and how far back these relationships go, and who these characters become over the years.

With Death Star-dwarfing Star Destroyers on the cover, and Death Star illustrations by Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas inside, Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel goes on sale today in both hardcover and ebook formats from Del Rey, and as an unabridged audiobook from Penguin Random House Audio, read  by Jonathan Davis. Barnes & Noble has an exclusive edition of the hardcover, containing a double-sided poster of the Death Star schematics.

James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.