When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on Thursday night, it ushers in a new era of standalone film stories set in the Star Wars universe. But the movie’s plot–rebels stealing the plans for the Death Star in the time before A New Hope–isn’t the only prequel story fans can devour this year. James Luceno’s novel Catalyst features several key characters from the film who don’t get much screen time, giving them valuable backstory and contextualizing them in the larger Star Wars universe. In case you didn’t have time to read Catalyst to find out where the main villain came from, the connections between Jyn Erso’s parents and the Emprie, or the fictional science behind kyber crystals, here’s a cheat sheet of everything from the prequel novel that might come in handy when you see Rogue One. Needless to say, you may want to stop reading if your goal is to walk into the film knowing nothing about (major or minor) characters.
Galen and Lyra Erso
The parents of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) don’t appear much in the film’s promotional material–and don’t expect them to show up for very long in the movie itself. But Catalyst centers mostly on the elder Ersos and how they navigate a professional relationship with Imperial commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) as the Death Star begins construction in secret. Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is a truly brilliant scientist, plucked from a remote world to receive a top-notch education. His fascination with kyber crystals–the type that power Jedi lightsabers–gives rise to a theory about how to provide endless sustainable energy to power planets across the galaxy. But as was suspected throughout production on Rogue One, kyber crystals are also what power the main weapon of the Death Star. Galen’s research gets twisted from innocent energy applications to more sinister ones, and it’s that process which leads the Ersos to flee, setting up the flashbacks to Jyn’s childhood in the Rogue One clips.
The Boundless Ambition Of Orson Krennic
In all the trailers for Rogue One, and the press material shedding light on the new characters, Krennic is made to look like a lower-level Imperial official. In Catalyst he’s revealed to be a man of uncontrollable ambition, seeking respect and influence. He meets Galen Erso while in an academy for gifted students, but it’s unclear as to whether he graduates, and he never employs any academic skills. Instead, his talents lie in cultivating professional relationships, forging connections, and leveraging information to his benefit. He oversees construction on research facilities and headquarters for the Empire on various planets, but getting Galen to unwittingly provide the necessary information for the Death Star’s main weapon becomes his obsession. He stakes his entire reputation on cultivating Galen as an asset so that his research focus provides exactly the information the Empire wants. But that ambition and want of influence makes enemies out of other powerful officers.
Krennic’s Familiar Rival
One recognizable name that pops up early and often is Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Rumors are flying that the New Hope middle-manager baddie will be inserted into Rogue One via CGI, but in Catalyst he becomes Krennic’s chief rival. The two military officers, one a battle-hardened favorite of the Emperor and the other an overseer of engineers trying to rise quickly through the ranks, share little information and seek to tear down the other at every opportunity. Krennic wishes to command the Death Star once it is complete, but Tarkin sees the younger man as unreliable and overly ambitious.
Don’t Take The Death Star For Granted
When “the ultimate power in the universe” first appears in A New Hope, it’s a domineering space station whose genesis is never really explained. But as Clerks once hypothesized, there’s a lot going on when a Galactic Empire sets out to construct a nigh-indestructible battle station the size of a small moon.
Catalyst covers a period of many years, from late in the Clone Wars to just before the events of Rogue One. Throughout that time, the Empire is frantically attempting to complete the Death Star, first to combat a presumed superweapon dreamed up by Count Dooku, and then as a grand display of power to quell any remaining thoughts of rebellion. And while A New Hope elides the struggle to construct something that gargantuan, the scope of the project is palpable in Catalyst, from construction setbacks on Geonosis to illegal seizures of protected planets (in order to mine them for materials). The political, bureaucratic, and environmental nightmare involved in building the Death Star is only matched by Galen’s slow progress unlocking and harnessing the boundless energy of the kyber crystals.
The Fate Of Saw Gerrera
Many of Rogue One‘s story elements first surfaced about a decade ago, when George Lucas was developing Star Wars: Underworld, a series set in the Coruscant underworld between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. One of the characters that came from the process was Saw Gerrera, who had previously appeared in the Clone Wars animated series. In the footage for Rogue One he’s a hobbled extremist with robotic limbs and a breathing apparatus that makes him look like a cut-rate Darth Vader. But in Catalyst, he makes a brief appearance as a comrade to the smuggler Has Orbitt (LOL get it), and later provides help to a few characters in need of a quick getaway.