[WARNING: This post contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the novel Star Wars: Catalyst.]
As fans count down the days until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story premieres in theaters, the Lucasfilm story group is ramping up anticipation to a fever pitch with the release of the new novel Star Wars: Catalyst. Many people are aware now that just about every piece of Star Wars media is all part of the same canon, meaning the films, comics, and books are connected. There have been plenty of intriguing revelations and details revealed thus far from these, but arguably Catalyst is the first one that's essential reading for viewers. It is a direct prequel to Rogue One, revolving mainly around the relationship between Director Orson Krennic and Galen Erso - father of Rogue One protagonist Jyn.
The synopsis for Catalyst hinted at a rather fascinating dynamic with the two characters, implying that Galen owed Krennic a debt, which is how the former ends up working on the Death Star project. Now that Catalyst is out in stores, we've decided to examine the connection between the Imperial officer and the Erso family and how it will impact the upcoming film.
Friends and Rescue
Galen and Orson are two longtime companions, having met while enrolled in the Futures Program (an advanced placement academic curriculum) on the planet Brentaal. Erso was a math and science prodigy in his youth, solving complex equations in ways that baffled his teachers. It was Krennic who came to Galen's aid following the death of Erso's parents, encouraging him in his studies and serving as a protector in brawls. Orson eventually dropped out of the program to pursue a career in government service, while Galen graduated and took part in research internships and advanced studies. Krennic even set him up with a professor position at the Institute of Applied Science, which included an apartment on Coruscant Galen did not have to pay for.
Personality wise, the two are polar opposites; Krennic is overly ambitious, always looking to move up the Republic hierarchy, while Galen is a pacifist who would prefer to stay out of government and/or military affairs. It's for that reason Erso accepts a job with Zerpen Industries, a neutral corporation, to further his studies in crystallography and energy enhancement. His ultimate goal is to provide the galaxy with a source of renewable energy, and he becomes a specialist in kyber crystals (the same materials used for lightsabers) He and his wife Lyra (who is pregnant with a daughter) depart for the planet Vallt to head a research team. Their objective is to synthesize a kyber crystal.
Unfortunately for the Ersos, Vallt falls under Separatist control during the Clone Wars, and they are imprisoned in a facility known as The Keep under espionage charges. They stay there for months, welcoming Jyn to the universe and becoming somewhat friendly with the prison staff. Still, they are not permitted to leave unless Galen agrees to join the Separatists to share his findings, which he of course refuses to do. The family's plight is a golden opportunity for Krennic to advance his career and prove himself to be an invaluable ally to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine.
When the novel first starts, Krennic is a Lieutenant Commander in the Republic, working in the Special Weapons Group. Using the Geonosian blueprints seen in Attack of the Clones, the Republic is secretly constructing a mobile battle station that will eventually become the Death Star. The project has hit a snag, as the team is unsure of how to build the turbo laser weapon that's supposed to disrupt planetary cores. No such power exists, but Krennic has an idea. Pitching his plan to Vice Chancellor Mas Ameda, Krennic tells his superior about Galen, saying that his research could hold the key to completing the Death Star. Working with the smugger Has Obitt, Krennic organizes something of a prisoner exchange on Vallt, freeing the Ersos from incarceration. Galen and Lyra are able to return to their apartment in the Core, owing a great deal of gratitude to Krennic.
Manipulation and Horrible Truths
Galen and Orson may have been friends in youth, but the book makes it very clear that in adulthood, Krennic is after only his best interests. He manipulates Erso at every turn; it's even revealed that he was the one who arranged for Galen to be accused of espionage. Despite Orson's best efforts (including showing Galen his battle-ravaged home planet), Erso refuses to take a position in the Republic due to his stance on the war. Additionally, his criminal case prevents him from traveling off-world. Galen's reluctance to aid the Republic causes some of his colleagues and old classmates to become skeptical of his intentions, and being cooped up in his apartment causes Galen to grow restless.
Once the espionage charges are dropped, Krennic helps Galen land a job at Helical HyperCom, a company looking to design a crystal array to serve remote areas in the Republic. Erso is overqualified for the position, but he happily takes it to break the monotony. During his time at Helical, the Clone War ends and the Empire assumes control of the galaxy. It's then that Krennic comes in with the ultimate offer: a chance for Galen to join Project Celestial Power and lead a research facility that will work with kyber crystals and look to fulfill Erso's dream of creating renewable energy for the galaxy. Obviously, Galen jumps at the opportunity and is excited by the myriad of possibilities.
This, of course, is all a ruse for Krennic's true desire. He has teams set up at other facilities on different planets looking for a way to take Galen's concepts and weaponize them for the Death Star's super laser. When initial tests don't go as planned (destroying one of the complexes), Orson pushes Galen further by lying - blaming "anarchists" for the destruction and claiming Palpatine has visions to use one world as an example to demonstrate his vision for a peaceful galaxy united. Galen eventually has a breakthrough, and a successful test-fire (one far less powerful than the Death Star) is achieved. Meanwhile, Lyra becomes suspicious of Krennic and the Empire when she learns of subterfuge operations conducted on Legacy worlds and some close colleagues go mysteriously missing. Having a friend look into it, Galen is crushed by the revelation his findings are being used for such nefarious purposes and makes plans to escape with Lyra and Jyn.
One night, the Erso family flies off Coruscant for a remote world far out of the Empire's reach. Their sudden defection all but ruins Krennic's reputation, as he was the one who championed Galen for years. In the aftermath, Krennic (who advanced up the ranks to Commander) is demoted to Lieutenant Commander and loses some standing, becoming something of an underling to his rival Grand Moff Tarkin. With Galen gone, progress on building the weapon has stalled, and the other crystallographers are unable to make any headway. Orson makes it his life's mission to find Erso and bring him in to finish what he started so Krennic can deliver his Emperor a fully operational battle station.
Connections to Rogue One
The third Rogue One trailer began with a flashback sequence depicting Imperial forces (including Krennic) arriving on an unknown planet to arrest Galen. Based on the information in Catalyst, it's safe to assume Orson was successful in his search for his old friend and will force Erso to finalize the weapon. This seems to be the incident that separates Jyn from her family, and she grows up with a strong disdain for the Empire. How Krennic discovered Galen's location remains to be seen, as does Lyra's ultimate fate. Jyn's mother is seen only in an international trailer and no other marketing materials.
Catalyst also sets up a truly fascinating dynamic for Galen and Krennic in Rogue One. They are childhood friends that feel betrayed for totally different reasons. Erso's research was used for weapons development without his knowledge, and after Krennic saved the family from a life of despair, Galen ran out on him, sabotaging his career. Their contrasting ideologies should lead to some interesting interactions in the film. Based on the footage, they will be spending some time on-screen together, and if the conversations are anything like the book, viewers are in for a treat.
While none of the new Star Wars books thus far have been required to understand the films, fans would still be highly recommended to read Catalyst before seeing the movie. Odds are, director Gareth Edwards crafted Rogue One in a manner so that it's accessible to everyone, but this novel dives deep into both Galen and Krennic, which will allow viewers to already be attached to them when the spinoff starts. Even more so than this summer's Life Debt, Catalyst is a supreme illustration of the benefits of the Disney canon. The books have the ability to flesh out certain aspects of the franchise - and since Catalyst deals directly with characters from Rogue One, it isn't surprising that it's one of the most essential.
Source: Star Wars - Catalyst by James Luceno