Okay, maybe that title is a little bit harsh. I actually did like Ahsoka quite a bit (pretty cover too), but even that one fell into the same trap that Catalyst did. I’ll reserve final judgment on this book until I see Rogue One in a couple weeks. That way I can decide if this prequel provides any material that enhances the movie, but here’s my thoughts on the book pre-Rogue One viewing.
The trap I mentioned above is the fact that all these new canon books are under such tight strictures to only fill in enough that the movies still can make sense and reap all the glory of storytelling. Let me back up.
Catalyst starts out really strong. It’s still the middle of the Clone Wars and the Jedi are out there doing their Jedi thing. Meanwhile, Orson Krennic is bringing stuff together for what will eventually be the Death Star and Galen Erso is researching crystals. That was a very cool bit of mythos that may be revealed in Rogue One that shows up here first: [SPOILER ALERT] kyber crystals are the energy source for the Death Star’s giant weapon! [SPOILER OVER] So I liked that bit. And the character building of Galen, Lyra, Orson, Tarkin, was all good. I can’t wait to see Ben Mendelsohn chew scenery as Krennic. The problem is that it seems like Disney told James Luceno, “Hey, James. That character stuff is great. For the second half of the book, though, why don’t you just make it melodrama and ridiculous character decisions. Like a soap opera!” Because that’s what happens. As soon as Order 66 is executed the book lost steam exponentially.
Like I said, these new canon books all have the same problem. Ahsoka’s second half was just a bumrush to fit her into her role in Rebels, but it was still paced better I think. And I love Ahsoka’s character so much it would’ve taken a lot to make me hate it. Until the main series movie installments are over and the new canon novels are allowed to go outside the main episodes’ timeline, these will not be great. The best of the old EU books went beyond Return of the Jedi or took place way before The Phantom Menace (and if you haven’t seen this video about TPM then prepare to cry over what could have been). I feel like that blame rests squarely with Disney, but I’m also okay with blaming J.J. Abrams because, well, it’s J.J. Abrams. I know James Luceno can write a hell of a Star Wars novel (Darth Plagueis, anyone?), so I can’t bring myself to blame him.
It’s an okay book, but if you’re looking for Star Wars canon material that’s much more worth your time to read, check out Jason Aaron’s Star Wars comic that’s going right now (somewhere in the 20s on issue count so far) and Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader comic run which recently finished up. There’s other canon miniseries you can check out, but only read them if you love the central character, some of those can seem like a pointless slog too. There is a new Darth Maul comic miniseries coming that’s set before The Phantom Menace so hopefully that means they’ll start expanding pre-episodes at least. Until Episode IX comes out in theaters though I think the new canon novels will be stuck in this unfortunate holding pattern.
One last comment: I probably wouldn’t even have finished this book if not for the fact that I was listening to the audiobook. If you haven’t listened to a Star Wars audiobook you are doing yourself a severe disservice. They do productions with sound effects, ambient music, some Star Wars music cues, and I’ve never heard a bad reader on one of their audiobooks. So if you must read this, I recommend the audio.