In 1991, Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Heir to the Empire was the first Star Wars novel to be set after the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, which was a pretty big deal at the time, thus making it very successful in both paperback and hardback. It is the first book of the Thrawn trilogy, which, along with Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, sold over 15 million copies.
There was less Star Wars then than there is now. There were no ongoing cartoons (Star Wars: Droids and Ewoks ended after 1 and 2 seasons respectively), and there was no indication that Star Wars was coming back to the big screen. Zahn wrote 5 military oriented science fiction novels, titled Blackcollar and Cobra trilogies and won a Hugo award in 1984 for best novella (Cascade Point) before he got the chance to write Star Wars.
This novel introduces Grand Admiral Thrawn who became popular character and appeared in other novels and the animated TV series Star Wars Rebels. There is a new novel, titled Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising due out in October 2020, which is the start of another trilogy.
The novel Heir to the Empire is set 5 years after Return of the Jedi and Han, Luke, and Leia are struggling with their new roles. Han and Leia are married and Leia is expecting twins. Leading a resistance movement and establishing a new government are different tasks and at times each seems uncertain or uncomfortable with their new roles. Meanwhile, Thrawn gathers the remains of the Imperial fleet and some weapons hidden by the Emperor and prepares to strike the new Republic.
I really enjoyed this book. Luke, Han, and Leia taking on new roles, even if they struggle with those roles, is admirable. I liked Thrawn as a villain; he is different from Darth Vader or the Emperor. Thrawn commands respect of his troops because of his tactical and strategic skills. People don’t just follow him out of fear.
There was a nice touch in the novel that made me smile. A person in a bar would not talk to Han until Han put his hands on a table. (This was before George Lucas revised the whole Han shot first situation in the special edition.) There is Hot Chocolate in this novel and Zahn later revealed in the 20th anniversary edition that some fans did not like hot chocolate existing in Star Wars. Not “outer spacey” enough, I guess.
Another interesting bit I noticed is that one of the villains is called a Dark Jedi. This was before Lucasfilm defined the term Sith so Zahn was not allowed to use the term. Later, editors at Lucasfilm shifted away from using the term Dark Jedi altogether, after other writers’ use of the term made it imprecise or vague.
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