I can’t imagine the excitement for fans in 1991 when this book was released after eight years since ‘Return of the Jedi’ has been released.
Of course there had been new content, the two Ewoks films as well as the Droids and Ewoks cartoons, but this was the first story that continued the heroes adventures.
I first read it in around 1994/95. I had just learned that there were Star Wars books and after either Christmas of my Birthday, armed with what felt like mountains of cash I decided to buy my first Star Wars books. After a warning from my Dad, who was worried I wouldn’t enjoy them, to only buy one, I headed to the Sci-Fi section and pulled the ‘A New Hope’ novelisation and ‘Heir to the Empire’ off the shelves.
There’s not a great deal I can really say about this book that hasn’t already been said and discussed ad nauseam in the last 29 years (yikes) as it has been a fan favourite ever since its release and it was an incredibly strong foundation for the franchise to jump off.
It introduced us to some fan favourites who created their own legacy throughout the now ‘Legends’ timeline. The characters Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Captain Pellaeon and Talon Karrde all became staples in the EU.
We also learned about Han, Luke and Leia, struggling to establish the New Republic on Coruscant (originally named here and used by Lucas for the Prequels), had Han and Leia be married, with Leia being pregnant with the couples twins.
Zahn crafts a wonderful image of a Galaxy in turmoil, the status-quo is in upheaval as the struggling New Republic attempts to get a foothold in maintaining a peaceful Galaxy whilst dealing with the strengthening Imperial Remnant, under the command of Zahn’s most influential character, Grand Admiral Thrawn, who’s legacy has stretched beyond the EU and into the Disney timeline after he appeared as a main villain in ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ and now four novels set in the timeline, with Captain Pellaeon making a couple of minor appearances.
A few other concepts have been taken from ‘Heir to the Empire’ and introduced into Canon. Of course, Thrawn and his Star Destroyer, The Chimera are the most notable, but Thrawn’s bodyguard, Rukh, and his species, the Noghri, were first introduced here and they appeared throughout the majority of the post-ROTJ era EU novels. Han and Leia being married also made its way into Canon, but that was inevitable really. The concept of The Emperor having storehouses locates around the Galaxy is introduced here, with the Dark Jedi clone Joruus C’baoth guarding Mount Tantiss where Palpatine his some items that Thrawn requires to help restore the Empire to its former glory.
The success of this novel not only garnered another two parts to round out Zahn’s ‘Empire’ Trilogy but laid a foundation for the EU to build upon for the next eight years.
The latest release, to coincide with the start of Zahn’s ‘Thrawn: Ascendency’ trilogy features wonderful artwork which when the covers of all three books in the trilogy are put together make a larger picture. Oddly enough, why it’s being released this year and not next year to mark the 30th Anniversary is baffling, but I’m not a publishing guru so I’ll keep my nose out of that one.
All in all, ‘Heir to the Empire’, for me at least is essential Star Wars reading for fans and non-fans of the EU. Canon junkies will appreciate it for the little things that have appeared in-Canon, fans of ‘Rebels’ get to find out where the character ‘Thrawn’ originated and above all, it’s an incredibly enjoyable read.
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