Star Wars: Heir to the Empire is part one in a three-book cycle. It is also referred to as “The Thrawn Trilogy”. (Thrawn is a main character in the trilogy). All three books were written by Timothy Zahn.
There seems to be some debate over whether or not The Thrawn Trilogy is considered to be canon in Star Wars lore. Some say it is (or that it should be). Others point out that the upcoming Star Wars movies aren’t following closely to what happens in this trilogy, or that they may have thrown it out altogether. I haven’t done much digging into that whole debate, so I’ll simply note it here and move on.
The first book in The Thrawn Trilogy takes place shortly after the battle on Endor. It picks up where Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi left off and shows what happened next. As such, there are several easily recognizable characters in Star Wars: Heir to the Empire and some significant new characters that are introduced.
Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the first characters the reader is introduced to. He’s the new “big bad” in charge of the Empire after the death of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. He’s got dark grey skin, glowing red eyes, and black hair. He’s obviously not quite human, and this makes him even scarier. Thrawn is intelligent, focused, calculating, and able to go from calm to ruthless in a split second. Unlike Darth Vader, who was known for using that choke hold on those who displeased him, Thrawn has a… let’s say “bodyguard”…whom he calls upon to murder people for him. The bodyguard isn’t human either.
Second in command is Captain Pellaeon, who is human (and has a reasonable fear of Grand Admiral Thrawn). Pelleaon is clearly an experienced officer, and good at making decisions. But, he’s at least somewhat distracted by his concern about just what Thrawn is up to. In other words, Pellaeon absolutely is part of the Empire, but he’s not especially evil. He’s a military man.
On the other side (of The Force), are several characters that would be readily recognized even by people who, like me, have never read a Star Wars book before. Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo are major characters in this book. Chewbacca, Artoo and Threepio are there, and so are some minor characters that people would be able to identify. Towards the beginning of the book, the reader learns that they are trying to develop the New Republic. Things aren’t going so well, despite their best efforts. They keep giving it their all, though.
The reader also learns that in between the Battle on Endor, and “now”, Han Solo and Leia Organa got married. She’s Leia Organa Solo, now. Leia is pregnant with twins and has only recently gotten over the worst of the “morning sickness” phase. She must be exhausted – and yet, she’s attending strategy meetings, visiting other planets as something like an ambassador, and getting into battle. Leia is one tough woman!
She’s also at the very early stages of learning how to be a Jedi. Her brother, Luke, has taught her a little bit, but her training keeps getting interrupted by the needs of the fledgling government they are trying to build.
Luke has adjusted to his new prosthetic arm and is hiding his concern about being one of the last Jedis. It’s down to him and his sister, and potentially the twins she is carrying. He’s got a ton of responsibility on his shoulders in regards to that.
There’s also a “third faction”, so to speak. Talon Karrde is, or was, something like a smuggler. He’s built a base on a planet called Mykrr, and is attempting to stay neutral between the Empire and the New Republic. It’s probably the wisest move, considering. He’s somewhat willing to work with either side, if the price is right, but won’t stay exclusive to one or the other.
His second in command (in fact if not in title) is a woman named Mara Jade. She’s keeping her history a secret from Talon Karrde and everyone else. It becomes clear to the reader early on that Mara Jade wants to kill Luke Skywalker. Not even the charismatic Talon Karrde can get her to talk about why or what happened between them, and she won’t come out and say that she wants to kill Luke Skywalker. Fortunately, the reader does get the full story before the end of this book.
Somewhere along the way, Grand Admiral Thrawn goes in search of an strange and powerful man named Jedi Master Joruus C’baoth. He’s teeming with power and has taken control of a small city of people (who regard him as a god). C’baoth is not quite what he seems (and doesn’t quite realize it). He believes that he is the last Jedi – until Thrawn informs him about Luke and Leia (and that Leia is pregnant with twins). C’baoth instantly becomes intensely focused on capturing Leia so he can train her twins to become his minions.
Thrawn and C’baoth strike a bargain, of sorts, and start working together. Each one thinks they are in charge, and each is deceiving the other in certain ways. There’s more to his story than I’m writing here.
It’s going to be difficult to talk about what happens in the book without giving away too many spoilers. So, this introduction will have to do. Timothy Zahn has done an excellent job of keeping true to the established characters, while giving readers some detailed and fascinating (and/or scary) new ones to get to know.
The story moves pretty fast and the book has an interwoven plot line that carries into the second book (and, I presume, the third). One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book is that Timothy Zahn puts the reader inside the character’s heads as they problem solve their way out of difficult and dangerous situations. Unlike movies, books cannot rely on special effects to grab the attention of the audience. I’ve already started reading the second book in the trilogy.