It's five years after Return of the Jedi: the Rebel Alliance has destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and driven out the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy.So I wanted to try another Star Wars novel after reading and enjoying Death Troopers last year. The question was - where to start? There are plenty of Star Wars Expanded Universe books out there, with more and more being released at present. However, I wanted something that would really only need me to have watched the films, at which point I stumbled across the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn. It's set 5 years after the end of the original trilogy and picks up with the characters I know from the films - all leading to me deciding that it was the way to go. Of course, while looking around I discovered that it's a series of Star Wars books that is rated very highly indeed. So, off I went to see what Heir to the Empire held in store...
Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting Jedi Twins. And Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of Jedi Knights. But thousand of light-years away, the last of the emperor's warlords has taken command of the shattered Imperial Fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the new Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to build.
The explosive confrontation that results is a towering epic of action, invention, mystery, and spectacle on a galactic scale--in short, a story worthy of the name Star Wars.
As mentioned, I'm not someone that is overly familiar with the Star Wars universe outside the main films, so before starting Heir to the Empire I did question whether or not I'd be lost with any additional things that had been raised within the setting since the films. Fortunately this is one of the strong points about Heir to the Empire - it's perfect for EU virgins like myself!
Picking up events 5 years after the original trilogy ended we join Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo & Chewbacca as they are part of the New Republic and trying to build upon the chaos that was thrown up when the Empire was defeated. Living on Coruscant they are trying to bring in more planets to the New Republic to strengthen it and make it a democratic government for the member planets. Luke is still learning more as a Jedi and is now teaching Leia to build her powers and control over the Force and Han and Leia are married with Leia pregnant expecting twins, Leia is doing her part as a senator for the New Republic while Han is trying to build links with smugglers to help out with legit cargo hauls. Suffice to say that events have carried on nicely from the film in a totally believable way with each of the main characters using their strengths to help build the New Republic.
However, a new enemy has arrived to take control of the old Imperial fleet - Grand Admiral Trawn. He's the last of the Empires high ranking military people and is a genius in what he does, able to think outside the box and knows his enemies weaknesses. He resides on the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera, a ship under the command of Captain Pallaeon, and directs the fleet from there in an effort to rebuild the Empire to its former glory and defeat the New Republic. Along the way he makes kidnap attempts on Leia and Luke, and also stumbles across an old Jedi by the name of Joruus C'Baoth who is not quite what meets the eye.
Apart from the above mentioned new characters we also have some others thrown into the mix, namely Talon Karrde and Mara Jade. Karrde is a big time smuggler, one of the biggest still operating while Jade is his subordinate, and one with an interesting past that is slowly revealed throughout the story. Thrawn is the main bad guy though, but he's one that is a refreshing change from what I've seen in the films and has a much more controlled manner, able to think about the long term goals and carry them out with efficiency. Pallaeon is there more for us to learn more of Thrawn and show how the old ways are not always still used, but he does do the job very well.
While the story is fairly straight forward, there are some very interesting new additions to the universe. The two most important of these are the Emperor's store that is located on a hidden away planet and the other is the revelation of the ysalamiri, a species native to the planet where Karrde is based and one that has a very unique and spectacular ability - their presence nullifies the Force, completely. Both these play a large role in the story and help add a new depth to the universe, allowing Zahn to flex his creative muscles in many ways.
Suffice to say that if you're a fan of the original trilogy then this is by far the best way to go to explore what happened after the films. It's got a great story and an interesting antagonist, while Luke, Leia and Han all keep the continuity from the films very nicely. I'm very eager to start on the second of this series and do so looking forward to see where the story takes us. All in all I was very impressed and thoroughly pleased to find a Star Wars story worthy of the first trilogy, not like those prequels Lucas insisted on releasing - this would have been a much better direction to go.