the Little Red Reviewer

Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn

Posted on: December 15, 2012

200px-HeirToTheEmpireHeir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn

published in 1991

where I got it: that bookshelf where my hubby’s favorite books are











Taking place 5 years after Episode 6, Heir to the Empire follows Luke, Leia and Han while they try to pry themselves away from the developing government of the New Republic. Leia and Han have married, and Leia is expecting twins. As Luke works with Leia to train her Jedi powers, they learn the unborn twins are strong with the force as well. As much as the three of them would prefer to spend their time together, the demands of the New Republic often have them at opposite ends of the sector, with Leia handling diplomatic concerns, Han trying to get his old smuggling friends to do legit shipping for the New Republic and Luke investigating rumors of other Jedi.

Meanwhile, the dying Empire is pulling itself back together, mostly with the help of Grand Admiral Thrawn. He’s not a Sith, and he doesn’t really care about the Force. Grand Admiral Thrawn is cold, calculating, and intensely intimidating. He studies his enemies and his victims, waiting until he’s sure of their reaction before attacking. Thrawn puts two and two together to manipulate the ultimate stealth weapon against Luke Skywalker and the future of the New Republic. I’m not going to tell you what his weapon is, but it’s brilliant, and truly stealthy.

Another important plot line involves Mara Jade, a conflicted woman who was once close to the Emperor, and now works for a smuggler. She dabbles in the force and has a burning hatred for Luke Skywalker.  Thrawn may prefer to take Skywalker alive, but Jade would rather kill him. Why does she hate him so much? Luke has no recollection of ever meeting her ,what could have he possibly done to her?
While reading Heir to the Empire, I felt like I was reading the novelization of an unmade Star Wars movie. Characters say and do things that you’d expect from them. Han is snarky but sometimes nervous, Luke sees the good in everyone will little regard for his own personal safety, Leia is slow to trust but quick on her feet.  There are action sequences with the Millenium Falcon outrunning a Star Destroyer and Tie Fighters firing on X-Wings.  The action flies along at a fast clip and we never spend too much time, or too little, with any one character. There’s even the situational humor we’ve come to appreciate when no one but Han can understand Chewbacca or C3P-0 doesn’t understand some idiom. A few dialog lines are actually cribbed directly from the movies, and slyly referred to as inside jokes between the characters. The first in Timothy Zahn’s trilogy, Heir to the Empire is the book every Star Wars fan should read.

This might not be the deepest book in the world, but it was a heckuva lot of fun, and sometimes I need a book that’s going to entertain me without asking for something in return. I couldn’t put Heir to the Empire down, and I didn’t want to.  It was a highly enjoyable and satisfying read. What better way to destress after a tough day at work than by spending an hour with my favorite people? I was a kid in the 80s, I grew up watching these movies (taped off of tv, of course!).
When it was recently announced that Disney bought LucasArts and was starting work on additional Star Wars films, fans immediately hoped these Zahn books would be the plot lines the screenwriters would use. While I doubt that the writers will go the direction that Zahn did, it will still be a shame if they don’t. Zahn has provided an intelligent, non-Sith villain, an intriguing plot, and some new twists in the Star Wars universe.

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16 Responses to "Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn"

Read this one when it first came out many, many moons ago. I’m now so far behind on Star Wars universe reading that I’ve given up trying to catch up.


Zahn does a marvelous job with capturing the voice of the actors who made the Star Wars characters come to life and his imagination makes for some really entertaining tales in this universe.

I was working in a small bookstore when word was out that this book was being published. I remember getting this large display with the cover image on it, that I promptly claimed for my own after it was no longer needed, and I snagged the book and started reading it the second I got home.

I was going to say that seems like a long time ago but there is no *seems* about it. 20 years ago *is* a long time!


Love, love, love this triology and it introduces two of the most fascinating creations in Star Wars lore not to have appeared in the films. That is, Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Both characters have a cult following and by the end of the trilogy it is easy to see why.


I actually read the Dark Horse graphic novel adaptations before I read the books, but yeah, I loved the series when I read them. Probably the most authentic Star Wars novels out there, in how well the characters stick to their movie portrayals—and Thrawn is an absolute badass, one of the series’ greatest villains. Probably because he’s just a really smart dude and not a Sith lord.

Not great literature, sure, but absolute required reading for Star Wars fans.

I’d love it if the Thrawn Trilogy was filmed—it’d make a perfect sequel trilogy to the original movies—but unless they can do to Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Han Solo what they did to Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy… complete CGI makeover. They’re going into their 60s and 70s, a bit too old to play the characters at this point. (Wasn’t Princess Leia pregnant in the novel? Carrie Fisher is 56.)


The CGI worked (ok, sorta worked) in Tron: Legacy because Bridges isn’t in a million scenes. if they filmed Heir to the Empire, they’d need to cast all new actors. As much as I love Carrie Fisher, we’d be asking too much to request she get back into Leia shape!

I got one beef with Thrawn – he’s too smart. not to say that the villain should be dumb, but he was figuring out barely connected things too easily. but he does make a totally bad-ass bad guy, so it’s OK!


I have been wanting to read this one for quite sometime now. I am not that sure why I have not sat down to read it yet.:)) Great review as always.


It’s been so long since I’ve read these – I think I was ten or eleven, and definitely not old enough to tell the difference between good and bad writing..I really should go back and give them a shot. Have you read others of the star wars novels, and how do you think these stack up against them?


these Zahn books are the only ones I’ve ever read. My other half is a huge, huge SW fan, so he’s read most of the tie-in novels and we have a bunch of the newer graphic novels too. He says these are by far, the best tie-in novels.


I’m in the same boat as neal. However, I do seem to recall that the authors most renowned for their non-Star Wars work (e.g. Kris Rusch, one-time F&SF editor) wrote the least interesting Star Wars tie-ins, and that Zahn was better than the rest.

Also, apologies for the tangent, but in light of your Disney filk I thought you might like this!


thanks for the link Peter, I hadn’t seen that one yet and it is so adorable!


You have some great reviews here Redhead.. keep up the good work!

P.S. Have you read the latest Star Wars novel, Darth Plagueis, by James Luceno? It’s pretty freakin’ awesome!


Hi Isaac! thanks for visiting. :)

shhh, don’t tell anyone, but this Timothy Zahn trilogy are the only Star Wars novels I’ve read. I read the whole trilogy probably 10 years ago, so my memory of what happens at the end is a bit fuzzy.

It’s good to hear that the newer SW novels are just as good!


So glad you enjoyed this! Zahn’s novels are a great place to start. :)


Aww man, I’ve started this book twice now and still haven’t finished it. You have shamed me into finishing it!

Also, anyone else think the events of this book and the others in the trilogy would make for a GREAT TV show? Or is it just me?


Always happy to hear about someone discovering this trilogy! I have read way, way too many Star Wars novels over the years, and the Thrawn books still stand out as my absolute favorites.


Ah, these are so good! I’ve read the entire trilogy at least twice. As you say, they’re so good at least in part because they’re so RIGHT in how they portray the characters! That’s always what makes Star Wars (or Star Trek) books work (or not work!) for me.


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