My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Heir to the Empire is set about five years after the first movie trilogy (by release date, i.e. after Return of the Jedi.) It features many of the principal heroes of the first trilogy including: Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, R2-D2, and C-3PO. Obviously, gone are most of the bad guys from the movies, but in their place has risen Grand Admiral Thrawn—a master strategist who seeks to revive the Empire. Thrawn is portrayed more as a brilliant military man than a dastardly villain. This doesn’t mean he can’t be cold and villainous, but he also brings in a measure of intellect and rationality not seen in the movie universe. While it would appear that Luke is the last of the Jedi Knights, or the first of a new line if one prefers, that turns out to be not entirely true.
I enjoyed this book. I bought it during a Kindle sale on what Amazon considered to be the best Star Wars books. While I’d seen the movies, I hadn’t read any of ancillary works, and so I Googled to find out which of the books on Amazon’s list were considered by fans to be the best. Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, and particularly this first installment, seemed to be on every fan’s list.
One of the great plot devices used in this book is a creature whose mere presence can nullify the force. This strips Luke’s powers away through a critical piece of the book. Yes, the introduction of this creature is deus ex machina, but it’s deus ex machina that challenges the protagonist–rather than making life easier for him–so it’s alright by me. Because Luke is the last of the known Jedi, he’s essentially a Superman among mere mortals, and so the book might have become tedious if Luke weren’t stripped to his native intellect and courage devoid of superpowers. Instead, he has to escape from the planet on which these creatures reside and help rescue Han and Lando in the process without any supernatural abilities.
As mentioned, this is the first book of a trilogy, and, therefore, it leaves many major issues unresolved. Multi-part series usually have less satisfying endings than a stand-alone book, and I can’t say it’s not true of this work. However, this first book of the Thrawn trilogy does contain a clear climax and a definitive tactical (battle-level) resolution.
The book intersperses chapters from the hero’s point of view (PoV) with those from the Thrawn’s ship. This book begins with a chapter from the enemy’s PoV, and so for Star Wars neophytes—such as myself—one enters into a whole new territory in which it’s not quite certain when or where one is in the Star Wars universe. However, in subsequent chapters Luke, Leia, and Han are introduced and we learn that Han and Leia are married and that Leia is pregnant, and this gives one insight into the timeline of the book. We also learn that while the Empire seems to have been destroyed, the Republic is on weak footing and is having trouble reestablishing itself.
The book introduces us to a couple of new characters that I understand will become established in the expanded Star Wars universe. The most intriguing and important of these is Mara Jade, the right hand woman of the most powerful smuggler in the known universe. We soon learn that Mara despises Luke Skywalker and wants nothing more than to dance on his grave. However, we don’t learn until much later why it is that she hates him, and we learn after a time during which the two are forced together by circumstances. Mara Jade is a force to be reckoned with. While she might not be a match for Luke the Jedi, she is more than a match for Luke stripped of his powers. It seems clear that Zahn is building a relationship between Luke and Mara with their interaction in this book. Luke is oblivious to why Mara dislikes him, or even who she is until he is explicitly told, but events force them to spend time together under trying circumstances.
All in all, I liked this book. I found it readable, and thought that it did a good job of maintaining tension throughout.