Heir to the Empire was the very first novel I ever read. I was in the second grade and was tired of reading Dr. Seuss and other children’s books. So I browsed through my dad’s collection and picked up this book simply because it said “Star Wars” on it. As a kid I loved the book and ended up reading Zahn’s whole Star Wars trilogy. If you are unfamiliar with these books, the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn changed the game for the Star Wars expanded universe. Since Heir to the Empire, probably hundreds of Star Wars books and comic books have been released that expand on the stories told in the six films. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the first novel I ever read is arguably the most significant Star Wars novel of all time.
The premise for this trilogy begins 5 years after the events of The Return of the Jedi. The empire has been fought back to the corners of the galaxy and is all but defeated. The alliance is now forming the New Republic. Yet, the empire has a new leader — Grand Admiral Thrawn. And Thrawn is looking for a fight. Overall, the story for Heir to the Empire is compelling and interesting; however, nothing of great significance occurs. The empire is the underdog at the beginning of the book and they are still the underdog at the end. Even though Thrawn has lain some groundwork for a potential reemergence, him and his army are pretty much in the same position at the end of the book that they were at the beginning. I felt that the trilogy would have started off much stronger if Thrawn was a bit more successful in this first book. Its hard for this kind of story to work when its the bad guys that are the underdogs.
The characters in this book, of course, are spectacular. After all, they’re the same characters that we’ve grown to love from the original Star Wars trilogy. Even characters that are new to the universe such as Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and Mara Jade fit right in and are great additions to the cast. However, Zahn fails to do as much with the original Star Wars characters as he could of. Instead of further developing them, Zahn seems to have simply cloned them from the films — Zahn even copies and pastes a multitude of quotes from the movies and puts them in the book. Its as if Luke, Han, and Leia haven’t grown or changed at all in 5 years.
While Zahn has crafted a decent story, he does not show much strength as a writer. He uses too many lines over and over again. His wording is simple and repetitive and just simply boring at times. Being a Hugo award winner, I would expect more out of Zahn than this. His writing isn’t bad to the point where its distracting, but its definitely not as good as it should be.
Heir to the Empire most certainly isn’t a bad book. But setting aside its significance in the Star Wars universe, its just overly average. The story is good but it feels much more like an overlong prologue to the rest of the trilogy than a complete installment itself. Zahn’s new characters are compelling but he fails to develop the characters that we love. And worst of all, Zahn’s writing is rather weak. All this being said, every Star Wars fan needs to read this book. Heir to the Empire is far from flawless but it is not remembered because it is a great book. It is remembered because without it, there wouldn’t be the Star Wars expanded universe that we know that has given us some of the greatest sci-fi stories of our time.
Content: PG for sci-fi violence