Star Wars Legends: Heir to the Empire Review

I remember when I was still in school and one of my friends had the “Thrawn Trilogy” of Star Wars books and him telling me “what happened after the films”, at that point referring to just the three, possibly with Episode 1 on the horizon. I was interested, they sounded good, but at that age I’m afraid to say reading a book just wasn’t something that interested me. Fast forward a few decades and I thought to myself “I’m enjoying these High Republic books, maybe I should go back and experience the original sequel trilogy now we have an actual one” … So here we are! My first dip into the “Legends Timeline” on this blog, and my first time reading Heir to the Empire. What was it like? Very good, funnily enough…

Synopsis:

Five years after the Battle of Endor, as the New Republic holds a fragile control of the galaxy, a new threat emerges. Having been posted so far away from action, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a cunning and intelligent Chiss commander, begins to gather his Imperial forces for a strategic attack on the New Republic. With the aid of Captain Gilad Pellaeon and Thrawn’s personal bodyguard Rukh, they begin to set in motion an almost unbeatable plan.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

The original book cover. Really puts focus on Jorus C’baoth for some reason…

Although I’m familiar with him via his appearances in the “Canon Timeline”, it’s great to see that Grand Admiral Thrawn was pretty much the same across both universes. He’s not unforgivingly evil, just intelligent. He appreciates the art and culture of other planets, even ones he’s about to conquer or attack, if anything it helps him “know his enemy”. This is all made clear in the opening chapter as one of his generals tells him of a rebel fleet and how it would be best to escape but instead Thrawn uses his knowledge of attack strategies and the instincts of the races on board the enemy ships to create a battle plan that gives him total victory. This continues throughout the first half of the book as he schemes to track down Luke and Leia by using an unhinged Jedi outcast named Jorus C’baoth, he takes technology from a hidden weapon’s vault that the Emperor used and even recruits the Noghri, a race that was once under the thumb of Darth Vader to help chase the New Republic’s favourite twins.

Speaking of twins, Leia is three months pregnant with Han’s twins, a fact that Jorus is keenly aware as he wishes to train the twins in the force himself. The Noghri begin chasing after Leia, including a big showdown that ends with the help of future-uncle Luke, so Han asks Chewie to take her to Kashyyyk, which was fun to see. Chewie and several Wookies (some of whom could speak English!) end up fighting the Noghri in another pitched battle, capturing one and allowing Leia to bring it back to the debuting Coruscant. During all of this Han and Lando are trying to hunt down the Empire remnants responsible and follow on a lead when the latter’s “Mole Miner” equipment was stolen. This leads them to dodgy underground smuggler Talon Karrde (which might be the best and most Star Wars-y name I’ve ever heard). Coincidentally (or thanks to the Will of the Force, maybe?) Luke Skywalker had earlier been captured by Karrde’s men after Luke was left floating in space in his X-Wing after using a “crazy manoeuvre” to escape Thrawn after the blue-skinned Admiral had used Jorus C’baoth to lure the young Jedi out to him.

The re-release cover. Really puts focus on Thrawn, more logically!

One of Karrde’s top hired hands is Mara Jade, a former member of Emperor Palpatine’s Royal Guard (the cool red helmeted troops forever in the background…) who holds Luke responsible for turning her life upside down by killing her Emperor. She’s stopped from killing Luke by Karrde, who would much rather sell him to the Empire, but when our heroic Jedi goes on the run she happily hunts him down, only for the two having to rely on each other in order to survive the harsh wastelands of the planet they’re on. Now this may well be the first time I’m reading this but it isn’t the first time I’m hearing of Mara Jade, I know her eventual fate and its teased out well here as the two opposites begin to attract to each other. Luke and Mara make it back to Karrde just in time to help repel a full-on Imperial attack against the smuggler and his people, though they have to obviously abandon the planet after the victory.

During the chaos Han and Lando get a tip off on an Imperial attack on the shipyards of Sluis Van and head there, eventually with the Rogue Squadron as back up. This leads to the big climax of the book as we have a good old-fashioned Empire vs. Rebels (technically New Republic) space battle, complete with X-Wings fighting Tie Fighters and large ships both New Republic and civilian that the Empire is trying to steal using Lando’s “Mole Miners”. This actually works against Thrawn as Lando and Han broadcast a specific signal that causes the machines to sever their own “control linkages”, stopping them from falling into Empire hands by rendering them useless. Thrawn retreats, he hasn’t got his new armada of ships but is happy that at least the Republic haven’t got the ships either…

Timothy Zahn’s prose is nice to read as well, for the record. Easy to follow but detailed when it needed to be.

The Bad:

An example of the comic book adaptation. The artstyle is a little odd and I’m sure it cuts out a lot of the story, but at least its a different way to experience it if you’re not into reading like I was ten or so years ago…

I wasn’t a big fan of how Thrawn was shown to be so clever and yet openly failed on several fronts in the latter half of the book. The way I always read about this trilogy was Thrawn was a more deadly enemy due to his smarts and cunning but here after the brilliant set up he loses Luke at least twice and gets beaten in the big finale. If he had sent other people to do this and sat back from afar it would be different, but him personally being there and failing was a bit of a let down. Only a bit, he’s still a great character, but him still being so 100% confident after his plans haven’t exactly worked for multiple chapters in a row was a bit odd. Rukh also appears in this book, but only in the background. I assume his role is expanded as the trilogy goes on, so it’s not that bad of a… erm, bad.

I also wasn’t happy with how Timothy Zahn seemed so anti-Force. In the opening chapters Obi-Wan visits Luke in a dream and basically says “This who Force Ghost thing? Yeah, it’s over now. Bye forever.”, then we’re introduced to the Ysalamiri, a type of animal that repels the Force by creating a protective bubble around itself (and whoever is holding it) which is how Thrawn is able to approach and convince crazy old man Jorus C’baoth to join him without being attacked. There were a few times when Luke Jedi’d his way out of a situation but they were few and far between and as mentioned the big ending was a pure space fight (which to be fair was also the case for the first film, so no sour grapes there, really…) Even Mara Jade was shown to be on-par with him without a connection to the Force. Still, at least Han mentions training Leia in the Force to help protect her and their unborn children, so it’s not entirely absent. Thinking about it Zahn only had the original three films to go on as well, maybe I’m over-thinking it with my 2021 “loads of films, TV series and comics” brain…

There was also a subplot involving Admiral Ackbar being politically manoeuvred out of his position in the New Republic and arrested that I really didn’t care about. Same goes for Wedge threating over the state of the New Republic’s ships…

Overall Thoughts:

Official artwork for a wrap-around cover. Very nice indeed… apart from Han Solo’s face looking weird.

Heir to the Empire was and still is bigged up as this amazing thing but in the end I felt it was very good but didn’t quite live up to the hype. Now I’m aware that when the book released there weren’t really any proper continuation of the films so a very good novel finally continuing the story would seem like the best thing ever, and that’s not even getting into its influence in Star Was expanded media both now-Legends and canon, so I’m not trying to say it doesn’t deserve its place in being so highly regarded, I’m just saying that as a book by itself I didn’t think it was full-on five stars, but I did really enjoy it. Looking forward to the next one… whenever I get round to it.

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