Review: Heir to the Empire (20th Anniversary Edition), by Timothy Zahn

Heir to the Empire cover artStar Wars Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, by Timothy Zahn (Lucasfilm, Random House, 2011)

This is the novel credited with “reigniting the entire Star Wars publishing phenomenon” after the original movie trilogy (so says the dust jacket). Author Timothy Zahn adds:

“A more accurate statement would be that I was the first person since Jedi who was permitted to stick a fork into the piecrust to see if there was still any steam underneath. There was steam. Man, there was steam.” (Introduction, page xx)

Yes, there was steam, but a wet-blanket novel could have smothered it. Instead, Timothy Zahn delivered the Thrawn trilogy. Two things make this anniversary edition worth re-reading if you’ve read it before: it includes plenty of annotations from the author and editor, and there’s a new Thrawn novella at the end.

Okay, there’s a third reason too: it’s a good novel, true to the characters we know and love from the original movie trilogy, and it packs some satisfying explosions.

For those who haven’t read it (or who’ve forgotten), Heir to the Empire takes place 5 years after Return of the Jedi. Han and Leia are married and expecting twins, Luke is still discovering what it means to be a Jedi, and Chewbacca, Artoo and Threepio have key parts to play. The novel includes other characters from the movies and introduces some new ones, such as Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, who feature in other Star Wars novels.

It also introduces Grand Admiral Thrawn, of the blue skin and glowing red eyes, whose presence at the Battle of Endor might have resulted in victory for the Empire. Thrawn is a tactical genius with an ability to understand his opponents’ strategies and limitations by studying their people’s art.

I enjoyed the author/editor notes in the margins, discussing specific portions of the text. It felt a bit like watching a DVD with the commentary turned on. As a reader, it was interesting to see the whys and hows of some of the choices. And as a writer, it was a chance to learn from the experts.

The bonus novella, Star Wars: Crisis of Faith, fits chronologically after the novel Choices of One and before Heir to the Empire. It’s a satisfying showdown between Thrawn and one of his enemies, each commanding their respective forces. One of the viewpoint characters is Trevik, a member of a large, ant-like race, the Quesoth. We don’t know exactly what he looks like, but his thoughts feel very alien and his people’s culture and behaviour patterns are believably complex.

Timothy Zahn is my favourite author. Besides his Star Wars and Terminator novels, he has a raft of stand-alone and series titles. Apart from the young adult Dragonback series, they’re adult science fiction, clean reads with fairly mild language, clever psychological insights, intriguing aliens, and some of the best twist endings I’ve seen. My personal favourite is his Conquerors trilogy. His most recent titles continue his Cobra series: Cobra Alliance, Cobra Guardian and Cobra Gamble. His newest Star Wars title, Star Wars Scoundrels, releases December 2012.

[Review copy from my personal library]

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