Heir to the Empire

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Title: Heir to the Empire
Creator: Timothy Zahn
Date(s): 1991
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Wars, Star Wars Legends
Language: English
External Links: Wookieepeedia entry

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Heir to the Empire is a Star Wars Legends tie-in novel by Timothy Zahn. It is the first installment of Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa, and allies confront a new threat to the fledging New Republic.

In addition to jump-starting the fandom after a lull without new canon material, Heir introduces many popular characters to the franchise, including ex-Emperor's Hand Mara Jade, smuggler chieftain Talon Karrde, main antagonist Grand Admiral Thrawn, and supporting characters like Winter Celchu, Zakarisz Ghent, and Borsk Fey'lya. Other innovations include ysalamiri, reptiles native to the planet Myrkr with the ability to block the Force; and allusions to the Clone Wars that were later retconned by the prequel trilogy.

Fan Comments

Immediately Following Release (1991)

Heir to the SW saga, indeed. This book makes you feel as if you were watching an episode of the movies. Maybe not your favorite episode, but who cares? It is a dose of SW, and some of our addicts needed it badly. The plot is not much; our heroes escape, as usual. But, there is some trouble within the Alliance, and this carries a promise of good sequels. Leia is pregnant with twins (we fans knew it!! I). What I really liked about this book was that our heroes were changed a little: everyone is a bit older, a bit more mature, more experienced, seasoned, but still the same. The main villain of the book is a very finely written baddie—one who is smart enough to think that Vader was not such a hot property.

As a rabid Luke fan, I was, of course, afraid to see him downplayed or worse, but the book treats him wonderfully. In my opinion, he wears his god-like Jedi powers with a lovely, natural dignity and ease, and his relationship with Artoo is something wonderful. Jedi and robot live in a friendly symbiosis—a delight to see. I did not like the half-baked girl thing that came out of the Imperial woodwork to hate Luke, and slowly came to respect him. Her boss, the new crime lord, is a much better character. As for the super-Jedi-mystery-man, the jury is still out, as I could not decide whether he is crazy or sane, good or bad.

I applaud the introduction of the ysalamiri because we do need something to imperil a Jedi.

Leia is wonderfully intelligent and 'together' throughout the whole book, and we get to know some great Wookiee characters as well. I'll let the Han fans describe Solo and Lando. Suffice it to say that I loved them in the book. Let's hope that the next part comes out soon.[1]

I got my copy of HEIR on May 10th, and it took me five hours to read it. I thought it was good—a little slow at times, but I guess the characters have to rest at some point. I'm already looking forward to the next book to find out who the traitor is. I thought that Luke was handled well in the book. I was a little worried about him being less interesting, but he isn't. It would be great to see him get involved with Mara Jade. A woman is just what he needs.[2]

I've got mixed feelings about HEIR. The characters are exactly right, but the timeline seems a bit off. It's understandable that they're just starting to form another republic—that takes time. But Luke being the only Jedi? Luke not knowing much more than he did in ROTJ after five years?! I know he had an upbringing that was lacking in education, but really! Did all of his curiosity and reading skills get burned out by Tatoo I and Tatoo II?!

Leia not knowing that much is slightly more acceptable. Her talent is obviously more in the 'people' area. You'd think Luke would have at least taught her how to turn off a light switch after five years! I like the idea of 'the Hand'—she could be a great influence on Luke!

As to the power-hungry Bothan, he reminds me of Boris Yeltsin—all bluster and no brains! [3]

Oh, to have hungered for SO long and receive so LITTLE...Chinese food for the mind, a cream puff without any filling! WE deserved better than this—hell, most of us have WRITTEN better than this! Zahn's writing is cliche-ridden and generic, patronizing and juvenile. Hugos must be going cheap!

Luke comes off best, at least he has yet to be reduced to a painful-to-read caricature, as Han and, especially Leia, are. Zahn has eliminated not only the depth, but the humanity, emotion, and humor from almost all of his characters. The only genuinely touching moments in the book are between Luke and Ben's spirit; and the only display of affection between characters comes when Luke tells Threepio to tell Leia that he loves her.

It may be that Zahn was chosen for his technical, action-oriented approach to writing. If so, Lucas should have followed his own adage: the story is not the environment, the story is the story! It should be obvious after Leigh Brackett made EMPIRE an emotionally-charged screenplay that became, in most SW fans' opinions and even Lucas', the most beautiful and satisfying of the Trilogy, that SW is at its best when a woman writes dialogue, for the principles at least. Zahn should have had HEIR'S dialogue ghost-written! It seemed to me that he felt the need to constantly remind readers that this was STAR WARS by re-using every catchy or memorable line from the films that he could. Cringe Factor 10!

Oh, there were a few things I liked...the Wookiees at home, the Nohgri (although why they could identify Leia, and not Luke, as Vader's heir is puzzling) and Luke's intriguing problems with time-sense.

Altogether, HEIR was all over the place. It was vague (and I like vague!) in the worst sense of the word, painfully lacking in substance, redundant and insulting to the Saga as well as its fans. It is also the first book I've read in years that I feel NO desire to read again, for it may have inherited the SW name and Lucas' official approval, but it has none of its heart and soul.

Waiting eight years for 'ANYTHING' got us exactly that. It was easier to wait for it than it was to read it! Let's hope the films, when they finally appear, do the SW spirit justice and make up for the blow Zahn has dealt a loyal fandom.[4]

HEIR TO THE EMPIRE: shallow and patronizing. A prime example of what happens when someone does something for money, instead of love.[5]

HEIR seems destined to be a best seller due to the massive following of the SW trilogy. Unfortunately, the novel is a bit disappointing. Perhaps this is due to the change in authorship. George Lucas wrote the original SW story, which was just plain better than this.

Zahn's story reads as if it were written around a movie screenplay, with frequent and dramatic shifts of location and action. The style is markedly cinematographic, but visual stunts and sweeping panoramic views flatly described in words come up lacking something in print. Certain actions and some events are a little bewildering. More inexcusably, the ending of the book leaves items unclear and hanging.

Otherwise, HEIR is genuine SW material: lots of excitement, swashbuckling adventure, cute dialogue, and everybody from R2-D2 to Chewbacca back to fight the forces of evil once again.[6]

Later Reviews

On the cover art of the original edition: It is RIDICULOUS that Joruus C’Baoth — a Tier-III Villain and a half-assed Khan cipher if ever I saw one — gets big, shirtless top billing, while Admiral Thrawn (ADMIRAL THRAWN) is barely drawn larger than a Stormtrooper.

“Hey, what are you reading there?”

“Oh, it’s the Joruus C’Baoth trilogy.”

“The what?”

“The Thrawn trilogy.”

“Why on earth didn’t you say that to begin with?”



Heir to the Empire and its sequels are frequently held up as the pinnacle of the Star Wars Legends franchise by both its supporters and detractors. They are one of the few entries in the Legends canon almost universally accepted by fans as "good," to the point where more experienced fans regularly recommend the Thrawn trilogy—and only the Thrawn trilogy—to newcomers.

"So what order do I read these books in?"


Cosmere Fandom: "Start with Mistborn!" "No start with Elantris!" "What about Storm--?" "NO!!!!"

Star Wars EU Fandom: The Thrawn Trilogy!

Me: And after that?

Star Wars EU Fandom: ...

Star Wars EU Fandom: Um...well...hmmm...you see...um...[8]

Heir is frequently credited as a formative experience, and a gateway introduction to the larger Legends universe:

On May 1st of 1991, Heir to the Empire was published. It wasn’t the first Star Wars novel, but it might as well have been. It was the first in eight years, the first since Return of the Jedi. It was the first to be set after the films. (An extensive discussion of what, exactly, Splinter of the Mind's Eye means for this claim has been omitted here. You’re welcome.)

It was the start of a whole new universe. (The Star Wars Expanded Universe, or EU for short. And yes, it does predate the European Union. It also has a weirdly similar but ultimately much cooler flag.)

Like most third-trimester fetuses, I was illiterate at the time, and so I can’t say I’ve been there from the beginning. But this universe, born just a few months before me, is one I would grow up in.[9]

Selected Fanworks


  1. ^ a fan in Hibernation Sickness #15
  2. ^ a fan in Hibernation Sickness #15
  3. ^ a fan in Hibernation Sickness #15
  4. ^ a fan in Hibernation Sickness #15
  5. ^ a fan in Hibernation Sickness #15
  6. ^ excerpt from a profession review by David The Associated Press, quoted in Hibernation Sickness #15, the editor of that zine included this: "[Ed's note: I included the AP review basically for two reasons. 1) To provide a 'professional' review of the book and 2) To give a man's reaction to the story, since none of our male members wrote in with their own reviews! (Tsk, tsk, guys!)]"
  7. ^ Star Wars Expanded Universe Book Covers And The Feelings I Have Had About Them, Fifteen Years Later by Daniel Mallory Ortberg, July 23, 2014.
  8. ^ Tumblr post by libralita, November 24, 2018.
  9. ^ The Star Wars Expanded Universe: A Eulogy by Louis Evans, July 16, 2014.