Welcome to the first post of the Thrawn Trilogy retrospective! First, let’s gloss over the history. Heir to the Empire was published in 1991 by Bantam Spectra, and was the first novel in the post-Return of the Jedi era of the Expanded Universe. Many people didn’t think the series would perform very well, but instead it sold out at nearly every bookstore and went through multiple printings. Bantam decided to continue publishing Star Wars novels, and here we are in 2014, with a sequel trilogy in production and the Expanded Universe spawned by the Thrawn Trilogy having been deemed non-canon. People thought Star Wars was dead when Heir was released; it’s debatable whether the prequel trilogy and sequel trilogy would’ve ever happened if this insurgence hadn’t occurred.
Onto the book! Heir to the Empire starts with a Star Destroyer, as do all Timothy Zahn’s novels set in the Rebellion and New Republic era. It’s a fitting start, as the Original Trilogy also started with the Imperials; and because the series later became known as the “Thrawn” trilogy, after the principal antagonist Grand Admiral Thrawn. We’re first introduced to Captain Pellaeon of the Star Destroyer Chimaera, and learn that he was present at the Battle of Endor and was responsible for the Imperial Fleet’s retreat. Somehow he met up with Thrawn not long before the series begins, and now they are starting their campaign against the Rebellion in earnest.
We learn that Thrawn is a different kind of Imperial. For one he’s an alien, the only one to ever be named Grand Admiral. (I don’t think we ever hear the word “Chiss” in this series.) He seems calmer and more calculating than Vader, and intimidates nearly everyone he comes across, including Pellaeon. Pellaeon even wonders what would’ve happened if Thrawn had been in charge at the Battle of Endor. It’s an interesting idea to consider, but of course one must realize that Pellaeon, as Thrawn’s right-hand-man, is a bit biased.
A scout team has just returned from an attack on Obroa-skai, a world in the borderlands and home to a large data repository. The team succeeds in getting information Thrawn’s been looking for, and that will enable the campaign against the Rebellion to succeed. Pellaeon goes to tell Thrawn this news, and we get our first mention of the Noghri species and Rukh, Thrawn’s bodyguard, in particular. They play a huge role in this story, so it’s nice to see them so early on.
Thrawn’s military genius is put on display right off the bat, when he orders the destruction of the Elomin task force that pursued the scouts. How does he predict what the task force will do? By knowing their art. “Learn about art, Captain. When you understand a species’ art, you understand that species.”
In Chapter 2 we head to the New Republic, which is now headquartered on Coruscant. Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke in a dream, and tells him that he can no longer appear to him through the Force. He tells Luke that he is not the last of the old Jedi, but the first of the new.
Luke wakes up, and he is sad. He heads to the roof of the Imperial Palace with an exotic drink, the recipe courtesy of Lando. It’s called hot chocolate. Yeah, a lot of people hate this part, but whatever, it’s perfect for farmboy Luke. Threepio, sent by Leia, goes to check on Luke. But he’s not very successful. It’s part of Leia showing off her new Jedi skills.
The scene skips to Leia, who is about three months pregnant, and we’re introduced to Winter, her right hand lady. Yay, Winter! She has a perfect memory and is awesome. There’s also a neat little mention that Winter was mistaken for Leia in the past, which is referenced in the Agent of the Empire comics (and later recreated by our very own Bria).
Then we move to Han, who’s back at the Mos Eisley Cantina. He’s been going around meeting smugglers, trying to hire them to work for the New Republic. Dravis, the smuggler, isn’t intrigued and says no. He tells Han who’s in charge of Jabba’s organization nowadays–Talon Karrde. He also tells Han that his back-up man is terrible. This is really just an excuse to include Wedge Antilles in the chapter, but we’re also introduced to Judder Page, who becomes a recurring character in the Expanded Universe and was retconned into Jedi.
Chapter 3 is my favorite of this group, which isn’t a surprise since it’s the introduction of my favorite smuggler/information broker. We head to Myrkr, home of Talon Karrde’s base, where he’s setting up a dinner with an employee named Mara Jade. When she arrives he’s quick to point out that this is a business dinner, nothing more. Thank you, Zahn, for cutting off that ship at the pass. No, just no. He’s like her dad!
Anyway, Karrde says he wants to groom Mara to be his lieutenant. Before she can agree, they’re interrupted by the Chimaera arriving in the system. Karrde hails them to offer assistance in retrieving ysalamiri, a native tree-dwelling species. Mara questions why he offers them free help, and he explains the help actually wasn’t free, as his men got to observe the Imperials the entire time. And thus we understand that Karrde might love information gathering even more than smuggling.
Karrde and Mara return to their earlier conversation, and wonder what the Imperials might want with the ysalamiri. Luke Skywalker is mentioned, and Mara has an extremely negative reaction, to say the least. Karrde wonders what her story is, but doesn’t press her. He has time to find out what Luke Skywalker has done to make her hate him. And so do we.
There you have it. Heir starts out with a bang with the attack on the Elomin task force, and it was a good idea to show Thrawn’s military superiority right from the start. While his “genius” might have been overblown later on, he definitely earns respect here. We also find out the state of the galaxy in regards to the Empire and the New Republic, and know that the Empire has big plans. It was also great of Zahn to include the fringe group right at the beginning, as they play a just as big a part in the story. And even though Zahn focuses on movie characters for the New Republic cast, we also get to meet a lot of new characters — Pellaeon, Thrawn, Winter, Karrde, and Mara — all in the first three chapters. It’s no wonder why Heir has become so important to the fandom and the Star Wars galaxy.
Stay tuned for the next two chapters, in which we meet another antagonist, this one a lot crazier than the others, and a really awful protagonist who’s more of an bad guy even though he’s in the New Republic.