A few notes before we begin.
This was the first book published in what would become the Expanded Universe. It was originally published in June of 1991. In terms of the EU timeline it is the 12th book post Return of the Jedi. It was written by Timothy Zahn who would go on to write five of the EU novels, all of them centering around Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Chiss…some of whom become very important in the later parts of the EU timeline.
There is no way to sum up this book by itself because it is part of a trilogy so at best it is only one-third of the story being told. With that being said I do have a few issues with this work…I think a lot of the praise of this book comes from the fact that it was the first Star Wars Novel post ROTJ. However, much like The Force Awakens, it is very much a place holder. It is setting the reader up for the universe as it is now…in this case five years since the events of ROTJ.
That is ok if this is the first book, as it was for many of us, that one picks up to read. It was among the first EU books I read way back in the 1990’s…but it was not the first…This time I am reading them in timeline chronological order. That makes all the set up in this book kind of hard to get through. I am not saying this is a bad book by any means, but when reading the entire story line of the EU in timeline order makes all the set up that takes place in this book kind of tiring.
On top of that this book exposes one of the biggest plot holes in the entire EU. In the story the Bothans are given a tremendous amount of power based on their involvement in stealing and delivering the plans for the second Death Star. However, we learned from the Emperor himself that this was all a set up. He tells Luke at the end of ROTJ that he allowed the plans to be stolen to lure the Rebel Alliance into a trap. That means the people in charge of the New Republic, five years later, give the Bothans a lot of power based on a trick, or even a false interpretation of events. Either way it does not make the leaders of the New Republic look good politically.
That could be explained away (ret-conned) by political naivety among the New Republic leadership. Or more simply that Emperor was simply lying spinning the truth of the events to his own narrative. Or that Zahn and every author to write a EU story just choose not to deal with this particular plot point. In the X-Wing Series books this point does get mentioned but it has never been explained in anything I have read in any way that satisfies my super nerd like knowledge of the events in this timeline.
My hope is this…since Disney threw out this portion of the Star Wars timeline…and the next movie we will get is Rogue One, which reportedly will deal with the circumstances surrounding the stolen Death Star plans, and that the new timeline will deal with this plot point in a far more effective way.
With all of that being said…Heir to the Empire sets up all of the rest of the EU. It is the focal point for all of the good, all of the bad stories that were to come as Lucas Books went along with its plan to build out the EU.
For me there are several phases of EU publishing, this book comes from the first phase were for the most part stories were still being told in trilogy form. The more problematic parts of the EU come from the second phase which was the standalone book phase, while the most successful stories stem from the third phase which was the large number book series phase. My least favorite stories stem from the final phase where they went back and ret-conned the timeline and added plot points from the prequel trilogy.
Help Support Star Wars Book Club and add a copy of Heir to the Empire to your collect by using the following Amazon link:
Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, Vol. 1)