Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy: Heir to the Empire - Twentieth Anniversary Edition

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy: Heir to the Empire: 20th Anniversary Edition




‘Heir to the Empire’ occupies a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. It is the first Expanded Universe (now Star Wars Legends) novel that I ever read. It is also the Star Wars audiobook that made me fall in love with reading these stories. I don’t think Audiobook Empire would exist at all had I not really enjoyed ‘Heir to the Empire’ when I first heard this version back in 2013.
There has been a lot of change in the Star Wars universe over the last few years. George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney is obviously the one with the greatest impact. We are getting a new sequel trilogy, we got a new TV series, and there has been a new focus on keeping a unified continuity across all forms of media. Given all of that, I thought it would be fun to revisit this book and its two sequels to see if they still hold up.


Here is a special edition 20th anniversary release of the number-one New York Times best-selling novel that reignited the entire Star Wars publishing phenomenon – unabridged for the first time. The biggest event in the history of Star Wars books, Heir to the Empire follows the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia after they led the Rebel Alliance to victory in Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi.
Five years after the Death Star was destroyed and Darth Vader and the Emperor were defeated, the galaxy is struggling to heal the wounds of war, Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting twins, and Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of new Jedi Knights.
But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor’s warlords – the brilliant and deadly Grand Admiral Thrawn – has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to create.
The explosive confrontation that results is a towering epic of action, invention, mystery, and spectacle on a galactic scale – in short, a story worthy of the name Star Wars.
More in the Thrawn Trilogy we have. And listen to all of our Star Wars titles you can!
©1991 Timothy Zahn (P)2011 Random House Audio


Five years after the end of ‘Return of the Jedi’, the New Republic is growing. As with any new government, it is experiencing some growing pains and is suffering from a lack of resources. There are also turf wars in the political arena which are making it hard for much of anything to get done.
At the same time, the Empire is shrinking. They are losing planets to the New Republic at a fast rate and are also struggling with a lack of resources. But leading the Empire is a tactical genius named Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn has a plan to sink “the rebellion” for good and to reestablish the dominance of the Empire.
Thrawn is an interesting villain. In many ways, he is an imperial version of Han Solo. Thrawn succeeds not because of a command of the force but because he has come to understand how people or alien species think. Thrawn is able to predict what his enemy is going to do before the enemy knows what it is going to do, and he does it without using any Jedi mind tricks or other force manipulations.
The main players from the original trilogy are all back in ‘Heir to the Empire’. Luke Skywalker is struggling with questions about what it means to be a Jedi. His sister is married to Han Solo and is pregnant with twins. She struggles with her own force abilities and need for training as well as her diplomatic duties. Han himself is caught up in politics even though it is the last thing he wants to be involved with. And C3PO is still a complainer.
Aside from Grand Admiral Thrawn, ‘Heir to the Jedi’ introduces us to Mara Jade. Mara Jade would go down in history as the most popular character introduced in the Expanded Universe. In ‘Heir to the Empire’ she is the second in command of smuggler Talon Karrd but has a score to settle with Luke Skywalker. She blames Skywalker for the destruction of her former life, even though he has no idea who she is.
‘Heir to the Empire’ is a book that contains battles for information. The Empire has information that they are keeping close to the vest as does the New Republic. Talon Karrd is interested in gaining as much information as he can from both sides of the fight as he tries to remain neutral.
‘Heir to the Empire’ is the first in the Thrawn Trilogy. As a result, you get exactly what you should expect out of a book that was designed to be the first part of a larger story. You are introduced to all of the main players and given an understanding of what motivates each of them. You also find that seeds have been planted that will bear fruit in the next two chapters of the story. Toss in a few assassination attempts, a ground battle and a space battle and you have something that definitely feels like Star Wars.


It can be hard to quantify the exact amount of influence Timothy Zahn has had on the Star Wars universe over the past 20 plus years. This trilogy really did spark a new level of interest in Star Wars publishing when the book came out. But beyond that, a lot of Zahn’s concepts would eventually make their way into the films themselves. I believe the planet of Coruscant itself is an original Zahn creation that was appropriated into other Star Wars media.


As I said in my review of ‘Heir to the Jedi’, I am starting to run out of things that I can say about the tremendous work that Marc Thompson does on these Star Wars releases.
The thing I noticed most while reading ‘Heir to the Empire’ is just the wide range of voices Thompson has at his command. I’ve listened to numerous Star Wars titles narrated by Thompson and it is rare to hear him use the same voice twice. When he does, it’s usually voices reserved for minor characters. His accented voices for both Grand Admiral Thrawn and Talon Karrd stand out in particular.


I have had a chance over the years to listen to the original abridged recording of ‘Heir to the Empire’. The sound quality is so much better with this unabridged version that it is hard to believe this is the same medium.
Everything sounds clean and clear from the dialog to the background noises of the forest and battles. As this is a Star Wars audiobook, sound effects and music are prominently involved. The Audible version features 32 chapter stops to match the book’s 32 chapters.


This is the first time I have read ‘Heir to the Empire’ since the announcement was made last year about all future novels, comics, movies and television properties having the same level of canon. This novel as well as the rest of the previous Expanded Universe has now been rebranded as ‘Star Wars Legends’. I wanted to see if knowing that this story was no longer canon would have any impact on how I felt about it.
The answer to that basic question is a definite no. The fact remains that this is still a good story. Even if the upcoming sequel trilogy renders the whole thing a moot point, it won’t be enough to alter the fact that this is a well told adventure featuring some familiar characters.
There is a debate among Star Wars fans with some supporting the old Expanded Universe and others embracing the new continuity. I am not actively involved in this debate because for me it really isn’t a big deal. I don’t find any of the old Expanded Universe novels I have in my collection to be any less enjoyable because of their new status as legends. I also didn’t really get an extra bit of thrill out of knowing that ‘A New Dawn’, ‘Tarkin’ and ‘Heir to the Jedi’ are official canon. An interesting plot with strong characters and character development is really what matters most. In that way, ‘Heir to the Empire’ delivers in a way that few books, Star Wars or otherwise, really can.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy: Heir to the Empire – 20th Anniversary Edition Timothy Zahn Marc Thompson Random House Audio Science Fiction 09/06/2011 13 hours, 9 minutes 9.25/10


A copy of ‘STAR WARS: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION’ was purchased from Audible for review.