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"You couldn't have grown up a Star Wars fan without encountering Thrawn in Heir to the Empire. It was a dark time when there weren't any more movies, and it blew our minds that there could be more."
Dave Filoni[7]

Heir to the Empire is a Star Wars Legends novel written by Timothy Zahn. It is the first installment of Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, and it was first published in May 1991 by Bantam Spectra. The novel is set in 9 ABY, five years after Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, and it introduces the trilogy's eponymous villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Heir to the Empire received several audiobook versions, and the novel was also adapted into a 1995 comic book miniseries. In 2011, a special 20th Anniversary Edition of the novel was published by Del Rey. The novel topped the New York Times Best Seller List in Fiction June 30, 1991. As of 2017, the trilogy had sold more than 15 million copies.

Publisher's summary[]

Here is the science fiction publishing event of the year: the exciting continuation of the legendary Star Wars saga. Picking up where the movie trilogy left off, Heir to the Empire reveals the tumultuous events that take place after the most popular series in motion-picture history—masterfully told by Hugo Award–winning author Timothy Zahn.

In spring 1977 a film called Star Wars was released—and a cultural phenomenon was born. Its epic story, about a young man named Luke Skywalker, whose destiny was to save the galaxy from conquest, caught the imaginations of millions and broke all box-office records. Today Star Wars and its sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, are acknowledged as the most popular series in movie history, and rank among the top ten films of all time.

The three Star Wars films form a spectacular saga of bold imagination and high adventure. But the stories of its characters did not end there. Now for the first time, Lucasfilm Ltd., producer of the Star Wars movies, has authorized the continuation of this beloved story. In an astounding three-book cycle, Timothy Zahn continues the tale of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and the other characters made world famous by Star Wars, as he brilliantly expands upon George Lucas's stunning vision, "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

Heir to the Empire begins five years after the end of Return of the Jedi: the Rebel Alliance has destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and driven the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet back into barely a quarter of the territory that they once controlled. Leia and Han are married and have shouldered heavy burdens in the government of the new Republic. And Luke Skywalker is the first in a hoped-for new line of Jedi Knights.

But thousands of light-years away, where a few skirmishes are still taking place, the last of the Emperor's warlords has taken command of the remains of the Imperial fleet. He has made two vital discoveries that could destroy the fragile new Republic—built with such cost to the Rebel Alliance. The tale that emerges is a towering epic of action, invention, mystery, and spectacle on a galactic scale—in short, a story that is worthy of the name Star Wars.

Star Wars Legends paperback[]

Now for the first time in trade paperback: A Star Wars Legends classic featuring the ever-popular Thrawn, repackaged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lucasfilm.

Here is the #1 New York Times bestselling novel that reignited the entire Star Wars publishing phenomenon. 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.[5]

Plot summary[]

Five years after the Battle of Endor, as the New Republic holds a fragile control of the galaxy, a new threat emerges. Having been posted so far away from action, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a cunning and intelligent Chiss commander, begins to gather his Imperial forces for a strategic attack on the New Republic. With the aid of Captain Gilad Pellaeon and Thrawn's personal bodyguard Rukh, they begin to set in motion an almost unbeatable plan. They enlist the aid of a mad clone of Jorus C'baoth, a dead Jedi Master, and use the Emperor's hidden weapons vault on the planet Wayland, which the clone guards. The chain of events caused major unrest in the New Republic.

Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker encounters Talon Karrde and his gang of smugglers. The smugglers capture him but do not turn him over to the Imperials. The smugglers take him in just as Han Solo and Lando Calrissian come to see Karrde on the New Republic's interest to hire smugglers as traders. Then, as if things could not be worse, Grand Admiral Thrawn comes to visit Karrde just as Luke escapes. One of Karrde's employees, Mara Jade, chases Luke deep into the forest, where both ships crashed. Mara attempts to kill Luke because she believes that he killed the Emperor five years earlier during the Battle of Endor, and Mara was the Emperor's Hand at the time. However, she finds out that she needs Luke if she is to survive. Then Thrawn himself decides to interfere with Karrde's rescue attempts and tries to catch Luke and Mara first. The result is a firefight between Imperial troops and Karrde's men. In the end, Karrde wins, but has to evacuate his base. Han and Lando head to the shipyards at Sluis Van after they discover, thanks to Karrde, that Thrawn has plans there.

The insane Jedi clone from Wayland, Joruus C'baoth, comes out of isolation thanks to Thrawn and learns about Princess Leia's unborn Jedi twin children. Thus, C'baoth decides he will train them in the ways of the Force, unintentionally the dark side due to his insanity. Basically, Leia's unborn Jedi twins and Luke Skywalker will either join him or die. Luke and Leia are both pursued across the galaxy. Princess Leia is repeatedly hunted down by a species of aliens known as the Noghri. In order to keep her safe from more kidnap attempts and to give her a break from all the work in the New Republic, Han sends Leia and Chewbacca to the planet Kashyyyk, where the Wookiees can protect her. But Thrawn deduces the fact. Leia is again hunted down by the Noghri on Kashyyyk, but she has a plan. With Chewbacca's help, she manages to escape, and one of the Noghri is captured. The Noghri, Khabarakh, recognizes her scent as that of a child of the Dark Lord Darth Vader, as the Noghri had apparently been secret bodyguards of the Sith Lord. Determined to discover more about the Noghri's situation, Leia persuades him to bring her to his homeworld.

Meanwhile, the New Republic believes there is a spy among them that is leaking information on the New Republic's actions and plans to the Imperials. It is only known as Delta Source.

Just as Han and Lando reach the shipyards of Sluis Van, Thrawn launches his planned assault on the location. With a cloaking device, Thrawn is able to give an element of surprise as his mole miners (stolen from Lando) attempt to bore into the hulls of ships at Sluis Van, and steal them. But it just so happens that Rogue Squadron is at the scene. They fight off the TIE fighters while Han and Lando hatch a brilliant plan to stop the theft of ships. Thrawn is defeated in his first major offensive.

The Imperials retreat and order is restored…for now.


Timothy Zahn's working title for the book was Wild Card. Bantam vetoed this because it was too similar to Wild Cards, another series published at the time by Bantam. Zahn's next favorite title was The Emperor's Hand, which Bantam also rejected.[8] Warlord's Gambit was also a potential title, but ultimately Heir to the Empire was chosen, which was suggested by science-fiction author Lou Aronica.[9]

After Zahn had already begun work on the novel, Lucas Licensing requested that he incorporate some of the material from West End Games' Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game into his work, as well as keep continuity with it.[10] Many important elements such as the Interdictor-class Star Destroyer originated in those sourcebooks.[8]


Shortly after the release of the novel, Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine clarified, although the book was licensed and approved by Lucasfilm, Heir to the Empire is not George Lucas' story, nor the official continuation of the saga, but, rather, a story of Timothy Zahn's own imagination.[11] The sourcebooks released for the novels noted that all products taking place after Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, are the author's vision of what may have happened, and not the true fate of the characters.[12][13][14] In 1994, Howard Roffman, head of Lucas Licensing stated that, the books following the events of Episode VI. were never intended to be the story of the planned Episode VII-IX.[15]

Heir to the Empire was the first Star Wars book to refer to the galactic capital as Coruscant. George Lucas later adapted this name for the galactic capital throughout the prequel trilogy. However, several references in this novel are made in the prequels as well. An Action VI transport, the same model as the Wild Karrde, designed by Rob Caswell also arrive at the Theed Spaceport in Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones.[16]

The novel introduced several recurring characters and elements to the Expanded Universe, notably including Thrawn, the Chiss species, Talon Karrde and Mara Jade.

On October 30, 2012, The Walt Disney Company finalized its purchase of Lucasfilm and announced the production of the sequel trilogy.[17] On April 25, 2014, Disney announced that existing Expanded Universe content published prior to that date would be rebranded as "Legends" and regarded in a separate continuity, while some influences from Legends would still be used to allow for greater creative freedom in the direction of the new trilogy. The announcement post on StarWars.com confirmed that past novels would continue to be published with a golden banner featuring the Legends label, accompanied by an illustrative example of the cover of Heir to the Empire[18]

In the new canon, the phrase "heir to the Empire" was uttered by the character Ahsoka Tano to describe Grand Admiral Thrawn in the trailer for the Disney+ series Ahsoka, which was first revealed publicly at Celebration Europe on April 7, 2023.[19]





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Notes and references[]

  1. TwitterLogo Del Rey (@DelReyStarWars) on Twitter: "We love looking at cover art. So, here's a closer look at the cover for Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, by Tracie Ching." (backup link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Star Wars Year By Year: A Visual History, Updated and Expanded Edition
  3. 3.0 3.1 PenguinRandomHouse Heir to the Empire: Star Wars Legends (The Thrawn Trilogy) on Penguin Random House's official website (backup link) (Paperback)
  4. 4.0 4.1 PenguinRandomHouse Heir to the Empire: Star Wars Legends (The Thrawn Trilogy) on Penguin Random House's official website (backup link) (eBook)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 EdelweissPlus-Logo Heir to the Empire: Star Wars Legends (The Thrawn Trilogy) on the official Edelweiss website (backup link)
  6. The Essential Reader's Companion
  7. StarWars Who Is Thrawn? on StarWars.com (backup link)
  8. 8.0 8.1 An interview with Timothy Zahn, author of Heir to the Empire on zoklet.net (archived from the original on May 21, 2010)
  9. Heir to the Empire: The 20th Anniversary Edition
  10. The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook
  11. The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 14
  12. Heir to the Empire Sourcebook (Disclaimer)
  13. Dark Force Rising Sourcebook (Disclaimer)
  14. The Last Command Sourcebook (Disclaimer)
  15. The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 22
  16. StarWars Homing Beacon #61: Episode II Easter Eggs on StarWars.com (content now obsolete; backup link)
  17. StarWars New Star Wars Movies Announced as Disney Enters Agreement to Acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. on StarWars.com (backup link)
  18. StarWars The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page on StarWars.com (backup link)
  19. StarWars SWCE 2023: The Ahsoka Trailer Is Here on StarWars.com (backup link)
  20. Heir to the Empire, Bantam hardcover edition

External links[]