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The Thrawn trilogy, also known as the Heir to the Empire trilogy, is a series of science-fiction novels written by Timothy Zahn. They are set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe approximately five years after the events depicted in the 1983 Star Wars film Return of the Jedi. The series introduced several notable characters, including Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Grand Admiral Thrawn, one of the more notable villains in the Expanded Universe. The Thrawn trilogy was followed by The Hand of Thrawn, a two-book series (1997 and 1998) also authored by Zahn.

Thrawn trilogy
Book one, Heir to the Empire (1991)

  • Heir to the Empire (1991)
  • Dark Force Rising (1992)
  • The Last Command (1993)

AuthorTimothy Zahn
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherBantam Spectra
Media type



Heir to the EmpireEdit

Published in 1991, the first book is set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Rebel Alliance, now known as the New Republic, has driven out the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy, and is attempting to set up a functional government. Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting twins. Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited new line of Jedi Knights. Thousands of light years away, Grand Admiral Thrawn, the last and most brilliant of the 12 Grand Admirals, has taken command of the shattered Imperial Fleet and prepared it to attack the New Republic. Thrawn is searching for a Dark Jedi to join his side, and is confident he can restore the Empire.

According to Zahn, Lou Aronica of Bantam Spectra had negotiated the book deal with Lucasfilm in 1989, and the publisher put Zahn's name at the top of their list of possible authors. He said, "My original instructions from LucasArts [sic] consisted of exactly two rules: the books were to start 3–5 years after Return of the Jedi, and I couldn't use anyone who'd been explicitly killed off in the movies." Zahn's working title for the book was Wild Card, which Bantam vetoed because of its similarity to their other series, Wild Cards. Bantam also rejected his second favorite title, The Emperor's Hand.[1] Warlord's Gambit was also a potential title, but ultimately Heir to the Empire was chosen, which according to Zahn was suggested by Aronica.[1][2]

Zahn used information from the original film trilogy as his primary source, but supplemented that with details from the many sourcebooks created for West End Games' Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game,[1][3] saying that "the WEG sourcebooks saved me from having to reinvent the wheel many times". Zahn noted that he invented the concept that a lightsaber could be locked on.[1]

Dark Force RisingEdit

Published in 1992, the sequel reveals that prior to the Clone Wars, the Old Republic had constructed a fleet of highly automated heavy cruisers, known as the Katana fleet. A virus infected the crews of the entire fleet and drove them insane. The fleet was never seen again until smuggler Talon Karrde discovered it several years before the events of the first book.

With access to Palpatine's private storehouse on the planet Wayland, Grand Admiral Thrawn presses his advantage to marshal more forces for the battle against the New Republic. Mara Jade, in an attempt to exonerate the Empire's warrant for Karrde's arrest, goes to Thrawn and offers to reveal the location of the Katana fleet. Instead, he has her followed and Karrde is captured. Mara and Luke rescue Karrde from Thrawn's Star Destroyer as Thrawn attempts to capture another man who knows about the Katana fleet.

The Last CommandEdit

Published in 1993, the third book takes place about a month after the previous volume. Thrawn uses the Katana fleet, manned by clones, to launch an offensive against the New Republic. Han Solo, Chewbacca and Talon Karrde form an alliance of smugglers to help defend the New Republic. Mara helps protect Leia from a dark Jedi intent on turning Leia and her newborn twins to the dark side. Mara defeats a clone of Luke named Luuke Skywalker, who fights using Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. After Thrawn's defeat and death, Luke gives Mara his old lightsaber and invites her to train as a Jedi.

Reception, sales and influenceEdit

Heir to the Empire reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list,[4] and the trilogy sold a combined total of 15 million copies.[5]

The Thrawn trilogy is widely credited with revitalizing the Star Wars franchise.[6][7][8] In The Secret History of Star Wars, Michael Kaminski suggests that this renewed interest was a factor in George Lucas' decision to create the prequel trilogy.[8] The series also introduced the popular Expanded Universe characters Talon Karrde, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Gilad Pellaeon.[9][10] It has been called "influential, much-loved, and ground breaking".[9]

In August 2011, the series was voted into NPR's top 100 science fiction and fantasy books (coming in at place 88), as voted on by over 60,000 participants.[11]

With the 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm by The Walt Disney Company, most of the licensed Star Wars novels and comics produced since the originating 1977 film Star Wars were rebranded as Star Wars Legends and declared non-canon in April 2014.[12][13] At the 2016 Star Wars Celebration in London, it was announced that Thrawn would appear in season three of Star Wars Rebels, his first onscreen appearance. Star Wars: Thrawn, a new book written by Zahn, was published in April 2017.[14]


Denis Lawson narrates the abridged audiobook of Heir to the Empire,[15] and Anthony Daniels narrates Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.[16] Marc Thompson performs the unabridged 20th Anniversary editions of the Thrawn trilogy audiobooks.[17][18][19][better source needed] Lucasfilm and Varèse Sarabande Records producer Robert Townson discussed the creation a score to promote the trilogy. They later collaborated on the Shadows of the Empire soundtrack.[20][21]

All three books were later adapted as comic books by Dark Horse Comics. The series was divided into six separate issues per book, and re-released in 2009 as a single hardcover graphic novel for the trilogy.

Each novel in the trilogy had its own Star Wars role-playing game sourcebook created for it by West End Games. When the rules for the Star Wars RPG changed the three volumes were collected into one book for the entire Thrawn trilogy which also served as a second edition to the original three source books. According to Zahn, the writing of the trilogy was coordinated with preexisting West End Games materials (at the behest of Lucasfilm), and that "They filled in a bunch of gaps I hadn't got around to filling in."[8]


  1. ^ a b c d "An interview with Timothy Zahn, author of Heir to the Empire". 1991. Archived from the original on May 21, 2010. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  2. ^ Zahn, Timothy (2011). "Endnote 13". Heir to the Empire: The 20th Anniversary Edition. Del Rey Books. ISBN 978-0345528292.
  3. ^ Zahn, Timothy (1998). "Foreword". The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook. West End Games. ISBN 978-0874312805.
  4. ^ "The New York Times Best Seller List" (PDF). June 30, 1991. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  5. ^ Myers, Lindsay Rae. "The Man Who Saved Star Wars: An Interview With Pensacon Guest Timothy Zahn". WUWF 88.1. WUWF. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  6. ^ Bacon, Tom (January 23, 2017). "Thrawn, The Next Star Wars Novel, Promises To Transform The Franchise". Moviepilot. Archived from the original on 2017-03-12. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  7. ^ "Timothy Zahn: Outbound Flight Arrival". January 31, 2006. Archived from the original on February 4, 2006. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Kaminski, Michael. The Secret History of Star Wars (3rd ed.). pp. 289–291.
  9. ^ a b "Critical Opinion: Heir to the Empire Reviews". April 4, 2014. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  10. ^ Breznican, Anthony (November 2, 2012). "Star Wars sequel author Timothy Zahn weighs in on new movie plans". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  11. ^ "Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books". Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  12. ^ McMilian, Graeme (April 25, 2014). "Lucasfilm Unveils New Plans for Star Wars Expanded Universe". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  13. ^ "The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page". April 25, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  14. ^ Hansen-Raj, Linda (August 2, 2016). "Who Is Thrawn?". Retrieved March 17, 2017.
  15. ^ "SW: Heir to the Empire". Goodreads. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  16. ^ "The Thrawn Omnibus". Goodreads. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  17. ^ "Heir to the Empire: The 20th Anniversary Edition (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy #1)". Goodreads. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  18. ^ "Dark Force Rising (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy #2)". Goodreads. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  19. ^ "The Last Command (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy #3)". Goodreads. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  20. ^ Gonzales, Dave (December 22, 2016). "The Greatest 'Star Wars' Spinoff Movie Was Everything but a Movie". Thrillist. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  21. ^ Cotta Vaz, Mark (April 25, 2009). The Secrets of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Star Wars. Del Rey. p. 256. ISBN 0-345-40236-7.

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