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Star Wars: Heir to the Empire is a 1991 Star Wars novel by Timothy Zahn, and the first book in the Thrawn trilogy. It reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Heir to the Empire
AuthorTimothy Zahn
Cover artistTom Jung
CountryUnited States
SeriesStar Wars: Thrawn trilogy
GenreScience fiction
PublisherBantam Spectra
Publication date
May 1, 1991
May 1, 1992
Media typePrint
PagesHardcover: 361
Paperback: 432
Preceded byTatooine Ghost 
Followed byDark Force Rising 



Heir to the Empire is part of the Star Wars expanded universe, and takes place five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Rebel Alliance has destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, and driven out the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy. 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 of the 12 Grand Admirals, has taken command of the shattered Imperial Fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. Thrawn is searching for a Dark Jedi and is succeeding in restoring the Empire.


Grand Admiral Thrawn, the new supreme commander of the remaining Imperial forces, conducts a successful information raid on the Obroa-skai system, and easily defeats a retaliatory strike.

On Coruscant, Obi-Wan Kenobi approaches Luke Skywalker in his sleep to say farewell, sending Luke into depression. Han Solo and Chewbacca offer legal shipping work to several old smuggler contacts, in an attempt to solve the New Republic's shortage of cargo ships.

On Myrkr, smuggler Talon Karrde and his subordinate Mara Jade help Thrawn obtain several creatures called ysalamiri. Afterward, Thrawn's flagship, the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera travels to the Emperor's hidden storehouse on the planet Wayland, where Thrawn encounters Joruus C'baoth, the Emperor's guardian. Thrawn's ysalamiri nullifies C'baoth's Force attack. In addition to gaining access to the storehouse, Thrawn persuades C'baoth to offer his services in exchange for two prospective students: Luke and Leia.

Leia, three months pregnant with twins, is sent on a diplomatic mission to Bimmisaari, where a kidnap squad of Noghri try to capture her and Luke, but without success. Han decides to suspend the negotiations and return to Coruscant. Admiral Ackbar agrees with Han's decision, while Ackbar's political opponent, Borsk Fey'lya, criticizes it. Meanwhile, Thrawn launches a series of hit-and-run attacks into New Republic territory.

After another failed kidnapping on Bpfassh, Han and Leia decide to visit Lando Calrissian on Nkllon. On Dagobah, searching the remains of Yoda's home, Luke discovers an electronic device and decides to see if Lando can identify it. The protagonists' visit to Nkllon coincides with an Imperial raid that steals fifty-one of Lando's "mole miner" machines.

Han and Lando discuss plans to visit Talon Karrde as part of the smuggler recruitment operation. The Chimaera intercepts a message in Leia's voice from the Millennium Falcon, but Thrawn knows it is merely a recording; through logical reasoning, he determines that Han and Lando are the only ones aboard, while Leia and Chewbacca are seeking refuge on Kashyyyk. Thrawn nearly captures Luke in a space ambush; Luke escapes but becomes stranded in his X-wing fighter with R2-D2 until Karrde's ship, the Wild Karrde, discovers them.

After taking Luke aboard, Karrde neutralizes him with ysalamiri and takes him back to Myrkr as a prisoner, though he is undecided whether to sell Luke to the Empire, or back to the New Republic. Meanwhile, Han and Lando meet another smuggler whose information leads them to Karrde's base on Myrkr.

Before Han and Lando's arrival, Karrde has Luke moved to a more remote area of the base. Their discussion of the New Republic's offer is interrupted by a return visit from Thrawn, who is interested in acquiring capital ships.

Luke escapes his cell and flies off in a ship, with Mara in pursuit. The Chimaera detects the pursuit and Thrawn insists on sending stormtroopers to aid Karrde's search-and-rescue mission. Despite knowing of the bounties placed by the Empire on Luke, Han and Lando, Karrde feels bound by rules of hospitality to keep their presence a secret.

Mara corners Luke in the Myrkr forest, while his powers are neutralized by the ysalamiri. She reveals that she used to be an undercover agent of the Emperor, who lost everything when Luke killed him at Endor, and wants to kill Luke in revenge, even though she needs him alive to help evade the Imperials. Posing as a bounty hunter, Luke surrenders Mara to an Imperial patrol that brings them all to the Myrkr spaceport. There, Han, Lando, and Karrde's men ambush the Imperial soldiers and rescue Luke and R2 before leaving the planet. Karrde, no longer able to remain neutral, evacuates his base.

On Kashyyyk, Leia is attacked by another Noghri kidnapping team. She kills all but one of the commandos with her lightsaber, but the last manages to seize her, before mysteriously letting her go and letting himself be captured. The commando, Khabarakh, explains that he recognized her by scent as the daughter of Darth Vader, whom the Noghri revere as the savior of their world.

After leaving Myrkr, Thrawn launches an attack on the Sluis Van shipyards, using a cloaking device acquired from the Emperor's storehouse to sneak a squadron of TIE Fighters through the outer defenses and Lando's stolen mole miners as boarding capsules, hoping to steal a large number of Republic warships for the Imperial fleet.

The Falcon arrives in the middle of the battle. Remembering how the Empire stole the mole miners, Lando activates them all by remote control, causing them to burrow even deeper into the hulls, killing the boarding parties and disabling most or all of the captured ships. Believing that the sudden reversal is merely a temporary setback, and their ultimate victory is assured, Thrawn orders a retreat.

As Han and Luke rest after the battle, Leia calls from Coruscant to tell them that Admiral Ackbar has been arrested on charges of treason.



According to Zahn, Lou Aronica of Bantam Spectra had negotiated the book deal with LucasArts 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 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 this 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 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 used the Interdictor Cruiser from the game but invented the "lightsaber lock" concept himself.[1]


Heir to the Empire was extremely well received, reaching #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.[4] Its influence on the Star Wars Expanded Universe was considerable; the EU had previously been primarily elaborated in RPG games, comic strips and other esoteric media. Heir revitalized and opened large portions of the post-Empire EU,[5] and also introduced the popular EU characters Talon Karrde, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Gilad Pellaeon.[6][7]

Comic adaptationEdit

In 1995, Dark Horse Comics started a comic adaptation of the novel. Created by Mike Baron, Olivier Vatine, and Fred Blanchard, the series lasted six issues. The series would later be republished in a graphic novel in 1997 and finally as part of the Thrawn Trilogy compilation in 2009.

20th anniversaryEdit

In September 2011, Zahn, Lucasfilm and Bantam Spectra joined forces to publish a special 20th anniversary edition of Heir. The pressing contains updated text, and commentary notes by Zahn and officials from Bantam and Lucasfilm regarding the production of the novel, plus a foreword by Zahn as to how he landed the project.

When asked about a similar anniversary treatment for Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, Zahn said it will depend on strong sales of the book.[citation needed]

Related booksEdit

  • Bill Slavicsek, Heir to the Empire Sourcebook (Star Wars RPG) (1992) ISBN 0-87431-179-9 (West End Games) (Hardcover)
  • Mike Baron, Olivier Vatine, Fred Blanchard, Star Wars: Heir To The Empire Limited Edition (1997) ISBN 1-56971-180-1 (Dark Horse) (Slipcase Hardcover)


  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. ^ "Timothy Zahn: Outbound Flight Arrival". January 31, 2006. Archived from the original on February 4, 2006. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  6. ^ "Critical Opinion: Heir to the Empire Reviews". April 4, 2014. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  7. ^ Breznican, Anthony (November 2, 2012). "Star Wars sequel author Timothy Zahn weighs in on new movie plans". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 21, 2016.

External linksEdit