Back in 1991, Star Wars was essentially dead. It had been 8 years since the release of Return of the Jedi and the only real content since then had been the Droids and Ewoks cartoons. So I was surprised when I walked into a Waldenbooks that year and saw a new Star Wars hardcover called Heir to the Empire displayed at the front of the store. This was the beginnings of Star Wars’ return.
Up to this point there had only been seven Star Wars novels to be published that were considered “expanded universe” (or EU) material. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a trilogy of Han Solo adventures, and a trilogy of Lando adventures. All of which took place before or directly after A New Hope. Heir to the Empire’s story took place 5 years after the events of Return of the Jedi and until December of 2015, this book was our Episode 7.
Being that I don’t buy hardcovers, I borrowed the book from my local library and was frustrated when I found out that it was going to be a book trilogy and I’d have to wait (cue whiny Luke) “a whole ‘nother year!” for the second book. Yes, in true Star Wars fashion, this was the first of a trilogy with the second and third books, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command respectively.
Over the years, many many Star Wars books have been written, but for many the Heir to the Empire trilogy is still one of the best examples of the expanded universe. The author, Timothy Zahn, gave us some of the fan base’s favorite EU characters such as Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade. Other characters like Talon Karrde, Captain Pellaeon , and the Noghri, became reoccurring characters as well. He even gave a name to the imperial city planet, Coruscant, which was then adopted as canon in the prequel trilogy.
I recently re-read Heir to the Empire, and with so much new content that has come out since then, some of the elements are jarring. There is a very vocal group in the fandom that is upset with the existing EU being sacrificed for new content under Disney’s ownership. However, grounds for this overwriting have been being laid for quite some time. Heir to the Empire deals quite heavily with elements of the Clone Wars and after the prequel trilogy, well… it no longer makes much sense. Yet this trilogy of books is still considered a foundation of the EU. If Lucas had decided to continue with a sequel trilogy on his own, it would have still overwritten this same EU content. The story group at Lucasfilm say that they may pick and choose elements from the old EU (now called Legends) to adapt into the new canon going forward, so its possible some of these characters and elements may still be seen again in some form or fashion.
If you have never read theHeir to the Empire trilogy, I suggest you give it a try. Although some of the elements seem strange looking back now, it’s still fairly well written and introduces some great EU characters. If nothing else, its a bit of a look back to what had been our Episode 7.