There is nothing like curling up with a great book … or an ebook nestled in an Oberon leather case! Books can be like old friends, and by association we grow to feel a certain kinship with the author of works we enjoy. I love revisiting favorite books from time to time, to see what new things I can learn based on my frame of mind, age, and where I am at in my life.
Last month I wrote about the release of Star Wars: Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition by Timothy Zahn. Since it was released I took my time working through all of the content offered in the deluxe release on my nook Touch. Is it worth getting? Let’s take a look!
Star Wars fortunes soared with the May 1991 publication of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, the first volume of an eponymous trilogy sequel to the events of Return of the Jedi. This 20th anniversary edition is a trivial candle occasion: This collectible hardcover contains numerous new features, including an introduction and annotations by author Zahn; exclusive commentary from LucasFilm and Del Rey books; and, not least, a new novella featuring Grand Admiral Thrawn himself. One of the most exciting Star Wars epics of all.
I already had a couple of books I was reading and others in queue, but with an opportunity to revisit a book I hadn’t read in over a decade, re-edited by the author and original editor, loaded up with new forwards, footnotes and insights by everyone involved … I had to jump right in!
As I mentioned when the book came out a few weeks ago, in 1991 Heir to the Empire launched into a world in which the Star Wars franchise faded into the backdrop as other franchises such as Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and Revenge of the Nerds took center stage.
Timothy Zahn was well on his way to a PhD in Physics when the death of his adviser left him stranded – and forced him to make some choices. He started dabbling in science fiction writing, and after a few years was a full-time writer and by 1983 had won a Hugo award for his novella “Cascade Point”. During the 1980’s he established himself as an author of high quality fiction with an ability to detail tactics, scientific principles, and fast paced action in a compelling way.
Then he was asked by Bantam Spectra to work on a new set of fictional stories in the Star Wars universe. A LucasFilms marketing lead thought the time was right to go forward with new material, but was struggling to find an interested publisher. Bantam Spectra had a similar vision – and felt they had an author perfect for the task. So in 1991, author Timothy Zahn created ‘Heir to the Empire’. It was the first book in a trilogy, with the other books following in 1992 and 1993.
The story takes us back to the universe just five years after Return of the Jedi, and finds the New Republic still struggling to rebuild after the toppling of the Empire, and also finds a powerful Grand Admiral still loyal to the Empire with designs of his own!
Zahn has an engaging storytelling method that delves into the thought processes of characters rather than their emotions or just purely their actions. His tactical approach puts you right into the action with each of the characters, and his way of portraying their manners and approaches is totally believable well beyond just using some familiar phrases and banter.
But by pulling from the established dialogue and action, Zahn made sure there was a connection to movies at all times – but unlike other stories I have read based on established franchises, he actually develops his characters organically – and their changes make sense in the context of the characters, the story … and the entirety of Star Wars put into perspective.
I mean, everyone knew that the Emperor and Darth Vader were toppled, the Rebellion had a major victory and so on … but what Zahn had to do was make sure that his readers understood that the challenge of assembling a ‘New Republic’ was anything but trivial. He had to make his characters weary from all the politicking complicated by the continued threat of the Imperial ‘Remnant’.
And with Heir, he did so masterfully – his characters remembered the rebellion but were several years beyond that, with Luke as a full Jedi training Leia; Han and Leia married and expecting twins; Chewbacca remains Han’sloyal friend; the droids are still getting themselves into trouble; and Lando is off on some new scheme – but always to lend a hand.
But Zahn goes further, creating some of the most compelling and intriguing characters in the entire Star Wars universe, such as Grand Admiral Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and of course Mara Jade, who would go on to be the future bride of Luke Skywalker.
I had wondered how the book would age in this post-prequel, several seasons Clone Wars cartoon, loads of video games world. Turns out these stories are big enough to have endured some tweaks in the universe just fine. The reason? Star Wars aside, these are just plain great stories. You care about the main characters (well, Leia gets short shrift in this book, but makes up for it later), are intrigued by the new players, and are genuinely pulled into the intrigue and action. And unlike The Phantom Menace, the story is propelled by the heroes (and antagonists) making thoughtful actions rather than just falling into a series of coincidences.
As I mentioned, one of the big draws for me was all of the added insights and commentary. I tend to not care about those things on a DVD – in fact, for most movies (such as Blade Runner) I tend to stick with the original theatrical release. But in this case I was glad I spent the extra time devouring everything.
Let me put the added content into perspective: there are nearly 200 pages of footnotes, added commentary, and even a new novella featuring Thrawn included. That is nearly half as long as the book itself! It definitely made for a more time-consuming read (though I became much more efficient at using the nook Touch to jump back and forth between main text and footnotes).
The notes include mostly Zahn’s thoughts on … well, everything related to the book. He notes many ‘Tuckerisms’, or times when he used real names in twisted combinations for the names of people or places throughout the book. He also discusses inspirations for other names such as Durm and Strang (which when used in combination should be instantly familiar to Harry Potter fans).
Then there are outcomes of editorial discussions where he had some thoughts and was directed on another path, or had an earlier draft and shows how much more difficult a certain course of action would have been. It is wonderfully fascinating – especially since it is all written in the compelling style Zahn always employs.
After the end of the book we are treated to the novella “Crisis of Faith”, which takes place before “Heir to the Empire”, but after Zahn’s recent books from the post-Endor era “Allegiance” and his most recent release “Choices of One”. The story involves Thrawn and Mara Jade, and is excellently written – to the point that I dropped “Choices of One” on my Nook wish list!
Marketing people like to make it seem like every new product is a ‘milestone’ or a ‘game changer’, or something else monumental and having a massive impact. But “Heir to the Empire” truly WAS a major event in Star Wars history. It showed that the franchise was still compelling to millions of fans, that those fans would accept new stories with their favorite characters – and even accept new characters into the fold.
The 20th Anniversary edition shows something else – it shows that in a sea of mediocre licensed titles, great writing and great storytelling are timeless. If you have already read “Heir to the Empire” and are a fan, consider getting this version – you will very much appreciate the added content. If you’ve never read the Thrawn Trilogy, I would suggest starting with the standard versions – those are available in ebook form for half the price! Either way – this book is well worth reading for any Star Wars fan.
Review: Star Wars Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition
Price: $14.99 ($18.29 for hardcover version)
What I Like: Engaging new characters; excellent representation of existing characters; great stories and scenarios; detailed descriptions are highly engaging; multiple threads are opened that compel you to read the next book; tons of extra content.
What Needs Improvement: Twice the price of the normal ebook.
Source: Personal copy