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Evil Geek Book Report – Heir to the Empire

While Lilith is slowly making her way through the world of Star Trek, you know that she will forever be a Star Wars fan. Of course, the extension of that fandom involved rewatching the movies, mostly the originals, as marathons at least once a year. I probably know over 50% of the lines in episodes 4,5, and 6 by heart. And I haven’t had too much interest before now in delving in to any other Star Wars stories, though I look forward to J.J. Abrams reboot next year. That being said, my muse the Veganaut convinced me, and of course purchased me, the Timothy Zahn trilogy so that I could finally experience some extended universe stories. I will now bring you my evil geek book report for the first in the trilogy: Heir to the Empire, of course containing some spoilers.

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 I was lucky that the edition of this novel I was given was the 20th anniversary edition, and throughout the entire book it contained footnotes on the margins written by the author Timothy Zahn of what he was thinking when he wrote this novel. I didn’t read all these footnotes but did peruse some of them, and in particular read a lot of the ones in the beginning of the book. And I am glad that I did as he pointed out a very fun fact: all three of the original episodes of Star Wars open with an Imperial Star Destroyer after the rolling opening credits. And so Zahn attempted to continue the tradition, seeing that he wrote these novels after the original episodes but before the prequels. And it sets a beautiful scene.

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His novel is a bit vague about the exact time that has passed since Endor, but we are in a time of turmoil as there are still some vestiges of the Empire trying to resist the Rebel Alliance rule and the establishment of a new senatorial government, The New Republic. Our first Imperial Star Destroyer in the opening scene is Chimaera, run by the infamous Grand Admiral Thrawn. It is a little tough picturing new alien species when we have been spoiled by the movies, but one thing that was easy to tell about Thrawn from Zahn’s description was that he was blue. My further research on Wookipedia helped me learn that Thrawn was of the species Chiss, with black hair, blue skin, and Darth Maul-esque scary red eyes.

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We are introduced to Thrawn as he discusses some of his plans with his Captain in his holographic study. He reveals that he is a huge fan of art, art from all cultures. And he finds that the art of a culture is a window in to their psychological makeup, allowing him to identify weaknesses in the way they would battle or fight, helping him achieve victory again and again. Throughout the novel we follow Thrawn on his many missions to build up a fleet that can resist the New Republic. Of all the characters in the novel, I think Thrawn was surprisingly one of my favorites. Here are some reasons why:

Firstly Thrawn is a stark contrast to the ruling attitudes of Palpatine and Vader. Those two just killed anyone that seemed weak and ruled their ships and crews oppressively. All of their officers were always walking on eggshells, scared to make a mistake for it might mean the death of them. In contrast, Thrawn is a leader that realizes the Empire and the Imperial fleet has suffered great losses, and therefore he tries to be supportive of his crew. He wants his crew to speak up if they disagree with him, and insists on hearing all alternative approaches to missions before setting course on them. He also supports creativity in his crew, and even if they fail on a mission if they attempt something that was new and thoughtful during the mission her rewards them. And he also knows when to retreat. The Empire in the original episodes was so overly confident in itself that it never backed down from a fight. Meanwhile in Heir Thrawn is fighting with a diminished fleet and when the turn tides against them he knows when to back his bags and run, preventing further loss to his ranks. Throughout the novel Thrawn collects plans from the Emperor’s hidden storehouse that will supposedly help the Empire come back in to power (though those plans were never officially revealed). He enlists the help of C’baoth, an experienced Jedi clone, to help him attempt capturing the remaining Jedis (aka the Skywalkers). And he seizes back several ships from the New Republic to help rebuild the Imperial Fleet.

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There are several other new characters in this novel that I liked as well. In particular the smuggler Talon Karrde was one of my favorites. He and his group of smugglers have established a headquarters on the planet Myrkr, which conveniently have many ysalamiri living in the forests. The ysalamiri are a tree-living species that can block the force, leaving this planet a perfect base to avoid Jedi entanglement. Thrawn is an interesting character who is approached by both Thrawn and the New Republic (via Ambassador Solo) to help both sides. He initially refuses to side with either, and like a true cut throat claims that he will take on whichever side offers him the most money. But even though Karrde acts all ruthless, deep down he has a decent set of morals, and eventually decides to help Luke Skywalker and his band of brothers even after having kept Skywalker prisoner for a couple days. He also has a couple of the local wolf like species known as vornskrs as pets, which I find kind of badass. Makes us kindred spirits and all. I like Karrde’s character and think that he has a lot of potential in the future. He was a lot like a young Solo in this book, though more calculated and less rash. I have a bad feeling about (yes, I went there and used that quote) what will happen to him in the future, but I think his character is one that could do great things if he wanted to.

I need to get myself a pair of vornkrs!!

I need to get myself a pair of vornkrs!!

And who is Karrde’s number one sidekick? Why none other than Mara Jade. Even though I had never read any extended universe novels before this, I knew who Mara Jade was, the woman that supposedly some day will marry Skywalker. As her character is introduced alongside Karrde it becomes clear early on that she has a deep rooted hatred for Skywalker, but we don’t discover why until more towards the end of the novel when her and Skywalker are marooned in the forest, forced to work together and travel through the dangerous woods to get back to Karrde’s headquarters. During that adventure she reveals to Luke that she was The Emperor’s right hand before she was Karrde’s. She was not technically a Sith, nor a Jedi, but she had been trained in the use of a ligthsaber and Palpatine had trusted her for some of his most dangerous missions. In particular, he had sent her to Tatooine to infiltrate Jabba’s palace and kill Luke, though this was the first mission that she ever failed him at. From there Skywalker went on to defeat the Emperor, and since her identity was a mystery to all but him she lost her career, her life, her everything. That might sound a little excessive, but that was on purpose. I know Mara will turn out to be a good character, but for right now she is quite whiny. All she does is moan about how her life was ruined by Luke, it’s his entire fault; she should kill him for it, etc. etc. She of course leaves out the fact that she has made a good life for herself in Karrde’s service, and that she could go on to achieve a lot more at her age too. But instead she just wants to have the “life’s not fair speech” again and again. They never really explain what Mara’s deeper believes are either. I know she will go on to be a good guy some day, and to marry Luke, but being that she was the assistant and assassin to the Emperor it makes you wonder what her underlying morality is like…

Mara-sacrifice

Lastly I will mention the characters that we have all come to know and love: Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, C3P0, R2D2, and Luke all play major roles in this novel. Wedge even plays a minor one again (gotta love Wedge Antilles!). But sadly reading about these individuals who I know and love was a bit difficult for me.

We all knew that Han and Leia would end up together, and in this novel they are married and expecting twins. We also knew that Leia had the potential to be a Jedi, but watching her struggle to grasp the skills that Luke has in his training her is a bit awkward. I realize she has the potential to be a Jedi, but that doesn’t mean that she will make a great one. I particular, I kind of wished she would have stayed a diplomat. She does help the New Republic in that regard quite a lot, but she is frequently sent on useless missionary trips to planets as a figurehead to try to obtain that planet’s allegiance to the New Republic. I did enjoy the meetings with Akbar, Mon Mothma, and a new Bonthan named Fey. I wish Leia spent more time dappling on that Inner Council than trying to wield a lightsaber.

Han was his usual scoundrel self most of the novel. You could tell that Zahn had a huge man crush on Han, as he kept many of the lines super similar to the movies and repeated some scenes almost exactly! Same with Lando. I think deep down Zahn just imagined him as a Rebel fighter running in to battle with Han and Lando.

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Chewie was a little more talkative than usual, being that in book form you could actually write the translation of what he was saying in Wookie. And at one point Leia and Chewie travel to the home planet of the Wookies to try to keep Leia hidden and safe from the bounty hunters trying to capture her for the Empire. That was a fun chapter with lots of new information about Wookies and an interesting look in to their culture.

While I became particularly frustrated with the repetition of famous lines and similar scenes from the movies that Zahn wrote for our main character, I did like his portrayal of Luke. We left Return of the Jedi with a new Luke, one much less whiny and more dignified and accomplished, a Jedi Master through and through. Zahn continues with that depiction of Luke and he is a very strong character compared to the boy he was on Tatooine in the beginning of the trilogy. I like Luke’s new calm, collected, and badass Jedi feel. Of course, maybe it is only fitting that Mara Jade becomes his companion in the forest, as she has taken on the role of the whiny one there and hopefully he can help her get over that like he did in the future.

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The end of the novel left us with all of our favorite characters still safe and sound, as well as the Empire having made some major accomplishments in stealing back most of its fleet, and lastly seeing a coup in the Inner Council with Akbar being overthrown by Fey’la. Overall I would give the novel a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I look forward to seeing what Thrawn can do, and can’t wait for Mara Jade to start being a bit more of a strong female presence, but I have to say that Zahn tried to be a little too much like the movies. I will keep you posted on the developments as I read the next two novels in the trilogy, for which I am sure you will be awaiting eagerly.

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Posted on September 23, 2014, in Books, Evil Geek Book Report and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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