Review by Frank Plowright
Heir to the Empire is the first of three adaptations of Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn, collectively known as The Thrawn Trilogy, and united as such in a Star Wars Legends collection. The continuity around these stories has been revised, but Grand Admiral Thrawn himself has proved a character worth keeping and is part of the rebooted Star Wars continuity.
In this, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, Thrawn is the presence behind whom the remnants of the Empire’s forces unite after their crushing defeat in Return of the Jedi. It’s five years after those events. Leia and Han are married with children on the way, the Alliance has established a government, and Luke is the first new Jedi Knight, so everything seems to be going well, but it’s established early that Thrawn is a master strategist, and so a deadly threat.
Mike Baron adapts Zahn’s plot, and as a man with a considerable record in space opera himself he has an assured way of defining the characters, letting us know the necessary details as the spotlight switches back and forth between Thrawn and his plans, and Han, Leia and Luke. There are interesting new additions to Star Wars lore, such as Ysalmari, creatures instinctively able to repel use of the Force, and the idea of voice modification for the droids. This is played out against a background of political uncertainty, where the former rebels are now in control, but hardly united.
Olivier Vatine has an interesting idea of alien civilisations being confined to remote and hostile planets with little in the way of defining features. This isn’t a lazy artist, because the architecture he creates on barren planets is more memorable for being isolated, given a grandeur sometimes missing in Star Wars where the senses are assaulted by overindulgence. A lone monolith in the early chapters stands out, and when detail is necessary Vatine doesn’t shy from providing it. His buildings are scarred with definition lines, his stormtroopers are great, and an early market scene has an abundance of life. Cast likenesses aren’t a strong point, impressionistic in his cartooning style, but were characters not established in scenes there would sometimes be problems recognising them.
Thrawn is compelling, imperious and cruel, but more distanced than Darth Vader, and Zahn/Baron introduce several other interesting characters. Rogue Jedi C’Baoth is dangerous, leader of the smugglers Talon Karrde intriguing, and hacker Ghent only plays a small part, but has potential. Mara Jade would prove the breakout character, once the Emperor’s personal assassin, now in hiding as a smuggler and with a hatred of Luke. There’s also a role for Lando Calrissian, always welcome.
Anyone whose read the original novel may quibble about the omission of some details, and the source is generally a richer experience, but as a graphic novel Heir to the Empire reads well. It’s faithful to the adventure spirit of the Star Wars universe, moves along nicely with plot and counter plot, and throws in surprises. A sort of cliffhanger ending leads to Dark Force Rising.