Monday, August 29, 2011

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition Review

20 Years ago, in a book store far, far away….

Twenty years ago, Bantam Spectra, Lucasfilm, and Timothy Zahn brought the thrill and excitement of Star Wars to the printed page.  While Mr. Zahn did not create the Expanded Universe, if his first book had failed, we would have a radically different world of Star Wars publishing and likely a much more limited one.  The adult Star Wars novels are one of the central pillars of the Expanded Universe and it was Heir to the Empire that really re-launched Star Wars publishing.

How does the 20th Anniversary Edition of Heir to the Empire stack up against the original release?  The Anniversary Edition weighs in at 411 pages to the original editions 361, this is due to the annotations, the annotations are set on the outside margins of each page, the main body of text is narrower then in a traditional hardcover release meaning we get less text per page resulting in the 50 extra pages. 
The Anniverary Edtion also includes a Foreword by Howard Roffman, President, Lucas Licensing, an introduction by Timothy Zahn, an afterword by HttE’s original editor Betsy Mitchell, and a brand new novella by Timothy Zahn entitled Crisis of Faith

The presentation of the book is terrific.  The dust jacket features a metallic silver cover with darkened striations across it.  There is an embossed Imperial Cog logo in the center, the embossed text is a mixture of blacks and reds, particularly impressive is the subtitle “Heir to the Empire,” where the top of the letters are black and the bottoms are red.  The interior of the dust flaps is black with silver text. 
Underneath the dust jacked the cover of the book has a black and white copy of the original cover art printed directly on the cardboard, minus the front and back cover text.  There is still text on the spine and the overall finish looks like one of the shiny school text books.

The annotations are numbered within each chapter, but not cumulatively through the book.  As such each chapter begins with #1 and continues up depending on how many notes are in that particular chapter. 
The only thing really missing is a glossary for the annotations.  It would be cool to go to the back of the book and find the exact page for an annotation regarding a particular character or event. 
The overall effect is a slightly different reading experience because there is a lot more white space on the page then the reader is used to traditionally.  I did find that while I was reading it was easy to miss the superscript number indicating where a footnote fits into the story.  This is both good and bad in that it is unobtrusive in the reading experience, but may take the annotation out of context if you read it after finishing the main body of text before turning to the next page.  I also noticed at least one occasion where multiple annotations where printed on the page after the annotation superscript appears because a previous annotation was so large it consumed all of the margin. 

Crisis of Faith is a meaty 52 page novella, the rather alien beginning of which made me re-read the first page a few times before I got into the story.  It features some new characters as well as a character that made his debut in Zahn’s latest novel Choices of One.  There are some scenes that remind me of  A New Hope aboard the Death Star with Grand Moff Tarkin meeting with Imperial military commanders   There is also a good bit of action, some familiar minor characters getting a chance at the spotlight, and of course a healthy dose of Thrawn’s brilliance in a military engagement.  It is an interesting book because of where it is set in the timeline, but we get a cast that is to the best of my reckoning entirely made up of EU characters.

There are two very interesting new aliens in this book that have an interesting decision to make as to whether they should obey and conform to their superiors wishes, or whether they should do what they think maybe right.   I would be interesting in hearing about what happens to them in the future.  In the end Crisis of Faith is like much of Zahn’s recent work, it provides another layer of connects his various stories, and adds depth to some characters and concepts we have seen developed in a limited sense in books like the Hand of Thrawn Duology and Choices of One.  If you haven’t enjoyed Zahn’s work since the Thrawn Trilogy or Hand of Thrawn Duology, then you probably won’t get into this story.  But if you have enjoyed Zahn’s recent work, or if you simply are a Star Wars Expanded Universe completest, then it is worth a read. 

Should you buy Heir to the Empire: 20th Anniversary Edition?  That’s a good question.  The book comes with a cover price of $30 dollars which to the best of my knowledge is the most expensive price charged for a Star Wars hardcover novel to date.   The book is absolutely gorgeous, the novel has a classic story, the chance to get a DVD commentary track like experience in a novel is well, a novel concept.  I think it is well worth a purchase especially considering that you should be able to find it for much cheaper then cover price.  For example Amazon currently has it for sale for $17.14 with free shipping on orders over $25.  One thing to also keep in mind is that the decision as to whether or not we will see the same anniversary treatment with annotations for Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, will depend on sales of the this book.  Mr. Zahn is said that he is interested in doing such editions for each of those books, but in the end it all depends on sales for the publisher.  

If audiobooks are more your speed, then you should be happy  to know that Random House is releasing the book in that format as well, both as a CD audiobook($45) and as a audiobook download($22.50).  You can listen to a preview of the audiobook version of the story at Random House's HttE page.  

If you are a casual Star Wars fan or know a casual Star Wars fan and are looking for a place to put your toe into the water of the Expanded Universe, Heir to the Empire is and has always been my recommended jumping off point. 

Editor's Note: A special thanks to the good folks at Del Rey for the advance copy of HttE that was used for this review.

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