Heir to the Empire being my first Star Wars read since The Star Wars Storybook back when I was eight.
The narrative starts off a few years after the destruction of the second Death Star. A fledgling New Republic is slowly establishing itself; the Empire is in tatters but there are still pockets of loyalty to the old regime here and there, mostly on the edges and fringes. Leia is a diplomat, making contact with planets and offering them help and aid and protection from Imperial renegades in exchange for loyalty to the Republic; Han is now her husband and sort of just tooling around doing stuff that is sort of helpful to the cause; they are expecting twins. Luke is around, again, without any particular role except in teaching Leia to be a Jedi and developing a curriculum for his yet-unborn niece and nephew. The droids are the droids. Everything seems to be going well enough...
But remember what I said about the fringes. An Imperial warlord, Admiral Thrawn, more or less the titular heir, has been seething out in space and developing a plan to take back the Empire. He's not quite a Sith lord, but he's got some uncanny abilities and a whole blue-skinned, red-eyed head full of military strategy, tactical genius, intelligence and patience. And some animals, the ysalamir, that project a sort of "anti-Force" useful for neutralizing Jedi. Mind-bogglingly useful creatures, those ysalamir, surely the Babel fish of the Star Wars universe.
For most of the novel, we watch Thrawn and his forces gather strength and spring trap after trap that Leia and co. keep narrowly escaping, which is fun and satisfying in the same popcorn-chomping way the original film trilogy was fun and satisfying. More satisfying is the introduction of an important new character, Mara Jade, who has a most unusual past and promises to have a most interesting future, especially if the flavor of bickering mistrust that characterizes her exchanges with Luke portends what I'm sure it portends, wink wink. I mean, come on, we can't expect Han and Leia to shoulder all the burdens of making new little Jedi, can we?
So all in all, Heir to the Empire was a fun little palate cleanser, much needed after a lot of dark and depressing fare so far this year. Jar Jar Abrams would do well to work with this material for his films. If he gets someone decent to play Mara Jade, I might even forgive him some lens flare.