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A worthy "Heir'

STAR WARSHeir to the Empire

By Timothy Zahn

Bantam, $15

Hugo Award winning author Timothy Zahn does George Lucas proud, masterfully continuing his classic Star Wars saga in Heir to the Empire, volume one of a new trilogy sequel. The book is not the first non-movie Star Wars novel, but is the first allowed by Lucas to extend the Star Wars storyline beyond the events in Return of the Jedi, the final film.

Heir to the Empire resumes the Star Wars storyline five years after the events in Return of the Jedi. In that time, the Rebellion has been very successful. The battle against the evil Empire is nearly won, yet political infighting threatens the very existence of the fledgling New Republic. Han Solo and Leia have tied the knot and are expecting twins.

With all the good Star Wars bad guys dead at the end of the last film, Zahn creates all new galactic menaces. The reins of the evil Empire have been turned over to Grand Admiral Thrawn, a new, brilliant commander. He has found another dark Jedi, secret advanced technology and a defense against the Force. He is readying the Empire to retake the offensive. Talon Karrde has taken over as No. 1 crime lord on the block, replacing Jabba the Hut.

An adventure story is only as good as its bad guys, and Zahn's bad guys are good ones. Thrawn is an intelligent and competent villain, unlike the two-dimensional cinematic generals of the films. C'baoth, the new dark Jedi, likewise is no Darth Vader. He does not wear black, breathe heavily or wield a light saber, and is not related to any character in the story. C'baoth is, in fact, sort of a looney. Then there's Karrde. He's not an Al Capone-caricature/Muppet-on-steroids, as Jabba was, but an interesting three-dimensional character. He'll make deals with the Empire, but also is not beyond breaking bread with Han Solo.

While maintaining the integrity of the individual characters and the chemistries between them that made the series work, Zahn manages to add a new layer of texture and maturity to our heroes. Leia's development as Jedi, wife and diplomat is most interesting. This character has always been hard-nosed, hard-to-get and the one that needed rescuing (the first movie), protection (the first and second films), and transportation (all the films), yet here she becomes a major player in the action.

In keeping with the Star Wars style, the plot is fast-paced and full of cliff-hangers. The magic of the films is alive and well in Heir to the Empire.

It should also be noted that although Lucas has announced plans for filming three more chapters in his Star Wars saga, the Heir to the Empire trilogy will not be the subject of those films. Current speculation has Lucas filming a prequel to his blockbuster movie series. If so, the storyline will center on Obi Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader and the rise of the Empire.

Jim Bullard is on the staff of the St. Petersburg Times.

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