What Is Heir to the Empire About? The Thrawn Trilogy Summary

thrawn star wars

The name Grand Admiral Thrawn has become quite popular today because of how he is set to make his live-action debut in the upcoming Ahsoka series. Of course, many Star Wars fans are already quite familiar with Thrawn, not only because he made his official canon debut in 2016 when he was made the villain of Seasons 3 and 4 of Star Wars: Rebels but also because he has been around since the 90s.

It was in 1991 that Grand Admiral Thrawn made his debut as a Star Wars character when he was made the main enemy of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy novels, which began with Heir to the Empire. That is why some of the biggest Star Wars fans have been familiar with him for a while already. While we know that there are no differences between the Star Wars continuity before and after the Disney acquisition, more and more people are now talking about Heir to the Empire. So, with that said, let’s look at what Heir to the Empire is all about.

The Thrawn Trilogy Summary

Years after the success of the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucasfilm continued the storyline of Star Wars through the novels that have become quite popular as well. One of the novels that continued the storyline of Star Wars is Heir to the Empire, the first of the three Thrawn books that introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn into the lore while adding new characters that have become quite popular among fans as well. 

The Thrawn Trilogy has three books released from 1991 to 1993. Now, let’s look at the summary of each of these books to understand what the Heir to the Empire storyline is all about.

Heir To The Empire (1991)

heir to the empire star wars legends the thrawn trilogy

Heir to the Empire takes place on 9 ABY, five years after the fall of the Empire in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Leia and Han already got married, and Luke Skywalker is now looking to start a new Jedi Order with him as the one leading the charge for the new-generation Jedi Knights. But Grand Admiral Thrawn, the warlord that has gathered all of the Empire’s remaining forces, discovered a secret weapons vault on a planet called Wayland. And guarding that vault was a clone of the dead Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth.

Meanwhile, Luke encountered a smuggler named Talon Karrde, who captured him but opted not to give him to the Imperials. However, Han and Lando arrive to hire a group of smugglers, only for Luke to escape Karrde during the time that Thrawn visited. Mara Jade, a Force-sensitive woman that worked under Karrde, hunted Luke down to kill him because she once worked for Emperor Palpatine as his hand. But she needs Luke’s help to escape, and that is when Thrawn interferes in the entire affair by trying to catch Luke and Mara before Karrde does.


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Thrawn’s men and Karrde’s group fought one another, as the smugglers won but had to evacuate their base. Then, when Han and Lando reached the shipyard of Sluis Van, they learned that Thrawn had other plans in mind.

Jorrus C’baoth, the insane Jedi clone, learned about Princess Leia’s unborn children and decided to be the one to train them in his way, which was the dark side of the Force. Because he was insane, he wanted to capture Leia and force her and Luke to join him or die. That was when he decided to pursue the Skywalker siblings, only for Han to send Leia and Chewbacca to Kashyyyk because he knew the Wookiees would protect them.

But Thrawn was able to deduce Han’s plans, and that was when he sent aliens known as the Noghri to hunt them down. They were able to capture Khabarakh, a Noghri that was able to recognize Leia’s scent as similar to Darth Vader’s. He knew Vader because he once worked as a secret bodyguard for him. And because the Noghri were loyal to Vader, Leia convinced him to bring her to their homeworld.

Meanwhile, the New Republic believes a spy has been leaking information to Thrawn’s forces. As for Han and Lando, they discovered that Thrawn had launched an assault on Sluis Van. Luckily for Han and Lando, Rogue Squadron arrived to fight off the TIE Fighters there as they were able to stop Thrawn from stealing the ships there and force the Imperial forces to retreat.

Dark Force Rising (1992)

dark force rising star wars legends the thrawn trilogy

Dark Force Rising occurs right after the Battle of Sluis Van, as Karrde is fleeing from Thrawn’s forces. Luke met up with Joruus C’baoth to work together as Skywalker agreed to learn under him on the planet Jomark so that he could learn more about the Force. Thrawn successfully captured Karrde, and Mara Jade now has to seek help from Luke, who she still hated for killing the emperor. 

Luke and Mara face off against C’baoth, who doesn’t want to let go of Luke. They defeated him and realized that C’baoth was indeed insane and was already beyond help. As such, they decided to infiltrate Thrawn’s forces. As for Han and Solo, they tried to find the New Republic spy on a planet called New Cov. Thrawn, however, arrived and forced Han and Lando to escape.


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Han and Lando could only escape with the help of a third party that took them to the legendary general Bel Iblis, one of the initial members who wanted to restore the Republic. However, Iblis didn’t want to help the New Republic in its fight against Thrawn because he had personal problems with Mon Mothma.

Meanwhile, Leia went with Khabarakh to the home of the Noghri and convinced them to side with the New Republic against Thrawn by showing proof that the Empire destroyed their home. 

The New Republic finds out from Karrde that Captain Hoffner exposed the secret of the legendary Katana fleet to Thrawn. This fleet was created before the Clone Wars to be a fully automated fleet of ships. However, due to a virus, the crew members of the Katana fleet went insane, and the entire fleet vanished.

But Thrawn now wants to get his hands on this fleet because he knows the Katana fleet would tip the tide of battle in his favor. The New Republic and Thrawn battle for the fleet, only for Thrawn to win most of the fleet.

The Last Command (1993)

the last command star wars legends the thrawn trilogy

The Last Command is the final book of the Thrawn Trilogy and pits the New Republic against Thrawn in the continuation of their battle from the previous book. While that happened, a small group of Rebels went to Wayland to end Thrawn’s clone production there. This was the Republic’s only shot at defeating Thrawn because they were losing to the overwhelming might of the Grand Admiral’s fleet.

Thrawn and Joruus, however, vie for control over the Empire but are forced to cooperate. Meanwhile, Thrawn sends a commando team to kidnap the Solos, and he fails to kidnap them but succeeds in setting up Mara as an accomplice.

Meanwhile, Karrde met up with a group of Smugglers to convince them to work for the New Republic. Thrawn’s Imperials raided the meeting as he was furious at what happened. But because a few smugglers were angry at the death of one of their friends, they decided to sabotage an Imperial shipyard, only for Karrde to realize that Thrawn is using cloaked ships to surround Coruscant.

Mara, on her part, revealed to Leia the location of the cloning facility, and that was when she was broken out of jail. The Luke, Han, Lando, Chewy, and Mara group went to Wayland to destroy this facility and give the Republic a fighting chance.


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Karrde cleared himself from all the blame in the meeting with the Republic and said they could clear the skies of Thrawn’s cloaked ships by using a CGT array that they could steal from the Empire. He decided to try to steal one and sell it to the New Republic. Meanwhile, the Empire and the Republic battle each other at Bilbringi.

On Wayland, Luke and the company encounter C’baoth, who is guarding the self-destruct switch for the cloning facility. Luke ended up battling his own clone. However, he was angered when Mara killed the clone, as she fulfilled the emperor’s last order, which overcame her mind throughout the entire time. Having killed “Luke” allowed Mara to become free. She also killed C’baoth by kneeling before him and thrusting her with her lightsaber.

During the height of the Battle of Bilbringi, an assassin named Rukh drove his knife through Thrawn’s chest and killed him. Meanwhile, Karrde’s ship allowed the band of Rebels to fly away from the ensuing explosion on Wayland. Meanwhile, Mara agreed to be the one to work as the mediator between the New Republic and the smugglers. Luke gave Mara his original lightsaber as a sign that she could now leave the past behind her.

Is Ahsoka Adapting Heir to the Empire?

The first thing fans need to know is that Heir to the Empire and the Thrawn Trilogy are not canon to the Star Wars universe. That’s because these books’ events are inconsistent with the already established canon that Lucasfilm created after the Disney acquisition. As such, these books are regarded as part of the Legends storyline of Star Wars.

Nevertheless, we know that Thrawn will return in the Ahsoka series after he disappeared at the end of the Rebels series. In the teaser trailer, Ahsoka said that Thrawn was “the heir to the Empire.” So, does that mean that the Ahsoka series is going to adapt Heir to the Empire?

It is unlikely that Ahsoka will adapt Heir to the Empire because doing so would only mess up the current Star Wars canon. However, there’s a good chance that Heir to the Empire was used as the inspiration for the plot of the Ahsoka series. As such, there may be similarities between the Thrawn Trilogy novels and the plot of the upcoming Ahsoka series.

But because completely adapting the Heir to the Empire novel would change the entire canon storyline, fans of the Thrawn Trilogy books shouldn’t keep their hopes up that Ahsoka will follow most of the events outlined in Zahn’s novels. In fact, it is possible that there will only be parallels between the books and the series.

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