It's hard to imagine now, but for about six years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, “Star Wars” was largely in hibernation.
With no new films after 1983's “Return of the Jedi,” fans of “Star Wars” were relegated to reading the comics and watching the aimed-at-kids “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. And by 1986, even that was over.
In 1991, that all changed. The release of Timothy Zahn's literate, action-packed “Heir to the Empire” revitalized “Star Wars” as a publishing phenomenon, leading to more than 100 “Star Wars” books. (The same-year release of Dark Horse Comics' “Dark Empire” didn't hurt, either.)
Set five years after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” “Heir to the Empire” posited a struggling, infighting New Republic government dealing with surviving vestiges of the Empire. The Grand Admiral Thrawn is a clever, charismatic commander whom Zahn describes as Erwin Rommel crossed with Sherlock Holmes. Besides Thrawn, Zahn introduced other characters who would become important in what's now called Star Wars' “Expanded Universe”: smuggler Talon Karrde and former assassin Mara Jade.