This review is actually not concerning the book itself, but rather the presentation of the book and all of the elements associated with it being a 20th Anniversary Edition. I figure that most people have read this already (or maybe not; I could be vastly overestimating the number of Star Wars fanatics that are reading this blog), so there's no point in going over the story. Suffice it to say, it's about a new, smart villain and his attempts to bring the Empire back to glory five years after the huge loss suffered at Endor in Return of the Jedi.
To start with, the book looks absolutely beautiful. Don't take my word for it - just look at the book jacket, and the hard cover concealed beneath. A lot of care has gone into making this thing look really nice, something you don't often see (I mean really - do we ever see XX Anniversary Editions of classic works? Not usually). It's a hard cover book, obviously, and it displays rather nicely on a book shelf. I almost don't want to display only the spine when I shelve it later, it's so nice.
On to what drew me to the book in the first place: the comments in the margin. I mean, tons of books have different editions throughout the years with fancy covers; but what made this a must-have for me was that sprinkled throughout the text were little tidbits of information from Timothy Zahn. Comments like how he decided to start the novel with a scene on a Star Destroyer, because that's what all three original movies had done. And also various comments about how Thrawn (the villain) fits the qualities of a good leader, thought processes during original outlines, "Tuckerisms", and so forth.
There were also a small handful of comments from Zahn's editor for Heir, Betsy M?. Let me just say that I drew no insight at all from her comments. They make her sound like your standard middle-aged woman who doesn't know a thing about Star Wars, the way that an ignorant mom might say "Stop playing Nintendo!" when their kid is clearly playing an Xbox; she is the Ralph Wiggum to Zahn's Lisa Simpson, gleefully announcing "When I grow up, I want to be a principal or a caterpillar." I think the most condescending comment comes at the end of Chapter 12, where Zahn presents somewhat of a cliffhanger ending:
"Bestselling writers often use the literary device of the cliffhanger to grip readers. How many times have you stayed up far too late at night because something enthralling happens at the end of a chapter and you simply have to find out what happens next? Tim brings the use of the cliffhanger to a high art in Heir. I defy anyone to put this book down after a closing line like Leia's."
So I think you can guess from my comments that this book would have been better off without her margin notes. It's too bad, because it's a huge missed opportunity to give us some extra insight into the editing process for this book. In the end, she's also redundant, as the one insightful comment she does make is repeated by Zahn a little later. Oh well - nothing's perfect, I suppose.
There's also the matter of an extra novella after the novel, written by Zahn exclusively for this book. It's nothing special, and details one of Thrawn's exploits shortly before the events of Heir. It was a neat enough read though, but I think also the book could have done without it. The margin comments were draw enough - I don't think people were likely waiting for the promise of a new novella to buy the book.
Lastly though, the story still IS a fun read, and is quite possibly still the best piece of Extended Universe fiction for Star Wars out there. It's not high class literature by any means, but it's paced extremely well and you can definitely get a "movie" feel while you read it.
For Star Wars: Heir to the Empire 20th Anniversary Edition, I give 4 out of 5 stars.