Heir to the Empire - Timothy Zahn "A Jedi can't get so caught up in matters of galactic importance that it interferes with his concern for individual people"
It's had a permanent space on my top books of all time, and there is a reason. Considered by most Star Wars fans to be the best Star Wars Expanded Universe novel and the birth of Expanded Universe itself, Heir to the Empire takes off about 5 years after Return of the Jedi.
Han and Leia are married and expecting twins. Luke is a Jedi Knight. And the New Republic is in its beginning stages. But the Empire hasn't laid down to die yet. A new threat arises, in a hidden Grand Admiral, Thrawn. He has enlisted a mad Jedi Master clone, Joruus C'baoth, in his quest to destroy the Rebellion once and for all.

I Liked:
Where to begin?
The Thrawn Trilogy (of which this is the first book) has been my favorite since I first read it way back when. But as you grow up, your tastes often change. I used to adore "I, Jedi" but when I reread it, there were some parts that I just couldn't enjoy as much as I did as a teen. So I wanted to reread Heir, to see if I still felt the same way, if the book was as good as I remembered, if it still deserved its first place slot in favorite books.
The answer to all three unspoken questions is the same. Yes, yes, yes!
Timothy Zahn is such an enjoyable author! I love the way he writes; in my opinion, it is perfect for a Star Wars setting. He is obviously knowledgeable about Star Wars (at this time, the only places he had to draw on were the Original movies, Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the Han Solo and Lando Adventure books) and it shows throughout. Some say he dwells a little too often on movie events, but I think it is great. The movies were such high points for the characters; no wonder they keep thinking of them as they go throughout this novel, as they experience similar (but not the same) events.
Zahn has also managed to absolutely nail Han, Luke, and Leia, what I like to teasingly call the Trinity of Star Wars Expanded Universe. Han remains the devilish scoundrel, but with more responsibility and maturity, like he was in Return of the Jedi. Luke was done perfectly, an excellent Jedi, yet not so omniscient (like too many authors have done in more recent novels) that he can't be caught by a simple trick. Leia is still stubborn, smart, and deeply in love with Han. All in all, Zahn didn't fail me one bit. As I read each one's point of view, it was easy to think I was in a Star Wars movie!
Zahn's original characters also shine. The devoted, non-power hungry Imperials, Paelleon and Thrawn, are well written. They aren't stupid Imperials out for a land grab for the sake of a land grab. They don't giggle their plots to everyone and his mother. They don't plot evil wicked plans behind closed walls while drinking purple tea (ten points for the one who guesses which villain that represents). They don't throw Star Destroyers pell-mell at the Republic with no plan. They plot. They scheme. They move logically and methodically. Therefore, since I happen to adore the Empire for some strange reason, I find they are probably the most competent Imperials in Star Wars Expanded Universe.
As for Zahn's neutral characters, Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, I was equally impressed. Mara Jade doesn't come off as a Leia clone nor does she strike me as a damsel in distress. She obviously is cold and calculating, but is far from perfect. Yeah, the red hair/green eyes combo wins her Mary Sue points, as does her angsty past, but somehow, she isn't annoying. The whole world doesn't warp to her desires, so I can live with it. As for Talon Karrde, again, we have a scoundrel, a mercenary who rises above the stupid villain caricature.
Goodness! All these words and I still haven't gotten to the meat of the book: the plot! Again, showing Zahn's grasp for the Star Wars world, Timothy Zahn has written a story that, I feel, could be made into a Star Wars movie with very little manipulation. It is that good. Heck, sometimes, I swear I can hear the music!! Our characters have motivations that make sense based on their characters (Leia being the diplomat and demanding to go to Bimmisari, Thrawn being thoughtful and calculating and ordering a three prong attack on Bpfassh to test C'baoth, Luke when dealing with being held captive by Mara Jade and Talon Karrde). People don't miraculously gain powers to suit the story's need. There are space battles, attempted kidnappings, switching ships, villains, antagonists, aliens, distant planets, seedy spaceports...all perfect elements of a Star Wars novel.

I Didn't Like:
This will get petty, I warn you.
The concept of the ysalamiri is best described in this quote from Talon Karrde (page 223): "[The ysalamiri:] seem to have the unusual ability to push back the Force--to create bubbles, so to speak, where the Force simply doesn't exist."
Well, based on the New Jedi Order (and the Yuuzhan Vong who didn't exist in the Force) and the Prequels (that say all living things have midichlorians, the building blocks of the Force), this seems rather odd. Not to mention...if the Force didn't exist around these guys, wouldn't Luke have been able to sense the void of the Force? However, I feel this "error" is more of an unclear view of the Force (Zahn wrote this in 1991 when Lucas probably had no clue what the heck the Force was) than a blatant disregard on the author's part.
Zahn also has a tendency to write dialogue in the following manner: "'Not here,' Ghent shook his head nervously..." Shaking one's head, nodding, or sighing are NOT ways to express dialogue (I want to know how to nod out a word or to sigh out an entire sentence). If Zahn had switched that comma to a period, then I would be sated and have nothing to complain about. But I would be remiss if I didn't bring it up, as it was a little distracting to me.
Lastly, I was not quite convinced with Zahn's characterization of Lando. Not to say he was bad, but just that I felt that it was a bit off from the way he was in the movies.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
I can't recall a single foul word!
Leia is pregnant? Does that count?
Well, there are space battles, an enlisted gets killed for an error, Thrawn is trying to kidnap Leia and Luke, and C'baoth is just a twinge mad...

It's been a while since I read Heir to the Empire, and, to be honest, I was afraid it wouldn't be as good as I remembered.
Well, nothing to fear! Zahn truly captivated me all over again with this winning novel! If George Lucas could take advice from him, maybe the Star Wars prequels would have turned out better!
The only unfortunate thing is that the highest rating I can give is 5. So 5 stars it is! Thank you, Timothy Zahn, for making Star Wars come alive again!