The book takes place five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. Grand Admiral Thrawn, one of the Emperor's finest commanders, takes charge of what remains of the Imperial forces in order to lead an attack against the New Republic.
The great aspect of this book is it introduces some new characters that are every bit as well shaped as the ones we know from the films. Thrawn is a great character - a strategic and tactical mastermind and a charismatic villain to boot. His method is one of cold calculation rather than rage and emotion. Thrawn is the ideal fit for a military commander. Mara Jade and Talon Karrde are also strong additions to the roster.
We see the characters we know so well from the films and how they have moved on with their lives. It is reassuring for this Star Wars fan - a testament to Zahn's skill and knowledge of his source - to see them presented so well. Luke Skywalker is getting used to his role not as the last of the Jedi, but the first of a new generation. Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo married and are expecting twins. Han is all that we have come to expect - charming, living on his luck and a heart of gold.
The characterisation drives the story and, arguably, the Thrawn trilogy (alongside the Yuuzhan Vong war in the New Jedi Order series) presents the best material for a new Star Wars series of films/animated series. There is enough action in the book to satisfy those looking for adventure, though of course, the book sets the scene for events in the following two books.
The 20th Anniversary Edition contains notes from the author on the text. These are inserted in the side margins of the page. Whilst some are interesting, most are bits of trivia. I was ambivalent about most of these entries, but they are a nice touch.
If I was to nitpick, then I would have preferred that the author's notes be presented as footnotes; that way, the main text could go across more of the width of the page. If you stop to read all the notes in the side margins, there is a risk that you lose the flow of the narrative.
For Star Wars fans, this review is moot; you probably have a copy of this already. If you have not yet got round to getting a copy, then this is an essential purchase. For non-Star Wars fans, I recommend this as an ideal introduction to the Star Wars universe. The book takes what was great about the original trilogy - character, adventure and heart - and develops on them.