The Star Wars Expanded Universe began in earnest with the publication of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire in June of 1991. I remember the first time I saw it, a huge display of hardcovers just inside the entrance of the local bookstore (then a Little Professor). Huh, a new Star Wars book. What do you know. I wonder if that's supposed to be Obi-Wan Kenobi on the cover.
I didn't buy a copy that day, though. I was coming up on my fourteenth birthday; Star Wars had lain dormant since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, when I was six. I had been a huge Star Wars fan then, but I wasn't sure when Heir first came out that I wanted to jump back into it. I didn't end up reading it until the following summer. I was getting ready to go on vacation with my family, looking for a book to occupy my time during the long ride in the van. I couldn't find anything that particularly interested me, so...oh, hell, I guess I'll get that Star Wars book, which by then was available in paperback.
Now here we are twenty years later. I'm going on 35, the nerdiest of Star Wars nerds, and I owe it mostly to Tim Zahn and the trilogy of books that began with Heir to the Empire. I devoured that book and waited impatiently for the second, Dark Force Rising, to come out in paperback. By the time the third book, The Last Command, rolled around, I couldn't wait for the paperback and bought my first hardcover. (Many years later, after nearly wearing out my old paperback copies of the first two books, I added hardback copies to my collection via eBay.)
In the intervening years, I've read a great deal of the Expanded Universe books. I haven't been as rabid lately as the sheer volume of output has overwhelmed me, with all the other reading I do, but I'm definitely not beyond picking up a new (or old) Star Wars novel on occasion. For me, characters like Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn (never seen onscreen) are more a part of the Star Wars mythology than someone like Mace Windu or Qui-Gon Jinn, who played central roles in the prequel movie trilogy.
Needless to say, when I heard a couple of years ago that Heir to the Empire was being republished in a 20th anniversary edition with commentary from Timothy Zahn, I was pretty stoked. I thought it would be pretty cool to get some insight into what went into the book's creation--not just as a Star Wars fan, but as a writer as well. For various reasons, though, I didn't get my hands on the book when it first came out; as it happens, I just read it this past week. Which is appropriate, really: it's the 20th anniversary, not of the book's publication, but of my finally giving in and reading it.
Unfortunately, I found myself mostly disappointed in the commentary. There were some interesting tidbits, but it served mostly to note how many friends Mr. Zahn was able to mention in the book by scrambling the letters in their names and using the resulting words as character names, planets, etc. There were pages upon pages with no notes at all. I guess I just hoped for more.
Still, it was a good opportunity to revisit the book that started it all, and to be grateful that the powers-that-be at Lucasfilm and Bantam Books decided to hand the reins to Mr. Zahn out of the gate. The success of that first book opened the door for all the books, comics, video games, and everything else that followed. If not for Heir to the Empire, and the interest in Star Wars that it reawakened, you can wonder if we even would have seen the prequel trilogy (and you can decide for yourself if that's a good thing or not). I shudder to think of the state the Star Wars universe would be in if the initial Star Wars offering after such a long layoff was written by a hack like Kevin J. Anderson (I know he's popular; I haven't read anything of his aside from his Star Wars novels, which are absolutely terrible).
So thanks to Mr. Zahn for drawing me back into the Star Wars universe, and for continuing to dabble in it from time to time (his next, Scoundrels, comes out in December). It's made for twenty damned fun years.