When I was growing up, my obsession turned away from shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Power Rangers, and more toward the Star Wars saga. As it happens, one of the first comic books I ever read was a Star Wars series called Crimson Empire. I was attracted to it because it was about the Emperor’s Royal Guard (who look pretty awesome), but I reread it because of the story of one Guardsman’s desire for vengeance and the havoc he spreads across the Empire for it.
This is a series without Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, without most of the main characters from the movies. It explores the Underworld of the galaxy and asks questions about duty to an idealized State at the expense of the innocent.
And it… is wonderful.
Crimson Empire (1997)
After the Emperor’s brief return in a series of clone bodies, the Empire is once again falling into ruin. Kir Kanos is the last surviving member of the Royal Guard, now a fugitive from the Empire he once served after he swears vengeance against the usurper and former Guardsman Carnor Jax. Kanos takes shelter on Phaeda, where he comes into contact with New Republic resistance fighters and becomes a source of trouble for Commander Mirith Sinn. The stage is set for war, betrayal, and revenge as the Empire falls and the Republic rises.
The first Crimson Empire comic is undoubtedly my favorite of the series. It sets up Kanos as an antihero and providing a sympathetic view of a man who believed in what the Empire represented. He nicely contrasts with Jax, who uses the Empire only to further his own agenda and has a menace reminiscent of Darth Vader. Mirith Sinn serves as the protagonist between the two Guardsmen, fighting for justice and searching for answers to Kanos and his quest.
The style of this first series reminds me a lot of the Jason Bourne series. Lacking Force powers and comic relief, the story has more grit and violence than the usual Star Wars tale. It’s one man with exceptional skill on a mission to find and stop the people responsible for destroying his world, using subterfuge and deadly style to emerge the bloodied victor.
Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood (1998)
With Carnor Jax dead, the Imperial Interim Ruling Council finds itself under attack as a hidden assassin takes out several leaders in quick succession. Meanwhile, Kir Kanos goes undercover as a bounty hunter into the den of Grappa the Hutt, investigating links between the Council and the criminal syndicate Black Sun. And Mirith Sinn takes a quest of her own, hoping to make Kanos answer for the death of her friend Sadeet during his fight with Jax.
For the most part, the focus of Council of Blood moves away from espionage and war to politics and intrigue. Kanos holds back as a fighting Guardsman for most of the story, although he does deepen his relationship with Mirith and begin to question his allegiance to the Empire’s ideals. The plot becomes more centered on betrayals and deception, particularly within the Imperial Ruling Council.
I do, however, like some of the alien elements introduced in this story. It’s nice to see an Imperial leadership that includes women and non-humans. Grappa the Hutt also brings in a group of tall, eerie Zanibar mercenaries who provide a nice element of suspense in the second act. And of course, this comic marks the debut of the character Nom Anor, who would later take on a prominent role in the then-unpublished New Jedi Order series. His scenes are both chilling and intriguing, leaving the astute reader wanting more.
Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost (2011)
Having brought down the traitors who conspired to usurp the Emperor’s throne, Kir Kanos sets out after the man responsible for Palpatine’s original death: Luke Skywalker. But before he can complete this task, Kanos is invited to join a splinter group calling itself the Restored Empire. When they prove to be poor successors to the Emperor he once served, Kanos finds himself teaming up with Mirith Sinn once more–this time, for the sake of protecting the New Republic and one last chance at bringing an end to the war.
Much like Council of Blood, the plot in Empire Lost focuses more on intrigue and deception than outright warfare. New villains like Ennix Devian, the hitman-turned-head of the Restored Empire, provide some menace, but are mostly two-dimensional. Plot twists are more numerous as well, giving little time for setup or development–an exploding shuttle here, an assassination attempt there, rinse and repeat. Even the ending feels rushed, with little time to reflect on the galaxywide aftermath.
That being said, there are a few things to make this final act of the Crimson Empire saga worthwhile. For one thing, there’s a strong theme about the price of loyalty. While Kanos sees what devotion to Emperor Palpatine brings out in men like Devian, Mirith Sinn questions her own service to the New Republic, especially when she owes allegiance to the daughter of Darth Vader, who himself killed her husband during the Rebellion. And while most of the fighting in this comic is quick, the final duel between Kanos and Devian–a pair of elite Imperial soldiers–is rendered in great detail and worth the wait.
One of the writers, Randy Stradley, had originally pitched this series as a tale of four Royal Guards hunting Luke Skywalker for revenge, but following the release of the Dark Empire comics, the concept was redesigned entirely. What came of that decision is a very dark but interesting tale of blind devotion and betrayal, bringing another kind of ronin to the Star Wars universe. And considering that this series came out just before the start of the prequel trilogy and the New Jedi Order series, I find it to be one of the more satisfying spin-offs of the Star Wars saga.
Bibliography: Star Wars: Crimson Empire (series). Written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley. Dark Horse Comics. Original run: December 1, 1997 – May 20, 1998.
Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood (series). Written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley. Dark Horse Comics. Original run: November 11, 1998 – April 14, 1999.
Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost (series). Written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley. Dark Horse Comics. Original run: October 26, 2011 – April 25, 2012.