The War of the Bounty Hunters might be over, but the story is just beginning.
Crimson Reign is the new comic mini-series written by Charles Soule, intended as the second act in a trilogy of stories that started with the War of the Bounty Hunters crossover event. That story saw the stunning return of Qi’ra, pulling the strings behind the re-emergence of Crimson Dawn in the period in-between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and in Crimson Reign she takes center stage.
The series, written by Soule and drawn by Steven Cummings, will span five-issues and will then lead into the final chapter of the trilogy, The Hidden Empire, which is coming next year.
Crimson Reign #1 was recently released, and it was a fantastic start to a story that I’ve been very eagerly awaiting! Let’s dive into a review – and be warned that full spoilers are ahead!
The issue begins “after the fall,” with our narrator activating a holocron and beginning to tell us the story. The narrator, the Archivist, then takes us back to the end of the War of the Bounty Hunters, and we see her standing alongside Qi’ra and plenty other people who have aligned themselves with Crimson Dawn, including the Knights of Ren, Chanath Cha and the Orphans, Deathstick, Ochi of Bestoon, Qi’ra’s closest advisors Margo and Trinia, and many others. Qi’ra gives the group a speech that combines as both a pep talk and a history lesson, explaining the Sith, Maul, and the fact that the problem with the galaxy is that Darth Sidious and Darth Vader are the most powerful people in the galaxy. “They must die,” Qi’ra says, “so the galaxy can live.”
The plan begins with Qi’ra and her advisors making the rounds to various syndicates, casting the lie that the Empire is considering ending their agreement with the Hutts – thus opening the door for other factions to step in. Qi’ra personally visits Black Sun and meets with Lord Gyuti, but tells him to pass the information along to Prince Xizor. Meanwhile, Chanath Cha and the Orphans infiltrate a hidden Black Sun facility and destroy it, which catches the attention of the criminal syndicate. With none of the other syndicates claiming credit for it, Black Sun decides to hit back at them all. As the Orphans continue their secret strikes across the galaxy on the syndicates, a war breaks out between them. A war that wound up catching the attention of Emperor Palpatine, who summons Darth Vader.
The Knights of Ren are given their own mission as well, a job that involves Fortress Vader. Ochi and Deathstick both prepared for their coming involvement, and the Archivist (serving as an advisor to Qi’ra on the Force and the Sith) is given the task of finding a Jedi survivor from the Purge – and lands on a picture of Yoda.
Qi’ra and her advisors, Margo and Trinia, catch up in the wake of all of these matters. The Hutts have decided to hold back from the war, since Jabba knows the Empire won’t actually pul his contract. The Orphans’ job is done, the assassins’ job is about to begin, and Qi’ra sends word for Leia Organa to meet with her. And as Qi’ra expresses her confidence that this might work, the Archivist tells us, “This is the story of the fall of Crimson Dawn. This story is a tragedy.”
This was a fantastic introduction to the story, and it contains an incredible amount of context and setting the stage for just one issue. It deals with tons of different people and factions who are involved, yet Charles Soule manages to keep the focus clear and the story cohesive. And in terms of the storytelling technique, I love how it’s the Archivist narrating the thing from after the fact. It’s a unique plot device to use in a story like this, but it works really well. I particularly love how it works out on the last page, as we see Qi’ra saying that her plan might really work while the Archivist, sometime after all these events, tells us that this story is the fall of Crimson Dawn and is a tragedy.
We know that’s the case, since it’s obvious Qi’ra and her crew isn’t going to defeat the Sith or anything like that. But I think the story leaning into that and admitting it from the very first issue doesn’t take away any of the intrigue about what is to come but rather adds to it. Right from the start, we’re being told by our narrator that this plan – so carefully and expertly laid out by Qi’ra – isn’t ultimately going to work. And we want to know more about what happens.
The Archivist herself is one of the biggest mysteries of this whole thing. Who is she? Her design is inspired by Iain McCaig’s original concept art for Darth Maul, which is really cool and an especially nice touch considering Maul was the one who started Crimson Dawn in the first place (and on that subject, I loved seeing Qi’ra talk about Maul and learning from him). The Archivist is clearly someone familiar with the Dark Side of the Force, and she survives the events of this story. But we have no clue who she is. One interesting scene with her comes as she’s searching for Jedi survivors of the Purge – since Qi’ra figures there had to be some who survived – and comes across a picture of Yoda, which seems to register to her. I’m not sure how Yoda will be involved (though it surely won’t be him, but maybe the allure of his potential re-emergence that catches attention?), but the bigger question to me is whether the Archivist reacts like she does because it’s merely a Jedi who may have survived, or because she knows Yoda?
As for the rest of Qi’ra’s plans, it seems like the first phase is to form better relations with the crime syndicates (assuring them that Crimson Dawn is not a competitor) while creating a war between the syndicates. Presumably, this is not only to help Crimson Dawn fill a power vacuum, but also to draw Palpatine and Vader into the fray. We will see how that happens, but we know that it’s already caught the attention of Palpatine. (who, by the way, Qi’ra knows is Darth Sidious – something that isn’t as widely known across the galaxy and something she surely learned from Maul.) We get just enough to have plenty of questions about other aspects of it, too: what are the Knights of Ren to do with Fortress Vader? Who are the assassins going after? There are just as many questions as answers in this issue, but that’s the way it should be with the start of a mini-series like this.
One other note I feel like I have to mention is that Prince Xizor is name-dropped! As Qi’ra wraps up her meeting with Lord Gyuti of Black Sun, she tells him to pass it on to Xizor. This is the first time he’s been mentioned in a new canon story (though he was already considered canon thanks to his inclusion in, of all places, a cookbook). He is the leader of Crimson Dawn, and fans of Star Wars Legends will no doubt be familiar with him, as he was a major player in the Shadows of the Empire story. That story was set in-between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, so in many ways this new story being told by Charles Soule is the canon version of that. So while those events are no longer canon, this seems like the absolute perfect place to bring in Xizor in at least some way, and they are doing it. Whether he appears as anything more than a name-drop looming in the background or not remains to be seen, but it’s cool to finally get him acknowledged!
Overall, I really enjoyed this issue and can’t wait to see more! I love having what feels like truly significant stories being told in comics like this, and Charles Soule is a perfect one to handle it. He’s pulling in characters and events from all over and bringing them together into a coherent story, and it’s off to a fantastic start.