The five-part Crimson Reign comic mini-series by Charles Soule has wrapped up!
The story is the middle chapter in a trilogy about Qi’ra and Crimson Dawn set in-between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It comes after the five-part War of the Bounty Hunters series, and it sets up the final chapter, which is The Hidden Empire, coming later this year.
Crimson Reign #5 mostly sets up what is to come, but there’s still some interesting stuff to talk about. Let’s dive in to our review!
In the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, Emperor Palpatine informs Darth Vader that they have a new enemy. He calls in Director Barsha of the ISB, who informs them about Crimson Dawn being behind the syndicate war. Vader reflects on his fight against their leader, Qi’ra, and observes that she was trained well and fought with Palpatine’s style. The Sith conclude she must have been trained by Maul, deducing that he intended to use her against them and wondering what else he taught her.
Meanwhile, Qi’ra learns that the Empire is on to them and begins sending her closest allies away as they prepare for the next stage of their plan. She sends the Archivist to a strange planet with the key the Knights of Ren stole from Vader’s Castle, and the Knights are sent with her to protect her. On the planet there are many figures frozen in stone, but they are awakened with the key. The Knights fight them off while the Archivist arrives at her destination. She uses the key to unlock something, and reports to Qi’ra that the artifact is still there.
Qi’ra tells Cadeliah about her past and how she has learned to trust no one, and that is the key to leading Crimson Dawn. She then speaks to the gathered Crimson Dawn forces and tells them that the Empire is on to them, but she planned for this. She reveals that she just gave the order to all of their operatives spread across the galaxy – including in the Empire and the Rebellion – that the time has come to spread chaos. And while the Empire tries to deal with that Chaos, Crimson Dawn will strike to end them. “This is my hidden empire,” Qi’ra says. “Choke on it.”
This issue was a bit of a strange one for being the conclusion of Crimson Reign, because we didn’t really get many answers whatsoever. It’s mostly a transition point between what we’ve seen already in the previous issues and establishing what is to come. That mostly works, though it does mean there’s not as much to discuss here and makes it clear that this is intended to be one continuous story. Crimson Reign is good in its own right, but it doesn’t really wrap things up. That’s different than War of the Bounty Hunters, for instance, which told a story that had wrapped up by the end, but that also sowed the seeds for what was to come. That didn’t really happen here.
For example, we still don’t know what the artifact is that Qi’ra is after, the one that the Knights of Ren went to steal the key for and which the Archivist recovers. It’s definitely implied, though, that it’s something Maul told her about, and I love how he’s still tying into all of this even though he’s dead. As Palpatine says, if Maul took the effort to train her, then he must have seen her as part of his plan to overthrow Sidious. And that means Qi’ra probably knows more than just good fighting techniques. It seems that this artifact, whatever it is, is something that Maul told Qi’ra about – and something that will be a key weapon against the Sith.
The highlight of this issue was the conversation between Palpatine and Vader where they figure out Maul’s influence. Vader talks about his fight against Qi’ra, noting that she was trained in more than just Teras Kasi but actually techniques he’d also observed in Palpatine himself. The Emperor says he didn’t train her, but maybe someone he trained was the one who trained her. He opines that if they had found her in a royal court it would probably have been Tyranus, but since she “wallows in the mud of the criminal syndicates” it must have been Maul instead. It shows how each of them were viewed by Palpatine, with Dooku the more noble and respected one and Maul the one more suited for the underworld. There’s a nobility in Dooku and a savagery in Maul.
It also suggests that Palpatine and Vader didn’t actually know that Maul was behind Crimson Dawn, which is interesting. Sidious certainly knew that Maul amassed influence in the criminal underworld during the Clone Wars – which helps explain why he’d assume his involvement here – but it seems they didn’t actually know he was behind this particular syndicate. He did seem to operate in the shadows quite a bit, as seen in Solo, but it means that during Maul’s time running it they must never have garnered the attention of the Sith. They do seem to know that Maul is dead, but they likely just know that through the Force.
I like how Maul’s influence is continuing on here, even though he’s dead by this point in the story. And I love how there’s still added intrigue as to what Maul’s real plans were with Qi’ra, and what else he taught her.
The other thing to note in this issue also has to do with the Empire, and it’s that a new character is introduced, the ISB agent Director Barsha. He’s the one who reports to Palpatine and Vader about Crimson Dawn, which isn’t overly significant in its own right. But what’s curious and notable is that his face is never shown here. There’s really only one logical reason for why that might be, and it’s that they’re saving the reveal for later. Might he be someone we already know? Or someone significant we’ll soon meet? I’m curious.
Overall, this story was mostly set-up for what is to come. Qi’ra obviously has a plan, and it obviously will fail. But how that happens is unknown, and it will be told in the conclusion to this trilogy, Hidden Empire, which launches in October.