A brand new Star Wars comic mini-series has kicked off, and it’s one that we’ve been looking forward to for a while.
Written by Charles Soule, Hidden Empire is the conclusion to his trilogy set in-between The Empire Strikes and Return of the Jedi. The first chapter, the five-issue War of the Bounty Hunters mini-series, re-introduced Qi’ra as the leader of Crimson Dawn, staging an auction of Han Solo (frozen in carbonite) to start a syndicate war. The second chapter, the five-issue Crimson Reign mini-series, saw Qi’ra’s true plans be put into action: seeking to take down Palpatine and Vader, the Sith who rule the galaxy.
Hidden Empire picks up when things. are at their best for Crimson Dawn, as their strength across the galaxy has been shown to be massive and Qi’ra’s plan quite elaborate. But she has now attracted the attention of Palpatine, and that won’t work out too well. We know that her story is a tragedy, but we have yet to see how it ends. This series will wrap up the story.
Issue #1 released recently, and it was a great introduction to this mini-series while continuing the overall story of this trilogy. Let’s dive in to our review.
The story begins like Crimson Reign did, with the Archivist narrating these events from a point in the future, talking to two mysterious figures. She explains how Qi’ra had come to launch a plan to take down the Sith, having learned secrets from her mentor, Maul, about how to do this. Key to her plan was a key, stolen by the Knights of Ren, that could unlock the Fermata Cage. The Knights and the Archivist traveled to do just that.
Meanwhile, Palpatine informs the other crime syndicates about Qi’ra’s master plan to pit them against one another, ordering them to fight and destroy Crimson Dawn. He ordered this of the syndicates, but also of other operatives, like Inferno Squad and Darth Vader. The Empire soon finds Qi’ra’s flagship, the Vermillion, and she tries to give the Archivist enough time to unlock the Fermata Cage by stalling. Qi’ra speaks with the Emperor over hologram, defying him.
The Vermillion is lost (though unbeknownst to Palpatine Qi’ra isn’t aboard it), but the operation with the Fermata Cage is (seemingly) successful and Palpatine senses the disturbance. She explains to Palpatine that the Fermata Cage can “freeze individual moments, [using] the dark side to suspend people and places in time forever.” And, as she notes, if it can be frozen it can be thawed. Long before, Qi’ra says, Maul found an ancient Sith Lord who had been frozen this way and wanted to free him, setting that Sith after Palpatine. He didn’t have the means to do so, but Qi’ra does.
in the aftermath of these moments, the Knights of Ren pull a mutiny against the Archivist, while Palpatine orders Vader to stop at nothing to thwart Qi’ra’s plans. Qi’ra claims that everything’s going according to her plans, but the Archivist, from the future, says it was not.
This was a fantastic start to the “end” of this trilogy, and I felt like it really hit on all cylinders in a way that Crimson Reign rarely did. I enjoyed that series, but it felt like a lot of set-up with little payoff, and perhaps that’s because the payoff was coming here. In this issue, for example, we learned the significance behind the key that the Knights of Ren were sent to retrieve from Vader’s castle on Mustafar. We knew that it was central to Qi’ra’s plan, but we didn’t know why.
Now we do. The key unlocks the Fermata Cage, which is able to be used to freeze people in moments in time – or unfreeze them. Her plan is to thaw out an old Sith and let that Sith go after Palpatine, just like Maul wanted. I liked how it was specified that this was Maul’s idea originally, as it seems so fitting for his character in this period: he still wants Palpatine defeated, but knows he personally isn’t able to do it. So when he finds something (or someone) who could, he’s going to try to take it. But he couldn’t figure out how, yet Qi’ra (seemingly) did. I think it’s a very interesting plot development and love the potential of it, but I also will admit that I hope that an old Sith doesn’t actually return to fight Palpatine. I hope it’s a threat that scares the Emperor but doesn’t actually come to fruition. That would also seem fitting for Qi’ra, as she would come close but ultimately fail.
Along these same lines is the question of who the former Sith is. Assuming Qi’ra isn’t just making it all up – and based on the reactions of others in this issue I’d say she isn’t – then there actually is an old Sith who was frozen with this device, but we don’t know who. I’m not quite sure whether to think this is a Sith we’re familiar with, or a brand new one, but I’m expecting one who we’ve seen before but really hasn’t been focused on much at all. I also wonder whether this old Sith would be familiar with the rule of two at all, as Qi’ra seems to just assume that the Sith would need to kill Palpatine because of it. But it’s possible, of course, that this Sith would be old enough not to think that way It’s yet another way her plan could go awry.
We’re already seeing, right from this first issue, ways in which Qi’ra’s plan is continuing to crack. She’s lost her flagship, and even though it was a calculated loss that wound up serving her purposes, it’s still a big loss. Perhaps more significantly, she’s now lost the Knights of Ren. They aren’t thrilled with being her puppets, especially in the escapade with the Fermata Cage, and by the end of the issue have had enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them ‘defect’ to help Palpatine by the time this is over, which could help explain why they’re so quick to desert Kylo Ren and aid the resurrected Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. It would make sense if they had a decades-old allegiance to the Sith Lord that, upon learning of his return, was rekindled. But beyond just adding depth to that moment, it would also serve as yet another threat for Qi’ra here. She has Palpatine, Vader, the Inferno Squad, and the whole might of the Empire on her tail. She’s going to run out of places to hide before long.
But, as Qi’ra tells the Emperor, she doesn’t really care if she dies – what she cares about is that he dies. Her conversation with Palpatine was a definite highlight in the issue, and seeing her defiance was cool… even though she seems a bit in over her head by the issue’s end. I’m very curious to see where her story ends up, as it seems most likely she’ll meet her end by the end of this series, but how?
With four issues left to go, it’s anybody’s guess. But the first issue was a big success. It transitioned well from Hidden Empire and set up the story to come.