Lady Qi’ra really wants the Sith Lords Darth Vader (formerly known as Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker) and Darth Sidious (AKA Galactic Emperor Sheev Palpatine) dead. I honestly don’t remember why, exactly– look, I consume a lot of Star Wars content, and some of the details inevitably fall through the cracks in my memory– but I think it’s a vendetta that she maybe from her old master Maul, like she did with the criminal organization known as Crimson Dawn.
Anyway, writer Charles Soule– one of my current favorite scribes contributing stories to A Galaxy Far Far Away– has taken the character of Qi’ra (first introduced in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story) and given her a trilogy of crossover comic-book miniseries set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The final installment of this trilogy is entitled Star Wars: Hidden Empire, and it began today with issue #1.
Like with its predecessor Crimson Reign before it, Hidden Empire starts with the mystical being known as the Archivist telling the story of Qi’ra’s eventual downfall, only this time we (kind of) see who she’s telling it to– a couple of hooded figures in silhouette whose faces I’m sure will be revealed at a later date. Anyway, at that point Soule cuts to the “present” and Lady Qi’ra enacting her plan to sow chaos across the galaxy as a distraction while she attempts to bring down the Emperor and his apprentice. Crimson Dawn agents are activated in the Rebellion and the Empire, among other factions, acting out schemes that will likely be depicted in the tie-in issues of Marvel’s ongoing Star Wars comic titles. Then Qi’ra sets in motion the most important part of her strategy, which involves the Archivist and Sith wannabe Kho Phon Farrus (from the pages of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra) triggering an hourglass-like artifact called the Fermata Cage with the reluctant help of the Knights of Ren. We don’t find out what the Fermata Cage is actually supposed to do until near the end of this issue, so I won’t spoil that here except to say it’s fairly intriguing, and when Palpatine realizes what’s happening it actually looks like it worries him, which is no small feat. Regardless, at the same time Qi’ra sends Crimson Dawn’s flagship the Vermillion up against an Imperial Interdictor-class Star Destroyer with explosive results, and the Emperor tells the various other crime syndicates– the Hutts, Pykes, Black Sun, and more– via hologram to stop squabbling among each other (see Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters for more on that) and start working against their common enemy.
There’s a fake-out character death here that bothered me a little bit, but at least the truth is revealed just a few pages later, and it’s fun to see the Knights of Ren finally get fed up with being Qi’ra’s lackeys. I was also expecting a bigger twist on the final page, along the same lines as how Qi’ra was shockingly brought into the comics at the end of the first issue of War of the Bounty Hunters, but instead Soule concludes this installment with an Arrested Development Narrator gag– I suppose Ron Howard has a connection to Solo as well. But otherwise I think this debut issue of Hidden Empire is mostly gangbusters stuff, full of surprises and great character moments, especially that extended stand-off between Qi’ra and Emperor Palpatine. Artist Steven Cummings is doing really terrific work here too, with each panel full of detail and interesting things to look at– the moody color palette generated by GURU-eFX goes a long way as well. I’m dying to find out more about what exactly happened when the Archivist threw that switch on the Fermata Cage, but I guess we’ll have to wait until December at the earliest for that. Still, Soule and company have absolutely met expectations with this premiere issue, and with Star Wars: Revelations coming up next week, it’s a very exciting time for Star Wars comics in general as the story inches ever closer to Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars: Hidden Empire #1 is available now wherever comic books are sold.