Comic Review – Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader Confront Crimson Dawn in “Star Wars: Hidden Empire” #4

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been more than a little confused about what the ancient dark-side artifact known as the Fermata Cage actually does– or will do, once it’s finally activated– in recent Star Wars comics. But Star Wars: Hidden Empire #4, released yesterday from Marvel, made me feel a little bit better about that, because it sure seems like the characters involved aren’t sure either.

Does the Fermata Cage contain a Sith Lord from ages past, frozen in time? Or will it be a trap for Lady Qi’ra’s sworn enemies, the Sith Lords Darth Vader and Darth Sidious (AKA Emperor Palpatine)? Sadly we don’t quite find out in this issue, but there is at least the possibility that we’ll know by the end of next month.

Hidden Empire #4 begins with a lightsaber sparring match between Palpatine and Vader, wherein ol’ Palpy insists that should an ancient Sith suddenly materialize out of the cage, he will do what he can to ensure the “Rule of Two” remains in place. He also vows to kill Qi’ra in the process, but that’s almost beside the point. Then writer Charles Soule cuts to Dawnfall Base, where Qi’ra is desperately trying to muster up some replacement protection for the Archivist, whose decidedly perilous job it is to open the Fermata Cage itself. Qi’ra gets turned down by the assassin Deathstick (still one of the sillier-named characters in the current Star Wars canon), so she turns back to the Knights of Ren, who abandoned the Archivist after two of them died defending her earlier in this miniseries. Luckily Qi’ra is very persuasive in her reasoning for their return, so she sets up young Cadeliah for success and heads out on her way. The remainder of this issue takes place on the mysterious Amaxine Station– a key location for The High Republic publishing initiative and Soule’s excellent The Rise of Kylo Ren comic. Here the forces of Crimson Dawn and the Galactic Empire are set to converge, as Qi’ra plans to eliminate the Sith come to a head.

Lady Qi’ra rallies her troops at Dawnfall, while the Archivist activates the Fermata Cage on Amaxine Station, immediately drawing the dark-side attention of Sidious and Vader. The only thing that didn’t quite make sense to me here is that Palpatine makes a big deal of not walking directly into Qi’ra’s trap, but then when the Crimson Dawn fleet attacks the Super Star Destroyer Executor, diverting power from the capital ship’s weaponry to its shields, he immediately flip-flops and decides to take a shuttle over to the station, putting the two Sith Lords in harm’s way instead of blowing up the cage from a distance. I guess the plot just needed them to be on the station, because the issue ends with a cliffhanger of all the major players ready for a confrontation there. But what interests me even more than what may come out of the Fermata Cage when it finally, finally opens next month is that Palpatine seems especially interested in the other dark-side forces on the Amaxine Station. Those who have read Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: The High Republic – Into the Dark are aware of the station’s connection to the plant monsters known as the Drengir, but I’m seeing this as a way to set up Snoke’s presence at this disturbingly eerie place later on in the timeline. Either way, there’s going to be a lot of wrapping up to do in issue #5, but Soule and artist Steven Cummings have done a really good job of getting all the pieces where they need to be for the finale of this thrilling miniseries.

Star Wars: Hidden Empire #4 is available now wherever comic books are sold.