Writer Charles Soule isn’t afraid to swing for the fences when it comes to storytelling in Star Wars. I’ve seen him say this with pride on his face. Any writer can take big swings like these, but Soule possesses a unique talent to pack a hyperspace-paced story with perceptively effortless exposition and character development. The debut issue of Soule’s Crimson Reign promises some of his finest writing so far. While a war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance raged, the Empire fought another war we know little about. Until now.
Star Wars readers aren’t the only ones who haven’t heard the story of Qi’ra’s assault on the Empire. This tale has been tucked away from most of the galaxy far, far away. It’s not surprising stories of the underworld get lost within that history, where an entire order of Jedi became legend in barely three decades. Our narrator speaks to someone outside the frame, maybe a Jedi or maybe someone else. Could it be Luke? Could it be Ben? Rey or Grogu? We likely won’t know until further down the line, but the narrator takes our hand, and so we begin the story of the secret war fought by the soldiers of Crimson Dawn.
And there are plenty of soldiers. We learn why Qi’ra and Crimson Dawn ducked out of galactic affairs during the age of the Rebel Alliance. She’s been busy, carefully cultivating those displaced and harmed by the Empire that aren’t interested in restoring a “civility” in the form of a government. Qi’ra isn’t working to bring back the Republic either, only to balance the scales of power across the galaxy. She”ll have help from all the best people: Knights of Ren (The Rise of Kylo Ren, the sequel trilogy), Chanath Cha (Lando, Darth Vader), Deathstick (Doctor Aphra), Ochi of Bestoon (Darth Vader, The Rise of Skywalker), and our narrator, the Archivist.
Qi’ra eloquently describes how she feels the power structure of the galaxy should work. Her metaphor of a mountain range, peaks, and valleys across the galaxy, some slightly higher than others, but not insurmountable for those who wish to work their way to the top. The current state of the galaxy is a pyramid, with all the power leading to the Sith. Qi’ra presents the war they fight will serve to shatter this power and return it to the galaxy, hoping to return to a range of power across all parts of the galaxy. She states the great lie everyone lives under is that power exists anywhere other than the hands of the Sith. How does she know this?
We don’t learn a lot about Qi’ra’s time with Maul, other than she paid attention while the unstable, former Sith Lord described his time under Sidious. I suspect we’ll get more of that story eventually, whether it’s in future issues of this series or in another medium, but Soule gives us all the relevant information. Qi’ra also kept track of Sith Artifacts, which will probably come in handy. Once she learned who controlled the galaxy, she couldn’t ignore it. Crimson Dawn served as nothing more than a criminal enterprise until Qi’ra took control, reforging it into something more. She never states any moral purpose, but it’s implied in the obligation she feels to end the tyranny of the Sith.
The first stage in Qi’ra’s plan is sowing chaos amongst the criminal underworld. With the Hutts in chaos after their failed attack on the Empire in War of the Bounty Hunters, the power vacuum will pit the criminal factions against each other. Qi’ra looks to make Crimson Dawn a neutral party to all, and her first outreach is to Black Sun. While the meeting is pleasant, there is no illusion of alliance between Dawn and Sun, just an understanding they can stay out of each other’s way and perhaps work together when mutually beneficial. Huge Legends shoutout: Prince Xizor from Shadows of the Empire is mentioned as the leader of Black Sun, so we’ll likely be seeing him at some point.
Qi’ra isn’t the only one doing outreach. Her agents seek to reach an armistice with every other organization who will listen. It’s a bold move, but Qi’ra has been anticipating how the pieces over her plan will move for some time. The entire War of the Bounty Hunters event was essentially her design, just so she could create this chaos and confusion. With Crimson Dawn declaring a tenuous neutrality with any potential threat, Qi’ra’s plan accelerates to the next phase.
Chanath Cha, one of Soule’s characters from Lando, returns to lead a group called the Orphans. For me, this is the most intriguing group involved with Crimson Dawn. Each of them have their own traumatic associations with the Empire. We learn Chanath’s parents were killed in front of her, and she went into service of the Emperor so she could get close to Vader and kill him. The plan failed, so now she’s following Qi’ra.
The Orphans strike a Black Sun spice refinery. It’s a particularly nasty one, where the addictive qualities of the narcotic spice are enhanced. Above the planet and in the facility, the Orphans waste no time dispatching of the operation and all its operatives. They show no mercy to anyone present in the illicit endeavor, dealing a heavy blow to Black Sun’s drug trade.
Black Sun notices right away. We learn that, when attacks like these happen, the responsible party is usually quick to claim responsibility. These acts are a message to the target and the rest of the criminal underworld, so Black Sun is understandably confounded when no one claims responsibility. They also can’t surmise a motive for this, since no other syndicate would benefit.
As other operatives carry out similar strikes against syndicates across the galaxy, the Emperor takes note. Soule reminds us Qi’ra isn’t wrong at all about these criminals serving the Emperor, whether they are aware of it or not. Palpatine realizes the secret war has begun, and he’s no fool. The Empire is already trying to squash a substantial rebellion, so he needs to snuff this war out before it consumes more resources or his proxy enterprises. As we learned in the recent issue of Darth Vader, he’s tasked his apprentice with this.
Well, well… This is an interesting turn of events. The Knights of Ren are tasked with something else entirely– disrupting Vader. For now, their motives are vague, and it’s hinted the Emperor wronged them somehow — they seemed more concerned with the Sith artifacts in Vader’s possession. Qi’ra knows disrupting Vader will be important to her clandestine operations against other syndicates, plus she also has her own motives for raiding Vader’s fortress.
Qi’ra isn’t Force-sensitive, but she doesn’t need to be to understand how important a role it plays in the events of the galaxy. Through a certain lens, the galaxy serves as a theater to some truly horrific battles between the light and dark sides of the Force. Any tactician needs to understand the Force when they make moves as bold as Qi’ra’s. The leader of Crimson Dawn created a vast archive, and her archivist turns their attention toward looking for any Jedi who may have survived the Emperor’s purge. But Crimson Dawn isn’t looking to ally itself with the Jedi against the Sith. Any surviving Jedi will be used strictly as bait, to further distract the Emperor and Dark Lord of the Sith.
The issue ends where it began, only with an ominous note. My first reaction: Oh great, another great woman in Star Wars is about to be steamrolled in service to making Palpatine and Vader badder. After reading the issue again, I feel a bit more hopeful and doubt Soule would be this heavy-handed with foreshadowing. While this story could be a tragedy, I don’t think it will end with the demise of Qi’ra. Perhaps the narrator will believe she’s been killed, but Qi’ra strikes me as someone who would fake her own death to escape the criminal life she’s led for so long. If I’m wrong, I’ll be very disappointed.
A Star Wars story by Charles Soule is always something I look forward to, and he absolutely delivers with this first issue. It’s an excellent introduction to the state of the galaxy and the plan Qi’ra’s waited to put into motion. Soule’s writing conveys a genuine excitement for the opportunity to tell this story. The art by Steve Cummings couldn’t be better, with bold shades of red and burgundy threading each frame, reminding us Crimson Dawn looms over everything. This issue thrilled me with every turn and left me wanting more. Crimson Reign will spread across the ongoing titles of Star Wars, Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra, and Bounty Hunters. It will also have its own issues. The secret war has begun, and I’m anxiously awaiting the next battle.