The second arc in a trilogy by Charles Soule is complete as Crimson Reign comes to an end.
What started in War of the Bounty Hunters, sifted its way through Crimson Reign, and will ultimately conclude with the final arc: Hidden Empire. Crimson Reign was a delight throughout and, while the fifth issue left a lot to be desired, it sets up everything for a gripping resolution.
Without getting into spoiler territory yet, the fifth issue deals with what Qi’ra knew to be inevitable: what to do when the Empire learns Crimson Dawn is behind it all. Palpatine has learned Qi’ra is behind the syndicate war, the assault on Vader’s castle and the assassination of his own personal guard and more. He is hell bent on bringing her and Crimson Dawn to its knees. Qi’ra, of course, has a plan. It has been manifesting itself for some time now, and we finally see the groundwork for the chaos to come.
We begin with none other than Palpatine and Vader. In the Imperial Palace on Coruscant the Emperor begins to bring Vader into the fold. After an intelligence briefing shares the involvement of Crimson Dawn at every level of what is happening, Palpatine questions Vader about Qi’ra. What came after was rather compelling. Vader recounts to his master about the time he faced off with her and while maintaining his typical manor of arrogance he also clearly has respect for her and her abilities. He tells Palpatine how her fighting style reminded him of someone in particular. When questioned further, Vader shares how it’s Palpatine himself Qi’ra’s style reminds him of.
You can feel the tension between the two in this moment as Palpatine pauses on their stroll and the two come face to face. Ultimately, it’s worked through to the point they realize Maul is behind Qi’ra’s training. This revelation brings up many other questions: like what other Sith secrets could she be aware of?
Meanwhile, Qi’ra’s own spies confirm to her the Empire is becoming aware of her involvement. She sends the Archivist to complete a mission of paramount importance. From what it seems, her mission means everything to the success of their plot. She dispatches the Knights of Ren to accompany her. Qi’ra delegates other tasks to the remaining members of her inner circle and says her goodbyes. She then turns her attention to young Cadeliah to discuss her future.
Qi’ra takes young Cadeliah aside to teach her a few lessons as they may not have the chance as events are about to happen quickly. Cadeliah is the heir to two minor crime syndicates, but put together they can be a powerful force. Qi’ra tells the young child of her past. Forced to be a scrum rat on the streets of Corellia she learned to survive. When she arrived at Crimson Dawn, she learned what she had to do not only to survive, but to thrive. “Trust no one,” she says, imploring on the young girl that once she begins to rely on trusting others she has already failed. It was refreshing to get introspection from Qi’ra in this way. She is one of my favorite characters in Star Wars and proves why in many ways this issue.
Unfortunately for these two, their time is cut short when Qi’ra’s communicator is blasted with reports from all of her contacts saying the Empire has officially targeted Crimson Dawn. In every corner of the galaxy, they now have enemies. Enemies hell bent on hunting them.
While Qi’ra is planning her response the Archivist sets out on her vital quest. She has taken the Screaming Key the Knights of Ren stole from Vader’s castle and have traveled to a hidden location that hasn’t been visited for what she guesses is a thousand years. Sith lore always fascinates me, and this image from Steven Cummings struck me as particularly delightful. Delightful in the sense it sends shivers up my spine.
As one can expect the only way to achieve their goal is to tap into the dark side of the Force. Ren engulfs the key with “the shadow” and immediately the situation goes awry. The once frozen figures of terror begin to screech. Instead of being petrified monsters the group now faces angry fire breathing monsters. Again, the art here was some of my favorite in the issue.
Immediately, the fight is on. Ren and his Knights are desperately trying to stay alive against these seemingly invincible creatures. One of them dies making sure the Archivist reaches her destination. Upon arriving she got what she came for. She didn’t even believe it was real until it was right in front of her: an hourglass. I have no idea what this hourglass is or what it could do. If any of you have some insight or guesses I would love to hear them. There’s no doubt it will play a critical role in Hidden Empire.
With the final pages we see Qi’ra stirring up her supporters. In a rousing speech she announces how it’s time for their war against Palpatine and his empire to move to the next level. Her spies, confidants, troops and supporters exist in every faction of note in the galaxy and has given them a one word order: chaos. Sow chaos in every corner of the Empire. Shake them to their core. This is her Hidden Empire, and it’s about to be unleashed.