Well, everyone, we are less than a day away from the release of the latest Star Wars film and to be honest I could not be more excited. While there are a number of people among the “hardcore” Star Wars fans who like to hate on The Force Awakens I for one really enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing where these characters go. It has a new writer-director who I have been a fan of for years and Lucasfilm cannot stop praising his work and seems to be taking the characters in new and interesting directions.
How confident are they in this man?
Well, they literally gave him his own trilogy of films to do whatever he wants with them to be produced sometime after Episode IX wraps up. So, yea. You might say that I’m looking forward to this one. And yes. As I am sure you have already guessed, we at The Nerd Hub have a comic that we are going to look at to celebrate the release as we did last year. But this time we’re going to take a look at something a little older. Something from the Dark Horse days. This is Comic Book Spotlight shining a light on Star Wars: Crimson Empire.
Published from December of 1997 through May of 1998, the miniseries was written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley with artwork by Paul Gulacy and was part of the original Star Wars Extended Universe. The plot follows the last member of the Royal Imperial Guard, (the guys in red who were always around the Emperor in the films), named Kir Kanos who is currently on the run from the Empire’s forces after the deaths of his fellow guards and the Emperor’s final clone, (the EU was a weird place).
Holding a secret that could potentially destroy the Empire’s new de facto leader, former Royal Guard Carnor Jax, Kanos flees to a remote smuggler’s haven known as Phaeda. After his presence became known to the local Imperial garrison, Kanos is forced to ally himself with the local Rebel forces and help them in their fight while Jax heads towards the planet to deal with Kanos personally. And all around it’s a pretty fun, briskly paced little series that is sure to give you your Star Wars fix. Even if it doesn’t entirely work.
The book’s key problem is its story as it tries to be about a little too much all at once within the limit of a six-issue miniseries.
On one hand it’s trying to keep the stakes high by making its main conflict revolve around a man who is literally set to replace the Emperor and the one man who has the dirt on him to stop it. But it does so through the lens of smaller, more intimate conflicts which is where the problems come in. There are some obvious plot holes for one thing. As I was reading the miniseries I couldn’t help but ask myself why a man with such infinite resources would take so few troops to deal with this problem or why in the end he decides to face him in a one on one duel.
The main problem, however, comes in the forms of Kanos and Jax and their central conflict.
It’s very clear that the conflict between the two is meant to be deep and personal. Jax apparently violated the honor of the Imperial Guard and Kanos views this as something of a personal betrayal. The problem, however, is that within the context of this story we know nothing of what this order’s idea of honor actually is or how close the two were. Aside from one or two flashbacks, we don’t really get any idea of the history that these two share or how deep their bond may have been. Aside from being at the training camp at the same time, we’re never told just how close the two were and it gives us little evidence to indicate that they were ever anything more than sparring partners.
This, of course, should lead us to believe that it was simply a matter of honor for Kanos to take Jax down for his betrayal of the Crimson Guard, but even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The main problem with this is that we know next to nothing about the Royal Guard. We don’t know what their perceptions of honor are. We don’t know how close these guys are to one another, what their codes are or what they do in their off time.
In other words, we know next to nothing of their culture so we have no notion as to what might be considered right or wrong within it, making Jax’s quest for vengeance feel a little empty. It’s even more eyebrow-raising when you consider the fact that they are guarding a man who literally came to rule the galaxy through deceit and treachery.
Yet our main character is constantly going on about how the people who now rule the empire are a bunch of opportunistic snakes who have achieved their positions through deceit, treachery and such. Now granted this comic was written two years before the Prequel Trilogy was released but given what we now know of it and that more people have probably seen the films then read the EU material, Jax can’t help but come off a bit hypocritical. Because of all this, the main conflict lacks as much substance and depth as it should have and it’s a place where the book doesn’t work. Luckily pretty much everything else does.
The thing about limited series like these is that they are at their best when they are telling smaller, self-contained stories.
Whereas the Kanos/Jax story felt like it should have been part of a much longer, ongoing series the actual story taking place on planet Phaeda does not and feels perfectly at homes within the confines of a miniseries. The majority of the conflict that is on display in the miniseries primarily deals with the local Imperial garrison and the local members Rebel Alliance and how both leaders are trying to retain control of their respective forces while the threat of Jax’s coming looms on the horizon. While some of the actual storytelling is a bit janky it none the less remains the best part of the story.
Through various plot points, character actions and artwork the writers and artists tell us just about everything that we need to know about these characters and the planet. We learn that the Imperial commander is a sketchy man who is always paranoid about oversite. We learn that the Rebel commander is a bit on the inexperienced side and has trouble maintaining order in her own base and heavily relies on the wisdom and strength of her bodyguard to maintain order. We learn how both sides obtain information, how powerful each garrison is and how unimportant the planet was before Kanos and Jax arrived.
It does have to be said, however, that the characters themselves are a bit thin but they get the job done. The Imperial commander never really amounts to being much more than a slimy corrupt officer, but he does get the job done of being a more immediate, disposable antagonist until Jax arrives. Rebel commander Mirith doesn’t amount to being much more than the inexperienced, borderline naive rebel command but her story arc does have a pretty good payoff that I won’t spoil here.
Even our primary protagonist and antagonist fall into this. No, their storyline doesn’t really work but it does have to be said that Jax is an intimidating presence in both the background and as the principle antagonist, maintaining the borderline over the top evil presence that Star Wars antagonists tend to have that make them so much fun. Kanos is more or less the quiet badass masculine archetype that we’ve seen a million times before, but it is pretty cool to see one of these guards in action and it does have to be said that his arc does have a satisfyingly grim payoff.
It also must be said that for a comic produced in the 90s the artwork is really good. Granted there are a few characters who never seem to stop scowling and Merith’s design is that of a stereotypical 90s female comic character if I’ve ever seen one but for the most part, it all works very well. All the designs are faithful to the source material. It keeps everything moving at a brisk pace and gives you a clear idea of where people are in relation to one another and never feels like a panel is too short or too long. In other words, it’s artwork at its most efficient and professional.
In the end Star Wars: Crimson Empire is a flawed but entertaining read. Its main conflict doesn’t entirely work and the characters are little more than archetypes. But before the series ends you will grow to care for them and the smaller planetary conflict does work quite well. It’s a tad on the disposable side but it is none the less an entertaining read that will give you your Star Wars fix if you’re sick of the main Marvel stuff that is floating around like I was and got me interested enough to check out its two sequels. Just don’t expect it to be on par with the writing of Kieron Gillen.