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One man's quest for vengeance
on September 17, 2012
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
It is the time of a falling empire, a time of betrayal and vengeance. This is the story of the last of the mysterious Imperial Guards of the Emperor Palpatine. It is the story of his quest to seek justice for the galactic ruler he served, and for his fellow comrades in arms, who gave their lives in that service.
"Star Wars: The Crimson Empire Saga," tells the tale of Kir Kanos, the sole survivor of the scarlet clothed guardians of the Emperor, first shown in "Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." Over more than a decade of Dark Horse Comics publishing history, starting in 1997 to its long awaited conclusion in 2012, "Crimson Empire" reveals the history of these elite soldiers, "the best of the best," trained for one purpose: to serve the Emperor of "the first Galactic Empire." This 504 paged hardcover book collects the following stories:
Star Wars: Crimson Empire #1-6 (1997)
Star Wars: The Bounty Hunters (Kenix Kil) (1999)
Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood #1-6 (1999)
Star Wars: "Hard Currency" (Dark Horse Extra #21-24) (2000)
Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: "The Third Time Pays for All" (Dark Horse Presents #1) (2011)
(Note: The above is also the opening passage to Crimson Empire III #1)
Star Wars: Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost #1-6 (2011)
Star Wars Handbook Volume 2: Crimson Empire (1999)
"The Crimson Empire Saga" begins with an ending; the final defeat of the Emperor Palpatine by his long-time foes, the Rebel Alliance, led by the legendary siblings, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa Solo. But unbeknownst to those fighting to free the galaxy from Palpatine's tyranny, treachery also played a role in the Emperor's downfall. In a stunning turn of events it is revealed that one of those thought to be most loyal to Palpatine, a member of the Imperial Guard itself, betrayed his master in an attempt to seize power for himself. To insure the success of his treason, Carnor Jax also ordered the assassination of all the surviving Imperial Guard. But in his arrogance, the traitor underestimated the skill of the warriors he had trained with. Though faced with the overwhelming force of an army of stormtroopers sent to eliminate them on their training world Yinchorr, one Imperial Guard survived the massacre. Kir Kanos, the last of Emperor Palpatine's Imperial Guard lived on, to seek vengeance on Carnor Jax, and all those who had betrayed his Emperor.
The core "Crimson Empire" trilogy is the creation of writers Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley, and artist Paul Gulacy, and they have produced an exciting adventure of Star Wars action, intrigue and emotion. The first "Crimson Empire" 6 issue comic mini-series was published in 1997, in the early years of what came to be called the "Star Wars Expanded Universe." The "EU" is an ongoing showcase for the continuing "adventures of Luke Skywalker" in novels, comics, computer games and more, as well as for other characters and worlds from the movie and now television saga envisioned by George Lucas. But the Expanded Universe also highlights original ideas based on characters and situations created by Mr. Lucas. "Crimson Empire" represents a prime example of talented imaginations thinking, 'what if we told a story about the red cloaked guards seen in "Return of the Jedi?"'
In Kir Kanos, Richardson, Stradley, and Gulacy have created a classic Star Wars anti-hero/hero. Along with such Expanded Universe creations as Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Quinlan Vos, and Asajj Ventress, he is one of the most intriguing characters in the Star Wars Universe. Kanos is a highly trained warrior with a steadfast moral code, whose quest for vengeance anchors "The Crimson Empire Saga." It is this focus on the lead character's ultimate goal that is one of the achievements of the series. This dramatic strength, when adhered to, allows the comic creators to truly delve into their original characters and concepts without having to include or depend on the more famous Star Wars heroes and villains, although some appear in supporting roles. It is a testament to the makers' storytelling abilities that as the reader follows this tale of Kir Kanos' road to revenge, one becomes sympathetic to the character's cause to avenge the death of one of the most evil men who ever lived in any galaxy!
A special highlight of "Crimson Empire" is the artistry of Paul Gulacy. Mr. Gulacy has a distinctive style in the sequential art medium; a clean precise vision that combines traditional comic book panel progression with simulated photographic technique. For example, Mr. Gulacy rarely uses motion lines in his comic art, except to depict the movement of a lightsaber, or in the case of Kir Kanos' preferred weapon, the force pike, a doubled-bladed long staff. This style gives Mr. Gulacy's work a heightened sense of realism. In the first "Crimson Empire" mini-series, Mr. Gulacy is inked by P. Craig Russell. In "Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood," he is embellished by Randy Emberlin. "Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost" saves the best for last as Mr. Gulacy produced full pencil and ink artwork for the third mini-series. He was always his best inker.
This "Crimson Empire" collection also offers the reader the opportunity to see the evolution and advancement of comic coloring from 1997 through to 2012, the year of this special compendium's release. Dave Stewart created the color art for Mr. Gulacy's pencil work on the first two installments of the prime comic trilogy and the results display a marked improvement over the flat colors long produced in comics of the past. But with "Crimson Empire III," the most recent part of the saga, the color rendering of Michael Bartolo shows an even more nuanced use of tone and hue over Mr. Gulacy's art. Thanks in no small part to the computer age, comic coloring has come a long way from the days of newsprint.
Another highlight of "The Crimson Empire Saga" is the inclusion of two addition stories within the thick hardcover. "How the Mighty have Fallen" is a tale written by Randy Stradley, and illustrated by Javier Saltares and Christopher Ivy. Published in 1999 as part of the Star Wars: The Bounty Hunters comic series, it relates how Kir Kanos created the secret bounty hunter identity Kenix Kil,to better hide from members of the fallen Galactic Empire that were hunting for him across the stars.
The second adventure, the short story, "Hard Currency," was published in Dark Horse Extra, a newspaper-like fanzine released from 1998-2002, and features Kenix Kil teaching an enemy the cost of betrayal. It was scripted by Mr. Stradley, and drawn by Isaac Buckminster Owens.
There is a great deal to enjoy in this "Crimson Empire" collection but it is not without flaws. While the premiere "Crimson Empire" mini-series succeeds in being an enthralling adventure on every level, "Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood" sometimes suffers from a story that concentrates too much on subterfuge and political power-plays; so much so that the series' starring character, Kir Kanos, seems rather to be a supporting player in his own story. The long-awaited third part in the "Crimson Empire" trilogy, "Empire Lost," improves on the faults of its predecessor but still has a sometimes convoluted plotline.
Another flaw in the multi-part saga is the character arc of Mirith Sinn, the brave and beautiful Rebel Alliance commander who plays a major part in most of Kir Kanos' exploits. The series writers, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Stradley, showcase the evolution of the relationship between these two driven individuals, a relationship that has an undeniable chemistry. Mirith and Kir Kanos share a bond, a bond that is complicated by violent loss. But the complexities of their relationship are sometimes handled in conflicting ways from story to story, resulting in confusion for the reader in understanding the otherwise strong character of Mirith Sinn.
Still another flaw in this collection is the editorial decision not to include all the striking covers painted by artist Dave Dorman for the 18 individual comics in the "Crimson Empire" trilogy of mini-series. While it is gratifying to see 6 of Mr. Dorman's contributions to the saga, notably his special wrap-around cover painting to the first "Crimson Empire" trade paperback reprint volume, as well as the "Crimson Empire Handbook" cover, this reviewer regrets the omission of the artist's 13 other paintings. Nor was the sole "variant" cover to "Crimson Empire III" number 1, drawn by Mr. Gulacy included, and it was the only cover he created for the entire series. It is doubly disappointing when the collection showcases Mr. Dorman's cover to that same comic issue twice in the book!
This reviewer would have also been appreciative of a written introduction or history of the creation of the "Crimson Empire" series; and a feature that explained the long wait of 13 years before the concluding chapter in the trilogy was finally released for fans of the saga to enjoy. These editorial choices could have then given this hardcover collection the more appropriate title, "The Complete Crimson Empire Saga."
Despite the above shortcomings, this is a very special Star Wars comic collection. From one Star Wars fan to any who read this review, I highly recommend you put on some of John Williams' immortal Star Wars music, sit back, open this hardcover and let yourself be taken away to that "galaxy far, far away" we love so much!