Featured image: does Qi’ra want to destroy the Sith or join them? Image available on starwars.com.
Spoiler Review: Questions abound in Soule and Cummings’s Crimson Reign opener
Qi’ra’s ascent as Queen of the Underworld continues in this opening salvo. Issue #1 asks far more questions than it answers, but makes for a satisfying start to the second arc of Soule’s comic book trilogy.
Star Wars: Crimson Reign #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Steven Cummings
Cover Artist: Leinil Frances Yu and Sunny Gho
The first issue of a comic run, like any good story opening, must establish a premise while leaving plenty of mystery for the reader to explore later. Ever the tease, Charles Soule leans heavily toward mystery and unanswered questions in his opening to Crimson Reign. The comic begins with a vague notice of time, “After the fall,” followed by “off-screen” dialogue in a relatively bare, ancient room with a very strange, spherical holocron. Whose “fall?” After what? Who is talking? Where are they? The canon completist in me gotsta know!
The emphasis on mystery is justified for a few reasons. We know that Crimson Reign is the second part of a trilogy following Qi’ra’s ascent in the criminal underworld, so the current book already has loads of backstory to it, and lots of time for mysteries to be unfolded. It directly follows Soule’s War of the Bounty Hunters, the summer 2021 Boba Fett-focused crossover event set after The Empire Strikes Back that reintroduced Qi’ra from Solo: A Star Wars Story. Also, readers of Soule’s previous Star Wars stories have an iron-clad trust in his ability to pay off a mysterious setup, such as Lobot’s brain, Darth Momin’s mask, Padme’s dresses and Bel Zettifar’s plunge, to name some examples.
Thankfully, my canon completist is quickly appeased: Soule and artist Steven Cummings immediately move on from that mysterious “post-fall” setting and situate the comic’s main story on the wide-spread second page. We’re right where and when we left off, at the very last scene of War of the Bounty Hunters, on the starship Vermillion, with Qi’ra and her assembled Crimson Dawn crew. Qi’ra states her apparent goal: destroy the Sith to equalize power in the galaxy.
We’re finally treated to her point of view, which marks this book as a departure from War of the Bounty Hunters. Soule makes good on his comments to IGN that the summer’s crossover event was “really a Boba Fett story.” Beginning with Crimson Reign, he has “a bigger story I’m going to tell with Qi’ra and Crimson Dawn.” Our anti-heroine narrates her own connection to the Sith, namely her time with Maul after the events of Solo. Cummings gives us multiple panels of her face alone, just about breaking the fourth wall. Also, let me tell you how refreshing it was to see a poignant scene from the Clone Wars animated series make its way into a different medium. Soule and Cummings are as clued into the setup of other canon stories as much as the setup of their own.
Back to her plan. I say her stated goal is only “apparent” because her actual ambitions are still vague. The three-part arrangement of Leinil Francis Yu’s and Sunny Gho’s direct edition cover suggests that she wants to join the Sith as a third party or agent, possibly as a replacement for the now-defunct Inquisitors albeit without the same Force-sensitivity. Thinking back to War of the Bounty Hunters, her harrowing confrontation with Vader in issue #3 makes me wonder if she’s trying to impress them rather than destroy them. And in that speech to her Dawn agents at the beginning of Crimson Reign, she explicitly tells them not to trust her. A speech that, again, sees her break the fourth wall multiple times.
On the other hand, if she truly hopes to assassinate Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, well we know precisely how well that would turn out. We do get some payoff on that score—at least some emotional payoff—on the last page. The mysterious “Archivist,” who has been narrating some of the book from that unknown future “after the fall,” returns to speak forlornly of Qi’ra and her ambitions. “This is the story of the fall of Crimson Dawn,” she finally reveals, as the holocron beams up an optimistic and youthful Qi’ra. “This story is a tragedy.” That may seem straightforward and emotionally immediate enough, but I still smell a plot twist.
Though longer, the rest of the book is somewhat less important: it’s merely the first stage of Qi’ra’s plan, and even that is a bait-and-switch. Qi’ra and her lieutenants meet with the leaders of rival syndicates, offering them olive branches of non-interference. But then we see Crimson Dawn operatives attacking targets critical to the very syndicates their leaders had just met with. I had a distinct “wait, what?” moment when The Orphans discussed taking out a key Black Sun laboratory. The fourth wall remains in ruins: the bait-and-switch is as much on the reader as the characters.
That brief narrative twist on Black Sun was a riskier choice than we’ve seen Soule make in the past, and on first reading feels more unsettling than compelling. Have the comic creators made an unexplained leap in logic, the storytelling faux-pas that (on my reading at least) weakened the impact of such Marvel giants as 2003’s Truth: Red, White & Black and 2015’s Secret Wars #1? Soule could have repaired the fourth wall and smoothed out the logic with a beat that sees Qi’ra and co. discuss their plot internally. I finally saw that her plan was really to cripple the rest of the underworld, but the work required for me to get there might be lost on some readers. The beginning and end of this first issue has plenty of mystery, so maybe the middle could have been more straightforward.
But then again, this is Charles Soule we’re dealing with. Even as I smell more twists and turns to the story, I also know that he has a sumptuous meal prepared for us when all is said and done. Again, those final panels were eminently satisfying; I just might come to see the roller-coaster of reader uncertainty as the right choice in the end as well.