Marvel continues to mine the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, this time releasing a series of consecutive arcs I had all but forgotten until this Epic reprint. Focusing on the exploits of Kir Kanos, one of the Emperor’s most loyal guards, the three Crimson Dawn miniseries are collected here. Originally published by Dark Horse Comics, this run details events seven years after Return of the Jedi, as Luke, Han and Leia work to build a New Republic as remnants of the Empire fight for control of their own fiefdoms.
Veteran Star Wars fans are likely aware that this storyline (along with all the others published by Dark Horse at this time) is no longer canon, but careful readers might see some thematic vestiges in more recent programs like The Mandalorian. It’s a fine collection of Star Wars adventures that puts a heavy emphasis on the political machinations of its universe while giving a compelling backstory to a character that was used as artistic window dressing in the canon films.
Collected in this mammoth Epic Collection, we have Star Wars: Crimson Empire #0-6, Star Wars Bounty Hunters – Kenix Kil, Star Wars: Crimson Empire II – Council of Blood #1-6, Star Wars: Crimson Empire III – Empire Lost #1-6, and some supplementary material from Dark Horse Extra #21-24 and Dark Horse Presents (2011) #1. The meat and potatoes of this trade is the well-regarded Crimson Empire trilogy, published in Dark Horse’s golden age of Star Wars books in the late ’90s (although the third Crimson Empire run didn’t hit shelves until 2011). It would be impossible not note the nostalgia the ’90s era of Star Wars publishing generates when reading these comics, yet I had only a faint recollection of these stories. Reading them with a fresh pair of eyes far removed from their initial release date allowed for a more honest assessment of the content, and thankfully, these comics generally hold up well.
The majority of the book focuses on Kir Kanos, the best of Palpatine’s crimson Royal Guards, who finds himself a ronin after the death of his master. Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley, the writers for all three minis, lean heavily into the samurai aspects of the character, presenting how his past training and outlook shape his place in the newly constituted republic. Former Royal Guardsman Carnor Jax, now a member of the governing council, serves as the main villain to Kanos as he attempts to snuff out the remaining elements of Palpatine’s inner circle. By the end of the third arc, Kanos goes from being an anti-hero to a downright respectable protagonist, even if his allegiances align with the Empire. By putting the narrative weight solely on a single character’s development, Richardson and Stradley avoid the pitfalls other Star Wars tales have suffered. Their scripting is concentrated and comprehensible, giving just enough nods to the larger events happening in Star Wars comics at this time without losing sight of the comic’s purpose.
The three runs are all drawn by Paul Gulacy, a comic pro with work going back to the ’70s. A lot of his work is highly functional; he effectively represents the Star Wars universe visually, while providing compelling action scenes and avoiding embellishing on established pictorial norms. The book is much more colorful than some of the other Dark Horse titles at this time, giving it a comic vibrancy that its contemporaries lacked.
The extra material from Dark Horse Extra and Presents is enjoyable, but unnecessary to anyone but the most die-hard fan. Having said that, I am happy to see these extra details included in a collection of this nature. Additionally, the supplemental material includes sketches, and beautiful cover art from Dave Dorman. Dark Horse knew how to give their books a cinematic quality (at least the covers) in the ’90s, and Dorman’s work demonstrates it in strides. It would have been beneficial to get some creator notes reflecting on this run, but these details were not provided.
This massive Epic Collection reads like a single narrative experience and provides many of the elements quality Star Wars arcs contain. It’s not without its faults, but it’s a worthwhile addition to the Star Wars mythos, even if it’s no longer canon.
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