A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Dark Horse Comics scored back-to-back hits with the first two installments of its “Star Wars: Crimson Empire” trilogy. The first miniseries, released in 1997, followed the adventures of Kir Kanos, an exiled former member of Palpatine’s Imperial Guard, as he fought alone against his former friend and deadly rival Carnor Jax. After crossing paths with a group of rebels led by Mirith Sinn, Kanos found common ground with Sinn’s group, though their ultimate allegiances clashed. Now, more than ten years after “Crimson Empire II” finished its run, the original team returns to complete the circle. The six-issue “Star Wars: Crimson Empire III – Empire Lost” by Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, and Paul Gulacy begins October 26, and Comic Book Resources spoke with Richardson for thoughts on the much-anticipated series.
Richardson, who founded Dark Horse in 1986, was instrumental in the young publisher’s acquiring the “Star Wars” license in 1991, a license previously held by Marvel Comics. “When we first went after the license, we had had success with movie adaptations and series that were based on movie properties. The first success we had, of course, was ‘Aliens,’ and then the ‘Predator’ series, and then a huge success with ‘Aliens vs. Predator.’ And we followed that with ‘Terminator,'” Richardson told CBR News. “Our approach was a bit different than the traditional comic book based on a film. We really tried to do the next film in the series, in comic book form. We tried to pick up the story right where it left off. It worked for us in the ‘Aliens’ series and the other titles, so we asked ourselves, what would be our dream project? Of course, that would be ‘Star Wars.’
“So we started talking to the people at LucasFilm, and we put together a presentation of a book by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy, which really was the continuation of the film franchise, what took place after the events of ‘Return of the Jedi,'” Richardson continued. “LucasFilm loved the approach, loved the look, which was much more cinematic than the comics that had been done before, and eventually we were able to get the license. So we started out with that original ‘Dark Empire’ series, and it still sells well for us all these years later. And the ‘Star Wars’ universe is a big place. There are a lot of characters and a lot of events, and it covers many, many, many centuries. So we had the ability to pick our spots and tell stories in different eras and featuring different characters, and also featuring the classic characters and what was going on in and around the films themselves. That approach has been very, very successful for us.”
One of those early and successful series, of course, was the original “Crimson Empire” in 1997, written by Richardson and Randy Stradley, who currently edits the “Star Wars” line, with art by Paul Gulacy. The same team created “Crimson Empire II” a year later, and of course Gulacy is joining Richardson once again for “Crimson Empire III,” with Stradley also contributing to the story. Richardson said it feels good to return to the “Crimson Empire” cast after more than ten years away. “You have to go back and reacquaint yourself with these characters and this series,” he said. “We had to remember what it was we’d done in the first place. I had always been intrigued with the Imperial Guard, the red costumes, I always thought they’d be great characters to feature in a series. We didn’t know much about them, at the time there was never much said about them. But I always thought when you saw them on the screen they were extremely intriguing. So we built a story around Palpatine’s guard that took place after Episode VI and basically built mythology around them and where they came from.
“We had big plans for the series at the time, and the books did incredibly well, but the new trilogy was being done and by accident we kept bumping into areas we couldn’t got forward with, storywise,” Richardson continued, referring to the series of films that began in 1999 with “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” “We kept hitting upon ideas that George [Lucas] was using in the new trilogy, so we had to keep changing the storyline. Not so much in the first volume, but quite a bit in the second, ‘Crimson Empire II.’ The story sort of got chopped up a bit, we had to patch it, and pull things out. We’re trying to tell a story, but we understand that the movies are the priority. There wasn’t an intention to stumble upon stuff that was being used in the film, but we did. So we backed off it, and it made it hard to tell the story that we wanted to tell. As the years went by, we sort of forgot about doing the third chapter, and about two years ago we started talking about, ‘Look, we never completed that ‘Crimson Empire’ story. We never closed out the story between Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn, the two major characters.’ It was probably the most requested series we had in the ‘Star Wars’ line. Finally, we decided to close this, to bring this particular storyline to an end. ‘Crimson Empire III’ does that.”
Richadson said the distance between writing the first two “Crimson Empire” series and the third installment had necessarily changed his perspective on the characters and how events might play out, and that no longer having to contend with upcoming movie plot points would also influence the shape of the story. “You go back and look at a story and say, ‘Geez, I wish I would have done that,’ but the truth is, I can’t remember all the things we couldn’t do or had to change at the time. And I remember some key things, the idea of the guard as clones and those types of ideas were off limits back in the day,” Richardson said. “We did put clues in the book anyway, but we’re not sure who picked those clues up. Instead of something overtly there, it’s there in the background, and you remember that looking back through the book. Anyway, so you have a different perspective, and to try and tie up everything and bring the characters’ lives years later back into [some] semblance of order in the third book was a challenge.”
In addition to being written years after the previous series concluded, the events of “Crimson Empire III” also take place some time after its predecessor’s conclusion. “‘Crimson Empire III’ basically deals with Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn coming together again, how their perspectives have changed, and it leads up to the death of a character from the series — but there’s also a twist around that death,” Richardson said. “I think it’s fun.”
Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn had previously held an uneasy alliance — with an even more uncertain flirtation beneath it — though Sinn has also sworn vengeance on Kanos for the death of her comrade. Kanos, meanwhile, refuses to cut his ties with the Galactic Empire, forever keeping him at odds with Sinn and her allies in the New Republic. When readers catch up with these characters, though, Richardson suggested that some things may have changed, either for better or for worse. “Time has passed. They’re in different places than they were when we left them,” Richardson said. “We see that motivations have changed and some of the original vows that these characters made years ago maybe aren’t so strong. Even though those vows may be motivational, they may not be as fueled by emotion as they were at one time.”
“Crimson Empire III” also features appearances by the original trilogy heroes, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. “We’re including classic characters and classic events, so I think that the traditional ‘Star Wars’ fans will have fun placing this within the context of the movies and the novels,” Richardson said. “Throughout the series, because of the time and place, there will be classic characters that have appeared both in the films and novels, having roles some larger and some smaller. People will recognize some of the events and some of the characters.
“I think for ‘Star Wars’ fans it will be a lot of fun. When I pick up ‘Star Wars’ comics, my favorites are the ones that relate to the films themselves,” Richardson continued. “I was a big ‘Star Wars’ geek, which is why I went after the comics rights so hard. It’s fun to help create continuity within the classic characters and classic events.”