Warning: This review contains spoilers from Star Wars: Hidden Empire #5.
Hidden Empire #5 concludes Qi’ra’s story that began with War of the Bounty Hunters #1 in June 2021. Charles Soule wrote a trilogy of comics focused on Qi’ra’s return to Star Wars and her story in the time period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
This trilogy consists of the comic series War of the Bounty Hunters, Crimson Reign, and Hidden Empire. These comics see Qi’ra gathering allies and carrying out her intricate plan to destroy the Sith, which was always the true purpose of Crimson Dawn. Hidden Empire #5 shows Qi’ra putting the final steps of her scheme into action.
Picking up where Hidden Empire #4 left off, the story begins on the Amaxine space station that first appeared in Soule’s The Rise of Kylo Ren comics and that went on to be the primary setting of Claudia Gray’s High Republic novel Into the Dark.
Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine confront and massacre Qi’ra’s Crimson Dawn forces on the station while the Archivist prepares to trap the Sith Lords in the Fermata Cage, an ancient dark side weapon that can freeze people and places in time.
Vader and Palpatine want to reach the Fermata Cage so they can defeat the ancient Sith Lord or whatever else Qi’ra will attempt to unleash from it. This trap is not the only thing Qi’ra has up her sleeve as Doctor Aphra arrives to face Vader. Aphra is possessed by the Spark Eternal and wielding the Null Blade, a weapon that is designed to neutralize a lightsaber and kill Sith.
Palpatine continues to the Fermata Cage while Vader makes quick work of defeating Aphra and ending the Spark Eternal’s possession of her. Fortunately, Aphra survives the confrontation and Vader joins his master at the Fermata Cage, where they realize there is nothing inside, and they have walked into a trap laid by Qi’ra and the Archivist.
Qi’ra pulled off what was seemingly impossible by outsmarting Palpatine and Vader and successfully imprisoning the Sith Lords in the Fermata Cage.
Unfortunately, her careful planning is ruined by the Knights of Ren, who blast the Fermata Cage before it is fully sealed, thus freeing Palpatine and Vader. The Knights of Ren do this out of a sense of self-preservation and frustration with Qi’ra for how she used them. Of course, Palpatine does not show them any mercy or gratitude and electrocutes them with Force lightning, leaving them with nothing but the opportunity to serve him (which they do many years later during the sequel trilogy era).
The Empire annihilates Crimson Dawn’s remaining forces, forcing Qi’ra, the Archivist, and any other survivors to flee with their lives. As the Archivist’s recording promised at the end of Crimson Reign #1, this is the story of a tragedy and the fall of Crimson Dawn.
Since Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are still alive and well and leading the Empire in Return of the Jedi, the audience knew that Qi’ra’s plan would ultimately fail. Yet, Hidden Empire #5 ensures that this is not just a bleak story of failure.
A recording from Qi’ra reveals that she left all of Crimson Dawn’s remaining credits to the child Cadeliah and leaves her with the freedom to choose what she wants to do with the future. As someone brought into the world of criminal syndicates from a young age, Qi’ra felt like she was trapped in this world and never had the choice to escape. Through the knowledge and resources she’s passed onto Cadeliah, she is giving the child the choice and freedom that Qi’ra herself never had.
Meanwhile, the hooded figures who have been listening to the Archivist’s recording of this story in Crimson Reign and Hidden Empire are revealed to be Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa.
While the Archivist says that Qi’ra failed, Luke asserts that Qi’ra didn’t fail as her Crimson Dawn agents Bevelyn and Melton were the ones who discovered the second Death Star’s construction. Without this, the Rebel Alliance might not have learned about the second Death Star until it was completed, and might not have been able to destroy it.
Luke also comments on how Qi’ra’s syndicate war kept Palpatine and the Empire occupied, which gave the Rebel Alliance time to regroup and rebuild their fleet. Leia recognizes these things, yet can’t help but mourn that Qi’ra didn’t come to them for help and didn’t live to see the victory over the Empire and the Sith.
The final panels show that Leia was wrong about Qi’ra not living to see the Empire and the Sith’s defeat. Sitting alone and with her face concealed by a hood, Qi’ra is seen in a cantina as the patrons celebrate and praise the Rebel Alliance for freeing the galaxy, not knowing the role that Qi’ra played in their newfound freedom.
Is Hidden Empire #5 a satisfying end to Qi’ra’s story?
Hidden Empire #5 is a mostly satisfying ending to Qi’ra’s story. She successfully outsmarts Palpatine and Vader and could’ve defeated them once and for all if it wasn’t for the Knights of Ren’s foolish actions. This is the best way of respecting Qi’ra’s formidable character and all her scheming without undermining or contradicting other canon stories.
All of the various threads and characters from these comics–Qi’ra, the Archivist, the hooded figures listening to the story, Palaptine and Vader, the Fermata Cage, the Knights of Ren, Cadeliah, etc.–all come together in cohesive and rewarding fashion.
It is also satisfying that despite the fall of Crimson Dawn and Qi’ra’s failure to destroy the Sith, she changed the life of the young Cadeliah for the better, helping her in a way that no one ever helped Qi’ra.
Furthermore, seeing that Qi’ra survives Hidden Empire is a relief. Based on the forces she was up against and details from other canon stories, her survival seemed unlikely. There is still so much of her character and her story that need to be explored and it would’ve been disappointing for her to die so soon after her thrilling return to Star Wars.
Her survival means that she can appear in future stories that take place after this point in the timeline, from future comics, to maybe even having Emilia Clarke reprising her role as Qi’ra from Solo in a new live-action story. Now that Luke and Leia know of all the sacrifices Qi’ra made and the role she played in bringing down the Sith and the Empire, they may want to work with her if they learn of her survival.
It is worth noting that two of the biggest moments in Hidden Empire #5 will feel like they come out of left field for those who have only been reading or following the main Qi’ra comics. Everything with Doctor Aphra and the Spark Eternal and the detail about the Crimson Dawn agents discovering the second Death Star’s construction occurred in other comic series. These developments might leave some readers confused instead of serving as fulfilling payoff.
Overall, Hidden Empire #5 is a deeply satisfying conclusion to Qi’ra’s story about her war against the Sith. Hopefully her survival means that more Qi’ra stories in this era and beyond are on their way.
The next confirmed story for Qi’ra fans is the novel Crimson Climb by E.K. Johnston which is set to release on October 10, 2023. Crimson Climb will take place earlier in Qi’ra’s life as it follows her initial years with Crimson Dawn after being separated from Han at the beginning of Solo.