In the Star Wars universe, the Empire was pretty black and white. Darth Vader wore black. Stormtroopers wore white, with black undersuits. The Emperor wore black, and had a whitish face. TIE Fighter pilots wore black. Imperial Officers wore either black or grey. The walls of their buildings, including the Death Star, tended to be grey. The Empire just wasn't much for color, it seemed.
So it was pretty shocking when Emperor Palpatine turned up on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, flanked by robed guards dressed in bright red! It was even more shocking considering that pretty much everybody who could be spared from the ongoing construction of the massive battle station had been summoned into formation on the landing deck -- Stormtroopers, Biker Scouts, pilots, Imperial Officers -- standing neatly in rows and columns by the hundreds if not thousands, all pretty much proving the point of the Empire's limited color palette and then these guys show up! They couldn't've been more obvious if they'd shown up at a formal black-tie affair wearing Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts.
Who WERE these guys? That question would linger for some time.Okay, they were called "Imperial Guards", but what was that supposed to mean? Their lengthy robes obscured any significant detail. The initial action figure from the original toy line could've been hollowed out and had holes poked in its head and been used as a salt shaker with arms.
Of course, thanks to the prequels, we know that, to some degree, these Imperial Guards are the successors of the Republic's blue-robed, and more open-faced, Senate Guards, although it appears that Chancellor Palpatine started using them even before he declared himself Emperor.
But these red-robed individuals still didn't see a lot of time in the movies. And the question had really hung in the air among fans since 1983. Finally, just before the prequel movies commenced, something of an explanation, not to mention a heck of an adventure or two, presented the Imperial Guards in a broader light. It was called CRIMSON EMPIRE.
Produced by Dark Horse Comics, Crimson Empire took an in-depth look at the Imperial Guards and their capabilities, through the eyes of one of their own, a man named Kir Kanos, who finds himself tracking down a traitor to the Empire and the Emperor, and having to ally himself with Rebels to do it!
As explained in the publisher's notes, "In all the Empire, there are no more fearsome warriors than the Emperor's Imperial Guard, and none is more loyal than Kir Kanos. But when Carnor Jax--the most formidable of this elite brotherhood--betrays the Emperor and orders the murder of the Guard, Kir must escape to carry out his duty to avenge his master. Devoted to the last, Kir must nonetheless ally himself with Rebel forces to help him attain his retribution in the face of the Empire's full might brought down to destroy him. For Kir Kanos, the last royal Imperial Guard and the final threat to Jax's rise to power, there are no alternatives--loyalty never dies."
So basically, you've got someone who is considered a bad guy, one of the Empire, the Imperial Guard named Kir Kanos, having to ally himself with those who are considered the good guys, a rather ragtag band of Rebels, in order to track down an even worse bad guy, the power-hungry Carnor Jax, in order to avenge his fallen comrades in the name of the Empire and the Emperor that the Rebels are trying to destroy. Everybody got that?
Needless to say, this six-issue mini-series, published in 1997 and 1998, was extremely well-received by Star Wars fans, during a time when the Star Wars universe was gradually gearing back up. The Special Editions of the original Trilogy were in the theaters, toys had returned to the stores, word of the prequels was out and people were anxiously awaiting the start of those, but they were still hungry for new stories. "Crimson Empire" provided that, and even spawned a six-issue sequel, "Crimson Empire II - Council of Blood", which came out in 1998 and 1999, and in which following the death of Imperial Guard turncoat Carnor Jax at the hand of the last Guard, Kir Kanos, the Galactic Empire suddenly finds itself devoid of a leader, and an Interim Council is assembled to rule the Empire until a new Emperor can be selected. But when Council members become targets for assassination, Kanos becomes the prime suspect and again stands at the center of a storm!
This guy can't catch a break, can he? However, if he has caught one break, it is with the popularity of his stories. Even after the prequel movies, and a wide range of additional material in the form of Clone Wars, hundreds of comics, plenty of novels, and much more, "Crimson Empire" is still a very highly-regarded concept/story in the Star Wars universe, and the climactic battle at the end of the first mini-series between Jax and Kanos is still considered one of the most impressive duels presented in the comics.
When Hasbro started its series of comic-based Star Wars two-packs, one of the logical contenders was indeed a Crimson Empire set. And indeed such a set was produced, featuring Kir Kanos and Carnor Jax. Unfortunately -- it was an online exclusive.
Now, with all due respect to the online toy businesses that I have dealt with -- I am always just a little reluctant to buy toys online. This is not the fault of any of these fine businesses. I'm just very particular about the look of my toys. And although any given online retailer may present A picture of a particular item they're selling, that's obviously not the same precise item that you're going to have shipped to you. What I mean is, there's thousands of any given toy manufactured, but only one picture. You can't specifically request a picture of #3254 in the series, and then ask that that one be sent to you if it meets with your approval.
So unless there's no other way in which to obtain a certain action figure, I tend to be very reluctant to purchase a toy online. I'm not like this with all merchandise. Books, DVD's, okay. Not too much can go wrong there, relative to the painted detail or assembly of a toy. So when it came to the Crimson Empire set, I WAS certainly very interested, but I was also somewhat reluctant, and to be perfectly honest, it just eventually sort of slipped my mind.
Recently word reached me that the Crimson Empire comic set was starting to turn up in the stores! This was good news to me. If I could find one, a really good one, right in front me in a store, I'd be more than happy to do so. Avoid those shipping costs, as well. And so it was that I did find one, not too long after learning that they were available at at least one general retailer.
The figures are largely identical except for their headsculpts underneath the helmets, and except for their color schemes. Although red is obviously the dominant color, both figures, especially Carnor Jax, have a fair amount of black on them.
One thing the figures certainly answer, as did the mini-series, is "What's under those capes?" What's under those capes is a certain amount of lightweight armor, especially around the shoulders, chest, and high boots, but the uniform is largely non-armored. These guys are not battlefield soldiers. They're not Stormtroopers. They're the Emperor's elite guard. That means they stand their positions, and Force help you if you try to cross without permission. These guys, based on the mini-series, certainly know how to fight. They're just reserved for specific duties.
As one might expect, Kir Kanos looks the most "traditional" in his appearance His helmet is entirely red, as is his cape/robe. Interestingly, the way these figures have been designed, the robe, made of fabric, cannot be brought all the way in front of the figure. This is not a defect of design by any means. When you get into making fabric pieces for figures in this rather small size range, you have to be fairly specific with their purpose. And an all-covering robe would defeat the purpose of finally seeing the Imperial Guards "in action".
The helmet is removable on both figures, and amazingly, both have a transparent visor. Unfortunately, it doesn't really go down far enough to allow the eyes of the headsculpts to peek out. It just sort of looks blank. This isn't entirely inappropriate, really, although it's a little amusing to realize that what you're looking at through the visor is somebody's forehead.
Kir Kanos' headsculpt is nicely designed and in keeping with the appearance of the character in the comic. This was before the "troopers are clones" story had been brought into the mix, and frankly, there's no reason to assume that EVERY Trooper by the time of the Classic Trilogy was indeed a clone. Certainly not an elite group like the Imperial Guard.
Kir Kanos' face is scarred, notably with one long scar that runs from the right side of his forehead across his face to his left cheek. Precisely how this happened I don't recall, if it was explained at all. Obviously these guys see some level of action. The scar has been well duplicated on the headsculpt of the figure.
The armor and uniform is a superb duplication of what appears in the comics. Of course, the molds have been used elsewhere as well, but the figures bear a 2004 copyright date, which means that they were available for use in 2005, as well, for the Imperial Guard in the Revenge of the Sith line, as well as a blue Senate Guard variant. The set itself has a 2006 copyright date on its package, which is interesting. I'd have to check the timetable, but I find myself wondering if Hasbro simply adapted the uniform as seen in the comic mini-series, which WAS the first time we'd seen "under the robes", for the Imperial and Senate Guards, and then later adapted them for use as Kir Kanos and Carnor Jax. As far in advance as toys have to be planned out, anything is possible in this regard.
Kir Kanos' uniform features red armor with a black undersuit. The sleeves and upper legs of his uniform are black, while the shoulders, chestplate, gloves, and high boots are red. There is also some red detailing on the sides of the sleeves and the sides of the torso. It's not hard to imagine that, if the cloak were pulled all the way across the front, he'd look exactly like the Imperial Guards as they first appeared in Return of the Jedi.
In contrast, Carnor Jax has a lot more black on him. There is some black detailing on the helmet, and the fabric cloak is also black. His armor is also mostly black, while the undersuit is mostly red. He's not a perfect "opposite" of Kir Kanos. There is red in the helmet, and part of the gloves are red, but the overall design is an interesting one, not one ever seen in the movies, but also one well in keeping with the colors chosen for the comic book mini-series.
Carnor Jax's headsculpt isn't all that different than Kir Kanos', but then, they didn't look all that different in the comic book. I'm not saying they're clones. I'm saying they were both fairly average-looking humans, both with dark hair. The main difference is that Carnor Jax's features were a little sharper, and he didn't have the scar on his face. Again, the headsculpt is excellent.
The articulation for the figures -- well, given the "salt shaker" joke I made about the original Imperial Guard figure from the early 1980's, I'm sure you understand that anything is an improvement. And while these figures don't quite manage "Super-Articulated" levels, their articulation really is quite good. They're poseable at the head, arms, have that annoying-but-better-than-nothing diagonal cut elbow articulation, glove tops (for wrists), legs, and knees (with rotation). I might've liked to have seen waist and ankle articulation, but I'm really not complaining. This is very decent articulation.
The figures each come with a small blaster pistol, which can be carried in a holster on their right hip, and each figure also comes with a long battle staff, with long nasty blades at each end, abundantly long enough to skewer a foe and come out the other side.
The text on the package for this set reads: "Trained in the deadly, secret art of echani and fanatically devoted to the Emperor, the Royal Guard from which these two men rose was the most feared group of warriors in the Empire. Treacherous usurper of the Imperial throne, Carnor Jax betrayed his brothers in the Guard and defiled the memory of the Emperor, earning him the undying hatred of Kir Kanos. Kanos, devoted to the codes of the New Order and Emperor Palpatine, embarked on a vendetta that rocked the shattered Empire to its foundations. Though Jax had trained himself in the dark side of the Force, his power was not enough to stay the burning vengeance of Kanos, at whose hand he met his death."
Pretty heavy stuff for a toy package. They don't usually get that intense. The set also includes a copy of Crimson Empire #6 from the original mini-series. While this might seem like an odd choice -- why not issue #1? -- it is in this issue that Jax and Kanos have their most fearsome battle, which of course is intended to be represented by the action figures.
So what's my final word on this? I am truly delighted that this set has hit retail. Whether this is a second run on Hasbro's part or a means of selling off leftover supply, I really don't know. The quantity seems to be too great from reports I've heard for it to just be leftovers. But whatever the case, if you're a Star Wars fan, who perhaps enjoyed "Crimson Empire", or just likes the Imperial Guards, you will definitely want to acquire this set.
The STAR WARS CRIMSON EMPIRE COMIC SET featuring KIR KANOS and CARNOR JAX definitely has my highest recommendation!