If you’re a Star Wars fan who doesn’t follow the Expanded Universe generally, or Dark Horse’s Legacy comics in particular, then Imperial Knights (IK) may be a new term for you. Short version: They’re like Jedi Knights, but they’re Imperials. Huh? Suffice to say, in the 130 years that have passed from the end of Return of the Jedi until the Legacy comics, a lot has changed in the galaxy. The Jedi Order is still around, and so are the evil Sith. But there’s a third faction in play, an Empire that opposes the Sith just as fiercely as the Jedi do. And they have their own team of light-saber wielding, Force-trained Knights.
When the Imperial Knights were first introduced to the Star Wars universe with the release of Legacy #0 in June 2006, there was quite a stir among fans. This new sect of Force-users served under a fully-trained Imperial Knight, Emperor Roan Fel, who was later confirmed to be the grandson of the first Fel emperor, Jagged Fel (a major character in the ongoing novels set in the post-ROTJ era), himself the son of Soontir Fel (a character created in the comics in the late 1990s, who later made appearances in the novels as well). While the details of the philosophical disagreements between the Jedi Knights and this new group of light-side practitioners have only been covered in broad brushstrokes, the basic gist is that the IK’s loyalty is not to the will of the Force directly (as the Jedi believe), but will of the Force as embodied in the Emperor. This causes some fans to view the Imperial Knights as gray or outside the light; to others, it seems more like the sectarian differences between, say, Catholics and Lutherans. As Obi-Wan might say, how you view the IKs depends a great deal on your own point of view – about the Jedi, and the Force.
From the beginning, female fans have really taken to the Legacy comic series. The lead protagonist in the story, Cade Skywalker (yes, a descendant of Luke), has a strong and vocal female following – as does his legendary behind, which has been at times marvelously illustrated by Jan Duursema, the lead artist on Legacy. Other female fans latched onto the Fel Empire and its Imperial Knights. (At this point I must pause to remind everyone that it was Jagged Fel himself who had the first canon-sanctified rear view in the Expanded Universe, in the novel Dark Journey). There has been a lot of excited rumbling about the possibilities of how and why Jag rises to power, and whether that could mean his underutilized family could be brought back into the spotlight. Personally, I have so few comics in my personal collection that I can list them quite easily: Legacy, Invasion (which I’ve stopped reading after issue #5), Knight Errant, Union, and any X-wing issue with a Soontir Fel appearance.
Why do female fans like the Fels? Having talked over the years with many female fans, I’ve heard the same reasoning from many of them – the Fels are fun. They’re great pilots, disciplined, driven, and undeniably handsome. But really I think it’s their strong sense of family allegiance and duty, and the inscrutable code revolving around those two principles, that draws women to Fel family.
“Come, you hounds of the dark! Come to your deaths! Hurl your power at me! I deny you! I defy you! I am a Knight of the Empire, and I am your doom!”
~ Antares Draco
When Imperial Knights appeared in Legacy, they immediately displayed the bravado and swaggering appeal that attracted women to Soontir back in the X-wing days. Even if we’re not quite sure where the Imperial Knights stand when it comes to the Force, they project that same sense of duty and allegiance portrayed in all the Fels thus far in the EU. Everything we know about Star Wars screams “Imperials are bad!” yet we’re presented male and female Force-warriors who fight Sith. More like, “Imperial Jedi!”
Emperor Roan Fel leads the Empire and has the sworn allegiance of the Imperial Knights. His daughter Marasiah, also a Knight, has so much potential, but unfortunately hasn’t truly gotten the page time to allow her to shine. Elke Vetter, Azlyn Rae, Sigel Dare – the ladies are almost equal in number for named Knights in the stories, which is fantastic. Still, I have to admit that the stars of the IKs are Antares Draco and his sidekick Ganner Krieg, who have uttered some of most fantastic lines in Star Wars.
“I am Ganner Krieg—Knight of the Empire! You have betrayed my Emperor, sullied the Empire, killed my friends, and struck down she I have sworn on my life to protect! I will leave your bones for the beasts to crack.”
~ Ganner Krieg
I could go on and on about how handsome Antares and Ganner are, how men in uniform almost always will turn a woman’s eye. But what I really like is the juxtaposition of purposes that the Imperial Knights bring to the Star Wars galaxy, especially in light of the ebb and flow in the Jedi Order’s political affiliations that have been exposed in the novel series, from the New Jedi Order to Legacy of the Force and now Fate of the Jedi. I’m sure that’s exactly what the writers want us to chew over as fans.
But there’s more at work here than just the Fels, and the longstanding enthusiasm among female fans for Soontir, Jag, and the others. I brought it up to Jan Duursema during our conversation at Celebration V. At one point, I mentioned that many of my female friends like one specific possibility that could be inferred by the formation of Imperial Knights – the inference that they may be the legacy of Jaina Solo.
Before I explain further, let me say this: I’ve observed or participated in enough online and face-to-face dialogues with Star Wars franchise writers and editors to know that they can all become afflicted with what I like to call Evil Author Syndrome. You know, the one where an eyebrow arches and the author’s face gets that sinister glint because he or she is taking great pleasure in knowing the truth while reveling in your long-suffering fannish need to know everything but really knowing nothing. If you’ve ever been to a con panel, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
With Jan, though, I didn’t see that inscrutable focus that washes across a writer’s face the millisecond before Evil Author Syndrome strikes. In fact, she seemed quite interested in the reason I brought it up. I might have read her wrong, but I got the impression that maybe she might not have even considered that perspective before?
Look, I get it. All the official sources, all the VIP quotes, have spent the better part of the past four years studiously avoiding every opportunity to directly address whether Jaina marries Jag, whether she founds the Imperial Knights, or anything remotely approaching those questions. It’s like a CIA briefing: “I can neither confirm nor deny…” We don’t actually know that Jaina is Roan’s grandmother and the founder of the IKs. The future is riddled with possibility, and as Yoda reminds us it’s always in motion. But it is one particular possibility that has had a profound impact on some female fans. It’s brought them back from the brink walking away on a fandom; it is in fact our new hope.
The long and short of it is that for quite a while now, many fangirls who have stuck it out through Dark Nest, Legacy of the Force, and now Fate of the Jedi have been waiting for the Sword of the Jedi to tell the Jedi Order that they can take their job and shove it. (There’s a lot of reasons behind that emotion, and it’ll be a great topic for another blog post.) So when the Imperial Knights showed up on the scene – badass uniforms somewhat reminiscent of Jag’s bounty-hunter phase attire, tough female warriors, Fels, Marasiah with the white strip of hair – it gave us hope that Jaina might have been repaid just a tad on the debt owed after the last 20 or so books, that she might have grabbed hold of the love the ever-persistent Jagged Fel has been trying to give her.
If Del Rey and Lucasfilm want to keep the female fans who have been slowly bleeding away to more female-friendly franchises since the end of the NJO, they’d better figure out that we need to relate to our heroines as women, and in large part that means realizing that the female psyche is wired to want emotional connections, affection, and love. The Jaina Solo of Dark Nest and Legacy of the Force isn’t one that most women can to relate to (and I’ll get into more of that in that upcoming blog post, too).There are some indications that the Fate of the Jedi series might be heading in the right direction in giving Jaina the emotional resolutions she needs. But honestly, we’re now 37 books into Jaina’s adult life, and a lot of the women who buy Star Wars books felt like all this should have happened a long time ago.
The Imperial Knights present one potential future – one many females fans would very much like to see – where Jaina stops living her life as it’s been predetermined by the male Skywalker birthright, and instead chooses her own destiny as the guiding force for a new sect of Force-users. That possibility is a future she’s defined on her own terms, which includes a dashing pilot at her side who loves her. For some, the Legacy comics haven’t at all been about Cade’s battle to deny his Skywalker name, but rather a small glimmer of hope that Jaina Solo might have succeeded in creating her own legacy.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.