Did the Rebels truly defeat Palpatine’s Empire at the Battle of Endor? The deep roots of the Star Wars mythos continue exploring that subject with tremendous zeal. In the literature of the galaxy far, far away, the conflict between the Alliance to restore the Republic and the crumbling Empire has played out in a multitude of wars for years beyond Return of the Jedi. Though the Galactic Civil War finally came to an end with the signing of a peace treaty almost two decades after the desolation of the second Death Star, this no-holds-barred primer profiles the most memorable and powerful Imperial renegades of those intervening years, the so-called “Warlords,” who fought valiantly, viciously, and fanatically for the scraps of the once-glorious first Galactic Empire and whose selfishness ultimately brought about its self-destruction.
Once, the title of Warlord of the Empire signified a rare privilege. Like the starfighter honorifics of Baron and Tan, only a select few of the Emperor’s most elite officers were known by the label. Ostensibly an homage to the selfsame appellation accorded the ancient Atrisian Empire’s generalissimi, the designation of “Warlord” transcended distinctions among the myriad branches of the Imperial armed forces, prompting universal obedience and respect. Military minds noted for their express mixture of creativity and ruthlessness, they were distinguished from the ranks of grand moffs, grand generals and even grand admirals by not only repeatedly redefining the impossible, but doing so with inimitable panache. Among the few to achieve the exclusive rank were the likes of the legendary alien tactician Thrawn, the Rebel-defector General Pashna Starkiller, and the unprincipled mastermind simply known as Warlord Zsinj.
With the disintegration of the Empire following Palpatine’s death at Endor, however, all that changed. In the leaderless vacuum, the title of “Warlord” was hijacked by power-hungry Imperials of nonexistent integrity. Undeserving small fish like Inos Fonada and Walang Grazz, and second-tier “replacement” warlords like Bliss Shargael and Jmanuel Tethys, poached the rank in all its supercilious glory…but the self-appointed warlords also came in a much more dangerous variety: megalomaniacs like Admiral Blitzer Harrsk, ultranationalists like Supreme Commander Ennix Devian, and superlative sadists like Delak Krennel. These Imperial rogues would keep the New Republic from claiming true victory over the Empire for decades after the final blow was thought struck at the Battle of Endor. Some of them fought to the death protecting their sequestered fiefdoms, while several unexpectedly submitted to the preeminence of the unknown “Omnipotent Battle Leader” striking from the Deep Galactic Core—incalculably revealed to be none other than Emperor Palpatine himself reborn.
All of the warlords, however, were hell-bent on shining for one, single brilliant moment…leaving their indelible mark on cosmic history.
The Sick Genius of Warlord Zsinj (~0-4 Years After Endor)
Of all the post-Endor warlords, Zsinj controlled the greatest number of star systems. Had he not overplayed his hand and warred against the galaxy, his kingdom might have coexisted alongside the New Republic and the Empire.
The son of a Fondorian mechanic, Zsinj bore no first name, per the traditions of his father’s people. But he was also the son and pupil of “Ace of the Spacelanes” Mme. Maarisa Zsinj—a Chandrila native and admiral in the Republic Outland Regions Security Force. After attending the Prefsbelt IV naval academy, young Zsinj served competently enough under his mother during the Clone Wars. But with the coming of the Empire, he catapulted through the naval hierarchy. Indeed, as males seemed to swell the higher military echelons irrespective of experience, Mme. Zsinj was relegated to less and less important duties until finally her Venator-class Star Destroyer Retaliation was recalled for decommissioning. Her son, eager to prove himself a “great warrior” then jumped at the opportunity, volunteering to take command of her vessel.
There was only one problem. Mme. Zsinj refused. Blasting the Empire as corrupt, she announced her intention to take the Retaliation and prey on government ships. The Ace of the Spacelanes had turned pirate, and the task of neutralizing her fell to the individual most familiar with her tactics. Young Zsinj was promised the Victory-class Star Destroyer Iron Fist — also slated for retirement — if he hunted down the traitor. Though torn, he ultimately decided to put his emotions aside and vowed to take his mother down. The ensuing ferocious campaign earned Captain Zsinj the title of first Warlord of the Empire…as well as the distinction of matricide. Mme. Zsinj’s admiralty was retroactively stripped and her Imperial service record expunged. Whether her son felt any remorse was unclear, though this apparently marked the beginning of the absurdist turn his mind took regarding the nature of the universe, a view which would only grow more perverse with time, and he reportedly adopted a lifelong disdain for all things Chandrilan.
But that was only the beginning. When Zsinj blockaded the planet Dathomir shortly after the Battle of Yavin in order to prevent its Force-using witches from spreading their dark side chaos, Emperor Palpatine — grateful to Zsinj for bottling up a potential threat to his rule — gave him his command rank of admiral in addition to the Super Star Destroyer Brawl. On top of that, he soon became the high admiral of the Crimson Command, a fleet of Victory-class Star Destroyers, and achieved the position of grand moff, assuming total domination of the Quellii Oversector, a vast wedge of the territories in the galactic northern quadrant. All the while, Zsinj cultivated the obtuse persona of a mustachioed and portly buffoon, a charade with which he lured his political and military enemies into lowering their guards before destroying them.
It was Zsinj who involuntarily popularized the epithet “Warlord” that became common in reference to Imperial renegades. In the immediate upheaval following the Battle of Endor, Zsinj never denied his loyalty to the Empire Proper—a lesson seemingly learned from the bombastic politic denunciation of his proud mother. Yet he set up base on the planet Serenno, began referring to himself first and foremost by his title of Warlord of the Empire and symbolically renamed his Super Star Destroyer Iron Fist after his old ship, locking down Quellii Oversector with staggering viciousness and success. At the height of his power, Zsinj had gained control over a mammoth area of the known galaxy, absorbing the provinces of rivals Grand Moff Nigel Nivers and Admiral Terrinald Screed, and challenging the authority of the burgeoning New Republic and collapsing Empire alike. But approximately four years after Endor, when he decided to expand his territory by striking at New Republic colonies on New Alderaan and Selacron, General Han Solo led a fleet to oppose him. In addition, the members of Wraith Squadron—a joint commando and starfighter unit—threw a hydrospanner into the warlord’s warped plots, which included an attempt on the life of the Chandrila-born New Republic Chief of State, Mon Mothma.
At the Battle of Selaggis, Zsinj hoodwinked the New Republic into believing he had died by presenting the wreckage of a ruined Super Star Destroyer (the Razor’s Kiss) as that of the Iron Fist. General Solo, however, caught up with Zsinj at the Dathomir stardocks and obliterated both the warlord and his flagship with a pair of the Millennium Falcon’s well-aimed Arakyd concussion missiles. The most dangerous of the Imperial warlords was at last put down. He died not unlike the audacious mother he slew: a traitor to his government yet an unfaltering believer in his cause — his own personal glory. Indeed, as Zsinj faced down death, audio recordings from the Falcon attest the warlord’s faint and final word was the equivalent of his very first: “Mama.”
Moff Kentor Sarne and the DarkStryder Threat (~0-4 Years After Endor)
It is said that a man can’t be certain just what he’s capable of until confronted with the given situation. When sent on an Imperial Survey Corps mission with a scouting team into the mysterious Kathol Outback, a young Lieutenant Kentor Sarne proved capable of murder in order to keep a secret that would become his unending obsession: the power of DarkStryder.
The monstrous centipedal Force-sensitive creature Sarne christened DarkStryder—its true name was unpronounceable—was a highly intelligent bio-construct. A clone/supercomputer hybrid, it was created by and in the image of an advanced, primeval race known as the Kathol: biotech scientists who DarkStryder at times called “the Old Ones.” Tasked as the Kathols’ caretaker after they had locked their life-energies into a “Lifewell” device to escape the Rift Disaster cataclysm, DarkStryder in time decided instead to find a way off the ravaged planet and indulge in its newfound existence. The being studied its masters’ biotechnology and learned to tap into their stored energies to create debilitating Force-imbued weaponry. Yet it could not fully replicate their unique form of hyperspace travel by way of their “launch gates.”
Having enlisted in the Imperial military mere years into its formation, Lieutenant Sarne had already proven himself a resourceful, true believer in the New Order when he stumbled upon the ages-old DarkStryder. Seeing in one another the means of achieving a future dominated by his or its own will, the ambitious Imperial and sinister serpentine construct came to an accord. In exchange for DarkStryder’s deadly modules, Sarne would give the beast the means to escape its imprisonment on the planet.
After testing the alien artillery on his own colleagues, Sarne returned the lone survivor of the Kathol survey team. He continued to serve the Emperor faithfully and was consequently among the elect to serve in the 15th Deep Core Reserve Fleet as captain of the Corellian Corvette
Renegade, protecting Palpatine’s secretive Byss retreat. Sarne’s peculiar combination of paranoia, ruthlessness, and inherent insecurity saw him rapidly promoted, and success served to inflate his sense of self-importance. Hence, approximately a decade after his discovery of DarkStryder, Sarne used his political clout to acquire an appointment as moff of the remote Kathol sector and make good on his promise to DarkStryder.
Except Sarne had no actual intention of liberating the eerie alien-thing. Bordering Wild Space, there was very little opportunity for civilized justice in Kathol sector, and Moff Sarne ruled accordingly. While securing a stranglehold on the region, Sarne made excursions out to DarkStryder, occasionally evoking its fury (as when it left his face disfigured from a lightning module’s crawling scar). But by presenting the bio-construct with sublight-capable ships, promising it Force-sensitive captives for “study” and outright lying, he procured thousands of samples of its potent devices over the next decade. Eager though the moff was to unlock the technology’s mysteries, though, his researchers could not duplicate DarkStryder’s occult science.
With the loss of the Emperor, a disillusioned Sarne cut ties with the Empire, blaming Palpatine’s overconfidence for the dying of a dynasty that might have lasted eons. Stepping up his use of DarkStryder machinery, he began making incursions into the Minos Cluster and wiping out whole New Republic armies in seemingly inexplicable reversals of fortune. Though the New Republic was busy in a monumental campaign against Warlord Zsinj, these phenomenal turns of tide in battle were enough to induce a small taskforce to storm the Kathol sector capital and attempt to neutralize the rogue Imperial. The devious moff led them on a wild mynock-chase to the dazzling Kathol Rift — a spatial anomaly resulting from a hyperspace-warping explosion by one of the Old Ones’ seismic launch gates — before the final showdown on and above the DarkStryder planet itself. With Sarne and the New Republic at the fore of the bedlam that became known as the Battle of Kathol System, every major force in the sector, from the Qektoth Federation to the Skandrei Bandits to the mysterious Aing-Tii monks, brought their personal grudges with one another to full destructive bloom.
Ultimately, however, the DarkStryder creature was eradicated when the pursuing New Republic taskforce freed the life-energies of the aboriginal Kathol from the Lifewell, ripping apart the bio-construct connected to the machine in a backlash of emancipated power. Sarne, meanwhile, nearly escaped in his Imperial Star Destroyer Bastion when he fell victim to the very technology he so prized. Jessa Dajus, a Force-sensitive Imperial officer whom Sarne had tortured in preparation for proffer to DarkStryder, turned one of the bio-engineered being’s firespray modules on her tormentor, and incinerated him in a consuming torrent of green alien flames.
The Sadistic Reign of Prince-Admiral Delak Krennel (~0.5-5.5 Years After Endor)
For Delak Krennel, violence was an exquisitely effective, practical means toward attaining a desired end. His introduction to its virtues came during his childhood, when he burned down alien farmlands with his intolerant father on Corulag. Those were some of the happiest times of his life. Then, in his Imperial Academy days at Prefsbelt IV, competing in the unarmed combat arena, his brutality earned him accolades as the intramural champion. But once he began active service, Krennel’s vicious tendencies did not go over well with his refined superior, Grand Admiral Rufaan Tigellinus. He was exiled in disgrace to the backwater Unknown Regions to vex Admiral Thrawn (whom Tigellinus also had managed to have expelled there). It was early in his tour under this art-loving nonhuman, whom Krennel regarded a pushover, that he comprehended the true relevance of pain.
Thrawn and Krennel were a mismatch if there ever was one. Where the red-eyed Chiss’ quick mind always resorted to violence of a psychological sort, Krennel’s abuse was considerably more traditional. Though captain of the Star Destroyer Reckoning, he bristled at having to take orders from a nonhuman. What’s more, merely being in the Unknown Regions—which seemed to him a veritable parade of disturbing encounters with bizarre organisms—made Krennel’s skin crawl. Unable to take out his frustrations on Thrawn, he consistently escalated his savagery in his interactions with alien populations and prisoners. But the last straw proved to be when Krennel raised a force pike to pulverize Thrawn’s favorite art piece, in ridicule of his commander’s method of supposedly extrapolating species’ tactical weaknesses per study of their artworks. In that split second, Thrawn signaled to his silent Noghri Death Commando who drew a kaysa sickle and unceremoniously cleaved Krennel’s offending appendage at the elbow. As vital fluids poured from each half of his severed arm, Krennel, always the bully and never the bullied, marveled at the effective power of this single, simple lesson. Alongside a newfound fear and respect for the militant commander, one epiphanic thought crystallized in Krennel’s brain—pain is good.
Krennel replaced the sundered limb with an “improved” mechanical prosthetic and tamped down his aggression, though only enough to avoid Thrawn’s wrath. He was eventually written off by Thrawn as a savage without reform, however, and ordered back to Imperial Center to face punishment from Emperor Palpatine himself. Luckily, though, when Krennel returned to the Empire it was one without an Emperor.
Instead of having his career ruined, Krennel received a promotion to admiral in the wake of the slaughter at Endor. Thereafter, Krennel used the opportunity to full advantage, declaring loyalty to the Empire only to apparently murder Imperial regent Sate Pestage and take the dozen worlds of the Ciutric Hegemony for his own. He also relocated prisoners from the infamous Lusankya asylum, including famed Rebellion General Jan Dodonna, to within the boundaries of his own principality.
For years, Krennel ruled as the crown “prince-admiral” of Ciutric, expanding his influence to nearby sectors by means of his barbarous methods, running other warlords like Gaen Drommel and Walang Grazz out of business. But following Thrawn’s return to known space and his ensuing defeat, the New Republic made a push to eliminate the remaining Imperial warlords. As the big cheese after Zsinj, Krennel was first on the list. Touting his domain “human-friendly,” the prince-admiral used the media to spin-doctor xenophobic ideals into an effective political tool against the New Republic’s encroachment, but a head-to-head confrontation proved inevitable. At the Battle of Ciutric, Admiral Gial Ackbar led an assault on Krennel’s throneworld, ending in the liberation of General Dodonna and the death of the prince-admiral when a missile hurtled into the Reckoning’s command tower viewport, showering Krennel in super-accelerated transparisteel. Krennel’s only perverse consolation in the moments before the warhead detonated was perhaps only how blasted much it hurt.
Grand Moff Ardus Kaine and the Pentastar Alignment of Powers (~0-6 Years After Endor)
Since his childhood, Grand Moff Ardus Kaine dreamed of ruling a New Galactic Empire. Yet the very fount that birthed this outsized ambition simultaneously sowed the seeds of his crippling self-doubt and inconsequential fizzle.
Native to Sartinaynian—an Outer Rim world settled by humans opposed to alien equality — Ardus was born to a father with a drive that exceeded his abilities. Vilardo Kaine was a moderately successful trader and unapologetic speciesist that longed for prestige and political influence. Foisting all his aspirations on his son, he insisted it was his boy’s duty to reach the highest echelon of galactic power. Ardus himself was prone to cooperation rather than self-aggrandizement and wasn’t particularly hateful of nonhumans, but he worked hard to embrace his father’s values. Intelligent and a gifted rhetorician, he was already spiritedly ascending the Republic’s hierarchy when Vilardo was killed by Iridium pirates in a surprise attack.
Kaine served as a government functionary since the final days of the Old Republic, and bereaved by his father’s untimely passing, he bought into the Emperor’s inspiring vision of a New Order hook, line and sinker. He smoothed the galaxy’s transition to Imperial law by implementing his talents for organization and oratory, solidifying military support for Palpatine and spearheading the overhaul of the Commission for the Protection of the Republic into COMPNOR, the Commission for the Preservation of the New Order — an organization renowned for its anti-alien bigotry and political zealotry—something he thought would’ve made his father proud.
For his efforts, Palpatine rewarded Kaine by making him a moff of the Braxant sector. But that wasn’t all. After Wilhuff Tarkin perished in the explosion of the first Death Star, Kaine took his place as grand moff of Oversector Outer, containing the enormous Outer Rim Territories. Kaine, who shared Tarkin’s predatory sharpness and cold formality, seemed a fitting choice. Oddly, however, he viewed his promotion as a condemnation. His true goal had always been an appointment in the Core Worlds, where he could bend the Emperor’s ear and be a player in the epicenter of galactic politics—something even that blackguard Ennix Devian had accomplished. Ardus could almost hear his father’s sigh of disappointment from beyond the Great Void. Nevertheless, the posting did come with its own perks, including the two dozen Star Destroyers of Scourge Squadron and Kaine’s new command ship, the magnificent Super Star Destroyer Reaper. With only a hint of resentment, Kaine accepted the advancement, moving the headquarters of Oversector Outer to Entralla, closer to his homeworld.
Following the Emperor’s fatality at Endor, Kaine was shocked at the almost total collapse of the Imperial chain of command. Cutting his losses, he buckled down, isolating a satrapy of his own—in a northern quadrant of the galaxy—from the pandemonium of treason and incompetence. This portion of the Outer Rim that Kaine and his corporate partners managed to unite became known as the Pentastar Alignment of Powers. A distorted mirror of Palpatine’s Empire, it adhered strictly to the ethos of the New Order, with his business associates insisting on the continued exploitation of alien slave labor and Kaine consolidating redundant Imperial organizations into a scrupulously efficient machine.
This included the Alignment’s two most feared branches, Judgment and Enforcement. After Kaine granted refuge to High Inquisitor Jerec, the darksider brought many of his compeers with him to form the Great InQuestors of Judgment, who “inquired” (mostly through interrogations) into the populace’s adherence to Alignment decrees. The latter branch, on the other hand, consisted of law enforcement, and the Pentastar Patrol—the so-called embodiment of “justice, fairness and the galactic way” — made up its largest part, becoming the most ubiquitous symbol of the Alignment’s authority. Kaine’s origins and carefully crafted rhetoric led many to believe that he disdained the weak, pro-alien policies of the Old Republic, but nonhumans actually made up a sizable portion of the Pentastar Patrol’s ranks, betraying the grand moff’s pragmatism and genuine indifference toward the prejudice precepts of High Human Culture.
In forming the Alignment, Kaine’s motives were immediately under suspicion, for the better and worse. When his partners openly questioned whether he had designs on becoming the new Galactic Emperor, the grand moff judiciously answered, “I have no desire for such a title, nor the position” — disillusioning allies like Grand Admiral Octavian Grant who believed his friend was truly the best human for the job. The truth was Kaine wanted to rule the galaxy…but only because his father had driven the suggestion like a sonic drill into his brain for as far back as he could remember.
For the truth Kaine admitted not to a soul, not even his own…was that he was afraid.
Within the Alignment, he was a sando aqua monster in a small pond, Emperor in fact if not in name. And he feared losing everything which he had built, on the merit of his strengths, on a fool’s gambit for the glory of a dead patriarch: his father and Palpatine alike. In internal conflict, Kaine thus demurred, claiming willingness to commit his forces only to a worthy successor to the Emperor. So as warlord after warlord overreached or imploded, Kaine waited and waited, until he was almost the last one standing and certainly the one with the most territory. And then, he waited some more — never seizing his best chance at legitimizing his claim as heir to the Empire by coming to the rescue of Coruscant even as it fell to the New Republic.
Alas, Kaine’s reluctance became his ruin when Grand Admiral Thrawn returned from exile in the Unknown Regions. The grand moff’s supporters and Pentastar Patrol officers called his bluff, pressuring Kaine to relinquish control of Alignment forces to the red-eyed alien luminary whom they viewed as the Empire’s salvation — not just because of his tactical prowess and victories but because many Pentastar Patrol officers were themselves aliens. Angered at being shoved aside during Thrawn’s campaign, Kaine then eagerly joined the resurrected Emperor for a chance to storm New Republic forces on Coruscant at last. Instead, though, he fell prey to an elaborate deception during the Operation Shadow Hand campaign. Believing the retired Grand Admiral Grant was returning to fight for the Pentastar Alignment, Kaine was lured into the open in his private shuttle. He died in pitched battle above Palanhi with New Republic E-wings, echoing the ambush that did in his malcontented father. The grand moff’s kingdom and Super Star Destroyer subsequently became part of the reformed Imperial Remnant under Admiral Gilad Pellaeon.
To be continued….
Special thanks to Mark Hudson and Chris Trevas
Abel G. Peña is the author of dozens of Star Wars fiction and nonfiction articles for Star Wars Insider, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Fact Files and StarWars.com, a co-author of Vader: The Ultimate Guide and Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide, and a translator of rare and forgotten Star Wars comics. Abel’s work has also appeared in the anthology Italy From a Backpack, Dungeon/Polyhedron, and the Wizards of the Coast official website. Abel can be found at abelgpena.com, Facebook and Twitter.
Daniel Wallace is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters, as well as many more books that explore the underpinnings of the Star Wars universe including The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force and Book of Sith: Secrets of the Dark Side. He has written for other universes, too, including Indiana Jones, Smallville, Supernatural, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics.
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Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures
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Cracken’s Threat Dossier
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The DarkStryder Campaign
Droids, Technology and the Force: A Clash of Phenomena
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Jedi Vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force
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Who’s Who: Imperial Grand Admirals
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