After months of rumors, news broke in April that the next installment in the core X-Men franchise would once again tackle the story of Jean Grey and the Phoenix. Dubbed X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the new movie will be one of three set to premiere next year in Fox’s superhero universe. While the storyline’s adaptation in X-Men: The Last Stand was widely panned, the new take has been promised to be more faithful to the source material. After the rise of Jean Grey’s new powers teased in X-Men: Apocalypse, she will fully emerge as the cosmic entity next year, necessitating the return of Mystique, Magneto, and maybe even a new Rogue.
Of course, the intergalactic origin of the Phoenix and the comic book source material has also led to rumors that the X-Men franchise will finally be going cosmic next year. While the producers of the film have played coy for months, today finally brought confirmation of the movie’s massive scope.
Along with the news the longtime X-Men producer and writer Simon Kinberg will be making his directorial debut with Dark Phoenix, word broke that Jessica Chastain will finally be making the jump from prestige dramas to superhero movies. She’s said to be in talks for Lilandra, one of the leaders of the Shi’ar Empire and a character with deep connections to the X-Men and the Phoenix Force. But just who are Lilandra and the Shi’ar Empire?
The Shi’ar Empire
While a number of alien species exist in Marvel comics, a few core ones always seem to rise to the top. There are the Kree, owned by Marvel Studios and factoring into Guardians of the Galaxy and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; there are the shape-shifting Skrulls, co-owned by Marvel and Fox; and then there are the Shi’ar, presumably fully controlled by Fox thanks to their longtime connection with the X-Men.
Created by famed X-Men writer Chris Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum, the Shi’ar race first appeared in 1976’s X-Men #97. A humanoid species with avian qualities, the Shi’ar are a powerful race from the planet Aerie who control a vast galactic empire from their throneworld of Chadilar. Similar to the Romulans from Star Trek or the real-world Spartans, they’re a warlike and imperialistic people, known for their love of battle and hatred of the arts.
Consuming the cultures they dominate, the Shi’ar have come to encompass a vast number of races and planets, best summed up by Warren Ellis’ Starjammers from 1995:
“Sharra and K’ythri are the gods in marriage. The gods who didn’t want to marry, but were forced into it. In marriage they found strength and in strength they found love. That’s what the Shi’ar Imperium does. It marries other cultures. Shotgun weddings.”
Lilandra and the Royal Family
When we first meet the Shi’ar, they’re ruled by D’Ken, a megalomaniac with dreams of greater power. During his reign, he unwisely reassembles the powerful M’Kraan Crystal, capable of transporting users to any reality they wish. During his efforts, he’s opposed by his sister Lilandra, but she’s ultimately defeated and exiled from the Empire. In an attempt to stop her brother, she travels to Earth to enlist the help of the X-Men. Using her telepathic abilities, she communicates with Charles Xavier during her journey, igniting a romance that will last for ages.
She eventually wins the allegiance of the X-Men, with the team stopping D’Ken and helping to place Lilandra in power. Throughout her reign, however, she’s constantly opposed by her sister, Deathbird, a fierce warrior with taloned-wings and a powerful bloodlust. Over the years, the X-Men would battle Deathbird many times, with the rogue even becoming a recurring villain for Ms. Marvel.