X-Men: Shi'ar Empire Explained

The Dark Phoenix Saga

A few years after the introduction of the Shi’ar, Claremont and John Byrne crafted one of Marvel’s most iconic stories in the pages of 1980’s X-Men #129–138: The Dark Phoenix Saga. Following a mission to space, Jean finds her telepathic and telekinetic powers supercharged but what seems to be cosmic radiation. In time, she’s consumed and reborn as the Phoenix, a powerful psionic being detached from humanity.

In reality, the Phoenix Force is actually an ancient energy construct, traveling the cosmos and destroying everything in its path. On multiple occasions, it even takes over an individual's body in order to help it meet its needs. And though Jean seems to be in control of the Phoenix for a time, it eventually corrupts her and transforms her into one of Marvel’s most powerful villains.

Despite Jean Grey being instrumental in stopping D’Ken and imprisoning him, the Shi’ar and Lilandra spend most of the Saga calling for the trial and death of Jean Grey. Consumed by the power of the Phoenix, Jean at one point absorbs a star, resulting in a supernova that kills billions of sentient beings. The event sees much of the galaxy attempting to thwart Jean, with even the X-Men forced to fight their former friend. The whole ordeal ends with an epic battle before the Shi’ar decide to initiate a plan to wipe out the entire Milky Way. Before they can, Jean regains enough control and destroys herself, ending the threat of the Phoenix.

The Imperial Guard

Along with Lilandra and the royal family, a number of other prominent members of the Shi’ar Empire have a long history in the comics. The most well-known group is the Imperial Guard, the Shi’ar Empire’s elite force of warriors. Made up of powerful beings from various planets, the Guard wield a variety of powers and are led by Gladiator, a mohawked analogue of Superman. In fact, the entire original Imperial Guard are based on DC characters, with each member mirroring someone from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Over time, Gladiator and Imperial Guards such as Oracle, Smasher, and Pulsar have had a number of adventures across Marvel Comics. Appearing the year after the Shi’ar premiered in X-Men #107, the Imperial Guard and Gladiator are likely owned by Fox and could easily appear alongside Lilandra when she makes her debut. The aren’t the only characters we could see, though.


While Xavier and Jean have strong ties to the Shi’ar in the comics, Scott Summers is connected to the Starjammers. Created by Dave Cockrum, the Starjammers are a group of intergalactic pirates who first appeared in X-Men #104. Though meant to have their own series, Cockrum eventually worked with Claremont to include them in the X-Men series by making their leader Scott’s father.

In one of the zanier twists of early comics, the Summer brothers’ father was meant to be alive all of these years, living in space as the pirate Corsair. Eventually, Scott, Alex, and Vulcan would reunite with their father, though the latter was more interested in conquering the Shi’ar Empire. Given the complexity of including Corsair and Vulcan in the movies alongside Scott and Alex (who died in X-Men: Apocalypse), we don’t see this development happening. It’s also a bit too similar to the updated story used for Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. Still, we could see some version of the Starjammers appear as a group of rogues who help the X-Men and Lilandra thwart D’Ken.


There’s no telling how much of the lore of the Shi’ar and the Dark Phoenix will make its way into the films. In all likelihood, many of the elements will be excised in favor of a simpler story involving Jean fighting her new powers while the X-Men try to hold off Lilandra and a small Shi’ar battalion. With the film set for next fall, however, we should learn a lot more about the cast and story for X-Men: Dark Phoenix very soon.

More: X-Men - Jessica Chastain in Talks to Play Dark Phoenix Villain

Key Release Dates
  • New Mutants (2019) release date: Aug 02, 2019
  • Deadpool 2 (2018) release date: May 18, 2018
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) release date: Jun 07, 2019
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