The Inquisitor. The first Star Wars Rebels character the audience ever saw teased. The new bad guy in the building. The nameless Inquisitor appears as a merciless Jedi hunter on His Imperial Majesty’s service, wielding both considerable political power and a ridiculously kickass lightsaber and getting his orders straight from Lord Vader. The Inquisitor was actually the first new character in the new Star Wars canon, at least from a certain point of view. But this formidable darksider didn’t appear out of thin air: he’s actually an updated version of a very old Expanded Universe concept, of an old Expanded Universe character, even. So, where does he really come from? The concept of an Imperial Inquisition started as a completely unrelated one-off reference that over time would slowly morph from a sort of political police into a true army of the Emperor’s dark minions, not unlike the Knights of the Sith from the early Star Wars drafts.
The Imperial Inquisitors first appeared on the old West End Games roleplaying game, like most good things with the Expanded Universe (I’m just kidding –okay, I’m not). The first time we heard anything about Inquisitors was in the pages of one of the first books to try to describe the galaxy’s minutiae, The Star Wars Sourcebook (1987), and not even in a “Powerful Darksiders of the Empire” section or anything memorable like that. No, it was under “Assassin Droid”, where we can read an apparently random anecdote about an assassin droid that crashed a shuttle against the Imperial palace of Weerden, killing someone called “Lord Torbin, the Grand Inquisitor”. This character, later given the full name of Laddinare Torbin, was indeed our first Imperial Inquisitor, but the way the sourcebooks described him didn’t have much to do with the creepy dark side enforcer of Star Wars Rebels fame.
We would learn a bit more about Torbin six years later in the pages of Han Solo and the Corporate Sector Sourcebook (1993), a fantastic guidebook detailing the beloved book trilogy penned by Brian Daley. It’s there where we learn that Odumin, the Tynnan troubleshooter from Han Solo’s Revenge, first became worthy of Imperial attention when he saved Torbin from a certain death. Rebel terrorists? Jedi agents? The Emperor’s wrath? No, actually from drowning in a pool, where an attractive woman had managed to lure (by literally “pushing him into the water”) and then trap using some kind of gravity-field projector. Torbin is said to have managed to survive this assassination attempt via the expeditive method of tearing away the air tubes from the hands of the rest of swimmers that had been trapped in the “drowning pool”, his own bodyguard included, until Odumin could rescue him. Not exactly Sith Lord material in here! Torbin is further described as little more than a very disliked interrogator and torturer with thousands of enemies within and without the Empire, a nasy individual always looking for questionable practices among the citizens of the Empire. No hints of a gyroscopic lightsaber or of Force lightning here, none at all. Torbin reads more like a real, historical inquisitor, or even like a boring political enforcer, than like a terrifying Jedi hunter. So, how did we go from this grumpy and clumsy womanizer to the dark side enforcers we know and love?
The answer comes in the pages of another WEG supplement, a delicious hodge-podge collection of galactic trivia called Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments from the Rim (1993), where we are first introduced to a character called High Inquisitor Tremayne. The striking art shows a man with a metal plate in his face and a bionic eye (not unlike Kano from Mortal Kombat, released one year before), holding a lightsaber, giving us a sinister and cruel smile and standing next to Darth Vader himself. The text describes him as nothing less than Darth Vader’s apprentice, a former Jedi Knight disfigured in a duel and now obsessed with hunting down Corwin Shelvay, the Jedi fugitive that caused his traumatic injuries, while also travelling the spaceways in his Star Destroyer looking for other Jedi to hunt and corrupt. Tremayne comes out as a not-very-well disguised mixture of Darth Vader and Grand Admiral Thrawn: a cyborged fallen Jedi like the Sith, a cultured and calm leader with a fanatical alien bodyguard-slash-assassin like the Chiss. In game terms, Tremayne appears as an alternative to Darth Vader for Jedi characters to meet and fight: a relatively powerful opponent that won’t necessarily end up killing everyone on the gaming table like little Ani would and that won’t cause any awkward “I can’t believe you guys killed Darth Vader” situations. His dark side powers appear to come from his rumored position as an Emperor’s Hand –like fan-favorite Mara Jade–, not from any darkness inherent to being an Inquisitor. The character proved immensely popular among roleplayers and, although his Force-sensitivity had never been intended to be the norm, Tremayne would years later become a template that would spawn many imitators.
In the meantime, West End Games would have more fun with the idea of the Inquisitorius and its agents. Tremayne himself would appear in short stories in the pages of the Star Wars Adventure Journal alongside an apprentice of him called Vialco, always described as a “Dark Jedi” and never as an Inquisitor. Not all of his appearances would be dark side related: he would also be revealed to be a skilled bureaucrat, having developed the Legal Authorization for Advanced Confinement Documents, also known as “LAACDocs”, certified documents that permitted the indefinite detention and confinement of individuals wanted by the Empire, without trial or charge (let’s try to avoid drawing real life parallels here). New Inquisitors were also introduced, like the sadistic Mox Slosin, another ready to use opponent, yet again without any hints of Force sensitivity. Nothing seemed to indicate all Inquisitors were Imperial Dark Jedi, nor vice-versa.
The deluge of Inquisitors wouldn’t come until Wizards of the Coast got the license to publish the Star Wars roleplaying game, especifically when they published The Dark Side Sourcebook (2001). This book, devoted to the creation of Dark Side characters, contained a prestige class (a kind of advanced character class) simply called “Imperial Inquisitor” and clearly patterned after High Inquisitor Tremayne: a lightsaber-wielding dark side fighter and Jedi hunter. Instead of giving us one Tremayne, they gave the Game Masters the necessary tools to sidestep that pesky Rule of Two and create their own Tremaynes to threaten their players’ Jedi characters, and they applied the Inquisitor moniker to it. “Inquisitor”, they seemed to say, “means evil dark side Jedi hunter from now on”. And so it was. Even Laddinare Torbin would adopt this template later on and come out of obscurity having taken several levels of badass and becoming the guy that, according to Abel Peña’s article The Emperor’s Pawns (2001), somehow managed to maim Arden Lyn, a powerful darksider that just minutes before had managed to kill another Inquisitor and even defeat our friend Tremayne. If only Arden had known of Torbin’s weakness and had invited him to go skinny-dipping!
This new version of what a Imperial Inquisitor was would go on to appear in several of Wizards of the Coast’s rulebooks, with new characters like Inquisitor Valin Draco being introduced if the Dawn of Defiance campaign, alongside tens of nameless Inquisitors for the player characters to slaughter like redshirts or goombas. This Valin Draco character appeared to try to out-Vader Darth Vader by being ridiculously powerful, having a team of Noghri death commandos at his service, having the Holocron of Darth Rivan -not Darth Revan, the other one, the lame Sith Lord from Cularin that no one likes-, piloting Darth Maul’s old ride, and basically being a totally extreme, rad and -dare I say- tubular Sith Lord wannabe. Wizards of the Coast would also introduce new concepts like Citadel Inquisitorius, the creepy dark side citadel where the Inquisition was headquartered, that helped cement this version of the Inquisitorius in the eyes of new fans. Around the Expanded Universe, some existing dark side minions, like the powerful Jerec and the not-so-powerful Brakiss, were retconned into being or having been Imperial Inquisitors. New Imperial Inquisitors appeared in the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies, becoming known to “casual” fans for the first time.
This new Inquisition, it seemed, was here to stay. Even Tremayne gained a first name (Antinnis) and returned to become a main opponent in the Evasive Action comic strips –this time toeing the company line and thus serving alongside more lightsaber-wielding Inquisitors– and to be retconned in the background of the TIE Fighter and Jedi Outcast videogames. Because why not. When The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide (2008) tried to describe the “Secret Order of the Empire”, the authors had the audacity of literally copying the text from West End Games’s Dark Empire Sourcebook (1993) and straight replacing every single iteration of “Dark Jedi” with “Imperial Inquisitor”. And let’s be honest here: even though it’s a pity we lost the charm of character depictions like goofy and unlucky Torbin or sadistic butcher Slosin, “Imperial Inquisitor” sounds so much better than the pedestrian “Dark Jedi” when it comes to describing the dark side minions of Emperor Palpatine. You win some, you lose some.
And we come to the reboot, the birth of Legends, the new canon, and how the idea of Imperial Inquisitors managed to survive against most predictions. The crew behind Star Wars Rebels seem to be really enamored of West End Games material, and that’s where the new Inquisitor came from, once again a sole dark side enforcer and Jedi hunter –at least for now. The still unnamed Inquisitor from Rebels gets many character traits from the original depiction of High Inquisitor Antinnis Tremayne. The same position, the same behavior, that sequence from the video introducing the new canon that showed Tremayne slowly morphing into him… all of them subtle hints for old fans of the Expanded Universe. And who knows if that’s going to be the end of it? The existence of at least one Inquisitor is firmly part of the Star Wars canon now. Who knows if the future of the franchise doesn’t have more Inquisitors for us, this time in the shape of a certain lightclaymore wielder called Kylo Ren appearing in the big screen and surprising us all? After all, nobody expects the Imperial Inquisition!