Review: Aphra Encounters the Seedier Side of the Rebellion in Marvel’s Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #33
I mentioned in my review of the previous issue that the next chapter of the ongoing Doctor Aphra series seems to be off to a good start. Thankfully, if issue #33 is any further indication, it looks like I was absolutely right. After a series of mildly entertaining yet disappointingly mediocre issues, the comic series that was at one time my favorite Star Wars comic on the shelf seems to have hit its stride once again.
This month, Aphra and her new sidekick, Vulaada, find themselves caught up in the web of a conspiracy being woven by General Cracken of Rebel Intelligence to assassinate Emperor Palpatine. How will the good doctor respond to this revelation? Will she use her unique skills to help the rebels? Or will she choose to go her own way as she has so many times before? Find out this week in Marvel’s Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #33! Spoilers ahead…
This issue picks up with Aphra and Vulaada having been apprehended by the newly dubbed “Captain” Tolvan. To say that Aphra’s former lover was not thrilled to see her is an understatement. In order to escape Vader’s wrath, it was necessary that the Sith lord buy the story that Aphra had been killed. To do this, she used the mind altering powers of a Bor creature at Accresker Jail to dupe Tolvan into believing that she had killed Aphra out of jealousy. The plan ultimately worked, but it also forced Aphra to part ways with Tolvan, who had been mourning her death all this time.
Tolvan was now an operative for Rebel Intelligence, reporting directly to General Cracken, a minor character that first appeared in Return of the Jedi. Cracken was then subsequently featured in the Star Wars expanded universe, most notably in the X-Wing series of novelizations. In the official canon, he has made appearances in the Han Solo comic mini-series and has been officially branded as the Chief of Rebel Intelligence. Cracken had recruited Tolvan to lead a special task force that specialized in identifying and disposing of double agents working for the Empire and taking down imperial spy cells. She was ridiculously successful in her new career.
In the previous issue, Aphra and her sidekick had obtained an ancient weapon with the intent to sell it for an untold fortune to the highest bidder. Unfortunately for the doctor, her theft of the artifact and her recent rise in popularity thanks to her stint as a reality TV star on the holonet (it’s a whole thing – see the previous story arc) have placed both the Empire and the Rebellion hot on her tail. Lucky for the Rebels, they got to her first.
This is where the story starts to get a little dark and a lot more interesting. General Cracken is all too happy to let the faces of the Rebellion, like Mon Mothma and Princess Leia, hold on to their righteous ideals. It was good for the Alliance’s image after all. They needed to look like the good guys that Cracken ultimately believed they were. But the General also knew that sometimes, one had to travel a darker, more morally questionable path to get things done.
Like his trusted operative, Davits Draven (the guy who sent Cassian Andor to kill Galen Erso in Rogue One), Cracken wasn’t afraid to get his hands a little dirty. Like one would expect from a clandestine organization, Rebel Intelligence operated underneath the table and away from the idealistic eyes of the other leaders of the Rebel Alliance, and that’s what he intended to do yet again with this new weapon now in his possession.
The weapon, as revealed in the last issue, was a long-ranged rifle based on the design of a lightsaber. The “farkiller” as it was called, was employed by the rogue Jedi, Oo’ob, after the Corsair Wars (I have no idea what this means, but I look forward to a story down the road!) to pre-emptively kill hundreds of would be despots in order to keep them from rising to power. The Order obviously disapproved of the Jedi’s methods, but now, Cracken sees the weapon as a new opportunity to beat the Empire at their own game.
Having seen the plans for the original Death Star, Cracken understands that the kyber crystals used in the design of a lightsaber were what the Empire used to give the battle station’s weapon its planet killing power. On the run, the Rebels’ resources were limited, but even on a smaller scale, he realized that the farkiller could be reverse-engineered to devastating effect. He continued to reveal his plan to Aphra, not to destroy a planet, or even a city, but a certain palace on Coruscant. Sure, the attack would kill thousands in the collateral damage, but to bring an end to the rule of an evil tyrant, it was totally worth it.
Cracken then offered Aphra the chance of a lifetime, promising her protection from the Empire if she would join the Rebellion and use her special skills to help them design such a weapon. Aphra may be a character hell-bent on self-preservation, but something about this scenario just wasn’t sitting right with the doctor.
In the last issue, we finally got our first glimpse at Aphra’s mother, Lona – and as I had hoped – this issue continues to give us flashbacks detailing their relationship. In the flashback, Aphra and her mom have a dialogue about what it means to be evil. In a scene that would shape Aphra’s sense of morality for years to come, her mother explains that there really are no “goodies” or “baddies”, only those who are tough enough to be in charge of the story that would later be told. While I may not buy into this morally ambiguous philosophy, there is a lot of truth to the notion that history is always written by the victors. There are always two sides of the story afterall, so her mom does have a pretty valid point. But c’mon, Lona, Palpatine is totally evil. But I digress.
While Aphra had been led by her father to believe that the Sith were inherently evil, her mother explained that the Sith were just interested in being secretive, that their devotion to the dark side was nothing more than the desire to keep their knowledge hidden. This is what the dark side actually is, not the “evil” side of the Force, but its hidden aspects.
She also had a very negative view of the Jedi, describing them as purists who were all too quick to label anyone outside of their comfortable little box a heretic while cherry-picking what counts as good or bad. Real evil, in the eyes of Aphra’s mother, was not inherent in any individual. Evil, rather, was the measurement of how much one’s choices take away those of someone else, an idealogy that Aphra had adopted herself as well.
As she thought about this exchange with her mother and what Cracken was asking her to do, she seemed to know that this action was no different than any of the atrocities that the Empire had committed. Aphra was no saint, but she couldn’t condone an action that would take the lives of thousands. The ends, no matter how desirable or even essential, should never justify such means. Rejecting Cracken’s offer, Aphra decides to take her chances on the road. As her mother said, all anyone can hope for ultimately is to do right by the people they love, and that would have to be enough.
On her way out, Tolvan spits in Aphra’s direction, an outpouring of bitterness and anger that she chooses to ignore for both their sakes. Sometimes, to do right by the ones you love, you have to let them go. As she went on, she tells Vulaada to grab her things and leaves the Rebellion and Tolvan behind.
I’m excited to say that this issue left me wanting more. It’s been a while since an issue of Doctor Aphra left me feeling this way, and I can’t wait to read the next issue of this series. It was also really nice to get another look at the seedier side of the Rebellion that was first established in Rogue One. I’m also really glad that Aphra stuck to her guns and went her own way rather than making the easy choice to join the Rebels for protection and possibly patch things up with Tolvan. This was a solid issue all around. The backstory with her mom was great to see and witnessing Rebel Intelligence operatives in action was also really interesting. The art was quite nice as well, making issue #33 of this series an all around entertaining read.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #33 is available now in a comic shop near you or online at Comixology. Happy reading comic fans!
(And next month, the return of Black Krrsantan!)
Jordan Pate is Co-Lead Editor and Senior Writer for Star Wars News Net, of which he is also a member of the book and comic review team. He loves all things Star Wars, but when he’s not spending time in the galaxy far far away, he might be found in our own galaxy hanging out in Gotham City or at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY.