Review – The Hunt For Skywalker Begins In Marvel’s Doctor Aphra #37
Sad to say this is the beginning of “A Rogue’s End”, which will be the final arc of Doctor Aphra. While the doctor’s future in Star Wars is still vague, I’m hopeful there are big plans, but it’s still sad to know this series is coming to its end. The good news is writer Simon Spurrier kicked off this final arc in grand fashion, by taking Aphra back to where we met her – a tense relationship with Darth Vader. SPOILERS AHEAD….
The issue opens in the midst of a nightmare. Aphra’s memory of being blown out an airlock by Vader (seen in Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader #25) is definitely on her mind since she’s been reunited with the Dark Lord. Vulaada’s also become accustomed to waking in the aftermath of these dreams, hearing her mentor terrified and gasping when she returns to consciousness. Sometimes the nightmares are about what happened and it sounds like others are of what could happen. This is important to keep in mind, as Aphra usually brushes off fear and when she tries to do it here we know it’s all surface. The doctor is scared and she’s now cornered because the Emperor has put her in very close proximity to her attacker as he obsessively searches the galaxy for the Rebel Alliance – and more importantly, Luke Skywalker. Remember, Aphra knows everything and is one of two people in Vader’s proximity who know Luke is his son – the other being Darth Sidious himself. Aphra knows this knowledge is a liability, so all she can hope for is to stay alive.
We know from The Empire Strikes Back crawl that Vader’s pet project leading up to the events of the film involved dispatching thousands of probe droids across the galaxy. Sure, he wanted to find the Rebels but Luke Skywalker was his first priority. It looks like we are seeing the beginning of that operation as he leads a portion of the Imperial fleet here. I’m so happy we get a look at this and it’s likely this arc will lead right up to The Empire Strikes Back. How does Aphra fit into all of this? Well, the Empire isn’t just employing droids to search isolated planets, they’ve also brought on some brilliant minds to help comb through possible archaeological sites the Rebel Alliance could potentially use. This operation is designated ‘Project Swarm’ and Aphra is one of those minds.
You may not recognize him, but that stuffy looking Imperial officer is General Veers himself. Nice callback and we see he’s one of Vader’s more trusted officers. He also reveals himself to be quite the abuser, shocking Aphra with the same cattle-prod looking device Rose used on Finn in The Last Jedi whenever the doctor steps out of line. It’s not done in a humorous matter, either. It shows how dire the situation is for Aphra and how this reward from the Emperor is really just oppressive service in his brutal regime. Veers is utilizing analysts like Professor Ud (pictured above) to lead an investigation any apparent disturbances at archaeological sites around the galaxy. Since the Rebels launched their attack from the ancient temples on Yavin IV, the Empire thinks starting here might be the best place. Aphra disagrees and dismisses the idea the theory the Rebels would repeat this. Once Veers and the other officers are gone, Ud scolds Aphra for slamming the door on Veers, warning her their survival depends on their success. Aphra ignores the professor when she sees someone she needs to have a word with.
Vader completely ignores Aphra as she tries to rekindle whatever relationship or understanding they had in the past. The Dark Lord ignores her until she mentions Luke Skywalker and then he slams her into the wall, pictured above. Again, none of this is slapstick. Aphra is under psychological and physical assault and knows very well she needs to start formulating an escape plan. Another element that makes this situation more dire – the child Vulaada is tethered to whatever fate Aphra has, so the doctor isn’t just trying to keep herself alive. After she shakes off the abrupt attack from Vader, Professor Ud gathers her and the Imperial officers to inform them they’ve lost contact with a droid surveying the Kartovian Formation. They’ve located a structure buried under the dunes of the planet and they’ve detected a power source. Aphra cautions them that it’s merely an Isopter Death Shrine (the Isopters seek out sites where mass deaths occur to channel the echoes of violence in their meditation and were featured heavily in Star Wars “Ashes of Jedha”) and the power source comes from booby traps known to be housed in such shrines. Veers doesn’t listen to Aphra and heads to the Kartovian Formation. Though Aphra thinks it’s a pointless expedition she does see it as a chance to escape, since they will be leaving the confines of the Executor to explore the site.
When the Empire arrives there is no sign of the Rebels. As Aphra predicted, the local Isopters shot down the droids, so Veers orders his officers to use them as target practice for retribution. Lovely. They allow Ud, Aphra, and Vulaada to explore the shrine. Once inside, Ud confides in Aphra that he actually has no interest in finding the Rebels and is using ‘Project Swarm’ as a giant archaeological expedition. Aphra realizes Ud is singularly focused on this goal so that will give her room to figure out an escape. It doesn’t take her long to formulate one with Vulaada. She points out an artifact and asks the professor to examine it closer. Once he does, Vulaada triggers a trap, dropping a massive stone and killing Ud, as well as opening a trap door Vulaada falls through.
Aphra knew how these traps worked, so she managed to kill Ud which makes her head of ‘Project Swarm’ and get Vulaada away from the Empire. Pretty clever and classic Aphra. This gives her the lead on ‘Project Swarm’ and no doubt will let her start to put a plan in motion to escape. Just as Veers sees Ud has been killed, a hidden attacker comes at them from out of nowhere.
This peculiar attacker doesn’t get very far, as Veers clotheslines them and orders them brought aboard for interrogation. Aphra receives her promotion and they hastily leave the shrine, leaving Vulaada hidden under the trapdoor. Aphra no doubt did this with the intention of coming back for her ward, but it looks like a rough place to be stuck in and seems like an awful risk. The doctor didn’t really seem to have a choice, since it’s likely they’d both be disposed of by Vader or Veers once their usefulness ran its course.
When they get the attacker aboard the Executor, Aphra turns to Vader for help. Veers is nervous the prisoner is a Jedi and doesn’t know how to proceed, so he’s asked for Vader. Aphra goes to the Dark Lord but he still gives her the silent treatment, only turning to head for the new prisoner and begin his own interrogation. She even tries to get a reaction from him by suggesting it could be Luke Skywalker. When Vader arrives in the cell, the prisoner is repeating old Jedi mantras. As soon as Vader hears this, he orders everyone off of the deck and to seal it, leaving he and Aphra to interrogate the prisoner. First thing is first, take off the prisoner’s helmet.
Well, I was wondering if they’d be bringing Aphra’s father, Korin Aphra, who abandoned her and her mother to go searching for artifacts of the ancient Jedi sub-order, Order Aspectu. It looks like Aphra has another liability to be worried about. No matter how strained a relationship is, I can’t imagine it feels good to see your parent in the grip of Darth Vader. Very curious to see what happens next.
“A Rogue’s End” is off to a fantastic start and it doesn’t feel like Simon Spurrier is going to slow things down for these final issues. I’m really happy that a lot of loose ends appear to be on the verge of being tied up with these final issues. The art by Caspar Wijngaard and colorist Lee Loughridge is solid and goes great with the story. I’m confident this team will send our favorite doctor out in style!