Review – An Ending and A New Beginning In Marvel’s Doctor Aphra #40
It’s here. This week, we say goodbye to the first Doctor Aphra series and all the stories it delivered. While this isn’t the end of the character (writer Alyssa Wong launches a new Doctor Aphra series next year), this fortieth and final issue seems to close out a period of Aphra’s life entangled with Sith Lords, Jedi hopefuls, newfound love, and a journey to find her own morality. Does she find whatever it is she’s been looking for? SPOILERS AHEAD….
Before I jump into the actual review of this issue, I’d like to thank writer Kieron Gillen for creating this wonderful character. I’ve had the pleasure over the last five-years to write about Doctor Aphra. Admittedly, when she came onto the scene in Darth Vader I was a little annoyed with her. Not due to any part of the character, but mostly because I was in full sequel trilogy speculation mode and wanted big stories which might give me more insight into the overall arc of the forthcoming films. Sitting here now, just about a week away from the culmination of that speculation, I’m glad I shook that need. Doctor Aphra, both the character and the series, gave me so many great moments, big stories, and wonderful characters. And I had a blast writing about them. She’s proven to be a character who is complicated, empathetic, and wants to do good, but has a hard time letting her best qualities always shine at this point in time of the galaxy. As we reach the end of the first chapter in her story, the future is bright for Doctor Aphra and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The final issue opens right back on the Kartovian Ash Moon, where Aphra sent her father to join her ward, Vulaada. Aphra sent him there in a stolen Imperial shuttle she knew full well Magna Tolvan would be tracking. Just as a local predator is about to make a meal out of Vulaada and Korin Aphra, Tolvan shows up and rescues them. Now, Aphra’s proven to have a strategic, chess-like mind when it comes to playing the long game. She knew she needed to keep Vulaada away from Vader and the Empire when she rejoined them, so she left her behind on the Ash Moon a few issues ago By sending her father there, she provided him the same protection and gave Vulaada a new guardian in case something happened to her. Tolvan following the shuttle there would rescue them both from the Ash Moon and give them hope in the Rebel Alliance. Aphra may be selfish sometimes, but she’s thoughtful and will do almost anything to protect the ones she cares about. Even if it means sacrificing her own well-being and happiness, which is why Tolvan continues to be pushed away from her. As the story starts to unfold, Aphra begins to dictate a message intended for these three which serves as narration for the story.
Well, this is pretty cool. Tython is a planet featured heavily in Legends stories about the Jedi and Sith. According to Wookieepedia, it was brought into canon via the role-playing game based around The Force Awakens, but this is it’s first major appearance in a canon story. Aphra has led Vader and his forces here, with the promise of a secret Rebel base hidden within the ice cap. Phew. If you remember the previous issue, Aphra only mentioned to Vader they’d be going to a cold planet, which I wrongly assumed was Hoth (and kept wondering how they were gonna retcon that mess). We don’t have much to go on canon-wise about Tython’s role in the Star Wars universe, but it’s been home to a Jedi Temple at some point, as the hooded statue seems to confirm. As Aphra leads Vader into the temple, he senses she’s not being completely honest with him. And she’s not. It’s a trap!
Aphra apparently knows all about this temple and triggered a protective barrier around herself and Triple Zero. She notes this is one of the earliest Jedi Temples – a martyrium, which by real world definition is a church or holy site built in a circular form. BeeTee is there waiting for Aphra and Triple Zero, whose restraining bolt she quickly removes, and the doctor begins to hatch her plan. Triple Zero isn’t really sure why the two droids should help her, now they’re free, but Vader beginning to break through the barrier provides all the convincing the droid needs. Once Vader’s through, Aphra unleashes a lot of the security measures the Jedi must’ve had in place, but Vader’s able to evade them all. As he makes his way closer to Aphra, BeeTee takes out the troopers accompanying him. Vader survives the assault, but just as he closes in on Aphra, Triple Zero makes his last stand, stabbing the Sith Lord with several explosive darts.
Now, this is interesting. Aphra has lured Vader into a confessional chamber made entirely of kyber. Force-users would travel to this place to confess their sins and regrets, leaving behind an echo of their sadness which is debilitating for anyone Force-sensitive.
Not to mention a Force-sensitive with a list of regrets like this Dark Lord of the Sith. As Vader experiences his own nightmares from the past, Aphra’s narration plays over it. She realizes one of the most important things is not how the galaxy judges a person, but whether or not they can live with themselves. This scene is really heavy, Aphra recalling her own regrets as she watches Vader horrifically relive his.
Vader eventually breaks free. BeeTee hammers him with his droid arsenal and Vader destroys the murder astromech with his remaining, diminished Force-powers. The power of the temple cripples Vader and Aphra uses this chance to hack into the computer regulating his armor, as well as his vocoder. Aphra’s “fandom” of Vader seems to be at an end and she’s ready to wipe out any and all help she gave him in tracking down the Rebel Alliance. Once again, Aphra’s been making moves for this move since the beginning of this arc. Love it!
Aphra’s also about to send the Imperial Fleet on a wild Bantha chase, as she corrupts the reconnaissance data from the probe droids. The nervous officer here questions Vader’s order, but Aphra issues a stern threat Vader himself has no doubt demonstrated several times. The officer continues allowing Aphra access, as she not only corrupts the records, but convolutes all of their data. Vader assures her he will still track them down and while she doesn’t doubt it, she assures him she’s left a nasty technical mess for the Empire to sift through. Aphra fetches the remains of her two murder droids and leaves Vader with some parting words after her good deed to protect the Rebellion. “I hope someday you get to know how it feels. To do something good.”
Tolvan, Vulaada, and Korin all made it to Hoth! It’s not implied Aphra is headed to join the Rebels, but the ones she loves are safe and she’s found a sense of freedom in that security. I don’t doubt somewhere down the road they will reconnect, but Aphra risked everything knowing she may never see them again.
What a beautiful sentiment to end this series with. While I don’t know if this means Aphra has closed the door on the people she sent away in an effort to protect, I do believe she’s realized she can’t keep hurting them while trying to hold on and deal with her own issues. For now, she has to release them and try to find herself. Maybe when things settle down, she can find them again. There’s no telling with Doctor Aphra, but Chelli Lona Aphra never surprises me when she chooses to embrace the good. I’m looking forward to more of those stories.
Talk about ending the series on a high note! Not only with Simon Spurrier’s excellent writing, but with some incredible art by Caspar Wijngaard and colorist Lee Loughridge. We still have the massive Empire Ascendant to look forward to next week, so Aphra hasn’t fully bowed out of 2019. Again, this series has done so much to deepen my love of Star Wars and this character is such a great contribution. To all of you who’ve been reading along, thank you and let’s get excited for wherever the good doctor takes us next!