It’s all coming to a head in the latest issue of Charles Soule’s Star Wars. The Rebel Alliance is looking to kill two birds with one stone, saving the last division still lost after the Battle of Hoth while also taking out their primary hunter in the dangerous Commander Zahra. With the help of Qi’ra, the Rebels lured Zahra into a trap above the planet Panisia. One last fight awaits while Kes Dameron and his team board the Tarkin’s Will in search of his wife, Shara Bey. Issue #23 is a doozy as the true cost of war takes center stage.
It isn’t often that we see this scenario in Star Wars. The Rebellion is the one who is supposed to be outmanned and outgunned. Now it’s the Empire’s turn to know how it feels, and it has to feel pretty terrifying. Unfortunately, the Rebels are going up against Tarkin 2.0, and Commander Zahra is as confident as ever. The likes of Leia, Ackbar, Mon Mothma, and more don’t stop her from enacting a wild scheme to destroy the entirety of the Rebel Alliance and fulfill her character arc. During this entire run, Soule has depicted Zahra with immense strength. She’s a great foil to Leia, and this is her chance to finally prove herself.
The first phase of Zahra’s plan involves taking a nosedive straight into the gathering Rebels on the planet below. Zahra suspects the Rebels will give chase to try and stop them, and sure enough, she’s right. The race to the surface leads into the planet’s gravity well leaving the Rebel ships open to ion cannons, disabling them. This means the ships caught in the spray will plummet right into the Rebels trying to escape Panisia with no way to stop them.
Zahra has painted the Rebels into an impossible corner. The ships that are not disabled destroy the incapacitated ones to minimize casualties. The Rebel Alliance has already suffered a moral loss, and Zahra gloats that they barely had to lift a finger to do it.
Elsewhere inside Tarkin’s Will, we join some stormtroopers and officers on the detention level. They are celebrating Zahra’s achievement which leads to them not noticing the infiltration team. Kes Dameron and crew take them out and immediately get to work finding Shara Bey.
Back over to Zahra who isn’t done rubbing salt in the wound. She orders her Star Destroyer to hover right over the Rebel encampment on Panisia. Then, in some of the most haunting artwork Ramon Rosanas has done, Zahra orders the Tarkin’s Will back up to space. But not without using its thrusters as a flamethrower upon the Rebels, killing everyone in the camp. We don’t see anyone die, but sometimes the most horrifying thing is what you imagine inside your own head. It was a ruthless, unnecessary move that raises the stakes to a new level when you’re dealing with this type of villain.
We rejoin Kes who has finally found Shara. They share an embrace before joining the rest of the team to discuss what just happened.
Here’s where I take a tangent to discuss one of their team. There’s a chance Commander Rex might have been a part of it. The character is wearing the same get-up of that one Rebel that has the internet convinced Rex is in Return of the Jedi. There is zero official confirmation that is Rex (despite what Dave Filoni says), so that means the same for this issue. However, if we play the head-canon game, a moment is given to this character who reflects on the murders. If that is Rex, man does it hit a little bit harder knowing it’s one of the worst things he has ever seen.
Either way, I appreciate spending another moment reflecting on what the Empire has done, especially in comics when pacing can be an issue. War is awful, and it’s nice to be reminded this isn’t just a children’s story about sorcerers waving magic beams of light. Too often we forget Star Wars has normal, everyday people on both sides of the aisle that don’t deserve the fate given to them.
No time to rest though as the fight isn’t over. The Tarkin’s Will rejoins the battle above Panisia where the entire dynamic has changed. Zahra has them shook. She notes the Rebels are holding back in fear of what else she could do. Her self-preservation kicks in and decides it best to run from a fight she ultimately won’t win, but not before taking out Home One and most of the Rebel leadership. It’s important to note that every one of these space battle scenes have been from Zahra’s point-of-view. We haven’t heard a peep about these tactical mistakes and how it’s impacted Rebel leadership from their side. All we’re doing is seeing them portrayed as weak which I don’t necessarily find ideal.
Our perspective is meant to be warped given the villain’s point-of-view, but when Leia Organa is seen as weak when awful things are happening around her, and nothing is done to correct that perception, it just echoes as wrong. Soule’s writing and Rosanas’ art have done a remarkable job making this battle seem massive in the last couple issues, highlighting the stakes any moment they can, but that one nagging flaw got to me. These are some pretty heavy things, and the full consequences of war just aren’t being fully depicted.
Anyways, Zahra forgot about one thing. Her last-ditch effort to take out the Home One is sabotaged by the Rebels onboard the Tarkin’s Will. Another great aspect of these last few issues has been Soule constantly peppering in that the Tarkin’s Will is at best compromised. It was never fully repaired after the Death Star leading Shara Bey to use what she learned about the ship so they could deal a critical blow from the inside, causing a primary reactor failure.
With the ship crippled and the Tarkin’s Will plummeting towards Panisia, Zahra orders the crew to abandon ship. Throughout all of her plotting and scheming, she was undone by the one thing she could never prepare for: a little bit of luck. It was pure luck that Kes and company got on the Tarkin’s Will before it jumped to Panisia, leading to this moment. It was pure luck that Shara survived up until this moment in the first place. Zahra’s mentor, Tarkin, had much the same attitude when the Rebels took on the Death Star, and look where that got him. Sometimes the student doesn’t learn.
After the battle, everyone rejoins aboard the Home One. Shara is back, and Leia has some choice words for Kes, but first she has to take a mystery call. We’re left with a cliffhanger simply stating that this is not over. Standing above an escape pod, with the Tarkin’s Will behind her, is Commander Zahra and the grim realization that maybe she has learned after all.
For 23 issues, we’ve been slowly working up to this moment. Zahra has wanted Leia all to herself this entire series, and now the time has come. It’s a PPV-worthy fight, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this phase of the story ends.
Star Wars #23 is exactly why we love our space battles. A lot of these types of issues can be a cluster visually, but the art from Ramon Rosanas was great and immersive. When called upon, he was also able to deliver on bringing the emotion out of characters which was needed in a heavy issue like this. Soule also brought it, even though his choice to only focus on what was happening inside the Tarkin’s Will was a little odd. But given this is really the last we will see of the ship, so be it. No matter the style he employs, Soule always makes it work and brings high-stakes Star Wars action. I can’t wait to see what happens next which ultimately is the goal of any comic. Issue #25 is going to be its own thing, making next month’s issue in a way the finale to this part of the story. Soule’s earned it through his honest depiction of war while still delivering the thrills Star Wars requires throughout his entire Star Wars run.