[Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #4.]
Since being left for dead by her former Imperial handler, the menacing Darth Vader, life certainly hasn’t been boring for Doctor Aphra. After escaping the Sith Lord’s clutches, the rogue archeologist was stripped of her credentials once her father told the archaeological council about her bunk doctorate – all to get her to join in his wild gundark chase for a Jedi myth about a secret sect named the Ordu Aspectu. In Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #4, Aphra and her father test their mettle and their minimalistic father-daughter bond as they face off against the forces of the Empire and history.
According to the ancient tale, the Aspectu (with possible connections in Star Wars Legends), were either light side users or dark side adepts who sought immortality through manipulating the Force. Forced along on her father's quest, Aphra and her crew landed on the jungle moon of Yavin 4, not long after a minor skirmish took place, involving the Alliance to Restore the Republic and a certain technological terror known as the Death Star. Sneaking inside the ancient temple base, they laid out a series of crystals, creating a massive solar display stretching between several temples. Unfortunately, the light show also alerted an Imperial garrison to their presence, as once again, Aphra found herself on the run from the Empire.
Lighting Up Yavin 4
After the solar spectacle illuminates the entire region, the Imperial forces led by Captain Tolvan regroup, realizing the Wookiee Black Krssantan’s assault was merely a distraction from the unknown invader's main objective. With the Empire on the march again, Aphra pulls her father away from his temple-gazing, only to realize that he's actually analyzing the display with what some sort of surveying device. He wraps up his readings and they make haste through the temple, only to stumble upon the first wave of Stormtroopers. Aphra’s father manages to drop a couple of crystals along the way, which could give the Empire clues as to where they're headed, but Bee-Tee shakes the troops after leaving behind a few explosive presents of his own.
However, with their primary escape route cut off (sounds familiar), they’re forced to head back through the main hall, giving fans a fun flashback to the final ceremony in A New Hope. Before they can slip out back door, though, they’re confronted by an AT-AT walker on one side and Captain Tolvan and her troops on the other. Just as the Imperial commander gives the order to open fire, Doctor Aphra’s life-debt of sorts to a certain Wookiee pays off. He’s not about to let her cash out before he cashes in. Narrowly escaping aboard the Ark Angel II, the frazzled crew waste no time converting the Massassi light show into coordinates and blasting off into hyperspace in search of the fabled Citadel of Rur.
To Garn and Beyond
The next phase of Doctor Aphra’s journey will either validate her father’s lifetime of work or crush his dreams. Despite their ill will, Kev Walker's expressive characterization gives the normally glib young woman a genuinely pensive (if ever skeptical) look, while accurately portraying the elder Aphra, who's understandably a bit numb as they arrive. After losing his wife and family, as well as sabotaging his own daughter’s "career" to complete his search, he has a lot of riding on his obsession. When the Ark Angel emerges from light speed at the coordinates, father and daughter are both shocked and relieved to actually find something there.
In front of the lies a massive, hollowed-out planetoid which bears the ruins of an ancient fortress. Landing on the surface, the makeshift crew investigate the ruins, finding some startling evidence of hard-fought battle. Their most significant discovery, though, is the presence of lightsabers laying next to the robed, skeletal remains. Indeed it does appear that the age-old Jedi tale has a ring of truth to it. If the rumors are true, though, the 12 parsec question remains: which side of history, as well as the Force, were the Ordu Aspectu on?
The References Strike Back
In a vast universe filled with fascinating characters and incredible adventures, sometimes it's the smallest clues that bring big fan-service satisfaction. One of the most enjoyable aspects of many Lucasfilm-sanctioned tales, including Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #4, is discovering bits and pieces of the overarching picture. Writer Kieron Gillen has interwoven several curious allusions and Easter eggs to events in the galaxy at large. Whether taking Legends material like the Order of the Terrible Glare and (possibly) canonizing it, returning to Yavin 4 after the Rebels’ departure, or exploring an everyperson take on the Death Star, Kieron Gillen has layered Aphra's exploits like a Star Wars archeological dig.
In this case, it’s a communication between the freshly introduced Captain Tolvan, and Fleet Admiral Kendal Ozzel. During their communique, it’s revealed that Tolvan was head of security for General Tagge (who was retconned to survive the Death Star only to later die at Vader's "hand") on Eadu and failed to stop the Rebel incursion on the Imperial research facility, during which Galen Erso was killed during Rogue One. As a result, her career trajectory went south, and she was assigned to sweeping up after the rebels on Yavin 4. During their exchange, Admiral “as clumsy as he is stupid” Ozzel reminds Tolvan that she's fortunate to have been under Tagge's command, since Vader is far “less forgiving of failure” – foreshadowing his own downfall.
Only four issues in, Gillen continues to prove why Doctor Aphra is such a engaging character. Despite her anti-hero trending-towards-villain status, she has a lot of heart and a lot of guts, something that fits perfectly into the fringes of the galaxy. Gillen has also woven elements from classic and modern films, in addition to teases from arcane (non-canon) lore – all while creating a story arc that combines the best elements of Indiana Jones and Star Wars into one.
And what a story it's been so far. So many questions remain: will the legend of the Ordu Aspectu end up as a Force for positive change or reawaken an ancient evil? Will Captain Tolvan pick up Aphra’s scent and redeem herself in the eyes of the Empire? Nothing is certain, aside from the promise of more exciting adventures to come.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #4 is currently available online and in print.