Doctor Aphra: Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker – A Book Review

First appearing in Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra quickly became a personal favorite of mine.  In fact, along with Rey and Ahsoka Tano, I’d say she’s one of the most significant Star Wars characters to appear within the last ten years.

Consequently, because she regularly stole the spotlight in Darth Vader and even Star Wars, Marvel gave the good doctor her own series.

If you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Aphra, she is amoral, brilliant, and snarky as can be.  An archaeologist by trade, Aphra is not bound by such things as decency and preserving life.  She does what it takes, usually with a smile on her face.  Make no mistake, though — she is not insane.  She’s perhaps a sociopath, but of the really charming sort.

The beginning of this volume, titled Aphra, gets us off to the perfect start.  The first several pages succinctly establish Aphra’s character.  We immediately meet her hilarious supporting cast: the murderous astromech droid designated BT-1, the protocol droid specializing in torture named Triple 0, and the seriously disgruntled Wookie called Black Krrsantan.  Why does such a delinquent crew tolerate one another?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

However, soon enough, Aphra became less enjoyable for me.  I hesitated to write this review for a few weeks because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then, last night, it hit me.

Doctor Aphra had a really tragic father figure in Darth Vader.  Their bond, though completely toxic, also had an element of fun in that you could tell, somewhere deep within their crooked souls, they actually cared for one another in a strange familial aspect.  Since we know Darth Vader one day will actually live up to his role as a father, it proved ironically endearing to watch him with Aphra.

I feel that Aprha takes a serious misstep when it introduces her actual birth father.  After such a long story arc with Vader, it struck me as far too soon to put Aphra back in this role.  Yes, she is clearly her father’s better and often puts him in his place, which was an interesting juxtaposition with what we’ve seen previously, but by the book’s end you realize she does care for her father, just as you realize Vader cared for her.  In my mind, this plot would have worked far better further down the road after we got to see more of Doctor Aphra as character devoid of any paternal influence.

In fact, I think Doctor Aphra shines best in Star Wars: Rebel Jail.  In that volume, Aprha is mostly interacting with Princess Leia and Sana Starros (who also has great potential).  These three women are all about the same age and have differing perspectives on life, priorities, and laws.  It was an absolute blast to read their story when forced to work together.

I’d hoped that we’d get more of that sort of thing with Doctor Aphra’s first solo outing.  I really wanted to see her fully in charge of her adventure without, frankly, any sort of patriarchal influence.  I will, of course, continue to read Doctor Aphra, by no means is this volume a deal-breaker.  She’s an incredibly charismatic character who can fit into virtually any spot of the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait to see her further cement her place in the vast mythology.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Star Wars: Vader Down – A Book Review

This is probably the coolest Darth Vader story I’ve ever experienced, and that’s no small statement.

The first crossover between Marvel’s Darth Vader and Star Wars comic book series, Vader Down collects the entire tale as Darth Vader crash lands on the Rebel Alliance’s new planetary base.  He hunts Luke Skywalker, the boy who humiliated Vader by destroying the Death Star.  However, though he’s told no one, Vader has learned that the rebel hero is also his son.  How exactly did Vader crash land on this planet?  I won’t spoil it for you, but it involves Luke Skywalker, and it is totally in keeping with the Skywalker tradition of adventurism.

What makes this graphic novel so utterly cool is that Darth Vader literally fights an entire battalion of rebel soldiers on his own.  He is surrounded by dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of enemy combatants and he doesn’t even flinch.  This is the Darth Vader you’ve always wanted to see, trust me.  I’ve never felt so good about rooting for the bad guy!

And while this prolonged conflict is worth the price of the book alone, there is much more going on in it besides Vader’s impossible fight.  Luke must battle a murderous protocol droid as well as his astromech partner who is somehow even more bloodthirsty.  Both are in service to Vader, by the way.  The two droids are accompanied by Dr. Aphra, a standout character new to the mythos and also dedicated to Vader’s cause.  She tussles with Han Solo, and you’ll love the steps they take to try to defeat each other.  Finally, Princess Leia ultimately faces down Vader herself; neither realize the implications of their confrontation.

This book is nonstop action with great sequences that will delight any Star Wars fan.  Though it features different artists due to the nature of the crossover, the pencils, inks, and colors are beautiful to behold.  Both writers capture that distinct Star Wars humor, deliver an epic story, and keep each and every character true to their roots.

I have thoroughly enjoyed both the Star Wars and Darth Vader comic book series, and this crossover between the two should be considered an instant classic.

Star Wars: Darth Vader (Volume 1) by Gillen and Larroca – A Book Review

Recently released by Marvel Comics, this first collected volume of the Darth Vader comic book series is everything a Star Wars fan desires.

Focusing solely on Darth Vader following the events of A New Hope, the dark lord must learn who destroyed the Death Star even as the Emperor seemingly seeks to replace him.  Vader must build his own army separate from the Empire as a safety net, but how does a villain of even his caliber go about doing so?

This volume introduces new, interesting characters while utilizing favorites like Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt.  It references previous movies and may even offer hints to The Force Awakens.  It will satisfy even the most devout of Star Wars fans.

The art is fantastic.  Pay no attention to the fact you can’t see Vader’s face, Salvador Larroca masterfully conveys Vader’s every emotion through a tilt of the head or the power of a stance.  Salvador delivers visually the Vader we all love — regal, menacing, and powerful.

The author, Kieron Gillen, clearly understands Darth Vader, and he clearly understands why we are drawn to the villain.  Vader says little in this volume, because he doesn’t have to say much at all for both the other characters and the audience to perfectly understand his position on matters.  The story itself is captivating and important in that it informs us as to how Vader discovered Luke Skywalker’s identity.  It establishes the tension between the Emperor and Vader, and it even offers glimpses into the man trapped inside the machine.

This is the Darth Vader you’ve always wanted.  This is the Darth Vader with whom you fell in love.  This series gets everything right.

Concerning Star Wars: Rebels

Before I begin, it should be noted I’m thirty-eight years old – born in 1977.  I grew up watching the original Star Wars movies.  I clearly remember seeing Return Of the Jedi in the movie theater.  My older brother, best friend, and I loved the action figures, vehicles, and sets.  I had lunch boxes, masks, we’d make our own lightsabers out of wrapping paper rolls … you get the idea.

When Lucas unveiled the second set of films with The Phantom Menace, I was in my early twenties and, well, it just didn’t quite feel the same.  Maybe it was because I was older, maybe it’s because the films lacked some of the magic … it was probably a combination of the two.

I thought The Clone Wars cartoons were neat, but they didn’t really capture my interest and demand my loyalty.  Again, perhaps it was because of my ever-increasing age, but I think it also had to do with the fact that Anakin Skywalker didnt’ really interest me.  Darth Vader interests me – does even to this day – but not Anakin.  In my mind, Anakin was backstory, and it wasn’t until he began to turn in Revenge Of the Sith that he really started to grow on me.  I knew The Clone Wars cartoons dealt primarily with Anakin before the turn, so I wasn’t all that into it.

So here we are.  I started seeing commercials for Star Wars: Rebels during my own kids’ cartoons and I thought they looked interesting, mainly because of the astro droid, Chopper.  He cracked me up in the little commercials.  Unfortunately, I never made the time to check an episode out.

Until last week.

I decided to watch the first episode last week, and it hooked me right off the bat.  I can absolutely tell you why – it all looks familiar.  For better or worse, this is my Star Wars.  I see the creatures from my Star Wars, I see the vehicle designs, I see my Stormtroopers, I see the retro/funky hairstyles and facial hair, I see the weird tattered clothing mixed with armor and technology, I see the weapons, the architecture.  It’s amazing.

And though the main characters are new, they are extremely likable and charismatic.  Ezra is our orphan runaway, Kanan is our space cowboy, Zeb is our rough monster with the heart of gold, Sabine is our graffiti and explosives artist with the Boba Fett helmet, Hera is our cool-under-pressure pilot, and Chopper is our malcontent, possibly demented, droid.  When we learn that Kanan is a surviving Jedi, and Ezra has potential as his apprentice, it ups the coolness even more.  For example, I grinned from ear to ear the episode Ezra earned his lightsaber.

Plus, though the stories focus on this group of rebels, we get plenty of cameos from old favorites such as Lando, C-P30, R2-D2, wookies, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Senator Organa.

There’s also a new Sith known as the Inquisitor, and he’s awesome.  It’s like they combined Darth Vader and Darth Maul to come up with him.  I’m not complaining – I love the guy.  I hope he lasts a long while.

The story takes place five years before Star Wars: A New Hope, and even though it’s a cartoon, if you’re an old fan like me, you’ll love it.  It’s just flat-out fun.

I hope you’ll give it a try, especially because if you stick it out to the last episode, you will be handsomely rewarded with the greatest Star Wars character of all time.