Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Dr. Aphra 5, originally released March 8th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: When I was young I didn’t want to be a firefighter or sports-star the way a lot of other boys did. Instead, I dreamt of becoming either a paleontologist or archaeologist. While I have to admit Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones played a role in this desire, I was also drawn to the sheer mystery of studying long gone civilizations and animals. There’s something incredibly tantalizing when confronted with ruins or fossils: they speak of a once great culture or animal that has collapsed and left behind only echoes of its stories. Before reading Dr. Aphra, I had never really considered that the Star Wars universe a place full of such mystery, but as issue 5 shows, not only is Star Wars capable of this, but it can excel at it, too.
Aphra, along with her motley crew, is helping her dad explore the ruins of Ordu Aspectu, a long forgotten and ill-fated Jedi order. It doesn’t take too long before things get exciting in this long-dead temple. Aphra and company have been followed by a group of Imperials and a battle ensues. Black Krrsantan quits Aphra’s company mid-battle, takes her ship, and flees the the Citadel of Rur along with Beetee and Triple-0. Locked together in the computer core of the of the citadel, Aphra and her Dad finally discover the fate of Rur and his Jedi order.
This issue interested me from the first page to the last, and that’s due in large part to the the backdrop it’s placed against. The Citadel of Rur is a mysterious setting and it’s a perfect place for Aphra and her Dad to explore, being archaeologists and all. That it’s full of dead bodies and mysteries only adds to the overall spooky-yet-enticing atmosphere of this issue.
I really have to commend Kieron Gillen for this choice of setting. The Star Wars universe is deep, but you would be hard pressed to find anything that borders on dark and mysterious outside of the old extended universe books. But that doesn’t mean the Star Wars universe can’t be dark and deep the way an Indiana Jones movie is. Gillen knows this, and he makes the excellent choice of focusing on the mysterious Jedi order. Even though the Order was explored somewhat in the prequels, there is so much left unexplained about it. That being said, the stomping grounds of an ancient and mysterious order, much like the Knights Templar in our own world, make for a fertile setting in this issue.
It’s great to see the way both Aphra and her dad respond to this Holy Grail of archaeological finds. For Aphra’s dad, it represents the end to a long quest, a quest which sees as a fight against the darkness the empire represents. To Aphra, it represents something different altogether.
Aphra has no problem pilfering lightsabers off of long-dead Jedi. In her eyes, it’s basically the same thing as sanctioned archaeological work. This is devilishly clever retort and one that may actually have some merit, but it’s what she says next that makes this exchange more meaningful. For Aphra, she sees this adventure with her dad as a means to an end — a way to pay her debts. Her dad is hoping it brings them closer together yet this scene shows just how different they are and how little he knows about Aphra’s life. When she asks her dad if he actually knows what she does, it’s almost heartbreaking. This is a fractured relationship and it can’t be healed simply by finding the Immortal Rur.
As I’ve tried to show, the setting is important in this issue and I think it’s rendered wonderfully by artist Kev Walker. However, what particularly impressed me about Walker’s art was a sequence involving Beetee, Triple-0, and some Imperial troops. In a series of horizontally aligned frames, he depicts the droids ducking their pursuers in wonderfully clear fashion.
The simplicity of these panels with minimal dialogue is absolutely wonderful. In each of the seven frames, the camera remains exactly in the same place which means the background is exactly the same in each panel. It’s the action in the foreground that changes, and the way it unravels over seven frames is simple but effective. There is a particularly cinematic feel about this one page and I think it all comes down to how the camera is located here. By restricting the camera’s movement and limiting our information about the setting of this scene, Walker has effectively made this scene more dramatic. Really a great use of the environment to help make this story more engaging!
Patrick! I enjoyed this issue almost entirely because of its setting. Were there other things you liked about this issue besides where it takes place? What do you think of Rur? Surely an undead, computerized Jedi master can’t be a bad thing, right? Right?
Patrick: Of course not! He’s a noble and righteous thing! That may not jibe with our heroes, however, who are grave-robbing at worst and defiling the sacred resting place of a Jedi order at best. Also, depending on how far back Rur is from, his allegiance may be to whatever form the Republic is taking in this era — i.e., the Empire — so even if he’s “good,” he’s bad news for the Doctors Aphra.
Taylor, I think you’re right to praise the setting — that’s clearly one of the main draws here — but what I think the setting so excels at is hinting at the history of the place. That’s sorta necessary, right? We’re with characters who actively prioritize being around interesting history, so Gillen and Walker have to present a history that is equally compelling to the reader. They’re using a lot of short cuts to help us out in that department: for one, the ancient order of warriors didn’t have to be Jedi. The name “Jedi” helps the reader place these guys in our emotions — we already know that’s a cool group of psychic ninjas that we love to see swinging around their laser swords. But Walker taps into other imagery to help sell the holy connection.
Taylor mentioned the Knights Templar, and the posture of this figure certainly calls to mind all that same imagery — hooded robe, hands clasping the hilt of a sword, etc. The hexagon outline is also evocative of a hexagram, the shape of the Star of David. And I know it’s part of one of those crazy alien letters, but it sure does look like there’s a cross about the Jedi’s head.
Those aren’t just powerful symbols, but symbols that suggest both belief and history. There’s this idea in this issue that history is alive in the present, and I can’t think of a better example of that than a force-bridge that only the historians are allowed to cross. Even the very concept of a “force-bridge” requires the reader to engage in the idea of literally vital connective tissue. Remember, the force flows through living things, so the Citadel is necessarily not lifeless. All of its former inhabitants may be long since passed, but there’s still a living energy there. Aphra and father are able to traverse this bridge because they are interested in uncovering that life, while the Stormtroopers hilariously fall to their doom.
The issue ends with Walker and Gillen taking the “archeologists make history come alive!” trope and making it literal. I know I said a robo-animated Rur was bad news for our heroes, but maybe the sheer acting of bringing him on-line is their goal.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?