by Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
The great thing about Star Wars comics is that we’re introduced to characters from the extended universe we would never meet otherwise. I mean, Han, Luke, Leia, and Darth are all pretty compelling characters, but forty years worth of stories surrounding them means there isn’t a whole lot left to say about them. Dr. Aphra, then, is a great series in this regard. Aphra herself is a compelling character, but the title is made so much better by the rich cast of characters that surrounds her. However, if these characters lose their charm or act in ways that don’t make sense then there’s not a whole lot for an issue to fall back on save for space battles and explosions.
Issue 14 is an instance of this. Even though this is Aphra’s book, this particular issue centers on the Magna Tolvan, an Imperial officer who has had the misfortune of meeting Aphra before. Ever since then, Tolvan’s life has been a series of humiliating defeats that has her questioning her own abilities.
This is a great moment that actually shows why Doctor Aphra is a fun series. Tolvan isn’t a stiff, white guy with an English accent like most other Imperial officers. Here it’s shown that she has doubts, regrets, mentors, and more than enough emotion for any reader to feel sympathy for her. In short, Tolvan and this scene shows why this series is good when it’s being driven by characterization.
Later, however, we see what happens when characterization falls apart and the risks a creative team takes when writing such a series. After the scene pictured above takes place, Aphra and her cornies attack the base that Tolvan is stationed at. Eventually Tolvan winds up at the wrong end of Aphra’s pistol and they strike up a conversation.
Aphra calls Tolvan cute and the latter takes it as an insult. However, Aphra was being sincere, apparently, and the two strike up a conversation that generally centers around self pity. While the conversation itself is fine, it simply is strange that these two are having this moment at all. Why is Tolvan dishing her feelings to Aphra? Why does Aphra seemingly care at all about Tolvan when for all intents and purposes she’s just another Imperial in a uniform? While both Aphra and Tolvan are interesting characters in their own right, there simply isn’t a reason why they would be connection in this way at this moment. Their doing so detracts from the issue since, being character driven, the issue depends on these women acting in realistic and relatable ways.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Tolvan is candid with Aphra because Tolvan believes Aphra is going to kill her “to cover her tracks”. Tolvan is introspective and thinks her disclosures are irrelevant because she is at the end of her life. Aphra is talking like that to Tolvan because Aphra thinks she is interesting and Aphra is lonely because she is trapped by 000 with no one to talk to. I think there is enough background to support that “at gunpoint” dialogue.
I ended up getting the chance to read this issue (usually read Star Wars books in trade) and I agree. Both characters were approaching despair, and desperately needing to reach out. Tolvan is disrespected at every turn, and feeling like a failure. Even though she is guarded in her responses, the fact that Aphra actually shows some respect is enough to give Tolvan some sense of connection to what she’s lost. And Aphra has lost everything important to her, from her freedom to her already delicate sense of morality, enslaved to Triple-Zero. In the throws of such despair (the final sequence is a masterpiece in dread), the chance to rebel, to try and assert herself, is what she truly needs to survive. Aphra has so little left, that just the opportunity to talk fast and to flirt with a cute girl is enough to help her through the despair.
That seems to be the key idea of this arc. Aphra and Tolvan, who have lost everything, coming together to escape despair and regain control of their lives. It makes perfect sense their dynamic was so overwhelming this issue. They each have nothing left to do except connect to the one person who actually understands. To them, they have no other choice they can make