Review by Jamie McNeil
At the close of The Catastrophe Con Aphra discovered that her cellmate Lopset was not all he seemed. It’s pretty obvious he’s the kind of guy who likes to implant bombs and race against the odds on live video-cast in the name of science. Hard to miss that fact when she is racing across the planet Milvayne partnered with a droid that would happily flay her alive except she can’t move more than a few feet away from it. While Thankfully Triple Zero can’t harm Aphra at the moment thanks to some nifty reprogramming by said nefarious scientist, Trip doesn’t really see the point to life now. Keeping a homicidal droid from killing you is one thing, keeping a suicidal droid alive is much trickier. Complicating matters are The Coalition for Progress, the Imperial Propaganda machine pulling the strings on Milvayne’s strict society, two hunters who don’t normally kill but will make an exception for Aphra and a local who may or may not be an ally. Fortunately there is someone who can help Aphra, she just needs to get there alive.
Si Spurrier feeds in clever touches that add a new dimension to the Empire, and by default the story as well. It differs from the previous Doctor Aphra books by relying more on frequent plot twists and the subtleties of storytelling. There are still big bangs and amazing visuals, but it’s just that they aren’t the driver. Since taking over as series writer Spurrier has carefully found ways to explore Aphra’s growing conscience, introducing characters with personalities who balance her, like the equally smart-mouthed orphan Vulaada and the oddly paired Winloss and Nokk. Spurrier allows the cast to play against each other, Aphra’s limited scruples contrasting against Triple Zero’s obvious lack of them. Kieron Gillen’s written entertaining scenarios, but it became increasingly difficult to feel any sympathy for Aphra. She will still sell you up the river if it’s you or her, but at least now she feels bad about it and that makes her character more interesting. Emilio Laiso delivers on the art, and the gestures he crafts for each character help create the sympathy Spurrier is going for. He’s an almost effortless artist who infuses his cast with emotion, great on close-ups while still illustrating diverse settings.
This has enough nods to A New Hope to entice fans of the films in a pretty good story that whips along at a decent pace. A lot of the tropes, like the implanted detonation device and filming the drama that ensues, have been used elsewhere, but never in Star Wars, and while they may be familiar they’re well incorporated. Spurrier likes to take Aphra from one situation only to have her caught up in another. Just how bad? We find out in Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon.