It must be tough to convince soldiers to enlist in the Empire. Should you manage to avoid dying as a faceless Stormtrooper on the battlefield, climbing the ranks only means interacting with the galaxy's most ruthless and unpredictable warlords. Then again, enigmatic figures like Darth Vader might give new recruits the sense that adding their mass to the wad at the center of the Empire's clenched fist makes them part of something greater. Even if that "something" in this case is basically Space Nazis.
Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra isn't what you'd call gullible, but even she can't resist the thought of teaming up with the Dark Lord of the Sith. And as it turns out, Vader has uses for an Indiana Jonesy puckish rogue (minus the heart of gold). And the Doc is all for it.
Doctor Aphra and Darth Vader work together through most of writer Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca's run on the comic, and above all of their adventures hangs a dreadful sort of cloud. These stories are set just after A New Hope, and we as readers know that Doctor Aphra does not appear in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi or The Ewok Adventure. We also know that Vader has a habit of murdering suboordinates who fail him when he sends them out on impossible missions, so getting choked out is less of a danger and more of an inevitable fate of every lackey that's ever worked under a Sith. It doesn't look good for the bad doctor.
But like I said, Aphra's not gullible. Only a few issues into the comic, she brings up the fact that we all know how this is going to end.
Someone as crafty as Aphra had to know she was doomed the moment Darth Vader asked her to help with clandestine operations. We're talking stuff like stealing a fortune from the Empire to build Vader's own secret army, find some punk kid named Skywalker, you name it. Though Vader never explictly said "I'm totally going to murder you after you do all this dirty shit for me," he didn't have to. This working relationship was never going to end well.
Aphra explains that she knows that her time is coming sooner or later, and that in exchange for her service she'd be grateful if he'd consider a quick execution with a lightsaber, as opposed to a horrifying shunt out of an airlock. It kind of makes sense for someone in her position -- anyone who betrays Vader is going to get hunted down to the ends of the universe, so there's no use rejecting fate.
Much later, after their best-laid plans are finally laid to waste and everything is out in the open, Aphra feels like she has no choice but to rat out her master to Papa Palpatine. Vader does not take it well.
Vader's not wrong. He didn't promise Aphra that he wouldn't shunt her out of an airlock as casually as someone would hit flush in an airport bathroom. Despite not having a good look at his expression, one little thing tells us where Vader's head is at: He made sure to tell Aphra that he never promised anything. She's going to be dead in seconds, so if anything that seems more like it was Vader reassuring himself that this was a justified killing in his own petulant way. Darth Vader might be the grimmest, darkest, broodingest villain ever, but in his half-machine heart he's just a ill-tempered child.
Aphra, for her part, actually survived. She was picked up by her motley crew and spent some time in a bacta tank before making a full recovery and launching into her own ongoing series. This was the plan all along. Aphra knew that Vader would ensure his betrayer lived out her worst nightmare before she died -- and as it so happens, Doc had taken pains to plant that seed. She knew that Darth Vader was a vindictive monster who would kill her when she was no longer needed, and would not hesitate to be extra cruel should she cross him. You'd think that a Sith lord wouldn't be so easy to manipulate, but judging by how Palpatine managed to get away with it for decades, maybe Anakin's just a space-grade dingus.
It wasn't ever hard to figure out who you should root for in the Original Trilogy. From what we see in the movies, the Rebel Alliance is full of saints and scoundrels who then become saints, and the Galactic Federation is a bunch of evil old dudes and their horde of identical, soulless killing machines. The Clone Wars on the other hand, are a little... different.
If you remember, The Republic is full of good guys like Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi Council, but they use Clone Troopers that are basically proto-Stormtroopers -- what's left after Order 66 becomes the evil Empire. Then there's the Separatists, who basically want independence from the Republic -- that would sound reasonable if they weren't lead by Sith lord Count Dooku. Then there's that part where Palpatine is pulling everyone's strings this whole time, pitting two of his armies against one another in order to gain the coveted Emergency Powers and eventually permanent control over the galaxy. The Prequels are a little confusing to watch, so you can imagine it makes even less sense to the people on the ground.
The Battle of Jabiim, written by Haden Blackman with art by Brian Ching and Victor Llamas, gives us one of the most harrowing looks into the steep cost of the future Emperor's machinations. The titular Jabiim is a neutral planet that is in the middle of a Civil War, and of course the Republic and the Separatists are taking sides in order to further their own gains (mostly getting the precious ore on the planet). Several Jedi are killed early in the story -- this includes Obi-Wan, who is falsely presumed dead -- not to mention thousands of clone troopers. The bodies are literally piling up.
High-ranking Trooper Alpha-17 suggests that the Republic just murder every political leader on the planet (this includes the popular leader of the insurgents), but Obi-Wan shoots him down. The good guys don't do that, right? The Jedi always do the right thing and play by the rules, you know, until the moment that there's no other way than to massacre all of their enemies. Alpha's suggestion is cruel but it is pragmatic, and would have probably ended in less bloodshed total.
But the battle waged on, and as more Jedi were killed, their Padawans were left behind to pick up the pieces. Eventually, the students themselves would all be killed, in increasingly horrible ways. These poor kids didn't even get to live to see Order 66.
After weeks of brutal battles and casualty after casualty, the final remaining Padawan manages to kill the Separatist leader with her dying breath. Palpatine orders Anakin and the rest of the troops to pull out the smoldering hellhole that is Jabiim, but there's a problem: The evac ships don't have enough room for the Jabiim loyalists. As in, the people who risked everything to back the Republic, the people who have been fighting and dying alongside the clones and the Jedi. Those loyalists.
Anakin threatens a loyalist with a Force choke, but since this is a younger Ani with a braided rat-tail, he relents before fully hulking out. Instead, Anakin has mercy and flies away with his squad of preteen baby soldier clones to leave the people of Jabiim to an unknown fate. That's the Jedi way, alright.
A lot of things have to go right for Luke Skywalker to fire off the torpedos that destroy the Death Star. Padme has to die during pregnancy, Obi-Wan has to decide to bring an infant boy to his tyrannical father's homeworld, droids who knew the tyrannical father have to drop on the exact spot on the exact planet where the boy was living, Han and Chewie have to be at the cantina at the right time for transport, R2 has to know how to shut down all the garbage compactors on the detention level and most importantly, every single Stormtrooper has to miss every single shot they make.
But if what if one tiny little insignificant thing went wrong? If it were the right tiny little insignificant thing, that could have ripple effects that would change the entire story. Let's say, if Luke's torpedos malfunction and fail to destroy the Death Star?
Remember, at this point in the movie, the Rebel base at Yavin IV is about to be obliterated by the Death Star, so blowing that moon-sized space station to oblivion is pretty dang key. Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope by Chris Warner and Drew Johnson takes us all the way through the epic saga if this one tiny little insignificant thing went catastrophically wrong. First up: Leia. She's on Yavin IV. The planet that's about to be decimated.
In a slight twist, the Empire decides not to completely destroy Yavin IV, but instead uses a precision strike (as seen in Rogue One) to level a large part of the planet, including the Rebel base. Leia somehow manages to survive this blast, and is taken hostage by Darth Vader. Luke is shattered, having boned the Alliance's big chance. He feels the weight of his failures as he jets off to Dagobah.
Meanwhile, Leia has been busy. While under the subtle influence of Palpatine and Vader, the other Skywalker begins to learn the ways of the Sith. By the time we flash forward five years later, Leia is high in the ranks of the Empire. This isn't some ploy of hers. She's really turned heel. That facist power fist doesn't lie.
After seeing the news on the space television, Han regroups with Luke, who has been training with Yoda this whole time. Upon completing his training, Luke learns the truth from his master: Darth Vader is his father, and Leia is his sister. Learning of your true heritage is uh, a little less dramatic when you're not armless and hanging over an abyss.
When the gang confronts Leia, she's already wielding a red lightsaber, ready to throw down. That's when Luke drops the family news, which apparently Vader hadn't caught on to this whole time.
This next part is probably the most familiar to Star Wars fans. When Luke and Leia refuse to fight and put away their weapons, Palpatine gives 'em the ol' lightning fingers. You can guess what happens next.
It's a little disappointing to see this wildly different universe play out in the same old fashion, but in a way there's kind of a beauty in that. Maybe it's the Force, or the microbial beings of which we dare not speak, but it's satisfying to see that this universe might bend out of shape, but it ends in the same place as the canon we know. It's almost like poetry.
Oh, there is one little thing that's different in this new ending. That's the part where Yoda hijacks the Death Star and smashes it into Palpatine's twisted old face.
Now this would be a Special Edition change I could get behind.
The "annual" is a cherished comic book tradition for a reason. Once each year, an annual gives ongoing comics an opportunity to tell a self-contained story, one that encapsulates everything about the series and its characters in one shot. Gillen and guest artist Lenil Francis Yu did a bang-up job on Vader's first such special under the Marvel banner, which sees the Sith Lord embark on a "diplomatic mission" that will hopefully/obviously go awry.
Still on the Emperor's shit list after borking the whole "don't let the Death Star explode" thing, Vader is the errand boy sent to the planet Shu-Torun. The King ruling the planet is seeming a bit iffy on being ruled with an iron fist, and Vader's job is to make their relationship with the Empire a bit more clear. When arriving on the planet, Vader is disappointed to find that Princess Trios was sent to greet the Empire's envoy, as opposed to His Majesty. Pay attention to the box that Vader is carrying in his left hand -- that'll come into play later.
As you and I and Jeff Ackbar know, this is most definitely a trap. That much becomes clear when Trios leads Vader into a room to play an impromptu game of The Floor is Lava.
Vader saw the Prequel Trilogy through his own eyes, so it's no surprise that he a) Knows he can cut through thick metal with his lightsaber and b) knows how to survive around magma.
At this point, Princess Trios is already beyond humiliated in defeat. She was offered up as a sacrifice by her own father, who would rather see Vader refried than find a way forward that didn't involve sending his daughter to her death. Not only was she sent to slaughter, the Princess failed in her mission. Vader doesn't even kill her, but instead just knocks her out.
When Trios comes to, the rest of the royal family has been slaughtered, and only she remains. As a final insult, Vader finally reveals what's in the box.
Dude lugged around a piece of the obliterated Alderaan for an entire issue, just so he could break it out at the right moment for maximum dramatic effect. It worked, too. Trios lives on as the ruler of her world, but with the knowledge that at any point, millions of Shu-Torun voices could cry out before being suddenly silenced.
It's a killer move by Vader, but at the same time iredeemably evil. Sometimes it doesn't feel great to root for the bad guy.
As a rule, the Star Wars movies have made a point to use genocide as a plot device without ever actually depicting the act itself. The destruction of Alderaan (not to mention a couple of Death Stars) puts the death toll of the series in the billions. But hey, this is family friendly entertainment, right? Can't exactly show dead bodies so numerous that they clog the sea in giant corpse mountains. Well, the movies can't. The comics, though, they have no problem showing the horrors of war in vivid detail.
The comic in question is Star Wars Legacy by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, and the victims are the fishpeople of Dac, otherwise known as Mon Calamari. You might know them as the "Admiral Ackbar species." Taking place over a century after the Original Trilogy, Dac sees a new band of Sith rise up to take on the incumbent good guys. One of their villainous schemes involves corrupting the entire sea of Dac with poison so deadly that one drop could kill you. Seeing as the Mon Calamari are often in contact with their water supply, the plot is unbelievably successful.
It should end there, but it doesn't. The next volume of Star Wars Legacy, by Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, manages to do what Star Wars rarely has: Show the lasting aftermath of a war with billions of casualties.
One of the characters in this volume of Legacy is Sauk, a Mon Calamari who was offworld when the poison hit. He doesn't know where his family is, or if they even managed to escape in time. The odds aren't good -- only 20% of Dac's 11 billion Mon Calamari avoided the poison.
To make matters worse, the galaxy has not been kind to Mon Calamari fleeing their dead world. Refugees like Sauk are treated like unwanted leeches, resented by the populace simply for trying to survive. It's a little too real.
During the course of the comic, Sauk finds himself back on Dac, which has an active ring-like station orbiting the planet. Though he had heard tales that Mon Calamari were making their way back to Dac on promising rumors of "renewal," it was all a ruse. Pirates had purposefully spread those lies in hopes of luring in hopeful refugees and enslaving them on the ring station. Their plan worked.
Something tells me Disney is never going to greenlight a Star Wars movie dark enough to depict the grisly details of genocide and its horrific aftermath. Just a hunch.