As the main Star Wars comic line is exploring the time in-between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, it has mostly explored the exploits of Luke Skywalker, for obvious reasons. But we also have been introduced to the Imperial Commander Ellian Zahra, who is sent to hunt down the fledgling Rebellion.
Who is this Commander Zahra? We finally got more information in the latest issue of Charles Soule’s series (issue #7), as the curtain is peeled back and we understand who Zahra is and where she came from.
Let’s dive into the review – and as always, full spoilers lie ahead!
The issue starts with the fourth division of the Rebellion, led by Princess Leia Organa, Commander Luke Skywalker, and Commander Grek, being contacted by the seventh division with rendezvous coordinates. These coordinates are intercepted by the Imperial fleet led by Commander Zahra, who initially wants to go after the fourth division until her officers persuade otherwise. Zahra has a personal score to settle with Organa, and then the issue jumps to a series of flashbacks from years earlier.
On Eriadu, Grand Moff Tarkin speaks with three young Imperial cadets. Tarkin needs a protege, and these three had received help from him during their time at the Imperial Academy. These three also don’t have any family ties and are among the best in their class, and Tarkin commissions them on a mission in the Carrion Plateau (for which his ship, the Carrion Spike, is named), to hunt an albino Veermok and bring him its head. The next day, Zahra returns with the veerkmok’s head, alone. She tells Tarkin that she knew he sent them out to hunt three targets – not just the veermok, but the other two cadets as well. She killed them and the veermok, establishing herself as the worthy protege to the Imperial Grand Moff.
The issue then gives a series of moments with Zahra as Tarkin’s protege. There’s a moment with Tarkin and Director Krennic butting heads about the Death Star project. There’s a moment where Zahra (as Tarkin looks on) interrogates a Rebel prisoner. There’s a moment with Tarkin and Darth Vader discussing Zahra. She spent years as Tarkin’s apprentice (or, as Vader calls it, his “foundling”).
One day, Tarkin sends Zahra to Ikkruk, to hunt a warlord named Burnium Ro, who is identifying with the Nihil. Tarkin orders Zahra to bring him Ro’s head. Zahra takes the Carrion Spike to Ikkruk and uses probe droids to find Ro’s location, totally decimating the warlord’s hideout with an aerial assault. Upon returning to Tarkin on the Death Star, however, Zahra is met with disapproval from the Grand Moff. Tarkin explains that he asked for Ro’s head (which Zahra failed to bring) and shares a hologram of Ro using the attack to garner support. He was alive. Zahra had killed one of his decoys. Tarkin’s disapproval is evident.
One week later, when Zahra attempts to talk with Tarkin in his office, she is barred by the officer at the door, by orders of Grand Moff Tarkin himself, and she is ordered to report to reassignment. Recognizing what has happened, Zahra heads to a hanger to try to take a ship. A stormtrooper stops her, saying the shuttle is needed since the Death Star is under attack, but Zahra steals it and leaves. She prepares a message to send to Tarkin, explaining that she is heading off on a mission to earn back his favor, but while she is recording it the Death Star blows up.
Cutting back to the present day, Zahra’s fleet is battling the Rebel’s seventh division when the fourth division, led by the Millennium Falcon, emerges from hyperspace to help. Zahra smiles and orders a boarding party prepared.
So far, this comic series has focused quite heavily on Luke Skywalker – which is a good thing, given that finding out where he’s at in the immediate aftermath of the devastating events of The Empire Strikes Back is the top priority. This issue, however, goes completely away from that storyline and gives us background on Commander Ellian Zahra, whom we have seen previously but didn’t know much about. We knew that she had a personal score to settle with Princess Leia Organa and that she had some personal connection to Grand Moff Tarkin (her Star Destroyer is named Tarkin’s Will in memory of those lost on the Death Star). But there’s been mystery as to who exactly she is and what’s motivating her, so it’s cool to peel back the curtain in this issue and explore who this new Imperial officer is.
Zahra’s life is one of tragedy. She lost her parents in a terrorist attack when she was young, joined the Empire and eventually became Tarkin’s protege, but then was cast off by him. Before she could prove herself to him, he was killed on the Death Star, leaving Zahra continually filled with rage and vengeance. It is very interesting having a character so closely connected with Grand Moff Tarkin in this story, as that helps connect things to the influential Imperial whose overconfidence was his weakness. Furthermore, it gives things a personal stake. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader obviously already have that personal stake well-established, but now we get Leia Organa and Ellian Zahra.
I’m guessing that the reason Zahra holds such a grudge against Leia (and not, say, Luke, who actually blew up the battle station) is because Leia was the one who got the stolen plans into the hands of the others. Without her, things would have fallen apart – the efforts of Rogue One would have been in vain, and Luke never would’ve gotten the chance to blow up the Death Star. So I’m guessing that’s why Zahra holds it against Leia, but I also wonder if there might be more to the story there to further explain things with that personal grudge. But we don’t need any further explanation to recognize the tragedy that has befallen Zahra and realize that she is motivated by revenge against the Rebellion. Because of this she will stop at nothing to destroy them – and in particular, to destroy Leia Organa. This is evidenced by the fact that she initially wanted to go against logic and attack Leia’s division, but the issue ends with Leia’s division arriving to the battle anyway. That sets up the conflict heading into the next issue, and it will be interesting to see Leia and Zahra (presumably) meet.
I really enjoyed this issue, as it gave us the backstory of Commander Zahra, but also brought back Grand Moff Tarkin. That’s always great to see! One other thing of note is that the criminal Tarkin sends Zahra to kill, Burnium Ro, is seen as particularly dangerous by Tarkin because he is claiming association with the Nihil. In Tarkin’s words:
“This man Ro is utilizing rhetoric and imagery associated with an obsolete criminal organization known as the Nihil. At one point, this group wreaked great havoc across a wide swath of the galaxy. They were agents of chaos.”
This is most interesting, because the Nihil are (as far as we know) the primary villains of the High Republic era. Charles Soule, who writes this comic series, is one of the authors tackling that major publishing project, so this is a fun tease and connection to that! We’re told that they caused great havoc and chaos, and obviously they were noteworthy enough that they are still remembered years later. It’s a fun connection to an upcoming era of Star Wars storytelling!