You won’t recognise one of Star Wars’ best characters even if you’ve watched every film in the franchise many times over. Because Doctor Aphra didn’t originate in the onscreen canon, she’s a new comic book addition to the Star Wars universe.
Doctor Aphra, or Chelli Lona Aphra, made her debut in Marvel’s Darth Vader comic book, but became such a fan favourite that in December 2016 she was given her own series.
It goes almost without saying (but let’s take a moment to say it anyway) that Marvel releasing a Star Wars comic centered around a non-movie character is a pretty big deal.
Doctor Aphra – and don’t call her Miss – is a self-proclaimed “rogue archeologist” with Han Solo-esque charm. So… She’s basically Indiana Jones. Except that as co-creator of the character Kieron Gillen notes, she has her “ethics inverted”. Case in point, in the past Aphra has worked for Darth Vader.
By the time her standalone story starts she has faked her own death and is back to doing what she does best; stealing-slash-legally procuring priceless artifacts because she’s an “archeologist." Except that in her trade, the black market features prominently, too. Her droid companions, 0-0-0 and BT-1, who are effectively the very evil versions of R2-D2 and C-3PO, join her in her thieving and general mischievousness.
This improves C-3PO immensely, obviously. He’s still a bit pompous, but this time around he’s got an unquenchable thirst for blood and a predilection for the best way to dismember the human body.
Doctor Aphra Vol. 1, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Kev Walker, starts with Doctor Aphra having barely escaped from Darth Vader, and trying to keep the fact of her survival from becoming interstellar gossip. It doesn’t help that Vader isn’t the only one hunting her; Aphra has debts.
With the Empire and bounty hunters on her back, Aphra is reunited against her will with her father, who is looking for something called the “Ordu Aspectu." With some deft exposition, we learn that the Ordu Aspectu was a faction of the Jedi Order many years ago. The faction was obsessed with everlasting life, so you’d be forgiven for having a bad feeling about this…
Doctor Aphra is a pleasure to read. The plot is pacey, and the dialogue is genuinely funny. Aphra herself is snarky, sarcastic and witty, but it’s the droids; 0-0-0 and BT-1, who get most of the best one-liners. Kev Walker draws some thrilling, lively action scenes, and colourist Antonio Fabela lends an appropriate gritty palette.
Structurally, introducing Aphra’s father means we get some backstory to her in-comic character development, which is a clever way to start the series. But perhaps the best thing about the new Doctor Aphra comic is the way that it isn’t drawn from the films.
This means the comic doesn’t have to be as reliant on known film plot points. Aphra’s story takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but because none of these characters have ever appeared on screen, there’s a lot more at risk. In this series, characters could be killed off without destroying continuity.
Doctor Aphra is another Star Wars story with a female lead. A female lead no less who is an archeologist, a little bit evil, and a whole lot likeable. The story may be taking place in a galaxy far, far away, but it feels very 2017.
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