Kelly Lynn Thomas takes us on an adventure alongside Dr. Aphra!
Self-proclaimed rogue archaeologist Dr. Chelli Lona Aphra is a lot like Indiana Jones—if his catchphrase had been “It belongs in an armory!” instead of “It belongs in a museum!” She’s also part mad droid scientist, part heartbreaker, part daredevil, and completely and utterly delightful.
Introduced in Marvel’s 2015 Darth Vader series by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, Aphra makes the jump to prose in a new audio drama, Doctor Aphra, written by Sarah Kuhn and performed by a full cast.
Aphra is the second Star Wars character to get the audio drama treatment, after 2019’s Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott.
While the Doctor Aphra audio drama is essentially a retelling of the character’s first storylines from Darth Vader and Vader Down, the new format and full cast, along with additional material, make it worth picking up even for those who’ve read the comics. For those who haven’t, Doctor Aphra serves as an excellent introduction to one of the most interesting and fun characters in the canon—who also happens to be Star Wars’ first out lesbian (although this wasn’t revealed until much later).
Presented as a recording of Aphra relating what is essentially her origin story—including her early childhood trauma, her romantic misadventures, and her disastrous attempts at being a “normal” archaeologist in a museum job—Emily Woo Zeller’s voice acting adds an entirely new layer to the character. Hearing Aphra tell her story in her own words and voice allows the reader to get more of a peek into her “soft feelings” than we’re able to see in the comics.
Aphra kicks off her story by relating the time she almost died—well, one of the times she almost died—and how Darth Vader (voiced by Marc Thompson) not only saves her, but hires her. The Emperor isn’t too happy with him after the destruction of the Death Star, so Vader has decided to gather his own resources outside of the Empire’s. This new relationship with the Sith Lord sets off a series of events that, you guessed it, also lead to Aphra almost dying. Many times.
Thankfully, Aphra has two droid companions to help get her out of scrapes. Triple-Zero (Sean Kenin) is a protocol droid who specializes in torture. BT-1 is an assassin droid disguised as an astromech, with more firepower than an IG unit. Both of these droids had been locked away because of their homicidal tendencies until Aphra liberated them.
Vader’s first task for Aphra is to help him gather a droid army, which kicks off their adventures together—some of which are more successful than others. Aphra knows that her clock is ticking as soon as she meets the Sith Lord, and Vader doesn’t have to tell her that failure won’t be tolerated (though he does of course, to be intimidating).
Throughout her narration, Aphra pauses occasionally to tell the listener about moments in her past, including her childhood and her relationship with her ex-girlfriend, Sanna Starros (voiced by Nicole Lewis). It’s in these moments that Doctor Aphra really shines. We get to see not only Aphra’s callous exterior, but her pain and her weaknesses along with her joys and loves.
This is also where the excellent voice acting comes in: the pauses and sniffles say as much as the words.
Speaking of the voice acting, fans of The Clone Wars will recognize Catherine Taber, who plays Padme Amidala in the animated series and Princess Leia in this audiobook. It was a bit strange to hear Padme’s voice for Leia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Taber as Padme; she just sounds nothing like Carrie Fisher. That’s a tiny nitpick though, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.
Perhaps my largest criticism would be that the ending felt just a tad rushed. I would have liked to spend more time in the last ten percent of the book, but maybe I’m just being greedy. Without spoiling anything, the conclusion is truly worthy of the brilliant but reckless Chelli Lona Aphra.
Thankfully, Aphra has her own comic book series to sate my desire for more chaotic neutral lesbian space adventures.
Overall, Doctor Aphra is an excellent addition to Aphra’s story, and a strong entry in the canon in general. It’s well worth five hours of your time, and I’m hopeful we’ll get more audio dramas starring my favorite rogue archaeologist. If Dooku: Jedi Lost is any indication, we can also expect a hardcover version of the book at some point in the future.
This is one Star Wars book that belongs on every fan’s digital (for now) bookshelf.