What better way to endure the global pandemic than by snuggling down under your favorite blanket and turning on some Star Wars audio drama to listen to? One of the newest releases is here to allow you to do just that: Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is the second audio drama released under the current canon.
I had gone into a history of the Star Wars audiodramas when I reviewed the last audiodrama, Dooku: Jedi Lost. But to summarize, an audio drama is different than an audiobook. An audiobook is someone reading you a book that has been written, sometimes with music and sound effects, but generally it is just one person reading the story to you. An audio drama on the other hand is a full cast audio rendition of a story. Typically they are not meant to be released in print, but sometimes they are, like the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series of books, or the eventual release of the script of Dooku: Jedi Lost.
An audio drama is akin to watching a movie without the visuals. Therefore, the actors in the audio drama need to tell you everything that is happening “on screen”. Unlike a novel, where an author can describe things to their heart’s content, in an audio drama, everything you see or hear is described to you by the characters because there is usually no separate narrator. This is often clunky or awkward if not done right, and it takes a really skilled author to do it right.
I felt the previous (and currently only other) audio drama in the current canon, Dooku: Jedi Lost, handled these aspects well from a starting point. Could it be better, definitely, but they were working out the kinks. For Doctor Aphra, those kinks have been ironed out and the story is smooth as silk.
Doctor Aphra is written by Sarah Kuhn as an adaptation of the first 25 issues of Marvel’s Darth Vader comic book series, with a crossover into the first 25 issues of the main Star Wars comic book series that was running parallel to Darth Vader at the time. And although the audio drama is a full voice cast, it is probably 90% Aphra speaking throughout the whole thing, played by Emily Woo Zellar.
Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra is a breakout star of the new canon. In the Star Wars Legends canon, there were several characters that made the jump from comics to books, but so far in the new canon, we haven’t really had that sort of crossover. Since the new canon is heavily movie and TV focused, most of the new characters that resonate with audiences have first appeared in those mediums and are sometimes expanded upon in comics or books.
Not so with Doctor Aphra. She was first introduced in Marvel’s Darth Vader #3 comic from 2015 and exploded from there. She had appeared in most of the few beginning arcs of Darth Vader and the Star Wars comic line until being “killed off” in Darth Vader #25. After that, she got to star in her own comic series that is still going strong today, with events taking place after The Empire Strikes Back.
The character of Doctor Aphra could be described as a sarcastic, self-destructive, highly intelligent archaeologist who also happens to be gay. Doctor Aphra is the first major gay character in the Star Wars universe. Sure, there have been gay characters before and after her, but none that commanded the attention that she has received as the face of her own ongoing comic book series, crossing over into books and (hopefully) television someday.
The Darth Vader comic series was written by Kieron Gillen as a way for us, the readers, to see how Vader goes from the only survivor of the destruction of the Death Star, and basically the sole person left responsible for a major military catastrophe, to the powerhouse he was presented as in The Empire Strikes Back. And since his story was the focus, Doctor Aphra was mainly a side character, along with her homicidal droids 0-0-0, referred to a “Triple Zero” and BT-1, or “Bee Tee”.
Not so any longer. Doctor Aphra is the star of this audio drama, which takes the events of Darth Vader #1-25, Star Wars #1-25, and Vader Down #1 and presents them to us from her point of view. The setup is that Doctor Aphra is recording a journal of her adventures from the beginning of Darth Vader #3 from when we are introduced to her to Darth Vader #25, when she is written out of the series into her own series. We also get several flashbacks to her time at university. This is the most new material we get within the audio drama. We haven’t seen much of her time as a student before now (as far as I am aware) and it is really where the story gets its heart.
As my wife likes to say, all stories are love stories (yes, I know, not ALL stories are love stories, it’s a hyperbole). And this story is indeed a love story, down to the very grain of the story. You don’t realize it at first, but it slowly comes into its own, and they are not shy about presenting a lesbian love story in the Star Wars universe at all. Indeed, this is as pure a love story as you could get (well, as pure of one as you could get with highly homicidal, self-destructive, and self-centered main character). And it’s funny. The story is laugh-out-loud funny at parts.
I personally don’t recall the early comic series, since it has been four to five years since I read them when they came out, but this makes me want to go back and dive right back into them. Since the story is entirely from Aphra’s point of view, we skip over entire chunks of the story where Aphra was off doing other stuff and we follow her instead. We fill in the pieces of her story here and there while getting little nuggets of what was happening in the rest of the story. It’s an interesting storytelling style, and one where a listener would really need to go and read the comics to get the full story.
The acting here is superb. Besides Zeller’s perfect performance as Aphra, other highlights include Sean Kenin as Triple-Zero, Nicole Lewis as Sana Starros, and Marc Thompson as Darth Vader. These were the other largest roles in the audio drama, and each held their own perfectly. My biggest voice acting gripes were Luke’s voice, which seemed off within the context of the story. I’m not sure why, but it stood out to me, like it was audio taken from elsewhere and placed within the audio drama separately. And Leia’s voice didn’t seem right, which is super weird because she was voiced by Cathering Taber, who voiced Padmé in Clone Wars and has voiced Leia before.
As for the story, it retold much of the comic series, and that would probably be my biggest criticism: it wasn’t its own thing. I would have loved to have had a standalone story about Doctor Aphra. Was this one great? Yes, most definitely. But it is reliant on the comic series and I feel it could have been a great story by itself. Maybe like a standalone Indiana Jones-type quest. That would be fantastic. Regardless, I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Overall, this audio drama picks up what Dooku: Jedi Lost started and improves it 100 fold. They took the lessons they learned and presented a nearly perfect audio drama set within the Star Wars universe with a character who has quickly become a fan favorite. I would recommend that you go out and download this now and start listening to it immediately. Then perhaps pick up the comic series to fill in the missing details that the story bounced around. This is definitely one of my favorite stories of the new canon so far.