[WARNING: Contains SPOILERS for Doctor Aphra #1.]
Admittedly, the rise of Doctor Aphra took place many months ago, when scribe Kieron Gillen first dropped the eye-rolling archeologist into his epic run on the Star Wars: Darth Vader comic. The Costello to Vader’s Abbott, the Kevin Hart to his Rock, Aphra shone as an amusing counterpoint to the Sith Lord’s no-nonsense style. The first breakout from Marvel's popular reentry into the galaxy far, far away, the doctor's rise to prominence allowed her to become the only Star Wars comic book character to earn a solo book.
Doctor Aphra #1 picks off shortly after the conclusion to Darth Vader. Faking her own death allowed her to escape from the dark lord without any Imperial entanglements for the moment, but that doesn’t mean she’s running free and clear. With debts piling up and crime bosses hungering for a return on their investments, she rests her hopes on a major, risky dig.
Digging Up the Past for Fun and Profit
Running her starship, the Ark Angel, on fumes and fleeing from scores of bill collectors, Doctor Aphra heads to the Outer Rim in search of her next big score. With the help of another shifty treasure hunter, Ulbik Tan, she heads deep beneath the Cosmatanic Steppes in search of a cultural artifact – one which could repay her obligations in a big way. Of course, her partner has other ideas, double-crossing her and leaving her for dead. For someone who outwitted the mighty Darth Vader, though, surviving a two bit scumbag doesn't hold much of a challenge.
After disposing of the treacherous Tan, she heads back to the city and her ship, filled with her diabolical androids 0-0-0 and B-T1, and of course, her biggest creditor, Wookiee cohort Black Krrsantan (a fun contrast to Han and Chewie’s life debt arrangement). Unfortunately, the crew isn't alone, as a representative from a criminal syndicate, Soo-Tath, arrives flanked by two Gigorans – who were first introduced in the 2014 mobile game Star Wars: Commander and will make their cinematic debut in Rogue One: A Star Wars story.
With a number of criminal organizations and mercenaries seeking to collect on Aphra's debts, Soo-Tath is the first to find her. Despite a childish (if highly-amusing) attempt at misdirection on her part, the intergalactic thug seems adamant about immediate repayment. Aphra weasels her way out with promises of a quick turnaround on the artifact and a return trip, but not before Black Krrsantan has a chance to whomp on the two Gigoran bodyguards – further cementing Wookiee badassery in the Star Wars universe.
As a parting word of caution, though, Soo-Tath threatens to reveal Aphra's continued existence to the Empire. Although she doesn’t seem too worried, her twisted Threepio-like companion, Triple Zero doesn’t cotton to coercion. He and his companion, Bee Tee, follow the tall-hatted hoodlum into a tavern, assaulting him in the restroom with a needle full of toxin.
Much like their role in the Darth Vader series, the gleefully sadistic robots continue to put a fun spin on the prevalent droid-companion theme in Star Wars. They also act as wild cards to keep Aphra on her toes. With one adversary eliminated (possibly setting up future problems) and a purloined statue, Aphra heads to cash in her prize, until her big plan hits a snag.
Not So Fast, Doctor Aphra
Aphra and able crew arrive at Archaeo-Prime, hoping to sell off her find for big money and fabulous prizes. Unfortunately, it seems she can't legitimately sell the artifact because the Archaeological Association has suspended her doctorate. True, she did earn her degree through subterfuge – as the second short story, which delves into her collegiate days, explains. Without official certification (and the major cash-infusion it would bring), she mopes her way back to the Ark Angel, frustrated by the diminished returns and puzzled as to how the guild discovered her bunk credentials.
As Aphra and Triple Zero discuss her situation, a voice chimes in from the peanut gallery, explaining that he's responsible for exposing her fraudulence. Aphra spins around to find her own father, who appears to be some sort of cosmic monk or religious figure. Apparently, he ratted her out to the authorities for the sake of her personal growth. At this point, Aphra isn't feeling particularly enlightened.
Indiana Jones for Star Wars
Naturally, a camera-winking (so to speak), wit-dispensing scoundrel with a Wookiee companion invites Han Solo comparisons. While valid, Aphra's true nature is something more akin to Harrison Ford’s other LucasFilm superstar, Indiana Jones. Both characters share an affinity for skirting the fringes between legitimate archeology and theft – a line which, in Aphra’s case, constantly trends toward the seedy side. Both rogues also enjoy a shifting set of allegiances and a strong core of somewhat loyal cohorts to play off.
In the long run, though, Aphra has something Indy lacks: she genuinely prefers operating in the shadows. Indiana Jones maintained a respectable life as a swooned-over professor when he wasn't playing action hero and dancing with the dark side (for the benefit of science, of course). Aphra, on the other hand, is the flip-side: dipping her toes into heroics from time to time in the name of survival or profit. Of course, as Gillen peels back the layers – this is only the first issue of her solo (pun sort of intended) run, after all – more of her flaws, quirks, and facets will be revealed. It’s only a matter of time before we discover whether her inner core is warm like Tauntaun guts or as icy black as space.
All comparisons aside, though, what genuinely makes Aphra memorable and her series risky is its disconnect from the overall morality of the saga. We secretly want to believe (in that distinctively dualistic nature of ours) that she doesn’t have a heroic side, while simultaneously hoping she's a ‘smuggler with a heart of gold’ type all along. Also, as an original Star Wars character spun-off into her own series, any one of her allies, as well as Aphra herself, could easily become a casualty to the plot.
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Doctor Aphra #1 kicks off the latest Star Wars comic saga. As with his work on Darth Vader, Gillen’s blend of witty banter and action are perfectly suited for the character and the galaxy at large. Fans who grew to love the doctor during her time with Darth Vader will appreciate her even more as she comes into her own. Kev Walker’s distinctive line work, imaginative creatures, and emotive characterization also bring the far-away galaxy to vibrant life and offer the perfect follow-up to Salvador Larroca's stellar artwork on Vader.
If Doctor Aphra continues her win streak, it’s only a matter of time before she crosses over into the Star Wars universe as a whole. For now, the next chapter is all about finding out how Doctor, er, Ms. Aphra gets her credibility back, as well as how her dear old dad ties into her past, present, and future. I, for one, can't wait to dig in.
Doctor Aphra #1 is currently available online and in print. Doctor Aphra #2 arrives on December 21.