Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Doctor Aphra Annual #1.
In the Star Wars world, Wookiees are a beloved but underappreciated bunch. Chewbacca paved the way for the species, acting as Han Solo's conscience and helping the crew out of many a tight spot. Later, George Lucas paid a far too brief visit to their home world of Kashyyyk in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Wookiees enjoyed further exposure during Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. Despite their generally noble bearing and overall impressive skill set, the race is often resigned to supporting characters – in part due to their grunt and snarl-based language, which makes for challenging communications sans subtitles.
However, from time to time, Wookiees get their chance to shine. Such is the case in the Kieron Gillen-penned and Mark Laming and Will Sliney-drawn Doctor Aphra Annual #1. One of the crown jewels of the current far-away galactic canon, Gillen’s Aphra book already explores a fascinating side of Star Wars, often left underdeveloped, as well as the depths of intergalactic interconnectivity. This time around, her colossal furry companion, Black Krrsantan, gets his own origin tale of sorts.
Gillen’s look at the mercenary furball is both fascinating and exciting – especially because he lets the Wookiee win.
A Fluff Piece?
The latest ongoing Doctor Aphra saga revolves around the good doc’s discovery of an ancient and apocryphal Jedi sect and its remnants, in particular, a computer-infused Force user named Rur. A reference to a previously non-canon story from ‘80s Marvel Star Wars, she and her father quested for the fabled Ordu Aspectu, discovering a computer-fused Jedi capable of controlling technology. Later, she teams up with a young Luke Skywalker to find a way to access Rur's crystal. Aphra's mercenary bearing broke down a little, though, and she helped Luke and his comrades escape from the Screaming Citadel. To recoup some lost time and effort, though, she decided to illicitly sell off the digital dark Jedi to the highest bidder. To do so, she'd need a little help with promotion: enter alternative journalists Dixnet Dat and Domthro Rus.
As two rising stars on the uncensored Undervine (“the number one alternative to the mainstream Holonet”), they’re looking for a good hook. What better way to suck in viewers and cement their reputations than by exploiting the exploitation of Wookiees – and Black Krrsantan is no slouch when it comes to atrocity. Of course, while they research their human, er, Wookiee-interest story, Krrsantan’s “agent,” Aphra and her murderbots, BT-1 and 0-0-0, break into the reporters’ ship to covertly advertise her artifact auction.
Meanwhile, the two newsies and readers are treated to an interesting bit of the dangerous furball’s history.
Born of Brutality
Following the rise of the Galactic Empire, many alien species found themselves victims of xenophobia. Emperor Palpatine found most aliens inferior, and as a result, few non-human species served in the Imperial military forces or rose to positions of prominence (Admiral Thrawn being one of the exceptions). The Empire also exploited planets like Kashyyyk for their raw materials – similar to Jedha in Rogue One, where they strip-mined the planet for Kyber crystals – and either enslaved its inhabitants or left them defenseless against slavers and other criminal elements.
Krrsantan was no different. Unlike the Rebel-leanings of other members of his species, he was already an outcast and maintained his mercenary attitude throughout the occupation. That doesn't mean he's pro-trafficking, though, as he sets a trap for a group of slavers, annihilating a number of murderous thugs in his search for the Xonti Brothers, who capture life forms and train them as pit fighters. He then allows himself to be captured.
The slaver brings Krrsantan to their base, where the Brothers begin their rigorous training, putting him and a gaggle of exotic species through brutal conditioning. Only several aliens survive the trials, earning the “honor” of training as champion fighters. In the process, Krrsantan also receives some light augmentation. Nothing obtrusive or cybernetic, but the Brothers add “skeletal enhancements and subdermal plating,” upping the amount of punishment he can give and take. After that, they sell him to fight bosses, who send him into battle.
The biggest surprise isn’t the black-furred Wookiee’s success in the “ring,” but his reaction to the Xontis’ treatment of him.
A New Spin on Wookiee Life Debts
The original trilogy was never forthcoming about why Chewie stuck with Han Solo. Over the years, fans assumed there was a deeper connection between them, but it wasn’t until the now-Legends stories that his obligation to Han was given a name. Canonically, the first mention of life debts is during Episode I: The Phantom Menace, when Qui-Gon Jinn saves Jar Jar’s life and subsequently explains the Gungan’s sudden loyalty to Obi-Wan (and viewers). Most recently, Chuck Wendig’s novel, Aftermath: Life Debt, dug deeper into Chewbacca’s debt, as well as porting Solo’s Imperial Navy past and Chewie’s liberation from the Expanded Universe into official lore.
Wookiee tradition and the Star Wars concept of life debts gained new facets in Doctor Aphra Annual #1. Black Krrsantan’s pit fighter origin also reveals a different take on the concept, suggesting the honor bonds work in both pre-established but also unusual ways. Gillen already suggested that the burly Wookiee looks after the good doctor to make sure she pays off her considerable debt to him – something she never seems able to do, and he doesn’t appear to pursue extensively, curiously enough. Towards the conclusion of the sham interview, Dixnet daringly berates Krrsantan for inserting himself into his own sob story.
After threatening to “peel [the] loudmouth wordsmiths,” he also imparts a curious nugget of Wookiee culture: rather than seeking revenge, he claims to owe the Xonti Brothers a life debt. He considers them responsible for creating his situation and reveals his intention to “repay them” in kind for altering his life. Although his reimbursement bears a distinctly ominous ring, perhaps Krrsantan simply means that someday he’ll find them and thank them with similar “changes.” But his tone (translated via the journalists) almost suggests a “death debt,” one which he’ll definitely make good.
Despite being one of Star Wars’ most recognizable and beloved alien races, Wookiees remain a fairly mysterious culture (barring the awful Life Day celebration from the Holiday Special). In past, secondary sources fleshed out their culture and traditions in some detail\, before being written off as non-canon Legends. Fortunately, comics like Doctor Aphra and novels like Aftermath: Life Debt are doing their best to reinstate the best parts of the Expanded Universe and add new aspects the curious species.
Hopefully, Gillen and others will be granted further leverage by the Story Group to explore Wookiees (and other curious cultures), especially since his work with Black Krrsantan has been illuminating and entertaining. These enjoyable moments add depth to the saga and will help fans appreciate Wookiees, or at least Chewbacca, as The Last Jedi and the Han Solo movie hit theaters over the next year.
Doctor Aphra Annual #1 is currently available.