Star Wars: Doctor Aphra

Dr. Aphra teams up with Darth Vader himself in this audiobook original—an expanded adaptation of the critically acclaimed Marvel comics series, performed by a full cast.

Dr. Chelli Lona Aphra, rogue archaeologist, is in trouble again.

A pioneer in the field of criminal xenoarchaeology, Aphra recognizes no law, has no fear, and possesses no impulse control. To her, the true worth of the galactic relics she discovers isn’t found in a museum, but in an arsenal. This viewpoint has led to a lot of misunderstandings. After her latest plan goes horribly wrong, her roguish ways are on the verge of catching up to her, when suddenly Darth Vader, terror of the galaxy, swoops in with his lightsaber ignited, and…saves her life?

Don’t get her wrong—it’s not like she’s ungrateful. Sure, her new boss is a lord of the Sith. And OK, she may have just become a pawn in a deadly game being played by him and HIS boss, who happens to be the Galactic Emperor. And yes, the life expectancy of anyone who disappoints Vader can be measured in seconds.

But she’s back doing what she does best. She’s got a ship to fly, a heist to pull, and two unorthodox but effective metal buddies: Triple-Zero, a protocol droid specializing in etiquette, customs, translation, and torture; and BT-1, an astromech loaded with enough firepower to take down a battlecruiser. Together, they might just find a way to get the job done and avoid the deadly performance review that waits at its conclusion.

Just kidding. She’s doomed.

Doctor Aphra: Emily Woo Zeller
Boba Fett: Jonathan Davis
Luke Skywalker: Sean Patrick Hopkins
Triple-Zero: Sean Kenin
Sana Starros: Nicole Lewis
Maz Kanata: Carol Monda
The Emperor: Euan Morton
Leia Organa: Catherine Taber
Darth Vader: Marc Thompson

In the second original audio drama released by Penguin Random House Audio and Lucasfilm we step forward in the timeline from a pivotal time in the life of Count Dooku in Dooku: Jedi Lost to just after the destruction of the Death Star and the ‘hero’ of the piece, Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra. I throw quotation marks around the word hero very consciously, as Aphra is as much the hero of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra as Rene Belloq is of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Aphra is far from the villain of the piece, but if you’re looking for heroes then to paraphrase Sallah and Indy, you’re digging in the wrong place.

Equal parts Harley Quinn, Ace Ventura, Jenna Maroney and Chandler Bing, Doctor Aphra is the perfect character to follow on such adventures. Narrating in much the same way you’d imagine Lando Calrissian does in ‘The Calrissian Chronicles’, the story is told completely from her point of view, making her the hero of her own story. Equal to everyone she meets, she’s always on the lookout for the angle, or as she refers to it, the door. She’s dangerously sassy with Vader and Palpatine, backchats Han Solo and Leia, sweet talks Black Krrsantan and outsmarts Boba Fett and while it’s worth remembering that this is more in the vein of The Legends of Luke Skywalker story than the canonical comics upon which this five and a half hour audio is based, there’s no doubt that questionable morals aside, Aphra is a survivor.

Her brilliance also is in no doubt. Flashbacks to her university years, where she schooled with and fell in love with the future Mrs Han Solo Sana Starros show a wasted career in academia (which to be honest wouldn’t have been much fun for us readers / listeners), exchanged for a yearning for illegal adventure formed in even earlier flashbacks to her childhood years with her parents, her father keen for her to stretch her wings and assist him on digs, her mother determined to protect her. It’s the loss of her mother that really haunts her, even though she tries to bluster through it and scenes where she gives in to her emotions – recorded and encoded in case anyone else should hear them – are revealing. You never know whether the tears she sheds are genuine of crocodile, but there’s no doubt that behind the facade there’s an actual heart beating somewhere.

The performances are engaging. Emily Woo Zeller as Doctor Aphra leads the way. Sarcastic, deliberate in her barbs, a character very much enjoying the sound of her own voice, Zeller is pitch perfect as Aphra, relaying her infurious smugness and snark and wrapping it around a narrative that pleasingly bounces from future to past, and skimming through those Darth Vader and Star Wars issues upon which the story is based. Writer Sarah Kuhn does well adapting and working those plots into a cohesive story, littering the drama with all the cameos and supporting cast you’d expect. As ever, Marc Thompson is a standout with his imposing Darth Vader, all the sithly inflections in place. Much like Brock Peters from the Star Wars Radio play, Thompson isn’t attempting to imitate James Earl Jones, instead evoking the spirit of the dark lord as his mechanical rasp beats on. Sean Kenin as Triple-Zero is superb, a treat of a character who sounds like he stepped right out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy while Nicole Lewis nails it as Sana Starros. Sure, the romantic scenes between Aphra and Starros smack somewhat of a Mills and Boon novel, but the yearning of Aphra and the disdain of Starros surely tees us up nicely for a second audio adventure, this time hopefully an original tale that other media will spin off from rather than the other way around.

An enjoyable audiobook, Doctor Aphra is briefer than the usual 14, 15 hours an unabridged book might take, but it’s not a story that’s designed to be that length. This is a flighty dip into the life of Aphra, and from this first outing there’s certainly plenty of fuel in the tank to justify Sarah Kuhn and this cast doing more, hopefully next time with an original score to match.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Sarah Kuhn (Author) - Emily Woo Zeller, Jonathan Davis, Sean Patrick Hopkins (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/21/2020 (Publication Date) - Penguin Audio (Publisher)