Doctor Aphra: How Marvel Made a New Star Wars Star | CBR

The Star Wars Universe is full of compelling protagonists, but there’s always been something different about Doctor Aphra. When she debuted in Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader #3, she made a distinct impression as a character who was morally flexible, feisty, mostly unafraid of the Empire and combined Indiana Jones’s academic knowledge with the trickster survival skills of peak Han Solo.

And thanks to all of those traits, Aphra has become the unrivaled breakout original character of Marvel’s corner of the Star Wars Galaxy.

In her first appearance, Aphra welcomes a sulky Darth Vader into her private office, tells him that she’s a big fan, and works with him to reactivate Triple Zero, a decommissioned droid specialized in protocol and torture who looks like a goth C-3PO before waking up BT-1, a murder-droid camouflaging as an R2-D2-like astromech.

In-universe, Vader met Aphra right after Luke shot the first Death Star to smithereens, and the joy of their interactions stems from the contrast between Vader’s approaches to Aphra, Luke and Leia. Vader never lost his appetite for destruction, but he tolerates Aphra’s irreverence and chaotic nature more than he accepts incompetence from Imperial officers. Similarly, as Aphra’s family life is revealed, the reasons for her willingness to work with the Empire and her admiration for Darth Vader become more clear and understandable. The Empire rescued her after her mother died on a forgotten planet, while her dad was lost in the study of ancient Jedi texts. This is not to say that Vader and Aphra establish any kind of filial relationship by a mile — but it’s the closest that Star Wars fans might get to imagining Vader with Luke and Leia’s dark mirror image.

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However, Doctor Aphra’s career soon diverged from Vader and her family. In 2016, Aphra got her own series, which gave her a niche of her own and drew fans en masse to read her adventures. Her job description was perfectly in-sync with fandom: she was a galactic archeologist unearthing artifacts from the mysterious past of the new canon in a galaxy where the Expanded Universe had become obsolete. While Aphra’s preferences were droids and weapons, she kept coming in contact with the technology of ancient Jedi ruins –like the ambiguous Ordu Aspectu sect — and crossed paths with Luke, Han and Leia, usually to trip them up. In a pitch-perfect 2017 storyline, Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel even brought Aphra and the original Star Wars stars together for a gothic horror space adventure.

In both her solo series and her adventures the series’ established stars, Doctor Aphra was a commercial and critical success, regularly drawing praise for being a highlight of Marvel’s Star Wars line. She was young, modern, complex, diverse and, most importantly, completely unpredictable, even to herself. Aphra’s on-and-off romance with Imperial Officer Magna Tolvan also helped normalize queer couples in the Star Wars universe, something that had been sidelined (or straight-up censored) for a very long time, notwithstanding a handful of romance paths in Knights of the Old Republic.

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However, the fact that Aphra and Tolvan were two women in love was not the most interesting part of their dynamic. Both of them showed readers the key skills to survive as a normal person under the Empire — Aphra as an academic con-artist convinced that rules don’t apply to her and Tolvan as a career officer who knows how to work within the system. While they rarely succeeded, their defeats were mainly the fault of their own terrible tactical decisions, particularly in Aphra’s case. For instance, Aphra’s insistence in auctioning a rare Jedi crystal containing the corrupted AI of a sect leader takes such a bloody turn that the best possible outcome involves Darth Vader’s arriving to clean up the mess.

While the first Doctor Aphra series finished up last year,  Alyssa Wong and Marika Cresta are kicking off Aphra’s next wave of adventures in Doctor Aphra #1,  which is set right after The Empire Strikes Back and finds the Empire clamping down on outlaws and rogues in addition to the Rebels. In the series — which has already launched digitally —  Aphra will scramble to find an ancient artifact with the help of a new crew in a race against Ronen Tagge, an incredibly wealthy Canto Bight citizen who would even make Darth Momin’s blood boil.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #1 is written by Alyssa Wong and drawn by Marika Cresta, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Joe Caramagna.The first issue is now available digitally and will be available physically on May 27.

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Doctor Aphra may not have appeared in a Star Wars movie or TV show, but she's Marvel's most exciting contribution to the Star Wars Universe.

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