The Star Wars “female Indiana Jones” is one of fan-favourite characters – at least among comics-readers. Now, her adventures are presented also for other readers in the form of an audiobook, titled simply “Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original”.
Doctor Aphra is an expanded adaptation of the successful comic series, and it is performed by a full cast. Aside from Emily Woo Zeller in the main role, it includes also established names like Euan Morton (Dooku in Dooku: Jedi Lost, Sith Inquisitor in SWTOR), Catherine Taber (Mission Vao from KOTOR, Padmé in TCW), or Marc Thompson in the role of Darth Vader. The story is written by Sarah Kuhn, the author of urban fantasy superheroine series Heroine Complex.
…Comics Into An Audio Book?
Disney stated that making the audiobook was directly inspired by the success of Dooku: Jedi Lost audiodrama last year. But it may be surprising that Disney picked a comic story to convert into an audio book, of all things. There is a very specific intention behind all this: to introduce Aphra to larger audience.
This motive is certainly a good one. Aphra is a highly popular character, but at the same time, she has been limited to a very small niche. Even if you are a hardcore fan who reads novels, plays games and watches TV shows, you may not be aware of her existence. However, among those who know her, she certainly occupies a solid spot among top ten SW protagonists.
Aphra is an original character and her story is highly entertaining. At the same time, she plays on some classic Star Wars tropes, as well as paying homage to another Lucas’s major saga – Indiana Jones. She is an archaeologist, an outlaw, all this during the time of the Empire. Her story begins as she is asked to help Darth Vader unearthing some of the Galaxy’s dark secrets. In particular, she activates two murderous droids – kind of evil, psychotic versions of R2 and C3PO – which sets her on a somewhat self-destructive course.
In the comics, various characters from Vader himself, through Doctor Evazan to Hera Syndulla have made their appearances. I am clearly not the only one who found myself thinking at times that it was a pity that she remained confined to the pages of a comics.
Is This A Good Thing?
Nevertheless, I remain somewhat torn in regards to whether it was a good move to devote the time and resources to Star Wars: Doctor Aphra.
On the one hand, this is wasting resources on recreating an existing story instead of making something new. We could have had another amazing drama like Dooku: Jedi Lost – about young Obi-Wan or young Padmé, something filling a thus-far blank space. Moreover, transforming – of all things – comics, a fundamentally visual medium, into an audio-only medium is perhaps the most daring task of all.
On the other hand, precisely because Aphra existed only in a comic, this truly unleashes her from the fetters of comic books. If there are fans who for whichever reason like all media except for comics, or fans who – for example even for medical reasons – simply cannot read them, now they have a chance to get to know Aphra. In this sense, the audiobook is a great move.
Connecting Two Worlds
Last but not least, for a long time, Aphra has been separated from the “mainstream SW canon” in more than one way. She was a female protagonist, she was the first openly lesbian protagonist, she was a person of colour. It resonated with the audience and certainly played a part in her popularity. The way she turned out to be, it seemed almost like a caricature – ticking all the boxes for diversity – however, she still existed only in her safe space, quite far from the mainstream where Darth Vader and Han Solo were still the standard models for what a SW protagonist should look like.
I had long time feared that if Disney continued in this trend, it would eventually create two diverging worlds. One, the “normal” (and normative) SW fandom, where the standard setup of a lone gunslinger on Tatooine or a noble warrior with a lightsaber would never change. And on the other hand, the “queer” (in all senses of the word), niche world with queer people of colour, but also with murderbots and supervillains who conduct inhumane experiments – essentially, with everything the “mainstream” would not accept because it would be too different, too far from what the presumed traditional audience expects.
Therefore, if Aphra audiobook represents the opposite trend in Disney – to actually bring these worlds closer – then it is only good. I would very much wish to see these world blend in an organic manner than to watch them grow apart and become self-isolated islands, one too stagnant and the other drifting too far to resemble Star Wars at all.
The question still remains whether different media would not have been better. After all, it is not like audiobooks make particularly large part of SW fandom. With Dooku: Jedi Lost and now Doctor Aphra, Disney may be on a mission to change this and give audiobooks more prominence. However, they could have perhaps waited with Aphra once SW audio dramas became more established. As it is, the number of readers introduced to her via this medium may not be so large.