A few weeks ago, I was given a task. A friend of mine had asked me to help them get into Star Wars. Front to back. Start to finish. For years they had heard me murmur and hyperbolize about how the Disney merger was the worst thing to ever happen to me, and finally, they had decided to dive into the franchise that at one point saved my life. After hours of watching all nine films, they got back to me. They expressed how they could see my quarrels with the sequel trilogy, but also understood why I loved it so much. At its core, Star Wars is about love. The love that we share with one another, and the family it creates with it. This was something I’ve always looked for in stories, and it also helped my friend understand why it was so important in my life. But the question had to be asked, one that I knew was coming. “If you dislike it so much now, why keep up with it? What’s there to look forward to?” I’ll be honest, for a moment I was speechless. It was only until I remembered a certain space archaeologist that my answer became as clear as it could get. Allow me to introduce you all to the lovely Doctor Aphra.
Amidst all the media published after the Disney merger, Star Wars comics have remained the most consistent in quality. Jason Aaron and Charles Soule, (just to name a couple) have all done an exceptional job at telling individual stories that keep the core of Star Wars alive. However, there also lies my problem. What Marvel comics are doing is great, but building upon already established icons is not anyone’s idea of progressive. The truth is, characters like Vader, as amazing as he is, can often feel oversaturated at times. What the Star Wars canon needed was something, and someone, new. An idea that not only kept the heart of George’s vision alive but also instilled hope in readers such as myself, who were looking for a new step in the right direction. That is where the marvelous Doctor Aphra came into play.
Aphra was originally created as the deuteragonist in Kieran Gillen’s Darth Vader (2015) comic. What immediately grabbed my attention about this run (and Aphra) was how the story was structured. The book needed a narrator, someone who could be a voice to keep the plot progressing. Vader, who we all know at this time to be incredibly cold and distant, can’t exactly do that. The former Jedi turned Sith is not one for many words, which keeps the audience at a distance. Luckily Gillen had a solution to this. What if there was a character who was written as a counterpart to Vader? One who was not only incredibly outspoken but could also help slowly give us a look at the Sith behind the mask.
That is where Aphra came into play, and it’s also the same place where I fell in love with her character. However, I was not the only one who felt this way. Aphra would eventually skyrocket into stardom in the comic community, eventually taking the lead in her own mainline series. Gillen’s Aphra book would run for almost three years, all while becoming a market success in the meantime. The series took an even further dive into Aphra’s character and would eventually touch on a subject that Star Wars readers rarely get tired of, the morally gray.
I have always come to Star Wars as a means to escape. Being someone who suffers from depression, I can’t tell you the number of times where this escapism lifted a burden that could not be explained. With stories and messages from every corner of the galaxy, there always seemed to be something I could take and carry with me in my everyday life. This is where the use of morality (and Aphra) has benefitted me the most. On the surface, Star Wars may seem incredibly black and white. A large cast of characters constantly moving with a vocation. However, one of the best aspects of Star Wars is when we are introduced to characters who don’t particularly fit on either side. Aphra is someone who follows no particular code. In the heat of a war against the empire, there is only one team Aphra is on, and that is her own, and that’s okay!
What drives her interests is what sets the foundation in making her such an excellent character. It’s not just blatant selfishness. Behind all the good and evil that she does, you will find there is one thing she is chasing the most, and that is a desire to die. The greatest risk comes with the greatest reward. At her core, she is a product of her environment, one that we don’t see often in the Star Wars universe. By the time she’s first introduced, she had already been to every corner of the galaxy. That’s what being an archaeologist is all about, meeting and learning about the world around her. She has encountered characters from every side of the spectrum.
This isn’t just a place of good and evil. This is a universe where everyone is chasing their own desires, and no matter what side you are on, betrayal and deceit can always occur. You can even see this in her very first appearance. What has always made this moment so interesting to me is that it is written as if she is thanking Vader for introducing her to the world. Working for Vader is the closest she will ever come to what she wants, so much so that she even tells him how she would like to go out.
What I’ve always wanted from Star Wars is risk. We are at a point in the franchise where the legacy of George Lucas has already been written. Nothing will change the time and home we’ve been given, but now I would like a step in a different direction. Representation has been regarded with great importance in today’s media. To be completely honest, the reason I believe Aphra has been able to take the world by storm is because of how organic she can truly be. At her core Aphra is human. She wakes up every day not knowing what the next will bring. She makes mistakes, feels bad, and still deals with genuine conflict. Aphra, like both you and I, still seeks catharsis in the things she loves. It’s again something that I would never expect to see take place in Star Wars. A space archaeologist who has decided to chase artifacts with her incredibly evil droids. Someone who isn’t a major piece of plot in the grand plot of the galaxy. She isn’t right or wrong. She just is, and that is what makes her so good.
There first thing I would tell you to do if you’re unfamiliar with Aphra is to check out her books, starting with her in the 2015 Vader run. She also just recently had an omnibus printed of her first solo book by Gillen, which is totally worth your time and support. If you haven’t been a fan of Star Wars recently, give her a look. Only time will tell what the future of the good doctor is, but one thing is certain. It can still become very bright, we just have to place faith in our ideas. Money and business aside, that’s what Star War is at its foundation. George had a story that he wanted to share with the world. A story about family and forgiveness. One that required risk and sacrifice, just as this character did. So here’s to more risk, in hopes that it gives birth to more fruitful characters like the wonderful Doctor Aphra.