Publisher: Random House Audio (Audio Drama – 21 July 2020)
Series: Star Wars
Script: Sarah Kuhn
Cast: Emily Woo Zeller, Jonathan Davis, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Sean Kenin, Nicole Lewis, Carol Monda, Euan Morton, Catherine Taber and Marc Thompson
Length: 5 hours and 35 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The most brilliant and conniving archaeologist in the entire Star Wars canon gets her own audio drama as author Sarah Kuhn and an exceedingly talented cast of audiobook narrators present Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, the audio drama.
Throughout the galaxy Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra is renowned as a criminal and bringer of chaos without peer, but in her own eyes she is simply an archaeologist and technology enthusiast, albeit one willing to sell her findings to the highest bidder. However, her latest venture is about to get her into the worst type of trouble, the sort that will haunt her for the rest of her incredibly short life. Attempting to steal a dangerous weapon from a restricted alien vault, Aphra finds herself surrounded and slated to die, that is until Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and overall badass suddenly appears and saves her.
Vader is engaging in a high-risk power play against the Emperor and Aphra has just become his most useful pawn, whether she likes it or not. Working as his agent, Aphra must utilise her skills as a con-woman, genius technician and criminal mastermind to help Vader achieve his goals: depose the Emperor and find his new obsession, the pilot who blew up the Death Star, Luke Skywalker. Determined to stay on Vader’s good side, Aphra, with the help of her two friendly murder droids, Triple-Zero and BT-1, helps her new master engage in all manner of shenanigans across the universe, including kidnappings, torture and elaborate heists. However, Aphra knows that all it will take is just one mistake or slip-up to earn her new employers’ deadly wrath. To avoid her inevitable appointment with Vader’s crimson lightsaber, Aphra will need to pull out every trick in her impressive arsenal if she is to survive. But can even the great Doctor Aphra outsmart Darth Vader and the entire Empire, or has the smartest woman in the galaxy finally met her match?
Well this is an exceedingly fun and entertaining entry in the Star Wars expanded universe which provides a new angle to the tale of Doctor Aphra. Doctor Aphra is an incredible and complex character who has only been recently added into the canon. Introduced in the opening issues the 2015 Darth Vader comic book series, Doctor Aphra served as a major supporting character for much of the series run, entertaining readers with her antics and ability to survive working for Darth Vader. Aphra proved to be an extremely popular character, and this resulted in the character getting her own comic book series (which ironically lasted more issues than the Darth Vader series she was introduced in). The Doctor Aphra series ended up being an amazing hit thanks to some exceptional writing and it is one of my favourite pieces of Star Wars tie-in fiction (make sure to check out my reviews for the last two volumes in the series, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon and A Rogue’s End), and there is even a second Doctor Aphra series on its way. It seems that Aphra’s popularity has continued to grow as earlier this year this Doctor Aphra audio drama was released, written by talented author Sarah Kuhn. This proved to be an exceptionally impressive audio release that does an amazing job bringing this fantastic character into an entirely new format. This audio drama has a run time of around five and a half hours, which listeners are able to breeze through in no time at all.
The Doctor Aphra audio drama contains an intriguing and captivating story that follows the character as she engages in all manner of adventures in service to Darth Vader and her own survival. Told entirely from the perspective of Aphra as she makes a series of recordings to an unknown person, and set shortly after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, this story follows Aphra through the entirety of her ill-fated association with Darth Vader. This employment places her in all manner of danger, as she completes a series of tasks important to Vader, including an elaborate heist; gets in the middle of a deadly conflict between Vader, one of his rivals in the Empire, and the protagonists of The Original Trilogy; and finds herself a prisoner of the Rebel Alliance before eventually attempting to manipulate the Emperor for her own ends. At the same time, Aphra is constantly balancing on a knife’s edge, as her beloved boss has made it abundantly clear that he will kill her the moment she displeases him. This forces Aphra into a number of tense and dangerous situations as she needs to convince Vader to keep her alive throughout the entire book. This struggle to stay alive adds a substantial amount of suspense to the audio drama, as the listener really wants this entertaining character to survive, and it eventually leads to an outstanding and epic conclusion. All of this proves to be an exceedingly captivating adventure, and listeners are in for an exciting and hilarious time, especially with Aphra’s entertaining and over-exaggerated narration of the events occurring.
While I did really enjoy the story contained within this audio drama, I do need to point out that it is not actually an original tale; instead it is an adaption of several canon comic book series, namely the comics that featured Aphra’s early adventures. The first part of the audio drama adapts most of the first two volumes of the 2015 Darth Vader comic series, Volume One: Vader and Volume Two: Shadows and Secrets. From there the story follows the course of the crossover limited series, Vader Down, before moving on to the events of the fourth volume of the 2015 Star Wars comic, Rebel Jail. Finally, the story returns to the Darth Vader comic, utilising parts of the fourth and final volume, End of Games. Doctor Aphra proves to be an exceptional adaptation of these comics although they only show off the events that Aphra herself witnessed or was a part of. I had an amazing time listening to this adaptation and I really enjoyed seeing several of the amazing events that originally occurred on the page being brought to life by this enjoyable performance.
People interested in listening to this audio drama do not need to have read the adapted comics first, as Kuhn provides Aphra with a great deal of narration that explains her role in the story and all the events leading up to the comics. As someone who has read the comics before listening to this audio drama, I found that there was a lot in this production for fans of the comic. I personally really enjoyed seeing these events from Aphra’s perspective (as the original comics mostly followed main characters such as Vader, Luke, Leia, and Han), and it was extremely interesting to see her thoughts on the various events occurring. The author also comes up with a lot of additional backstory that helps to enrich Aphra’s involvement in the narrative, which fans of the character will really appreciate. While I had a great time listening to this audio drama, I did notice that several events were glossed over, mainly because Aphra did not witness them occur in the comics. For example, you have no idea who is behind several of the battles or attacks that Aphra finds herself in the middle of, with Aphra herself giving limited explanations for them. While I knew full well what was going on, people who haven’t read the comics are going to be full of questions and this may make the audio drama a little confusing at times. That being said, this was still an outstanding and deeply enjoyable production, and perhaps it will encourage listeners to check out some of the adapted comics (trust me, they are awesome).
One of the best things about this audio drama was the way in which the narrative explored the complex and exceedingly likeable character of Doctor Chelli Aphra. Aphra is a clever, impulsive and chaotic rogue archaeologist who is obsessed with ancient technology, particularly unusual droids and dangerous weapons. Aphra is a wildly entertaining character who is essentially an amoral version of Indiana Jones that has no problems cheating or betraying people who she encounters, as long as she gets to hold onto the valuable antiques or can sell them for vast amounts of money (none of her loot belongs in a museum!). Aphra appears to have a relentlessly positive personality, providing the listener with a string of continual jokes and funny observations with an infectious amount of enthusiasm. However, deep down Aphra is actually a deeply damaged individual who has suffered a number of losses and betrayals that impact her current outlook on life and other people.
Despite the fact that Aphra is the very definition of an unreliable narrator (she literally deletes or edits the parts of the story she does not like to suit her agenda), I felt that this audio drama does an amazing job exploring this wily protagonist. Having Aphra’s inner monologue about the events occurring during this story proved to be not only entertaining but also very enlightening, and it showed some fascinating glimpses of her inner personality and emotional state. While much of Aphra’s story was previously explored in the comics that Doctor Aphra is based on, this adaptation does go a little further, pulling in some backstory that was introduced in the later Doctor Aphra comics and expertly working it into this narrative. Kuhn also comes up with some additional history that is unique to this production, including a number of scenes that explore her previous romantic relationship with Sana Starros. While this relationship has been mentioned and discussed in several of the comics, this is probably the most in-depth examination of it in the canon and it becomes an important part of the overall plot. I really enjoyed the way in which Doctor Aphra examined its titular protagonist and I felt that the story really captured her essence and outrageous personality.
This audio drama sports an amazing voice cast and each of them does a fantastic job in this production. However, I really must highlight the performance of Emily Woo Zeller, who portrayed the titular character. Zeller is an experienced and talented narrator who has contributed to a huge raft of audiobooks, including several I am quite interested in checking out, such as Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas. Due to how the audio drama is written, Zeller’s voice is the one we hear the most throughout Doctor Aphra, as she recounts all of the characters dialogue and the overall narration of this book. I really loved the way that Zeller portrayed the character of Aphra in this audio drama and I thought she got all the aspects of the character down perfectly. Zeller gives a particularly energetic performance throughout this adaption, and listeners get a real sense of the mischievous and over confident outer shell that Doctor Aphra portrays to everyone she meets. However, Zeller also captures the vulnerable nature of this complex protagonist, showing off the character’s full range of emotions when she is scared, angry or contemplating her many regrets. This rich and amazing performance from Zeller really helps to make this audio drama something special, and I am really glad that she was able to bring Doctor Aphra to life in such an exceptional way.
Doctor Aphra also makes use of several other impressive voice actors throughout this audio drama, each of whom are portraying major Star Wars characters who Aphra interacts with through the course of this adventure. This audio drama features a who’s who of Star Wars audiobook narrators, many of whose works I have previously enjoyed in a range of productions including the previous Star Wars audio drama, Dooku: Jedi Lost. These additional narrators include Jonathan Davis (who I previously enjoyed in Star Wars: Master and Apprentice and Lords of the Sith), Sean Kenin (Death Troopers), Euan Morton (Tarkin), Catherine Taber (Queen’s Peril and Queen’s Shadow), Marc Thompson (Thrawn, Thrawn: Chaos Rising, Dark Disciple and Scoundrels), Sean Patrick Hopkins, Nicole Lewis and Carol Monda. Each of these voice actors did an exceptional job of bringing their various characters to life throughout Doctor Aphra. I particularly enjoyed Marc Thompson’s Darth Vader and Euan Morton’s Emperor, as both voice actors brought some realistic menace to these iconic villains. Catherine Taber, who is best known for her portrayal of Padme Amidala in The Clone Wars animated series, does an excellent Princess Leia in this production, and I really appreciated the choice to cast her. Sean Patrick Hopkins does a really cool Luke Skywalker, and I was really struck by how close he got to a younger Mark Hamil’s voice. I also really enjoyed Sean Kenin’s Triple-Zero, and I felt he really captured the essence of this crazy character. Each of these side characters added a lot to the production as a whole and, while they were not as heavily featured as Aphra, each of them had their own entertaining moments and interactions. I particularly loved the threatening aura that Darth Vader exhibited towards Aphra, and there is also a very entertaining interaction between Aphra and Han Solo that results in some of the best jokes in the entire production. You also have to love the fact that Aphra ends up with a posse that essentially reflects the main characters from The Original Trilogy, with a protocol droid (Triple-Zero), an Astromech (BT-1) and a Wookie (Black Krrsantan). Of course, Aphra’s friends are all dangerous killers, which makes for some extremely entertaining and deadly encounters.
In addition to featuring an impressive voice cast, Doctor Aphra also features the full range of iconic Star Wars sound effects and musical scores that were made famous in the movies. Pretty much every action that occurs within the book is accompanied by a sound effect, whether it be blaster fire, the sound of engines or even a susurration from other people in a crowded room. I always love how these sound effects helped to create an atmosphere throughout the course of a Star Wars novel, and I felt that they were particularly useful for this audio drama format due to the lack of narration that a standard audiobook would have. I also have to talk up the excellent use of the incredible Star Wars musical score that features during several key scenes of the novel. Hearing this music during some of the most pivotal, dramatic or action-packed sequences makes the narrative seem that much more epic, and I absolutely loved hearing this music throughout this production. The use of the sound effects and music enhances the story in immeasurable ways, and it helps to turn this audio drama into an exceptional treat for the ears.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is an impressive and deeply enjoyable audio production that brings fan-favourite character Chelli Aphra into a whole new light. Cleverly adapting several amazing Star Wars comics, the Doctor Aphra audio drama features an interesting story from author Sarah Kuhn that shows the events from the perspective of the chaotic and duplicitous titular protagonist. Featuring an exceptional voice cast, Doctor Aphra proves to be an extremely entertaining and exceedingly addictive listen that I had a very hard time turning off. I personally think this was one of the best audio productions of 2020 and it comes highly recommended both to general Star Wars fans and to those who have read the adapted comics. I had an amazing time listening to this audio drama and I hope that they think about adapting the later Doctor Aphra comic book series next as there are some impressive storylines featured in there.