Graphic novel review: Star Wars – Doctor Aphra (Vol. 1-2, issues 1-9) #StarWarsDay #MayThe4thBeWithYou

(courtesy Marvel comics)

There is a lot going on in the Star Wars universe (unless, of course, you are on of those people still mourning the killing off of the Expanded Universe in which case it is no longer quite big enough).

That is quite possibly because despite catching up with all the movies, and some of the series (The Mandalorian, Boba Fett etc) and a scattering of the books, I am still way behind on a franchise which I first encountered so many others in 1977 and which is now expanding at a streaming rate of knots with Obi-Wan Kenobi and a slew of other enticing series joining the canon at a furious pace.

It’s all very exciting as a long-time fan but it does make it all too easy to miss brilliant series like the Star Wars: Doctor Aphra comics which have been out and about since 2020 and are set to continue will into the second half of this year.

So, who is Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra you may ask, especially if like me, she has managed to evade your content-overwhelmed Star Wars self?

For starters, the archaeologist, who has the fun and swagger of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft but the dubious ethical inclinations of River Song (Doctor Who), was at one time in the employ of Darth Vader; not necessarily because she believed in the Empire’s bleakly authoritarian cause but because that is where the money was in the period covered by the middle three entries in what is now known as the Star Wars Saga aka the Skywalker Saga.

You soon discover that Doctor Aphra, whose father is a renowned archaeologist on the right side of the law, always going where money and opportunity are in the offing, and while she is not entirely without scruples, she is well known for betraying friends and associates to make a quick buck and doing whatever it takes to get her hands on saleable, rare artifacts.

Beating beneath that hardcore devil-may-care countenance is a thoroughly likeable character, however, who emerges quite quickly in the comic book series which takes place between the events of Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, when she takes on two missions, interconnected though they are, over the course of the first nine issues of the series.

(courtesy Marvel comics)

Sporting the highly appealing feel of movie serials of old, which makes sense since the entire Star Wars franchise has had a kind of golden years of Hollywood swashbuckling adventurous vibe from the beginning, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is a riot of fun which contains some rather tasty Easter eggs and which embodies the spirit of the first three, now middle three, movies in all their breathtakingly fun but intense glory.

Sweeping across the galaxy from Hoth, after a certain less-than-stellar battle for the Rebels to the exotically varied worlds of the Outer Rim to the glitz and glamour of Canto Bight where a gangster-y entrepreneurial family named the Tagges are doing very nicely, if criminally for themselves Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is a lot of action, fast, funny quips and immersion into a whole lot of Galactic lore.

Along for the ride with a very cheeky but sometimes vulnerably open and honest Dr Aphra, are a raft of accidental and deliberate ne’er-do-wells such as wookie Black Krrsantan (who makes a sizably furry appearance in Boba Fett), ambitious, ethically rubbery Detta Yao, former lover of Aphra and legitimate academic Doctor Eustacia Okka (on track for tenure at the Outer Rim’s Shadow University) and Just Lucky who may not be quite what he seems.

In a story that offers up lost cities, cursed artifacts, swashbuckling derring-do and bad guys and gals who swap allegiances like the rest of us change underpants, we’re treated to a rip-roaring race to find and retrieve artifacts, to face down peddlers of fraudulent flight drives based on ancient tech and the grim realities of galactic realpolitik which ae deftly woven into the narrative in a way that The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith never quite managed.

(courtesy Marvel comics)

What makes Star Wars: Doctor Aphra so enjoyable to read is that it feels like Star Wars at its very core – seriously intense when it comes to the battle between good and evil, which let’s face it is always enthralling but also wisecrackingly willing to not take itself seriously.

Think a kind of Luke meets Han kind of vibe where big epic things are take place that MATTER but which also involve characters of dubiously interesting character or who are happy to throw oneliners and pithily amusing observations around like small droids called TA-418 (aka Tee-Ay).

It honestly feels at times, thanks to cinematic-like artwork and colouring by Marika Cresta and Rachelle Rosenberg, who bring vividly alive Alyssa Wong’s emotionally rich but blockbuster-worthy, welcomingly queer-infused storyline – people including the titular protagonist love who they love and thank the non-bigoted denizens of Canto Bight’s casino, everyone just runs with it without question – like a movie in 2D form.

It’s vivacious, clever, captivatingly escapist and makes you feel, like I did way back in 1977, like a kid being taken to a thousand different thrilling places all from the safety and comfort of your home.

As entries to Star Wars canon go, and I can only assume the comics make the grade, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is everything you’d want from a Star Wars story – exciting, adventure-filled storyline, gloriously well-realised characters who are as funny as they are earnest and a sense of being taken to a place far, far away and a long time ago as if it’s the first time and you’re just discovering how much the Star Wars galaxy can be.

And if you’re looking for a thorough guide to the Star Wars timeline, Star Wars Explained have you covered.

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