Marvel’s “Star Wars” comic book stories tell a galaxy of new stories, but one of the breakout stars of its wonderful array of new characters is Doctor Aphra.
An archeologist and one-time assistant to Darth Vader, Aphra captured readers’ imaginations with her smart mixture of sly humor and an intriguing backstory. She’s a character who steals every scene she’s in, which is remarkable since she often appears alongside long-established characters such as Darth Vader and Princess Leia.
So, let’s travel back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and explore just why Doctor Aphra is such a fantastic character and just how she has struck a chord with “Star Wars”.
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1. She’s Fun to Be Around
Making her debut in “Star Wars: ‘Darth Vader’ Issue #3,” Doctor Aphra was created by writer Kieron Gillen with artist Salvador Larroca to be the inverse of Indiana Jones. Speaking to StarWars.com, Gillen said, “My description originally was ‘Imagine Indiana Jones, how he goes about problems in that ramshackle kind of [way], but with his ethics inverted. … That was kind of the core of it, I think. … She’s kind of fun to be around.”
A self-described “rogue archeologist,” she’s obsessed with collecting antique weapons. Aphra survived to work with Darth Vader long enough to get her own standalone comic book series — the first non-movie character to do so since Kanan from “Star Wars Rebels.”
2. She’s a Survivor
The galaxy is a cruel place — you need your wits about you if you’re going to survive. Choose your friends and allies wisely, because it just might cost you your life.
It’s something Doctor Aphra is well-versed in, right down to the way she expresses herself. While her dialogue is littered with smatterings of clever wordplay and perfectly timed cynicism, she’s also vulnerable. She reveals little half-truths about herself to sell to a potential enemy a lie so she can escape another close call, like in “Darth Vader #11.”
It’s in these moments that we learn just how a rogue archaeologist has survived for so long under the Empire’s gaze.
3. She Can Think on Her Feet
Talking fast and thinking on her feet, Doctor Aphra has on more than one occasion managed to persuade Darth Vader that he needs her right when he starts to see her as expendable. However, it isn’t just her fast-talking that keeps her alive.
She’s also a skilled mechanic who often uses her know-how to get out of tight spots. During a particularly tense alliance with the rebels, she manages to rewire attack droids so that she and the rebels can escape. A little moral flexibility goes a long way in the black-and-white world of “Star Wars.”
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4. Aphra and Vader
Let’s be clear, Darth Vader doesn’t need a sidekick. But when his agenda calls for someone skilled with weapons, an uneasy alliance is formed between the pair. It’s this moral ambiguity that really makes her stand out. She’s not a good guy — her clashes with the rebel alliance in the “Star Wars” main series make that clear — but she’s not a villain, either.
The best way to think of her relationship with Vader and the Empire is kind of like the bounty hunters in “The Empire Strikes Back.” She’s very much an independent character, but she could stand alongside anyone if the price (and the job) is right.
It’s something Han Solo is well-versed in, but sometimes you need a little luck to survive in this universe. When we first meet Doctor Aphra, we’re treated to a great example of the kind of scrape you can imagine her getting into daily as she dodges through lasers, makes wisecracks and is generally too cocky for her own good. How could you not love this character?
As if to underline the comparison between the galaxy’s two luckiest and unluckiest characters, when Aphra and Solo meet, her own miscalculation with her weaponry mirrors the classically terrible luck of Han, resulting in both characters getting knocked out in the desert. It’s a fitting end for these charming but ultimately less-than-charmed characters.
6. She Has a Cool Ship
Basically, if you have a cool ship, I’m 98 percent on board with you as a character — and Doctor Aphra has a pretty cool ship. Dubbed the Ark Angel, the craft is a massive beast and is described as a “heavy-duty lifter” that more than likely has enough hidey-hole to store an entire museum wing’s worth of antiquated weaponry. In other words, it’s a perfect gift for a collector such as Aphra.
7. She Isn’t Bogged Down by Continuity
In a world of established continuity and instant IP-shared mandates, Aphra is the element of chaos a writer craves. While she operates in a world that is fundamentally recognizable as the “Star Wars” universe, Aphra is very much her own thing. Sometimes, her story overlaps with the wider universe, and as an archaeologist, she can quite literally explore its entire history. She can sneak in, steal a moment or two from the canon and then sneak back out again, all while feeling like she totally belongs to that universe, too.
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8. She’s Pro-Empire
Let’s face it, we’re all drawn to the wrong characters. There’s a darkness at the heart of our love for characters such as Darth Vader and the stormtroopers, and that’s something the creators of Aphra totally acknowledge.
It might be shocking to hear her spout pro-Empire sentiments, but she grew up under the rule of the Empire and it makes sense that some might prefer living under a fascist power over the uncertainty and chaos of war. The benefit for Aphra is that it keeps people in their place and makes them predictable.
Again, it comes down to Aphra’s moral flexibility. She’s smart enough to know that strict moral standpoints run counter to how the wider universe works. She’s smart enough to traverse both sides and keep herself out of (too much) danger.
9. She’s a Good Role Model — Right Until She Isn’t
Representation matters. Having a prominent Asian character on the front cover of a flagship “Star Wars” comic line like “Darth Vader” means something to people looking for someone like them within the “Star Wars” universe. Then there’s the question of Aphra’s sexuality.
While the “Star Wars” universe doesn’t tend to label people, Gillen says Aphra is written as a lesbian and has been seen in a flirtatious cat-and-mouse game with Tolvan, the former captain of the Galactic Empire’s military during the Galactic Civil War. Through a series of encounters, Tolvan finds herself demoted and reassigned as their feelings for each other evolve.
Factor in the wonderful design work by Larroca, who manages to capture the ‘70s look of the “Star Wars” universe while giving Aphra her own iconic bounty hunter look, and you have a character who is designed for instant appeal who actually isn’t a great role model. But then again, neither is Han Solo, but we’re drawn to characters we can relate to, exist in some form in the real world and aren’t 100 percent good or bad.
10. She Has Cool Sidekicks
Did we mention that she hangs around with the evil equivalent of C-3PO and R2-D2? Doctor Aphra salvaged Triple-Zero or 0-0-0’s personality matrix, which was designed for etiquette, customs, and torture to reactivate. Bee Tee, or BT-1, is an assassin droid designed as a regular astromech droid in the first part of her partnership with Vader.
Literally, every evil utterance from Triple-Zero is comedy gold. If you like the same relationship as the beloved C-3PO and R2-D2, only with more thinly veiled threats of murder, these are the characters for you.