Comics Watch: As 'Doctor Aphra' Ends, Could Disney+ Provide a New Beginning?
Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen.
Today marks the end of an era. Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, the first and only ongoing Star Wars comic centered on a character not introduced in the films or television series of the current canon Star Wars universe, comes to an end today with issue No. 40. The character, first introduced by Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca in the pages of Star Wars: Darth Vader No. 3 (2015), quickly became a fan-favorite. The “rogue archeologist,” as she describes herself, has found her morals tested time and time again, and despite every opportunity to make the right choice, she makes the wrong one. Yet she is a character worth rooting for, and her perspective has certainly added something to the Star Wars mythos. Now that her series has come to an end, it’s worth considering what’s next. A relaunch of the title, by Alyssa Wong and artist Marika Cresta, is already set for April as Marvel’s Star Wars comics move out of the post-New Hope territory and into the post-Empire Strikes Back territory next year. But what about the character’s place beyond comics? As Lucasfilm wraps up its Skywalker Saga next week with The Rise of Skywalker and begins charting new territory for the franchise, we have to wonder if Doctor Aphra will have a place within that future.
Heat Vision breakdown
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra No. 40 by Simon Spurrier and artist Caspar Wijngaard finds Aphra once again in the service of Darth Vader as she leads him and his Imperial soldiers to the new Rebel base on Hoth. Her showdown with Darth Vader is punctuated by her contemplation of her own morality and the comparisons she draws between herself and the human side of Vader. Despite the comparison she makes, and her history with some of the worst folks the galaxy has had to offer, Aphra is different from other Star Wars villains, and in fact it’s questionable whether to even classify her as a villain, despite her employment by Darth Vader. Rather, Doctor Aphra walks in the moral gray area of the universe, driven largely by self-interest and her own fascination with the past, which she sees as a chance to find order in the universe. She’s a bit like Han Solo if he’d never joined the rebels, or perhaps more accurately, if we’re permitted to cross out Lucasfilm properties momentarily, Aphra is like Indiana Jones if he’d worked for Belloq before ultimately betraying him when things got too hot. “The gaps are where I’ve always lived. So forget the ideals. Forget the morals. Forget the forbidden blasted wisdom of ancient fanatics,” she opines in this issue as she contemplates her fate.
It’s not just Aphra’s moral gray area that makes her so compelling and unique. It’s also the sense of humor her book employs. There’s a sense of self-awareness that the character has about the galaxy, one that undermines some of the more grandiose positions that fans have held onto. To her, Luke isn’t a hero but a “farm boy” held back by his own naivete, and Darth Vader, whom she’s a self-declared “big fan of” is also a broken child in her eyes. Whatever pedestal these characters have been placed on, Gillen and subsequently Spurrier have used Aphra, and her sociopathic droid sidekicks Beetee and Triple-Zero, to knock them down a peg and look at them from a more human perspective. And that kind of facetious humor continues all the way through this final issue, even as Aphra struggles to come to terms with how she can live with herself after the trail of betrayals she’s left behind her. The book has simultaneously found a way to tackle big, character-driven questions of self that exist alongside a lighthearted tone, one matched by the art. While Marvel’s other ongoing books, centered around Vader, and Luke Skywalker, Leia, Han and company, have largely opted for a kind of photorealism that lends itself to the films, Doctor Aphra’s book, originally drawn by Kev Walker, and later by Wijngaard is somewhat cartoony in nature, with exaggerated features and an eye towards physical comedy.
Every time it looks like we’ve seen the last of Doctor Aphra she pops back up, outsmarting all efforts to kill her despite having Vader, of all people, on her trail. While the comics can cover her exploits during the original trilogy, it seems like there is room to explore the character’s place after the events of Return of the Jedi, as she will undoubtedly survive. As one of the few characters depicted as being of Asian descent (yes, I realize Asia doesn’t exist in this galaxy), and one of the only queer characters, Doctor Aphra’s place and legacy within the Star Wars universe seems more important now than ever. Rise of Skywalker filmmaker J.J. Abrams has suggested that a queer character will be introduced within a Star Wars movie or series soon. While some hoped that it would be Finn and Poe, Doctor Aphra would be a great option. Doctor Aphra was nominated for outstanding comic book at the 30th GLAAD Media Awards earlier this year, and the character already carries the prestige and fan base to carry her own live-action portrayal.
At the end of issue 40, Doctor Aphra comments on her desire to see not just the rest of the galaxy, but “everything.” While that might not be in the character’s immediate future, it would be fitting for a film, or more likely, a Disney+ series, to follow Doctor Aphra as she explores a new universe. In this way, along with her aforementioned aspects, Doctor Aphra could be essential is moving Star Wars beyond the space we’ve come to know it in, offering a more inclusive look at the galaxy far, far away, and even further.
by Mitchell Peters, Billboard
by David Rooney