I’ve said it many times: Star Wars is a franchise that really excels when it focuses on stories and worldbuilding that’s not directly related to the Skywalker Saga, and when it uses mediums other than feature length movies to do it. This has been true of the television shows (like The Mandalorian and Rebels), the novels (such as the Aftermath trilogy by Chuck Wendig and the Thrawn books by Timothy Zahn), the video games (last year’s excellent Jedi: Fallen Order) and the comics too. The newest example? A new Doctor Aphra comic by Alyssa Wong and illustrated by Marika Cresta. The last Aphra series was great too, but it was also heavily intertwined with the story of Darth Vader, and I’m very excited to see Aphra shine in her own right in this new ongoing.
Doctor Aphra #1
Joe Caramagna (letterer), Marika Cresta (artist), Valentina Remenar (cover), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Alyssa Wong (writer)
May 4, 2020
Even though she’s only appeared in the comics thus far, Doctor Aphra has really become a beloved Star Wars character for a lot of people, and not just because she’s a fun cross between the roguishness of Han Solo and the adventure-hunting of Indiana Jones. (No, I don’t know why I picked two Harrison Ford characters here, please don’t ask.) She represents much needed Asian representation in the franchise, and now she’s finally being written by an Asian-American creator, Alyssa Wong. She’s also one of the first canonically queer Star Wars characters—she has been romantically paired with smuggler and sometimes-rebel Sana Starros and Imperial officer Magna Tolvan, and her creator Kieron Gillen has clarified that she’s a lesbian. But the beauty of Aphra is that she never feels token-y. She’s a complex character with nuanced motivations. She’s not really a hero or a villain, which is rare in Star Wars. She’s hyper competent but also often messy, and it makes her feel very real.
But let’s talk specifically about the new Aphra series. The first couple pages of this issue had me a little worried that readers would need to know more about Aphra’s background than I had hoped; the old Aphra series ran for 40 issues, and part of the reason I was so excited about the new series was the idea of new fans being able to discover this character without the intimidation of catching up. It turns out my fears were unfounded. While there are some references that fans of the old series will appreciate, this is a brand new story taking place just after the battle of Hoth—Aphra has “cut all ties with her past” and is getting back to her roots as a treasure-hunting archaeologist.
Doctor Aphra #1 is a classic “getting the team together” issue, which is totally fine because I love that issue. The plot hook is compelling: grad student Detta Yao wants to hire her to find a particular ancient artifact that she needs for her doctoral dissertation, the Rings of Vaale, which are said to grant their bearer eternal life. There are only a couple problems. First, they’re widely considered to be just a myth and the university doesn’t acknowledge they actually exist. Second, they’re cursed. And not just a little cursed. We’re talking about an entire planet made uninhabitable because the curse corrupted the atmosphere. The legends talk about a haunted city made of stone and an ancient secret society that protects the artifact. I’m already hooked, I can’t wait to see this stone city.
This story rules for an Aphra comic because she is the perfect person to hire if you want to find a treasure that might not even exist. First of all, she doesn’t believe in the curse. I love this. I find the distinction between “magic” and “the Force” in Star Wars really interesting, and I’m fascinated by Aphra’s take on superstition acting as a security system to keep people away. Secondly, she knows everybody. As they put their ragtag team together, everyone on it already knows Aphra—and most of them don’t like her. (Even the goons who are sent by the villain already know and have history with her. It’s honestly a pretty funny running joke.) I’m enjoying the dynamic of an adventuring party who are doing a job because it’s mutually beneficial to each of them, not because they get along.
Speaking of the villain, let’s talk about Ronen Tagge too. He’s introduced well because I literally hate him the moment I lay eyes on him. He’s a terrible rich person who lives in Canto Bight, the ostentatious casino city you may remember from The Last Jedi. The first thing he does on-page is destroy two priceless works of art, to ensure he’ll be the last person to ever enjoy them. He’s so cartoonishly evil it’s actually a little silly. He’s also very Star Wars, a franchise that has a long history of being a little silly. Personally, I think I like having a caricature of a rich person as the villain. Class struggle is always a theme in Star Wars and it’s more culturally relevant than generic space fantasy.
I would also be remiss not to mention Marika Cresta’s superb art, which really elevates an already strong issue. Aphra pretty much keeps her old design, which feels right, but the new characters’ designs are excellent. I particularly love Aphra’s former classmate Eustacia Okka, a Mirialan with tattoos only on the left side of her face (which is a detail I hope they touch on later in the series), and Ronen Tagge, because you can’t hate someone the moment you see them without great character design. The action and fight scenes are portrayed well, which is a challenge in the comics medium. My favorite thing about the art is the strong ambiance of different locations, which also speaks to Rachelle Rosenberg’s beautifully emotive coloring.
Overall, this is an excellent issue #1 for a comic I’m looking forward to reading. It has intrigue, suspense, the beginning of a plot I can’t wait to learn more about, and the setup for interesting characters who are surely going to have interesting relationships with each other. What more could you want? My only complaint is how long I have to wait to read more about Aphra and her crew. Marvel has pushed back the series (as well as many of their other titles) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that Doctor Aphra #2 won’t be coming out until July 22nd, with a third issue now slated for August. Luckily, good things are worth waiting for!