Doctor Aphra #19
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Doctor Aphra #19, cover art by Ashley Witter

The queer excellence of Doctor Aphra

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Jun 23, 2020, 1:00 PM EDT

The Star Wars universe is vast, and the possibilities are so infinite that even with a thriving novel, TV, and comic extended universe franchises, the legend only continues to grow. Case in point: Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra, created by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, based on Indiana Jones (but in SPACE!) and with all the edgy antihero appeal of any Harrison Ford role turned up to 11. This is a character that was only introduced back in 2015 and even in that short time, it's difficult now to imagine Star Wars canon without her.

Aphra was the first character introduced in the comics to be given her own ongoing Marvel solo series, which ran for 40 issues and is now entering a second volume written by Alyssa Wong with art by Marika Cresta. She has an audiobook on the way written by FANGRRLS favorite Sarah Kuhn. Fans have been waiting for a Doctor Aphra live-action adaptation since her first appearance in Star Wars: Darth Vader #3, and speculation continues to spike any time a mysterious new SW property is announced. In the meantime, Aphra's presence in the comics universe is nothing to scoff at, and she's got several epic adventures that are widely available to read, most of which revolve around her making terrible choices and overall being the greatest disaster gay of our time.

Doctor Aphra #1, written by Kieron Gillen, art by Kev Walker and Antonio Fabela, lettering by Joe Caramanga

Chelli Lona Aphra was born to Korin and Lona Aphra. She is a human of Asian descent, but not much is known about her family's origins beyond that. Her father was a researcher and devout practitioner of Ordu Aspectu and hoped to use his lifelong interest to help restore light to the universe after the horrors of the Clone Wars. Lona ultimately took Aphra and left Korin due to his obsession, but was killed when a group of raiders attacked. Aphra hid and returned to live with her father after, though she openly despised him for failing her mother. She even set his house on fire. Soon, she became interested in archaeology and threw herself into her studies, but made many more enemies along the way due to her ruthlessness and her temper.

For readers, Aphra first appeared across from none other than Darth Vader, yet still stole the show. She narrowly avoided death at his hands after his fascistic leanings failed to set off the number of red flags they perhaps should have. Aphra specifically asked that he strike her down with his lightsaber, which, in typical Vader fashion, he did not do, sending her flying into deep space instead. However, Aphra knew he would deny her a last wish, and him doing so allowed her to make her escape.

Doctor Aphra #12, cover art by Kamome Shirahama

Most commentary on Aphra is based on her complex morality and unpredictable nature, and there's definitely a lot of examples of that. Even in her first appearances, she is working for Darth Vader, blase about the crimes that this entails until he attempts to murder her. In the first pages of the first issue of her solo series, she kills a man who betrayed her and steals an artifact from him because it's neat. She hangs out with a surprisingly murderous combination of Wookiees and droids, at least one of whom commits murder in the first issue of the book. The C-3PO-like Triple Zero ultimately turns on Aphra in a move out of her own playbook.

It only goes on from there. Aphra's primary romantic attractions are with women who she is at odds with — including her ex, Sana Starros, who she stays on terrible terms with — and her ongoing romance with Magna Tolvan, an Imperial Captain turned Rebel whose initial purpose is to hunt Aphra down. Both relationships are complicated and interesting, and both respond very differently to Aphra, giving readers the rare well-rounded perspective of queer love. Starros makes it repeatedly clear that she truly doesn't believe Aphra is capable of caring about other living creatures, while Tolvan has had her heart broken by Aphra at least once. Though Aphra experiences guilt and remorse, she continues to do the things she does, and the stories never let her off the hook for that.

Doctor Aphra #22, written by Si Spurrier, art by Kev Walker, Marc Deering, and Java Tartaglia, lettering by Joe Caramanga

Of course, part of the fun of Star Wars comics is always going to be the cameos from established classic characters, and there are plenty of those for Aphra. She ends up teaming with Luke Skywalker and quickly betrays him. Though the situation does get turned around in the end, Luke makes it clear that he still doesn't trust or like her. Her ongoing antagonism with Vader is a story for the ages as she quips and makes nervous jokes while trying to avoid imminent death at his hands.

As Star Wars continues to grow, it needs a wider berth of characterizations than "extremely good" or "extremely bad," and that desire for moral ambiguity in the franchise is no doubt part of what helps Aphra succeed. Yet we can't forget that her adventures are just nonstop chaotic fun. A character that makes consistently terrible decisions is always going to make for a fun story. Wherever Aphra goes from here, she's easily one of the most important characters introduced to the Star Wars canon in recent years.

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