Last week, Disney showcased upcoming work that would debut mostly on Disney+ across all verticals. For Star Wars, eleven projects were confirmed and some had additional announcements including Directors and plot. One of these projects I was particularly interested to get more information from was Leslye Headland’s series. It was already hinted that it would be female-led so I was 100 percent sure that it was going to be the rumored Doctor Aphra series. So, it was a bit of a surprise when Kathleen Kennedy described the series as “a mystery-thriller that will take the audience into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging dark side powers in the final days of the High Republic era.” I’m not mad at it. I am actually more excited because I will be reading every High Republic book and comic so theorizing what the series might cover will get even more fun as more material comes out. But it still got me wondering when WILL the Doctor Aphra series be announced, and what are they waiting for? Because it is inevitable. So, let’s go through the baby steps Lucasfilm and Marvel are taking with this character and why it points to plans of a higher profile.
Chelli Lona Aphra was created by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca and first appeared in Darth Vader #3, released on March 25, 2015. It is no surprise that Aphra was pitched to audiences as the Indiana Jones of Star Wars, though more of a morally gray character that you would usually find in Star Wars (I would put her somewhere in between Hondo from The Clone Wars and DJ from The Last Jedi) and it varies from issue to issue. She is accompanied by two droids, BT-1 and 0-0-0, whom Aphra had rescued and repaired. They are also droids who love to torture and murder.
Initially recruited by Darth Vader on a side mission kept secret from the Emperor, the character was popular enough to get her own title run (and the first comics-introduced character to do so) in 2016, after that issue got and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th printing. In the end, Aphra attempts to betray Vader to the Emperor in an attempt to save herself but that backfires and she is ejected into space by Vader. Apparently, Aphra’s story was to end here but by that time she had become such a fan favorite and, so was saved from a one-and-done story. Her first appearance, a first printing rated 9.8 by CGC, has averaged a sale of $360 on eBay in December.
The first volume of her own title run (2016 – 2019) picked up after Vader attempted to kill Aphra as she finds herself having to stay off Vader’s radar of still being alive while getting back to her life as a space archaeologist and repay her debt to Black Krrsantan. This title ran from 2016 – 2019 and was a good size of 40 issues. Along with continuing to develop Aphra, Krrsantan, BT-1, and Triple Zero, the run also introduced new characters like Imperial Captain Magna Tolvan, with whom Aphra has an on/off-again relationship.
During the MCM Comic Con in London in October 2019, it was announced that Doctor Aphra would be returning in a second run with author Alyssa Wong as a writer and Marika Cresta as an artist to be released in May 2020. Besides the creative team, another change was Aphra’s character design to look definitively Asian. This was a question with fans as there were subtle hints of Asian heritage in the original character design but still more ambiguous. This story takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as Aphra works with a new team to find a lost artifact, the Rings of Vaale. The run is currently ongoing and it is not yet clear on how many issues will be a part of the storyline but physical copies of issue #1 are already being snagged up by collectors.
A comic character getting an action figure is nothing new to Star Wars (many EU characters like Darth Talon, Carnor Jax and Lumiya made the transition from page to retail shelves), but Aphra’s arrival to figure form seemed more like a barometer for testing her popularity. She was included in and won Hasbro’s fan vote in 2017 for a Vintage Collection figure beating out Ahsoka Tano (Rebels version). She along with her murder droids, BT-1 and Triple Zero, were also made into a 2018 San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive set. The second market price for the Black series figure of Aphra alone averages $75.25 from the $19.99 retail price (a 276% increase in value) and has gone for up to $140 on bids on eBay. The most important takeaway for this information: Doctor Aphra toys and comics are selling without a presence in film or television.
Doctor Aphra stepped into another medium when an audiobook-only retelling of the Darth Vader storyline was released on July 21, 2020. The production included a full cast, with Emily Woo Zeller as the title character, and was written by Sarah Kuhn. Sales of the audiobook are hard to come by but the fact that they chose to retell her origin with Vader in audio form might mean Lucasfilm is more likely to start at the beginning of her title run when she does arrive on screen.
There are so many upsides to having this character become more prominent within the Star Wars fanbase. Businesswise, a Star Wars archeologist opens the door for so many items and trinkets to replicate, merchandise, and sell. Aphra already has an established relationship with Dok-Ondor from the comics. It is also a natural way to bring in LGBTQA+ representation to Star Wars, though how the relationship with Aphra and Tolvan is portrayed on a Disney+ show will be interesting. No major Disney franchise has done it meaningfully, though Star Wars animation has made the attempt (an episode highlights an alien male couple in Star Wars Resistance) and Aphra would be the leading character.
Lucasfilm is doing for Aphra what they did for Ahsoka but didn’t do for characters like Rey, Finn, Poe, or Rose…giving her a chance to succeed, carefully crafting her character design, making particular changes, and rolling out in different mediums. By building a smaller, loyal fanbase in comics with a planned story that does engage in fan service (more than a few familiar faces cross paths with Aphra) but stands on its own, Aphra is ready for a bigger spotlight.