From guest-starring in the Darth Vader comic series to headlining her own forty-issue run, from a crossover with Skywalker and Co. to a second volume of her own series which is now well under way, Dr. Chelli Aphra is certainly popular in four-colour print. But can she make the switch to a sightless medium?
To the relief of her legion of fans, the answer is a resounding yes. Since blasting onto the scene in early 2015 a handful of different artists and writers have put their stamp on everyone’s favourite archaeologist since Indiana Jones. This audio drama adaptation of her first set of appearances in the Darth Vader comic series where she finds herself under his employ puts the focus on her own perspective, in addition to adding some bonus content which before now would have been left to the imagination of the reader. In concept it is intriguing, and in practice it is thoroughly enjoyable.
Scribed by seasoned author Sarah Kuhn, the voice and chaotic neutral energy of Aphra is captured perfectly in this five-hour adventure. While it may take some getting used to for listeners who are unfamiliar with our (anti?)heroine, this new venture is as faithful to the character as fans could have hoped. Featuring a handful of delightful scenes which allow Triple-Zero to remind us all why we love his murderous tendencies, listeners are soon reminded just how important sound can be when stirring our imaginations.
The voice acting lends itself very well to the narrative with impressive performances found here from the majority of the cast. Emily Woo Zeller is a convincing and praise-worthy Aphra, Sean Kenin is a suitably-sociopathic Triple-Zero, and Marc Thompson is a worthy successor to the role of Darth Vader. One downfall of the voice work is the inclusion of the trio of heroes who are synonymous with this far, far away galaxy. Despite their best efforts none of the actors portraying Luke, Han, and Leia do so to a degree which would be considered seamless coming from their live-action appearances. While this has no impact on the actual story per se, it does unfortunately take the listener out of the moment and forces them to readjust.
The story itself moves along at a swift pace which somehow manages to never feel rushed. Framed as a series of flashbacks from the perspective of a later Aphra retelling her escapades to a voice recorder, the listener benefits from enjoying her adventure while also being exposed to some of her regretful hindsight which comes after the fact. This includes, but is not limited to, a touching apology to her former lover Sana Starros which is beautifully acted-out by Zeller.
Clocking in at nearly half the length of Audible’s recent venture The Sandman and being more akin to their trilogy of Alien audio drama adaptations in length, Doctor Aphra still manages to pack an awful lot in to its disappointingly-light runtime. Unfortunately, it is still beat-for-beat almost identical to her first appearances in comic book form despite promises to the contrary. For a universe as expansive as that of Star Wars and a blank canvas painted by the original source material, one would have hoped that the additional narrative content would have been a bit more substantive than what is presented here. Although constrained by the course of events that are set in stone, given that this piece is surely designed to attract new readers to the character it would have been prudent to offer more than close to the exact same story that has already existed for nearly five years in print even if that meant upping the runtime.
Nevertheless, if it were not for the promise of an expanded story which goes relatively unfulfilled there would be little to fault in this audio drama. Gripes with the original heroic trio aside, it offers both stellar performances for the most part, amazing sound effects throughout, and a narrative which keeps you on the edge of your seat. If the production quality of Doctor Aphra is any indication of things to come, fans will surely be clamouring for other fan favourite characters who have yet to receive the live-action treatment to step into the recording booth.
All in all, Doctor Aphra is a fine audio drama which Random House Audio can be proud of. Despite its shortcomings in certain guest performances and a promise of more content which did not quite reach expectations, it still manages to offer a thrilling adventure from a unique perspective. Augmented by pitch-perfect performances from its main cast and sound effects which bring immersion to new heights, this is one story that effortlessly takes your imagination far, far away.