Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original opens the door for future Star Wars audio projects

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - OCTOBER 15: Darth Vader speaks onstage during Spike TV's "SCREAM 2011" awards held at Universal Studios on October 15, 2011 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - OCTOBER 15: Darth Vader speaks onstage during Spike TV's "SCREAM 2011" awards held at Universal Studios on October 15, 2011 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original is the second canon audio drama set in the Star Wars universe. But it might be further proof that it won’t be the last.

Star Wars is constantly evolving, not just in the characteristics of the stories it tells, but also in the formats through which it tells them.

Audio storytelling in Star Wars isn’t a new concept — the old radio dramas have been around for decades. And audiobooks have been around for a while as well, giving readers the option of consuming their favorite stories with the added entertainment of background music and sound effects to accompany each narration.

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Original audio dramas, however, are still a largely unexplored medium in Star Wars storytelling. While the radio dramas of the ’80s were based on the only films that existed at the time, Dooku: Jedi Lost, released in 2019, was a completely new story narrated by a full cast of voice actors.

One could call it an experiment of sorts — one that worked well enough, largely because it was new and the production value was top-notch. It was successful enough, at the very least, to inspire a second audio drama, this one based on stories surrounding the character of Doctor Chelli Aphra, an archaeologist with an attraction to chaos.

Written by Sarah Kuhn and voiced by an elite cast of Star Wars voice actors old and new, Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original is at least several steps above its canon predecessor in almost every way possible. And that’s all thanks to its passionate, dedicated creators.

When asked what first caught her attention most about everyone’s favorite rogue archaeologist, Kuhn told “I loved how she was just immediate chaos — running toward danger, talking way too much, doing all these illicit droid projects. She’s so alive.”

And all these things and more brilliantly shine through in the story Kuhn tells.

Doctor Aphra: Perfect casting to match brilliant writing

It’s an understatement to say Kuhn wrote some of the best Star Wars we’ve ever seen in this audio drama. She writes Aphra-centric stories as if Chelli was her own personal creation, getting inside her head in ways that add significantly to the character’s appeal. From beginning to end, there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t fully captivated by the story.

But in this case, the writing is only half the brilliance. Together, the writing and the performances of each actor create something that takes what Dooku: Jedi Lost did and amplifies it to the best extreme.

Most notable of these performances, of course, is Emily Woo Zeller, whose performance as Aphra matched the character’s mannerisms and personality so well that it’s now going to be impossible to imagine her voiced by anyone else.

Zeller captures the essence of Aphra in every line she delivers, from the panicked, sarcasm-heavy quips to the softer, heartfelt confessions.

One of the things that makes Aphra such an iconic character is that you can’t hate her, even when she’s sabotaging her own happiness and backstabbing the people she loves most. Her emotions are raw and real, no matter how hard she tries to hide them, and Zeller nails the delivery, making it as believable as ever.

But Aphra isn’t the only voice we hear in this masterpiece — it wouldn’t be an audio drama otherwise. Familiar voices like Catherine Taber (The Clone Wars), Carol Monda (Dooku: Jedi Lost), and Marc Thompson (many Star Wars audiobooks) join many new Star Wars actors to create an audio-driven story that’s nearly impossible to pause.

I’m a huge Star Wars book enthusiast, and I can’t say I’ve laughed out loud at many stories in this universe — they’re just not always that particular flavor of entertaining. But the delivery of some of the lines in this production nearly had me in tears from laughing so hard.

This is the perfect example of how different styles of storytelling in Star Wars add more to the expanded universe as a whole. Even if you don’t typically listen to books, this audio drama might be just different enough from traditional audiobooks to hold your attention.

An audio drama narrated like a traditional audiobook

There are many Star Wars fans who might be hesitant to give Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original a try. Maybe they listened to Dooku and didn’t love it, or they’ve listened to plenty of Star Wars audiobooks but never a recording with a full cast with higher production value.

One thing that works well with this audio drama is that it’s narrated by Aphra — she’s telling a story that has already happened, and we’re brought into the past with all the sound effects and additional voices. But she always comes back to chime in, explain things further, and reflect, almost exactly like the narrator in a traditional audiobook would do.

In this way, it feels very familiar in that one voice is doing most of the talking (which, if you know Aphra, isn’t all that surprising). It’s still very different from the audiobooks you might be used to, but it’s not like Dooku where there wasn’t much narration to guide you through what was happening.

This format has the added benefit of being able to seamlessly paint Aphra as the unreliable narrator she doesn’t want us to believe she is. Frequently throughout, she pauses to instruct her recording device to delete and encrypt certain files in an attempt to shape events into the carefully crafted narrative she wishes to tell … and nothing more.

Do you need to read any Star Wars comics before listening?

Let’s be honest: Even the most well-versed expanded universe enthusiasts likely haven’t read all the Star Wars comics that have ever been published, if any at all. Comics are their own unique storytelling medium, and they’re not for everyone — and that’s OK.

Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original adapts various storylines from comics such as Darth Vader (2015) and Star Wars (2015), two Marvel comic series that feature Aphra even though she’s not the title character. This audiobook doesn’t use any material from either of Aphra’s comics from 2016 or 2020.

Knowing this, you might be wondering: Do I need to read these comics first before I listen to the audio drama? Actually, you might benefit from not doing so. But it’s all a matter of preference.

I hadn’t read any of the stories adapted for this project beforehand, and personally, I’m glad I didn’t. Not knowing what to expect plot-wise only added to the entertainment value of an already highly enjoyable experience.

Aphra stories are already chaotic enough in their own right, so generally, having no clue what’s going on (in a good way) is one of the best ways to experience her narratives anyway.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the incredible voiceover work, writing, and production value even if you have read these comics before. But you certainly don’t have to go into listening to this having done so.

If not having read these comics is the only thing holding you back from downloading this audiobook, toss your worries straight out of the nearest airlock. You don’t want to sit on experiencing this any longer than you have to.

Even if you’re not already familiar with Doctor Aphra as a character, chances are you’ll fall in love with her almost instantly after only a few minutes into this six-hour story.

Star Wars has told many stories over the past four decades, and it has many more, original and adapted, to bring to life through audio. If this audio drama is any indication, there’s a market for transforming more beloved comic storylines into audio productions. Comics are fast-paced and wild and turn up the drama as high as it will go, and it turns out that makes them excellent source material for voiceover work.

More of this, please.

Next. Doctor Aphra comic (2020) review: Dangerous business. dark

Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original is available for digital download now.