Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing Dr. Aphra 6, originally released April 12th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Most every Star Wars comic book, movie, video game or TV show is going to have to wrestle with history. The franchise has been culturally relevant for so long that every new experience in this universe is going to draw comparison to the various media that came before. On top of that, history is an inherent part of the narrative: characters grow up the echoes of a great civil war and among the ruins of galaxy-spanning republic. So characters, creators and audiences must show a certain reverence for that history. All characters, that is, except for Doctor Aphra, who’s familiarity with that history breeds boredom. Rather than reveling in what has come before, Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker’s Doctor Aphra 6 looks aggressively, persistently, forward.
Aboard the Citadel of Rur, Dr. Aphra and her father are about to be buried in the collapsing ruins of an ancient Jedi civilization. Right from the jump, “history” is the threat. Personifying that threat (or roboticizing it anyway) is the non-corporeal robot-haunting conscious of The Immortal Rur. Rur can essentially possess any of the machines in the citadel, effectively turning the whole relic against our heroes. I said above that Aphra has no reverence for history, but that shouldn’t suggest that the subject doesn’t interest her. In exchange for the current date, Aphra gets Rur’s story. And it’s a complex story about artificial intelligence the providence of original consciousness, told in busy flashback panels.
I actually really like Walker’s approach here, even if it makes it nearly impossible to tell what exactly is going on. It actually sorta matches the narration, which mysteriously mentions an “evil ghost” which inhabits Rur’s flesh body as his mind is duplicated in the OS. Is there really an “evil ghost” or is the AI Rur seeing itself as separate from the flesh Rur, with different experiences after the transfer? There are all kinds of fun philosophical questions we could be asking (with flashes of the Teletransportation Paradox), but neither Gillen nor Aphra grant us the opportunity to explore these questions.
And after all, why should we bother? The Doctors Aphra try to hold up their end of the deal — telling Rur the current date — and have to ask what kind of calendar he’s acquainted with. When Rur answers “The Domancion Accord,” his words are appropriately old, stuffy and foreign. There are plenty of corners of the Star Wars universe I have yet to explore, but I’ve never heard of the “Domancion Accord.” Aphra’s almost too happy to give the answer: “The accord was ancient history long before the Republic was founded. That was a thousand years ago.” In effect, she’s acknowledging that the gap between the past and the present is enough to render their experiences as totally incompatible. That’s Rur’s read as well: there’s no one left alive to punish for the crimes committed against him in life, so he turns his rage against whoever is left alive. It’s a pointless display of power, and Aphra is able to best Rur with a cunning mix of lightsaber work, rope-a-dope trap setting and good old fashioned hustle.
It’s a confirmation that Aphra is a student of history, but not a slave to it. She’s so fucking badass that she plows past negative history with her father (he comes to her rescue), her degree (which is reinstated by issue’s end) even deserting Darth Vader (she leaves her hunter for dead on an outer rim planet). Hell, she doesn’t even respect the past enough to safely entomb the glowing Rur-core on a quarantine world. That’s not fun, and it doesn’t bring her any personal gain, so even though the Raiders-esque ending feels right, it doesn’t feel right for Doctor Aphra.
I like the idea that there’s a corner for the Star War comic book universe that can be reserved for the kind of adventures that blow up the series’ relationship with its own past. What’s Aphra going to do with that core? Literally anything is possible. She’s tied not down by lineage or legacy anything like that.
Of course, the series is about to cross over with Star Wars, so what the fuck do I know?
That cross-over actually looks pretty rad though, and could be the shot in the arm Jason Aaron’s Star Wars needs in the wake of the lumpy “Yoda’s Secret War” arc. Mark, you’ve already mentioned to me that you think “The Screaming Citadel” is a dope name, but is there anything about Doctor Aphra that has you excited for that story? Also, man, Walker goes nuts with the jagged panel dividers when the citadel collapses, doesn’t he? I can’t quite tell if it’s overkill or if it helps sell that story.
Mark: Patrick, you talk about these corners of the Star Wars universe where characters can operate free from the series’ past, and the ones that work best (and there are many that simply don’t work) are able to thread the needle of bringing something new to Star Wars without being incongruous with the universe. I’ve written in the past about how these Star Wars books improve the more they’re able to divorce themselves from established canon, and Doctor Aphra is a great example of how rich the Star Wars universe can be. The Star Wars films, especially the original trilogy, are movies in the classic style— period pieces, in a weird way. They’re incredibly earnest and without a hint of irony. Chelli Lona Aphra operates on a much more modern wavelength. Her exchanges with Rur would sound in-character coming out of the mouth of Turanga Leela in an episode of Futurama.
But Gillen and Walker make this potentially incongruous character work in the broader Star Wars context by grounding her in something we’re already familiar with. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a clear reference for the supposed resting place of the Ordu Aspectu artifact Aphra extracts, but Gillen and Walker are riffing on much more than that film’s famous ending. Dr. Aphra herself is clearly modeled on Indiana Jones and rounded out by mashing him together with Han Solo. But while in other stories that might feel redundant and lazy, it completely works in Star Wars. After all, Star Wars (and Indiana Jones) are built on classic storytelling tropes and character archtypes, and by taking an archtype and bending her just a little bit you end up with a character who feels both fresh and familiar. No wonder J.J. Abrams and company employed a similar tactic when inventing new characters for The Force Awakens. Everything in Star Wars is a remix (so maybe Aphra is tied down by legacy more than she could ever know).
As for “The Screaming Citadel,” it is an incredibly dope name, but there’s a lot to be excited for beyond that. For one, the two characters are posed to be great foils for one another— Luke Skywalker, the hero trying to take the noble path, and Chelli Aphra, who is happy to be a blunt instrument if it means resolving a situation quickly. And one of the great things about these continuing Star Wars stories is they afford us the opportunity to see our favorite characters in situations they’ve never been in before. Ultimately teaming Luke up with Doctor Aphra stands to benefit both books; for Star Wars it’s an opportunity to regroup around the core promise of that book (fun adventures with Luke, Leia, Han, and company) without the burden of fealty to the movies, for Doctor Aphra it’s the commercial benefit of being teamed up with one of Star Wars’ big four.
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