AUDIO REVIEW: Doctor Aphra, by Sarah Kuhn

-This review contains some minor spoilers. Proceed with caution-

aphra.jpeg

Genre: Space Opera

Publisher: Penguin

Runtime: 5hrs 35m

Release Date: 21/07/2020

Cast: Emily Woo Zeller, Jonathan Davies, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Sean Kenin, Nicole Lewis, Carol Monda, Euan Morton, Catherine Taber, Marc Thompson

Verdict: 5/5

Dr Chelli Lona Aphra is used to living dangerously. After all, the life of a planet-hopping archeologist is hardly a safe one. But when she becomes entangled in the scheming of one Darth Vader, even Aphra may have bitten off more than she can chew . . .

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra has to be one of the most fun Star Wars releases I’ve ever experienced. It’s also one of the most accessible. I’m not familiar with the comic series from which this derives, but I don’t need to be. If you have even a passing familiarity with Star Wars – and if you’re picking this up I have to assume you do – then you’re in safe hands. This is a complete tale, brilliantly written and flawlessly narrated, that opens up new avenues for what the Star Wars universe can be.

Right from the start, it’s clear that this is more light-hearted than the previous audio offering Dooku. In terms of the films, think more Solo than Revenge of the Sith. It’s got the same sort of feel, the same pure joy and excitement. There are weightier moments, of course. You don’t spend nearly five hours in the presence of Darth Vader and expect it to be all rainbows and sunshine, but this is one of those tales best described as a romp. It’s quick, funny, and engaging. In a way, it remind sme of the old Tag and Bink comics, though slightly more serious than those scoundrels were.

The main reason Doctor Aphra works, aside from the scriptwriting and general excellence of production, is in the narration. Emily Woo Zeller takes on the titular role with gusto, and it’s clear she’s having just as much fun as the listener. Full of knowing winks, off-hand jokes and fourth wall-scratching comments, Aphra’s account of her experiences makes for addictive listening. It’s long by the standards of audio I listen to, but with it’s quick pace and lively narration, it never slows down. Accompanying Zeller’s lead role, the rest of the cast bring us voices both new and familiar. Darth Vader’s heavy breathing does much of the heavy lifting, but you wouldn’t know Marc Thompson from James Earl Jones with all the gravitas the former brings to the role. There are also appearances from the original generation of heroes, all now re-voiced of course. In particular, I was pleased to hear Catherine Taber stepping out from my childhood hero Mission Vao to pull a stellar turn as a certain Alderaanian princess.

Taking place in the gap between episodes 4 and 5, Doctor Aphra does an excellent job of telling a new story with familair peices that doesn’t just fill in gaps in what we already know of the era. It’s esactly what an expanded universe should aim to be, and gives me hopes for more to come. The Indiana Jones-esque adventures, coupled with a character who’s far from the tragic villain/noble hero divide we’ve seen a lot of lately, make for a fun and funny way to spend a few hours.

This is the perfect listen for a Star Wars fan who wants something a little different, but it could easily be an introduction to the franchise. I don’t know if there are plans for more, but I sincerely hope there are.

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