Back in undergrad, it was a not infrequent occurrence for beauteous blonde bombshells to begin humming John Williams’ iconic score to Raiders of the Lost Arc as they’d pass me by. Such evidenced just how successfully I’d emulated the archetypal archeologist/adventurer. Prior to taking up the cowboy hat seen in my profile picture which has since come to define me, I’d walked my alma mater’s hallowed halls sporting Indy’s signature fedora – before it was popularized by hipsters (though I of course realize saying I was doing something “before it was cool,” especially donning a fedora, makes me sound all the more like a hipster). It was half cosplay, half the need to always be the sole member of my own clique, and wholly due to my longtime love for the Last Crusader. These days, Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider games scratch my itch for stories of recoverers of rare antiquities far more so than any rumors of an upcoming fifth film in the Indy franchise. But right behind Lara Croft there’s a place in my heart for sister in a galaxy far, far away: Doctor Aphra.
Back around issue ten or so of Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader series I’d suggested that the best aspect of the book was not the Dark Lord himself but rather his supporting cast, such as Beetee, Triple Zero, and, in particular, Doctor Aphra. Throughout the remaining fifteen issues that continued to be the case. As such, it’s more than fitting for Aphra to finally have the spotlight shining singularly on her in this new solo series.
Far from having exhausted the comparisons with Henry Jones Jr., the debut of Doctor Aphra opens with a near shot-for-shot homage to the movies’ most iconic scene. Deep within deserted ruins, a lone figure pries at a long-guarded golden idol. Moments later, the thief, treasure in hand, is racing through the collapsing catacombs, certain death chasing close behind. Outrunning the reaper yet again, the excavator emerges out of the frying pan and into the fire, an old rival awaiting outside. But herein Gillen flips the script: it is not the adventure, but the rival, who he reveals as the titular Doctor Aphra, who promptly proceeds to murder the mock-Indiana. Our would-be hero – antihero, apparently – is in this scenario more Belloq than Jones. And those few brief panels tell readers – even those who’d not read Gillen’s excellent Vader series – everything they need to know about the character of Aphra. The rest of the issue Gillen spends imbuing Aphra with all the charm of Jones, Drake, and Croft, giving us reason to root for a character who’d in any of those franchises would be the villain instead.
As apparent from all these comparisons, there’s very little original about Doctor Aphra. That’s not a criticism; it’s a compliment. Originality is overrated. The magic of Star Wars has never been a novel narrative or fully-fleshed out characters. It’s broadly-drawn Campellian archetypes acting out Kurosawa’s films in Flash Gordan’s galaxy. It’s derivative, but diversely drawn from cool-enough sources that nobody minds. That’s why Doctor Aphra succeeds where so many of Marvel’s comics about the character of the films (excepting Vader) have flopped or failed. Because Star Wars isn’t, despite its original title, the adventures of Luke Skywalker. Star Wars is its setting, that Galaxy Far, Far Away, a vaguely sci-fi veneer painted over any story worth telling to make just a bit more interesting. And sticking a character already as interesting as Indy in that setting is the consummation of that winning formula. In that respect, Doctor Aphra is quintessential Star Wars.