Comic-Con@Home: Everything We Learned About the Star Wars Audiobook: Doctor Aphra

On March 23, 2015, Marvel’s Star Wars: Darth Vader #3 introduced us to a new, compelling character – Doctor Aphra. Since then, the character spawned her own comic series from 2016-2019, and has appeared in various books and games. Now she stars in a fully dramatized audiobook penned by Sarah Kuhn and performed by a full cast – Star Wars: Doctor Aphra. Learn the story behind this story in this Comic-Con@Home panel featuring the audio drama creators.

Audiobook narrators Marc Thompson and Emily Woo Zeller, author Sarah Kuhn, and Del Rey editor Elizabeth Schaefer gathered to discuss this adaptation of the critically acclaimed Marvel comics series where Dr. Aphra teams up with Darth Vader, in a conversation moderated by audiobook producer Nick Martorelli.

The Inception of Doctor Aphra

Last year, Random House Audio released the first Star Wars audio original – Star Wars: Dooku – Jedi Lost – to great success. Where do they go from here? Elizabeth Schaefer explained that they looked at other comic book characters and “we had always wanted to do something with Aphra. She’s such a cool character, and I think audio is a really cool format for her because she bursts off the page with such a strong voice.”

Why was Sarah Kuhn picked to pen the audio drama? “It needs to be Sarah Kuhn,” Elizabeth explained, “Especially because of her Heroine Complex series, because it’s the tone you would want for an Aphra story – fun and snarky and a delight.”

This information blew Sarah away because she has been a fan of Star Wars for as long as she can remember. So when she “got that exciting email that you’re always waiting for: ‘there’s an offer for you for Star Wars – and it’s Aphra.’ I Freaked out, times a million, because she is maybe the best character in the Star Wars canon.”

Writing Doctor Aphra

Once Sarah joined the team, she and Elizabeth worked together on the script. “One of the first things we did was reread the Darth Vader comic series (by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca ) What is the story that exists here and what can we do to make her story bigger? We decided to put it 100% in her POV. Her voice is so delightful. She swoops into the page and grabs you by the throat.”

Because this audiobook is adapted from the original Darth Vader comic, the writing team asked themselves ‘where are the opportunities to expand and connect the dots of Aphra’s story?’ She comes in and out of the Darth Vader comic. So what is she up to while Vader is having his adventure on the page?

This question fueled the story, as well as Aphra herself. Sarah describes Doctor Aphra’s character. “She’s always craving the most chaotic adventure. She’s a chaos monster. But at the same time she also has this survival instinct and those two things are very much in conflict.” This makes for a compelling story.

Creating the Audio Drama with Voice Actors in a Pandemic

Writing is one thing, but how do you create an audio drama that lives in your ears, as opposed to a story that lives on a page? Nick Martorelli, producer, was very concerned with pacing. “Comic books extend time in a way. On the page. But that is all smack-dab in real time in an audiobook.”

Emily expanded his thought, “the whole story is being told through audio, so you have to tell the story completely through audio cues. Close your eyes and listen. You’d be surprised at how much of the world you ignore when you have vision.”

Actors fill out the world of the audio drama, and two of the actor/narrators joined the panel – Marc Thompson and Emily Woo Zeller. Marc is a veteran of Star Wars audiobooks, while this is Emily’s first foray into Star Wars, but certainly not her first audiobook narration.

But what a first! Emily both narrated the book and acted out scenes as Aphra with other voice actors. “It was really great to exercise those animation muscles. Recording was very intense. I feel like Doctor Aphra is my alter ego, in a way.”

Marc Thompson Returns to Star Wars

Marc Thompson is a familiar voice in Star Wars, having narrated over 50 audiobooks. But in Doctor Aphra, Marc gets to play – he voices Darth Vader, wookiees, Han Solo and more. “It’s an honor to play these iconic characters I’ve grown up with.” Excited about the prospect of an audio drama rather than an audiobook, Marc was really looking forward to seeing everyone in the studio. But this happened during quarantine time and “I was in my kids’ bedroom putting up ironing boards with blankets to try to dampen the sound. The 1st day of the record they decided to tear down scaffolding across the street from me. One of the days my wife was hosting a therapy session in his house, I was recording a screaming scene being tortured by Triple Zero and screaming at the top of my lungs. And this poor person’s trying to get therapy. There’s lots of unique challenges with this particular production.”

A Surprise Romance

Author Sarah Kuhn closed out the panel with an exciting surprise. “I’m very into romance, and I was looking for ways to expand upon an existing relationship between characters. I am a huge fan of Sana Starros and I always loved the idea of a relationship [between Sana and Aphra]. We see them in way later when they do not like each other. I enjoyed writing these more soft, intimate moments between them, which then makes later moments more heartbreaking.” Sarah is referring to Marvel’s Star Wars comic series in 2016.

Due to the pandemic, the voice actors recorded separately from home, except for the Aphra / Sana scenes. Elizabeth gushed over Emily’s performance, nearly blushing as she praised “it’s so good – the chemistry!”

I adore romance and love audiobooks. So I was delighted to hear the best part of this panel – Doctor Aphra is available NOW wherever digital books are sold!

Watch the Comic-Con@Home Panel

Get the inside scoop on the newest Star Wars Audiobook Original, Doctor Aphra, from inception to the incredible finished product performed by a full cast. You’ll hear from audiobook narrators Marc Thompson and Emily Woo Zeller, author Sarah Kuhn, and Del Rey editor Elizabeth Schaefer as they discuss this adaptation of the critically acclaimed Marvel comics series where Dr. Aphra teams up with Darth Vader, in a conversation moderated by audiobook producer Nick Martorelli.

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