“She’s Chaos and Craves Thrills and Danger”: Sarah Kuhn Talks Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original

Plus, get a first look at the full cast for the upcoming audio drama.

Doctor Aphra has become a breakout star from Marvel’s modern run of Star Wars comics — popular enough to earn her own ongoing series, as well as action figures. Somewhere between hero and villain, the galactic archaeologist is about to go on a new adventure: Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original, an expanded adaptation of her introduction in Marvel’s Darth Vader, in which she makes a deal with the Sith Lord and begins a memorable (if crazy and dangerous) journey.  The release arrives July 21 and features a full cast, which StarWars.com is excited to reveal below:

Emily Woo Zeller as Aphra
Jonathan Davis as Boba Fett
Sean Patrick Hopkins as Luke Skywalker
Sean Kenin as Triple-Zero
Nicole Lewis as Sana Starros
Carol Monda as Maz Kanata
Euan Morton as The Emperor
Catherine Taber as Leia Organa
Marc Thompson as Darth Vader

StarWars.com caught up with Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original author Sarah Kuhn to talk Aphra’s “immediate chaos,” hearing Beetee’s beeps for the first time, and what the adaptation’s new and expanded scenes might involve.

Doctor Aphra Audio Original cover

StarWars.com: When were you first introduced to Doctor Aphra, and what did you think of her?

Sarah Kuhn: I met her like so many of us did, in Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s incredible Darth Vader comic series. 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 she really relishes everything she’s doing, she’s just having the best time. She grabbed me by the throat — when she’s on the page, it’s hard to look anywhere else. I had such a visceral reaction to her right away, I just loved her.

StarWars.com: You’re adapting a comic book into audio form, which is a rare thing. What’s that process been like?

Sarah Kuhn: Fascinating! And also a bit intimidating, because I love Aphra so much and she has been written so brilliantly by Kieron and Simon Spurrier and now Alyssa Wong. It’s amazing to get the opportunity to write a character you adore, but it’s also terrifying, because you really, really want to do her justice. I re-read the Vader comics we were basing the story on, as did my incredible editor, Elizabeth Schaefer. We went through and pulled out all of Aphra’s pieces — fit them together and shaped them into a more Aphra-centric arc (which I think she would appreciate, because obviously she would want to be the star, not Vader!). Then I tried to imagine what Aphra was doing when she wasn’t on the page, and to find areas where we could expand and get into her backstory, her non-Vader adventures, and her hidden vulnerabilities. And probably the most important decision we made was to tell this in her voice, from her POV — which helped me do things like fill in places where maybe you can see something on a comic book page, but you aren’t hearing it in dialogue. More importantly, I wanted Aphra to be able to tell her own story — because you know the way she tells it is going to be super entertaining.

StarWars.com: What do you think the audio form adds to this story?

Sarah Kuhn: One thing Elizabeth really encouraged me to do was to take advantage of the audio format in ways that were very specific to Aphra. She is the most unreliable narrator you will ever meet. She has so much bravado and swagger, and for her, lying is like breathing. I loved thinking of how she would tell this story, how she would spin things to make herself look over-the-top amazing. The framing device is that she’s making a recording about her exploits, so she’ll do things like rewind and delete bits if they don’t sound cool enough and then re-record them — one of my favorites is when, right after meeting Vader, she decides to add a bit where she gives this really awesome speech to him. It’s probably what she wanted to do in retrospect, and it makes her sound more like the dashing, devil-may-care adventurer she wants people to see her as. Exploring all the ways we could really use the format to bring her character out was so much fun, because it made her way of telling us this story so revealing, almost like a character unto itself. And it helps us see her more fully — even the vulnerabilities she’s buried so deep. Emily Woo Zeller gives such a tour de force performance — you can really hear all of this in her voice, just every level. And Nick Martorelli, the amazing producer, created all these beautiful, immersive soundscapes and atmosphere, so you can really sink into it.

Darth Vader #3 cover

StarWars.com: People are going to hear Aphra and the murder droids for the first time. That’s kind of amazing.

Sarah Kuhn: It is, isn’t it? Personally, I have been dying to know what they sound like! I would write dialogue amongst the three of them and just cackle to myself, because it’s so entertaining and they have such distinctive voices on the page. Even Beetee’s beeps are very distinctive! Getting to hear them for the first time is absolutely thrilling. The entire cast for this audiobook just blows me away, as does Nick’s producing — it’s interesting, because I think with most writers, your characters start to talk to you. You can hear them in your head, and they become these fully-realized people to you. And now that I’ve actually heard them, I feel that even more strongly. When I hear Aphra in my head, she’s Emily.

StarWars.com: Can you tell us anything about the new or extended scenes?

Sarah Kuhn: Many of the new scenes involve Sana Starros — I have always been intrigued by that relationship, because I love both of those characters and a lot of what we’ve seen is the bitter aftermath of them. And even in that bitter aftermath, they have so much chemistry! I really wanted to know what they were like when they were together — and how cool that I got this job, because I got to write some of that myself! I also think Aphra is extra fun to write when she’s trying to be smooth, but something unsettles her. And a beautiful, impossibly cool lady that she suddenly connects with at university unsettles her a whole lot. I loved writing them trying to court each other, because of course it is completely chaotic and somehow involves Aphra constantly falling off things and all sorts of other hijinks. But it also reveals so much about both of them, all these softer things they’re trying so hard to keep hidden, all the feelings they’re so afraid of. There are a lot of other new things and expanded parts and I don’t want to reveal too much, but one of my other favorite new scenes is the opening, which is a classic space battle between Aphra and Maz Kanata — I wanted to show Aphra being a badass and being really good at her job right off, so we see where all that panache comes from.

StarWars.com: Finally, why do you think fans love Aphra so much?

Sarah Kuhn: I mean, so many reasons! I love that she resonates with so many. For me, it’s a couple things. One is representational — as a little Asian American girl who loved Star Wars, I didn’t really see myself in it. Aphra’s face looks like mine. I could cosplay as her and I wouldn’t get, “Oh, you’re the Asian version of that character,” I would just be Aphra. I think she’s made a lot of people feel seen, and I love that she is always unapologetically herself and having so much fun being herself. And from a character standpoint, I love that she’s chaos and craves thrills and danger, but she also has this undeniable need to survive. There is an inherent conflict between those two states of being — I loved exploring that, and I hope people love hearing it.

Doctor Aphra: An Audiobook Original arrives July 21 and is available for pre-order now.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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