Doctor Aphra: The Kieron Gillen Effect

Doctor Aphra. It’s a name that has become common place in Star Wars fandom. Anyone who knows anything about Star Wars knows who she is, what she looks like and her quirky behaviour. For a character who never appeared in the films, she has had a huge impact on fans. Having first appeared in Darth Vader issue 3, she has gone from strength to strength, permeating through the galaxy in board games, comics and action figures. Since 2016, she has had her own comic series which has spanned forty issues and three annuals. After so long, this series is sadly coming to a close.

Back in the summer of this year, Literature Editor Steve Galloway and I were very fortunate to meet Kieron Gillen, who helmed the Darth Vader series and the beginning of Doctor Aphra. As the creator of Aphra (as well as the droids that follow her around), we were able to talk to him about her creation as well as the impact that she continues to have on the Star Wars universe.

We can’t start this interview without talking about Star Wars #67, which is out this week. What can you tell us?

Well, it’s the end of my run. As with Darth Vader, it’s always with my runs, here’s a beginning, middle and end. So, ok we’re going to go from here to here. The climax we saw last issue, with Trios’ death, it’s the final reconciliation with Leia. It’s a question of can Leia actually save her planet, does she want to? All the cast get their just desserts or not and we leave them, not at Hoth, but heading towards Hoth. For me, I started with my Star Wars stuff with Darth Vader, just after A New Hope and I’m ending with just before The Empire Strikes Back. I feel I’ve been part of bridging this gap and it’s been a hell of a thing to be involved with.

Leia and Trios are almost mirrors of themselves, how do you go about writing that?

Trios I wrote for the Darth Vader series and she was always the dark mirror of Leia. The Vader series was full of mirrors. Doctor Aphra in some ways, as well as Indiana Jones, is Han. Triple Zero and BeeTee are very clear, they’re very obvious. With Trios, when I came to Star Wars, I almost wanted to make Leia the main character. In Jason’s run, Luke had been the main character, doing lots with the Jedi, there wasn’t any more you could do with that because Luke doesn’t learn anything more before Empire. That’s why when I started with my run, I stepped back from Luke and focused on the military side. By Empire, Luke is commander, how did he become that. That all ties with Leia quite well. The second you get to there, it’s like Ok, Trios is sitting around, she’s an interesting character, and if you want to focus on Leia, you put them together.

Trios takes the step Leia doesn’t take…

When you’re writing, you’re always thinking, how happy an ending do you want to give Trios? Do they turn back at the last second, do they realise they were right or wrong? That moment of transcendence, that’s what you’re writing for. I’m glad people responded to her, she’s one of the more sophisticated characters.

How have you found the love that fans have shown for Aphra, Triple Zero and BeeTee?

It’s fun because I have written them for a couple of years so it’s like my daughter and weird, errant monster children have run off and had their own adventures. It’s really quite nice to watch. I speak to Si (Spurrier) regularly about what he’s doing on the book and plans, and still occasionally consults with me. When you are writing in a shared universe, you don’t feel a character you’ve created is real until someone else writes them. Because when you’re popping into a shared universe with your pet characters, they are only there because you’ve written them. The second they get a life of their own, when someone runs with them because they want to, it becomes something else. I watch Aphra with a smile, she does have a life of her own. It’s not as personal, it’s more distant, but I mean that as a good thing. You also see the cosplayers, it’s so cool. It means she’s embedded in the universe and that’s the really fun stuff.

We love the cross pollination of everything between your different works. Was that on purpose?

In writing, there’s a rule, in terms of efficiency, to not create more working parts than is necessary. So, you pick up stuff you’ve left and you run with it, it makes people feel rewarded. We do invent a lot of stuff and leave it hanging, so you use the relevant pieces. We’ve created a lot of things in the Star Wars universe that anyone could run with. The two journalists I created in the Doctor Aphra Annual, I quite liked them, someone could have picked them up and ran with them. So you see what there is and run with it.

In your creation of Aphra, were there any guidance’s?

I remember with Aphra, it was so organic. The original description, I was walking around Lucasfilm (pitching Star Wars), we had the meeting, and I remember I needed someone walking around with Vader who could do the talking. Star Wars is about adventure and I needed someone to fit the Han role that was fun, and I was just passing an Indiana Jones statue. I thought that would be quite cute. That was the core of it, and then I built everything on top of it. I had to reverse engineer it and find out why she would be on the side of the Imperials. That grows organically. Her original description I didn’t say about her ethnicity, it was open, same with her sexuality. All I knew was that she didn’t fancy Darth Vader. Jason came up with the relationship with Sana and that made sense.

Her relationship with Tolvan seems so realistic, it’s so perfect…

When we were doing her own run, I wanted her to talk about her sexuality. Believe me, I wish we could have had the kiss with Tolvan sooner, but you have to work for it. Her and Sana in Screaming Citadel, I wanted to them to get closer, but there’s just too much history there, real sad ex history. Tolvan and Aphra are definitely opposites attract. Planning their second year, it was like ‘no Aphra you idiot,’ bless her! I remember saying to Si that you need to get Sana, Tolvan and Aphra together, people will flip! Aphra is so good at the moment.

Will we see you return to Star Wars?

I’m written out for this bit of Star Wars. I’ve done a lot and need to do something else, so I don’t burn out. I may come back with a great idea, but it’s been a hell of a time…

A huge thank you to Kieron Gillen for taking the time to speak to us at Comics Salopia 2019 in Shrewsbury, UK. I’m sure I speak for everyone at Jedi News, when I say I really hope we get to see Gillen again, very soon…