[email protected]: What We Learned from the “Star Wars Audiobooks: Doctor Aphra” Panel

San Diego Comic-Con may not be happening in person this year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to enjoy some fun panel conversations with the creative minds behind some of our favorite entertainment thanks to [email protected].

This morning’s “Star Wars Audiobooks: Doctor Aphra panel brought together Nick Martorelli of Penguin Random House Audio with author Sarah Kuhn, voice actors Emily Woo Zeller (Chelli Lona Aphra) and Marc Thompson (Darth Vader, more), and Del Rey’s Elizabeth Schaefer to discuss this audio-play retelling of the Star Wars: Darth Vader Marvel comic book series in which the character of Doctor Aphra was first introduced. Below is a bullet-point list breaking down what we learned from this fascinating 45-minute conversation.

Watch Star Wars Audiobooks: Doctor Aphra | [email protected] 2020:

  • Penguin Random House Audio wanted to do another audio original after Star Wars: Count Dooku – Jedi Lost, and Doctor Aphra seemed like the next logical step because the character burst off the comic book page with such a strong voice.
  • Sarah Kuhn was chosen because of her Heroine Complex series. She was a big Star Wars fan from a very young age and continues to love it passionately. She freaked out when she got the offer.
  • This is partially an adaptation of the Star Wars: Darth Vader Marvel Comics series where Doctor Aphra is first introduced, but the narrative is now told from her perspective. Kuhn and Elizabeth Schaefer re-read the comics series before developing the audiobook and the first thing they decided was to put it 100% in Aphra’s perspective via first-person narration.
  • Kuhn found it appealing that as a character, Aphra is a “chaos monster” with a survival instinct.
  • Nick Martorelli had advice about taking a visual medium and adapting it into an audio medium. The framing device of Aphra’s narration allows the story to skip around in time.
  • Emily Woo Zeller was excited to submit her audition and talked about the difference between a standard audiobook and one based on a comic book. She says the recording process was very intense and feels that Aphra is her alter-ego.
  • Schaefer listened in on one of the recording sessions and she found herself crying during one of the more emotional scenes.
  • Kuhn knew while she was writing that whoever got the part of Doctor Aphra would have to do very long monologues, similar to when she set one of her graphic novels in a giant library and she knew the artist would have to draw thousands of books on the shelves. “Writers are jerks,” she laughed.
  • The difference between Count Dooku and this audiobook is that Aphra talks far more than Asajj Ventress.
  • Zeller says part of the fun was getting to explore what Aphra’s “ins and outs” were in every corner of her brain. Kuhn agrees, saying there are a lot of different shades to Aphra’s personality. “Making that authentic, both in the writing and the acting, is very difficult.”
  • Marc Thompson says it’s always super fun playing these iconic characters. He was really looking forward to playing off of other actors again, but since the recording happened during quarantine he had to do it by himself and battled a lot of ambient noise in his home.
  • Thompson says it’s easier to voice the individual characters one at a time without reading the narration in-between rather than having to find each of their voices over and over again (as would be his usual task as audiobook reader).
  • When writing, Kuhn tried to differentiate between the types of Wookiee roars for Thompson’s reference.
  • Zeller says audiobook readers usually try to stay as true to the author’s word as possible, but they had more license to breathe life into Doctor Aphra. Because the entire story is told through audio, the way the world looks has to be created via audio cues.
  • Kuhn looked for ways to expand and add to Aphra’s story, and as a writer who’s very into romance, she decided to delve into Aphra’s college-era romance with Sana Starros to build the dynamic between those two characters.
  • Some scenes between Aphra and Sana were recorded together via Zoom to help with the chemistry and interplay between the actors. “Having them in the room, being able to hear their performances back and forth, gives them a nice, solid foundation.”
  • Martorelli acted as the scene partner via Zoom for Zeller when the other actors weren’t around. He says there was one scene where he got too carried away doing Han Solo’s voice and kept reading the dialogue even though Zeller didn’t have any further lines in that scene.
  • Marc Thompson’s favorite part to record was when Vader and Aphra visit Tatooine and Aphra is needling him for information. The scenes that stuck with Zeller were Aphra’s time in university with Sana Starros, because she liked seeing her arc follow through from her youth. Kuhn says “It was really fun to try to make a bigger picture of her, being able to delve into the different parts of her life where she has been in different kinds of chaos– finding a little bit of what is underneath the bravado.”

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra – An Audiobook Original is available now.