Along with the many action figures, Lego sets, and stuffed porgzillas (I kid you not) that hit retail shelves on Force Friday, there were also a couple of novels that were released last Friday as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi publishing campaign. One of these books details the history of Captain Phasma from the sequel trilogy – her humble beginnings, her rise to power, and her induction into the First Order. Read on for the full review. Spoilers ahead…
I remember the first time I saw the chrome armor of Captain Phasma in the days leading up to the release of The Force Awakens. I was blown away by the austere beauty of the design and the powerful way that actress Gwendoline Christie carried herself in costume. Force Friday came in September of 2015, and I was one of the many that flocked to retail stores at midnight to get my hands on some of the new merch for the upcoming movie, and a Captain Phasma figure was at the top of my list, no doubt due in part to the fact that the marketing department freaking loved this character. But alas, December came and The Force Awakens proved that Star Wars was back, and it was here to stay.
But what about this new character that had me so enthralled from the beginning? What was her impact on the story in The Force Awakens? Sadly, the answer to that is that Phasma was grossly underutilized in the movie, especially when compared to her prominence during the film’s marketing campaign. It’s pretty clear that the creators of Captain Phasma had high hopes that she would become to the new generation of fans what Boba Fett was to the fans of the classic trilogy – the cool-looking mysterious warrior that just might be the best at what she does.
Well, they succeeded to a degree on that front, and I’ll concede that Phasma has more screen time already than Boba Fett ever had at the start of the OT, but I feel like so much more could have been done to establish her as a real threat to the protagonists of the movie. Let’s face it, it should have been Phasma, not “Nines”, that faced Finn in combat on Takodana.
At the very least, the Phasma novel provides a little bit more understanding as to why she was so quick to hand over the keys to Starkiller in the movie’s third act, so if you’re one of those that was really bothered by her easy surrender in the film, perhaps this book will ease some of your concern.
For what it is, Phasma is a solid story and a good addition to your Star Wars library. Dawson provides us with some interesting new characters and shines a little more light into how stormtroopers are trained under the First Order’s strict process of indoctrination. I have some problems with Dawson’s writing style, but this may just be personal preference as it is a technically well-written novel, so I’ll give her a little bit of a pass there, especially considering that the story was quite interesting.
Her constant use of the phrase “for all that” was a little grating after a while and a couple of her real-world comparisons bordered on Wendig territory, though not nearly as jarring. Her use of the phrase “tastes like chicken” pulled me out of the story a little bit, but I can’t blame her for this as the nickname for the AT-ST, “Chicken Walker”, has already been used by characters in-universe thanks to other authors. So, yes, there are chickens in the galaxy far, far away.
The story of Phasma is told through the words of a Resistance spy named Vi Moradi, who was captured by the Star Destroyer Absolution and interrogated by the red-clad stormtrooper Captain Cardinal. Cardinal is in equal standing with Phasma, as the work of training the stormtrooper recruits has been evenly divided between the two captains. Cardinal works with the younger children until they are graduated and are passed on to Phasma who completes their training and introduces them to real combat.
Cardinal is a fine officer in the First Order, exemplary in every way, yet he has been overshadowed by Phasma ever since she arrived with his superior, Brendol Hux, ten years ago after he escaped being marooned on Phasma’s homeworld – the backwater planet of Parnassos – a world devastated by nuclear disaster over a hundred years ago.
Cardinal has long suspected that Phasma is not the devoted poster child of the First Order that everyone makes her out to be, and after finding out that Vi has been to Parnassos and learned secrets about Phasma’s past, he takes her below deck on the Absolution to question her in secret. Vi learned what she knows of Phasma from a former warrior in her clan named Siv. The story Vi tells is through her eyes, so even though we get more details on Phasma’s past, she still maintains a level of mystery, which is one of the things that I really liked about the book.
As the story unfolds, readers discover that Phasma had a severely difficult upbringing on Parnassos, where every day was a struggle just to survive. Children were a rarity, and the age of fourty was nearing the end of one’s life expectancy. If you made it through the day on Parnassos without succumbing to illness, starvation, or falling to your death in the rocky environment, it was a good day.
After stopping a would-be usurper from taking the leadership role in her clan, the Scyre, Phasma and her one-legged brother, Keldo became co-leaders of the clan. Keldo assumed the role as the political leader while Phasma, a natural-born warrior, trained the clan to defend themselves against enemy clans such as their most fierce rivals, the Claws.
When Brendol Hux, the First Order officer responsible for creating the stormtrooper training program, crash lands on Parnassos in his ship that had once been the private luxury yacht of the late Emperor Palpatine, the locals encounter him and his troopers who survived in an escape pod. Brendol promises to provide them with food, medicine, and the chance to become something greater as part of the First Order if they can get him to his ship. The rest of Phasma’s story follows her journey to escort Brendol back to his ship, so he can contact the First Order and provide salvation for her people.
The group, made up of Brendol and his three stormtroopers, Phasma, and four of her most dedicated warriors, suffers great loss along the way. When they finally do arrive at Brendol’s ship, Phasma’s brother Keldo arrives with the remaining Scyre people and the Claws, having allied with them after Phasma abandoned him on her quest with Brendol against his strict orders to stay.
A bloody battle ensues and the only survivors are Phasma, Brendol, Siv, Keldo, and Frey, the only child living among the Scyre. Phasma mercilessly kills her own brother, proving that she will do whatever it takes to survive as she gladly gets into bed with the First Order, anything to get off the godforsaken rock that is Parnassos. In a surprising move, however, Phasma sides with Brendol as he refuses to take the pregnant warrior, Siv, with them, stating that she is too weak to serve the First Order. They do, however, allow Frey to join them as Brendol is all too glad to add to his ranks of child warriors.
It is later revealed that Phasma murdered Brendol Hux, and later, even Frey was killed due to a mysterious “weapons malfunction”. It seems that Phasma was only ever looking out for her own interests, and she makes darn sure to sever any connections to her past and to eliminate those who know the truth about her humble origins. When Cardinal learns this shocking truth, he immediately reveals his discovery to Brendol’s son Armitage, hoping to oust Phasma from her position in the First Order, branding her for the traitor that she truly is.
However, Cardinal’s hopes come crashing down when Armitage reveals that he has known of Phasma’s treachery all along and had even given his approval to the murdering of his own father. After this revelation, Cardinal’s trust in the First Order is shaken dramatically, and he makes the decision to show proof of the atrocity to his fellow officers at their next meeting.
Unfortunately, the evidence that Vi gave him (a flesh-eating beetle like the one that infected Hux and Phasma’s old stone knife with its poisoned blade) would never be presented to the proper authorities as Hux bans Cardinal from attending any future meetings amongst his fellow officers and superiors. Cardinal had made good on his word and allowed Vi the opportunity to escape, but he refuses to defect and leave with her. He wants only one thing, to end Phasma of her career that is built on nothing but betrayal and deception. He decides to confront her in the training room.
Phasma matches Cardinal step for step and soon proves his superior in hand-to-hand combat, leaving him for dead as he bleeds out from the poisoned blade on the training room floor. Before succumbing to his inevitable death, Vi shows up in “borrowed” stormtrooper armor and saves his life. She puts his body in stasis until she can get him proper medical attention. She then sets out for Parnassos where Siv and her daughter are waiting.
The last chapter of the book takes place one year after Phasma left Parnassos. She travels back to the crash site of Brendol’s chrome yacht in her TIE fighter and meticulously removes sections of the hull plating and takes the pieces to one of the abandoned factories on the planet to craft her unique armor. It is in this moment that she becomes who she has always wanted to be.
After reading this novel, I expect even less for Christie’s face to grace the screen in The Last Jedi. It is made clear in the book that no one in the First Order has even seen her real face, except for Brendol Hux, and he’s no longer in the picture. She does pull her mask off once to reveal herself to Cardinal just before leaving him for dead, and the book’s description of her face and hair is pretty much identical to that of Gwendoline Christie. So even if you don’t see her mug in the movie, rest assured, that is exactly what she looks like.
If anything, this novel showed a lot of promise for Phasma’s character in the sequel trilogy and got me excited for the upcoming four-issue comic mini-series that picks up where we left off with Phasma in The Force Awakens. I truly hope that we see more about Vi and Cardinal in future stories, and perhaps they will even appear in the comic series as well.
While this novel is not among my favorites in the new canon, I enjoyed it overall. Perhaps I was so burned by her role in The Force Awakens that I just didn’t care for her as much as I should have to really get the most out of this book. But like I mentioned, for what it is it’s a good read, and it’s a worthy addition to your Star Wars library. It makes sense of Phasma’s easy defeat at Starkiller base by revealing that she only cares about the First Order as long as it benefits her to do so. When it came to her life or betrayal, she did what she has always done – throw everyone else under the hoverbus.
This book certainly adds to Phasma’s legend and cements her as a fierce and mighty warrior that is not to be reckoned with:
“Armitage thinks he’s got a Kath hound on a leash, but what he’s got is a rancor just waiting for the gate to open. No one will see the real Phasma until the moment when what the First Order wants is no longer what she wants. One day – and it’s coming – Phasma will betray them all.”
Hopefully, Rian Johnson and company will deliver on this promise in The Last Jedi.
Star Wars: Phasma is available now wherever books are sold. Until next time, happy reading Star Wars fans!