Last week was Force Friday and Disney began getting people hyped for The Last Jedi by dropping all sorts of new Star Wars merchandise. There was excitement for Black Series figures and LEGOs and (of course) porgs in any possible variety. But my Force Friday list only had one MUST HAVE item on it – Delilah S. Dawson’s new Star Wars novel Phasma. I’ve been waiting since April for this book! Hannah and I enjoyed our traditional mid-work Force Friday run and both excitedly bought the new novel. I couldn’t wait to read it! And once I started I couldn’t put it down!
I can’t remember the last Star Wars book I bought and started immediately. I’ll admit (with some shame) despite my deep and abiding love of the Expanded Universe, I still haven’t read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn, his first novel for Disney Canon. I KNOW. But I spent my summer finishing the Outlander series (worth it!!!) and reading about the multiverse okay? However I had to read Phasma as soon as I could. I bought the novel Friday, sat down with it Monday…and I read three hundred pages before I went to bed. Was I exhausted for work? Yep. Was it worth it? YES! I finished the novel after work on Tuesday and, fuelled by my excitement over the book and my greater understanding of Phasma as a character, started to re-watch The Force Awakens. I wanted to see the film through the eyes Delilah S. Dawson offered. Admittedly I have a complicated relationship with The Force Awakens. But in the wake of Phasma I found myself enjoying it even more. I didn’t stop there! Thursday after work I hit my local comic shop to pick up the first issue of Kelly Thompson, Marco Checchetto, and Andres Mossa’s new miniseries Captain Phasma. I found myself in love with the comic too! THIS is the Disney Canon’s coming-of-age moment.
In the lead up to The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma was one of the characters who interested me the most. I’ve never been an “Empire guy.” I’m with the Rebel Alliance through and through (as evidenced by the time I shaved their logo onto the back of my head for opening night). I’m also not the type of reader or filmgoer who is overly drawn to the villain. I like my heroes and I like to root for them as I see them save the day! I’ve always been more interested in and connected to Luke over Vader, Han and Chewie over Boba Fett and Jabba, and Leia over the Emperor. But the image of Gwendoline Christie’s chrome-clad Stormtrooper captain was captivating! We’d never seen a Stormtrooper officer before! And having a new, strong female character was something to get excited about.
Like many people, I was more than a little disappointed with Captain Phasma’s lack of screen time and even less character development in The Force Awakens. So I was anxiously hoping Delilah S. Dawson would finally bring out Captain Phasma’s inherent potential. What I found in Phasma delivered everything I’d hoped for and so much more. I’ve been honest about my frustrations with the Disney Canon (most clearly outlined in this essay) in the past. So it’s a BIG moment for me when I can excitedly say, for me, Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma is the best novel in the new Disney Canon. Period. Full stop. No contest. It’s also the first novel to truly live up to the old Expanded Universe. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I can’t wait to re-read it. Phasma‘s the first novel since Disney bought Lucasfilm to make me feel like it did as a kid wrapped in the EU novels, lost in the ever-growing world of Star Wars!
I have a set of personal criteria I use to evaluate any new Star Wars novel, comic, film, or cartoon I experience. First, I want it to be necessary. With decades of brilliant Star Wars stories in the Expanded Universe we can easily scratch any Star Wars itch. A Star Wars story can’t be necessary simply by existing nor can it be necessary simply because a corporate marketing strategy calls it “canon.” If a new story doesn’t a) improve on something offered in the EU or b) take us in an exciting new direction it’s kinda pointless to me. Second, it has to add something important to Star Wars. I want it to give new depth to the characters or the myth/message of Star Wars. Lastly, I want it to honor and adhere to the themes and tone of Lucas’s work. No matter who owns a company, if you tell a Star Wars story that explicitly or implicitly contradicts what George Lucas has done then it isn’t really Star Wars.
In Phasma, Delilah S. Dawson does it all! Then Kelly Thompson’s Captain Phasma #1 keeps it going!
I’m not a spoiler guy so you don’t have to worry about this piece ruining anything in either Phasma or Captain Phasma #1. I don’t like spoilers in general and I’ll especially avoid them for two works that have so greatly impressed me. Trust me, they’re worth saving until you have the time to read them yourself. That being said…
In Phasma we meet Resistance spy Vi Moradi who is captured by First Order officer Captain Cardinal. Cardinal’s charged with training the young recruits before they are released to Phasma’s command. Vi was on an intelligence gathering mission to learn as much as she could about the mysterious Captain Phasma. Through Vi we learn of Phasma’s youth growing up on Parnassos, her fateful meeting with General Brendol Hux, and the series of events that brought her to her position within the First Order. One of my favorite things about reading the EU novels was how the authors could take a random background character and build a complete life around them, making them dynamic and fleshing them out in their own right. Then when I’d go back and re-watch the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in A New Hope or the scenes in Jabba’s Palace in Return Of The Jedi I’d carry that knowledge with me and those characters became fully alive. I knew their past, their personality, their motivations, and their aspirations. This is exactly what Phasma does to my experience of Gwendoline Christie’s enigmatic character. Captain Phasma means something to me now. She too is a character who feels fully alive. While I still feel we should have gotten some of this in The Force Awakens, Delilah S. Dawson has rectified that frustrating oversight. In finishing the novel, my excitement for The Last Jedi noticeably jumped too. Now that I know Phasma I can’t wait to see what’s next for her!
Thankfully it’s not just Phasma we learn about in this novel. After reading Phasma I feel, for the first time since they were introduced, like I FINALLY have a sense of who the First Order are. In the lead-up to The Force Awakens I was excited to learn about our new villains. Were they a remnant of the Empire?? A new organization?? What was their modus operandi?? What did they want?? After seeing the movie…I still had no idea. The First Order just seemed to be a generic knock-off of the Empire where the Stormtrooper uniforms were a little more streamlined and the commanding officers yelled a lot more. But in the pages of Phasma Delilah S. Dawson showed me the First Order’s ideology. I could finally see what they wanted and why people would serve them so willingly. I met a group fervently dedicated to righting the chaos and bureaucratic inefficiency they saw rising in the wake of the New Republic. Their passion and single-minded focus hauntingly mirrors the forces that have given rise to Fascist organizations throughout history – a story, sadly, now as relevant as ever. I learned how they indoctrinate their recruits and why they bring them in as children. I saw all the First Order soldiers aren’t evil, a nuanced depiction of “the bad guys” that allows real depth into their ranks. And we see how Phasma – an unrelenting force of nature willingly serving any cause that aids her own agenda for as long as it does so – stands apart in skill, ferocity, and menace from other members of the First Order.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Dawson manages to authentically explain why Phasma so readily hands over Starkiller Base’s shield codes to Han Solo, Chewie, and Finn. The idea of this badass Stormtrooper captain giving those codes away so quickly never felt like it fit to me when I watched The Force Awakens. But Dawson explained it so perfectly and so subtly I didn’t even know she did it until I re-watched the film and realized it all made sense! If you haven’t read it and don’t want to know how Dawson accomplishes this, skip the paragraph in between the next two pictures. To be fair, it’s only a mild thematic spoiler but I would want the alert myself anyway :).
One of the clearest things we learn about Phasma’s character (something incidentally that radiates from the way Gwendoline Christie carries herself in her gleaming armor in The Force Awakens) is that, above all else, Phasma is a survivor. Whether we are talking about her family; her community, the Scyre, on Parnassos; or the First Order itself, she is loyal to her own survival above all else. Whatever aids her gains her absolute dedication as well as a commanding, powerful, and ruthless ally…so long as it continues to help her. When Phasma is abducted and threatened by Chewie it makes perfect sense that she’d give up the codes. Is she scared of Finn? Probably not. She already knows he isn’t one for bloodshed given what happened on Jakku. But she now has the unpredictable addition of a smuggler and a very angry Wookie. To protect herself, she gives them the codes. Phasma isn’t blindly loyal to the First Order. She serves them because they give her the power and security she wants (as well as a wonderful outlet for her natural talents). In the interest of self-preservation she’d never die to protect Starkiller Base. It all makes sense now! THANK YOU Delilah S. Dawson!!!
This character trait is picked up without missing a beat in Kelly Thompson’s Captain Phasma #1 (illustrated and colored beautifully by Marco Checchetto and Andres Mossa respectively) Where Phasma showed us who Phasma was before joining the First Order and donning her chrome armor, Captain Phasma follows her in the wake of Starkiller Base’s destruction at the hands of Poe Dameron and his Black Squadron. The entire comic’s tone is a perfect fit with the novel. Delilah S. Dawson gave us Phasma’s past and Kelly Thompson is showing us her future and both characterizations fit together perfectly. Again, I’ll refrain from any major spoilers as it’s more fun if you take the ride for yourself sometime.
With this comic, Kelly Thompson was given a tricky task – craft an exciting story with no real space on the timeline to speak of. This miniseries tells the tale of Captain Phasma from the end of The Force Awakens all the way up to The Last Jedi…whiiiich begins immediately where The Force Awakens ends on Ahch-To, with Rey handing Luke Skywalker his original lightsaber. So Kelly Thompson has to craft an enthralling storyline spanning anywhere from a few minutes (minimum) to maybe a day (maximum). That’s no easy task. But she hooked me! The comic opens with Phasma recording her statement for future debriefing and her narration drives the story, following a minute-by-minute account of the destruction of Starkiller Base. An aura of menace radiates off her in every panel as she moves through the crumbling base with an unwavering focus, seemingly unconcerned by the base crumbling around her. Thompson, Checchetto, and Mossa fill each panel with tension and action. You can see the chaos but Phasma sees only her goal. I’d tell you more but spoilers!
Just as Phasma was more than I hoped it could be, Captain Phasma #1 exceeded all my expectations too. Captain Phasma is the first Star Wars comic to be on my pull list since February of 2016 when I lost most of my interest in the stories they were telling. Too many of the comics felt like spinning wheels and biding time, sandwiched between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back with no narrative tension or real opportunities for character progression. However Kelly Thompson finally, finally takes our narrative SOMEWHERE NEW. Disney ties so many of their author’s hands because they want new material but they don’t want to ruin any surprises for the films leaving us with stories that are fun yet seem inconsequential (like Shattered Empire and Aftermath). But with both Phasma and Captain Phasma we’re finally starting to see development in and around The Force Awakens. In another BIG moment for me I can honestly say I’ve never been more excited by the last page of a Star Wars comic than I was with Captain Phasma #1. I can’t wait to see what happens next!!
My week with Captain Phasma wasn’t only exciting but it showed me – it finally showed me – the Disney Canon has the ability to fully live up to what I want from my Star Wars stories. Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma and Kelly Thompson’s Captain Phasma are necessary because the take Captain Phasma, an intriguing character from the film who we learned next-to-nothing about, and bring her to life. In their narratives they add important dimension after dimension to Phasma herself, her relationship with General Armitage Hux, the First Order as a whole, and finally begin to develop the time period around The Force Awakens which Disney has left all but empty in the last two years. Lastly they fit, in theme and tone, with everything we see in The Force Awakens, with each other, and there’s nothing in them that wouldn’t fit perfectly within the stories Lucas gave us. All this and they managed to be engaging and exciting too! I am forever grateful to Delilah S. Dawson and Kelly Thompson, not only for helping make Phasma the character she deserves to be but for guiding the Disney Canon to its coming-of-age moment. Here’s hoping they’ve set the tone for the stories in the future too! How amazing would it feel to be this excited after the credits start to roll on The Last Jedi?!?