Captain Phasma: A Lesson Learned in The Last Jedi

So this isn’t another essay or reflection on The Last Jedi.  I’m not looking deeper at the themes in the film nor am I furthering my analysis on Star Wars’ future as folklore in this post.  Rather, this piece is about an unexpected lesson I learned from The Last Jedi, care of everyone’s favorite chrome-plated stormtrooper Captain Phasma, regarding the growing Disney Canon of works in their Star Wars Universe.  What lesson, you may ask, did you glean from Phasma’s fifteen seconds of screen time?!?  While it’s probably quite the opposite of what Disney would want, I think it will make my Star Wars time far more enjoyable.

Here it is:  I’m done reading the Disney Canon novels and comics.

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This is Phasma strolling through the burned wreckage that was once my connection to the Disney Canon novels. / Photo Credit – The Last Jedi

This revelation may come as a bit of a surprise.  Admittedly, I’m someone who has dozens and dozens (and dozens) of the old Expanded Universe novels.  I’ve begun a slow-moving quest to buy and read them all, to complete the journey I began in my youth.  I want to fill a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with all the EU novels along with some of my academic books about Star Wars!  I’ve also read just about every novel the Disney Canon has given us so far.  I love reading Star Wars novels.  It’s been a major part of my love and experience of Star Wars for over twenty years.  So why am I tagging out?  The relationship of the books to the films has changed and it’s made me resentful of what I’m reading.  It’s causing me to be frustrated by the films too.  So why wouldn’t I stop reading them?

Here’s the crux of the problem, in the Disney Era, they are expanding the story of Star Wars across multiple mediums – movies, cartoons, novels, comics books, video games, YA novels, children’s books, card games, etc. – simultaneously.  At the same time, they want to save all the big surprises for their films.  Why wouldn’t they?  Would they really build up this big question of What has Luke been doing? only to reveal it a few months before the film comes out in a novel or comic book about his journey?  Of course they wouldn’t!  But Disney still wants new novels (comics, etc.) to sell and we, as fans, want more Star Wars stories to explore.  So the result is stories with no bearing whatsoever on the larger narrative.  In inverting the process of how the Expanded Universe functioned, they’ve created a world full of superficial Easter eggs, devoid of content or importance.

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This is how the EU rolled baby! / Photo Credit – Bantam Spectra

Yes, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was technically the first EU novel, being published in 1978.  But the Expanded Universe proper began in 1991 with the publication of Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire novel and Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire comic series.  This was eight years after Return Of The Jedi was released and the idea of a Prequel Trilogy was nothing more than the whisper of a rumor on the wind.  There was no new Star Wars happening anywhere outside of the EU.  This allowed the authors to create free of any constrictions outside of Lucas’s general approval and keeping the characters tonally and thematically consistent with what we saw in the films.

Authors created totally new characters and worlds (like Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Coruscant, etc. from Heir To The Empire) and they’d go back to flesh out the background characters in Lucas’s films, creating whole lives and worlds from a moment of screen time (such as in Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales from The Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales from Jabba’s Palace, or Tales of the Bounty Hunters).  Since the films were finished, if you wanted to expand the world of Star Wars those were your two options – create new or develop what was there.  Both were equally exciting!  Was I a little sad all I’d ever get to see Bossk do in the films was stare after I read these exciting stories?  Sure, but what else would I expect?  The films were over.

What Disney’s doing that’s causing my resentment is they are actively developing side characters from the films in their novels knowing they will have no impact on the larger narrative.  I am not cool with this!  This brings us back to Captain Phasma as our prime example.

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There is one character in this image who, if you replaced them in the film with a totally different character, it would have absolutely no effect on the overall plot whatsoever.  (Hint…they are wearing a shiny helmet.) / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

I’m pretty squarely a “good guy” kind of guy.  While I may be best friends with a certain “Imperial Talker,” I’m not one for villain swag.  Outside of a few t-shirts with Darth Vader on them (which I wear to open conversations about redemption and the power of unconditional love and faith (for real)) I don’t buy shirts featuring the Empire or their forces on them.  They are the bad guys.  Why would I want to wear the bad guys on my chest?!?  I made an exception going into The Force Awakens though.  I was SO captivated by the idea of this chrome-plated stormtrooper, this merciless and menacing new female villain, that I had to get a t-shirt with Captain Phasma on it.

……yeah.

I was more than a little upset with her lack of screen time and purpose in The Force Awakens.  BUT Disney promised it would all work out.  We’d be getting not one but TWO Phasma stories along “The Road to The Last Jedi” to flesh out her character.  YAY!!!!  The first was Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma novel.  I adored everything about it and still feel it’s the best the Disney Canon has offered so far (outside of Dark Disciple (but I feel Dark Disciple kind of has a foot in both camps as it was adapted from an unproduced episode of The Clone Wars)).  This was the Disney Canon’s first true masterpiece!  This novel traced Phasma’s life from her home planet of Parnassos to her rise in the First Order.  Then there was Kelly Thompson’s brilliantly written (and gorgeously drawn!) Captain Phasma comic miniseries.  This tale explained how Phasma survived the trash compactor in The Force Awakens and how she went about fixing her careless surrender of the shield codes which allowed the Resistance to destroy Starkiller Base.  It took us right up to the beginning of The Last Jedi.

[This should go without saying but SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW for The Last Jedi.]

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Remember when we were all excited to see this fight from the trailer?  Yeah…me too. / Photo Credit – The Last Jedi

As I went in to The Last Jedi, I was ready!  We were getting more Captain Phasma and I was armed with alllll this brilliant knowledge about her character!  I COULDN’T WAIT TO SEE HER…and then, in all honesty, I forgot she was even supposed to be in the film until she came out of nowhere to fight Finn and (maybe) die fifteen seconds later.  Not only did I spend all this time getting excited for a character who had even less importance in The Last Jedi then she did in The Force Awakens BUT everything about her character in The Last Jedi contradicted what we learn about her in the Phasma novel and the Captain Phasma comic!!!  WHAT THE HELL?!?

The DEFINING TRAIT of Phasma’s personality, as introduced in Phasma and developed through Captain Phasma is that SHE IS A SURVIVOR.  Phasma will do anything to survive.  Survival is her prime motivator.  But I’m supposed to believe this fierce warrior who is concerned with her own survival at all costs would a) engage in a pointless battle in an exploding hangar bay, b) fight Finn with some dumb spear thing when she has a blaster and could have ended the battle with one shot, c) wouldn’t leave his execution to her soldiers in those perilous circumstances anyway, or d) wouldn’t take two seconds to look down and confirm her kill before turning her back on the man she was fighting?!?  I call bullshit.

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Oh how I wish we got to see some semblance of this Captain Phasma in The Last Jedi.  Siiiiiiigh, if only,,. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Not only did this magnificent novel and comic series flesh out a character who wasn’t important at all but everything that Phasma does in The Last Jedi DIRECTLY CONTRADICTS what I learned about her in Phasma and Captain Phasma.  So, yes, I’m tagging out.  The Expanded Universe developed background characters to allow us to spend more time in a universe we loved that was otherwise closed.  That was all we had so that’s the playground they used.  The Disney Canon develops background characters because they want to sell a fucking novel and not give away secrets for the next movie.  It makes sense.  But it also makes me angry.  I feel manipulated and used.  And I resent them for it.  I would have none of these feelings if I wasn’t reading what the Disney Canon was putting out either.

So I’m done.  I enjoyed The Force Awakens (eventually) and I really enjoyed Rogue One and The Last Jedi.  But nothing I’ve read in any novel or comic has added anything to my enjoyment of those films (with the exception of James Luceno’s brilliant Catalyst which I feel added to my understanding and experience of Rogue One in every way – it was a perfect pairing!).  If anything, they detracted from my enjoyment because I felt manipulated into buying something that was promised to be part of a large, cohesive narrative (the Story Group’s oft cited role) where everything carries equal weight, when in reality it’s pointless filler.  Why would I keep doing something that makes me frustrated much less pay for something that makes me angry and resentful?  It seems stupid at best and masochistic at worst.

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This Phasma was such a terrifying, competent, badass.  How I loved her!  She made for a captivating villain. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Now, I’m not saying I’ll never, ever read another Disney Canon novel or comic.  Only humbled pride would come from a statement like that.  There may come a story I’m super excited about and I’ll give it a try.  Or maybe, years later, once I’ve finished the Expanded Universe in its entirety I’ll see what Disney’s been producing, independent of my watching their movies.  And of course there’s always gifts :).

Seriously!  I received several Disney Canon stories for Christmas and I’ve begun reading the short story collection From A Certain Point of View and I’ve read Jason Aaron’s trade paperback Yoda’s Secret War.  I’ve found myself really enjoying both!  In part I think it’s because I didn’t invest my time and money only to be upset again.  Rather, when I’m reading these stories I’m thinking of the people who gave them to me, excited to explore a Star Wars story they thought I’d like and share with them all the fun I took from it.  The nature of the gift fundamentally changes my experience of the work.  For me, this is a far more rewarding approach to the Disney Canon of stories.

When I have a craving to read about the world of Star Wars, I have hundreds of Expanded Universe stories I’m excited about (many I’ve read and many that are new too) waiting for me.  As to the Disney Canon, I think I’ll just stick to the movies for now, minus the exciting presents I have waiting for me :).  That’s, understandably, where the main focus of their worldbuilding is going on and where I find myself most enjoying what they’re giving us in their era of Star Wars.

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Has any Star Wars comic thus far looked so gorgeous??  I submit that they have not!  This is the Captain Phasma I was always hoping for. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

If you’re interested in more thoughts on Captain Phasma, Jeff has a nice little two-parter where he looks at Phasma in The Last Jedi and his earlier reflection on her in The Force Awakens.  You should read those too!

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20 thoughts on “Captain Phasma: A Lesson Learned in The Last Jedi

  1. Despite having read nearly every EU book, I’ve only read 1.5 of the new canon books. I’m not sure what changed for me. Maybe I just have less time? I definitely understand your feelings about the seeming disconnect between the movie and book. That’s really frustrating. It definitely doesn’t inspire me to start reading more of them!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I dare not speak for Mike, but since he and I are of the same mind on most things I will anyway…

      …it is insanely frustrating!!!! Both the Phasma novel and the comic series are superb but her quick demise in TLJ render her stories entirely useless and unnecessary. We didn’t need to spend the time and money on two stories about a character who is dispatched with such ease. And god forbid she return once again in Episode IX, although I’m sure many SW fans will cheer her return because they are incapable of recognizing a cheap gimmick or unwilling to ever fault the Story Group for an ounce of narrative stupidity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right on! I’d also add the inversion of the EU model is part of what makes this so frustrating. Boba Fett, for example, was this (relatively) minor character in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return Of The Jedi’ who fans fell in love with. So we got all sorts of novels and comics about Fett, after the fact, to give us more about him. We loved it! But when you reverse the order, give us loads of unnecessary information about a minor character, it’s so frustrating. If Phasma only had those few moments of screen time and these stories came years later I think I would have had a very different reaction to them. But in this order it’s maddening.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well said. There is intention to this madness, a constant marketed suggestion that SW fans must – MUST – partake in every morsel along the “journey” to the next film if they are to enjoy said film. Yet, nothing that is actually written – comic, novel, reference book, etc. – is actually necessary for one to watch these films and appreciate/understand them. We didn’t need more Phasma to experience Phasma in TLJ. Yet, the choice to give us more outside of the film’s came with a price (literally) and we all paid that price (literally and figuratively) for buying into it. You are right to walk away from the books and novels…why pay to be disappointed when disappointment is free to begin with?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, I wouldn’t rush to read them! Now, don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of the novels that I really, really loved when I read them! ‘Dark Disciple,’ ‘Catalyst,’ ‘A New Dawn,’ ‘Bloodline,’ ‘Ahsoka,’ and (of course!) ‘Phasma’ come readily to mind. I really enjoyed (and would recommend) and of them.

      What frustrates me is, well obviously the inversion I discuss above, but also how Disney sells this “one big connected story” that doesn’t live up to it. I get annoyed reading about stuff I’m told will be important only to find out it never is. So, I think if you wait and let the dust settle, you might appreciate them more reading them years down the line. But I certainly wouldn’t rush especially when there’s so much great stuff in the EU for our Star Wars fixes :).

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  2. I’ve just embarked on my own “journey” through the treasure trove of Star Wars comics but haven’t got round to reading the Phasma mini. However, I agree that her character has been handled atrociously. She deserves better for the Captain of the the First Order forces for goodness sake.

    I’m hoping Episode IX finally does her justice because I doubt we’ve seen the end of ol’ Phasma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bet you’re right. And now you get credit for calling Phasma’s eventual return two years in advance :).

      I’ll be interested to hear all your thoughts as you explore the Star Wars comics too. There’s SO MUCH out there! Marvel and Disney have been turning out a lot of new content, and that’s not even counting the hundreds of issues Dark Horse did for decades. Oh, on the exploration note, this is a thematic shift but I’ve finally decided to start reading some Dr. Strange! (I know we’ve talked about this before.) Where would you recommend I start? I was looking at the beginning of Aaron’s “Last Days of Magic” storyline as a starting point because I remember you liking/recommending it but I wanted to get your input.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m just purchased a whole load of Star Wars trades which I’m going to work my way through steadily. I’ve read Star Wars Vol 1&2 and Darth Vader Vol 1 and am already loving it!

        On the Dr Strange front, Last Days of Magic is a good a starting point (The Way of the Weird (I think that’s what it is called) is pretty great too!). Depending on how you feel about trades vs comic, the legacy stuff is actually not too bad a starting point in my opinion. Context helps but it isn’t overly necessary in my opinion. Let me know how you find it all!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for the guidance on Dr. Strange! I’ll absolutely keep you posted on how it unfolds.

        And I loved, loved, loved, loooooooved Darth Vader Vol. 1!!!! Vader’s realization about Luke and how they depict his relationship with the Emperor stand as some of my favorite Star Wars stories in either the EU or the Disney Canon. It’s so brilliant! I’m a little envious of the exciting reading you have ahead of you :).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I could not agree more, Darth Vader Vol 1 blew me away. It might just be me but I feel Rogue One is the only Star Wars film to truly give the character a real sense of threat. That corridor scene is simply fantastic…

        I’m going to take it slow so I can really enjoy it. It’s going to be a fun journey for sure.

        I know for a fact that Dr Strange will be touching on Secret Empire and the destruction of Las Vegas from February so if you need anymore of reason to follow it that might help.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. One of the things I love about ‘Rogue One’ is I feel it restores Darth Vader to the threat he originally was. He’s regularly rated as one of film’s most iconic villains and, in 1977, he was terrifying. But as a culture we’ve since learned he is redeemed (yay!) and we’ve had two generations (my own being the first) now able to grow up with the Prequels. So we know the hero Anakin Skywalker. When we look at Vader we see his conflict, his fall. All of this (intentionally) humanizes him. But ‘Rogue One’ gives us a scene more akin to framing a horror movie monster than a fallen Jedi or even a Sith Lord. So, when you watch the films in narrative order, it clearly lets us know Anakin Skywalker is dead and the monster Darth Vader is loose. It’s one of many, many reasons I love ‘Rogue One’ :).

        I completely agree with you on taking Darth Vader slowly too. I think it’s better to savor them! And, as I say in the post above, I really think this is the best way to absorb the Disney Canon material. They build so much hype around every novel and comic with their marketing when it comes out that it can be frustrating when you read it (at least for me). Nothing can live up to what they advertise. But when you let the dust settle and come to it on your own terms in your own time, I think it’s a lot of fun!

        And you’ve just totally sold on Dr. Strange. I might go back (as my local comic shop is having a back issue sale this week) and read this current storyline and then jump in with the Vegas stuff next month. Woo! In fact, I’ll have some free space in my monthly file soon as a title I love, ‘Luke Cage,’ is sadly being cancelled and I don’t think I’ll keep following ‘The Mighty Thor’ without Jane. So Dr. Strange may become a regular part of my monthly comic reading!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Michael,

    I hear you. We just were talking about how all of the plot holes with Star Wars characters will be filled in some way. Disney will have the fans watch a show, purchase a book or comic to fill in the points. Not cool for those who only watch the films, but it is a money maker for someone.

    There, my friend is where our fan-fiction pieces might find a niche. Never know.

    Gary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think one of the brilliant things about Star Wars is it’s always seemed to invite people to create in the world. That’s part of what I always loved about the Expanded Universe. Lucas would sign off on an idea or maybe say something seemed like it was out of character but, by and large, he let those working in his world create. With fan fiction and RPGs and all these other ways for us to create it’s a wonderful setup.

      It is a struggle with Disney though. They almost seemed to have weaponized the idea of “canon” to make as much money from people who want to see the “whole story” as they can. That was something else I loved about the EU. It was there if you wanted more than the films. It wasn’t there to fill holes in the film later so you have to buy more for a full story.

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  4. Great Post! Not-So-Great predicament. Yes, I share(d) your frustration.
    Got all a-quiver about seeing Phasma in VII and was left underwhelmed – in VIII: even more so (there is simply no justification for bringing her back, other than to promote her action figure/related merchandise!
    She represents th current state of shoddy storytelling – a trait we should not have to associate w Star Wars!
    Sadly, 2 months on, I have no urge to give Th Last Jedi a 2nd viewing, and still can’t summon any enthusiasm for IX 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not excited for ‘Solo’ at all either. It seems like a cash-grab by desecrating a beloved character. There’s just something about Han Solo…what we get in the Original Trilogy is perfect. Heck, what we get in ‘A New Hope’ is perfect! A mercenary looking out for himself who decides to commit to a cause and help his friends – it’s fine just as it is.

      I get what you’re saying about IX. I look at so many of these issues with the films or novels or most of the comics…and I just don’t find myself getting excited. I want to be! But the era of me getting super excited *just because it’s Star Wars* is, sadly, over. Now I have to see something to really get me excited before I’ll jump in. Thankfully I’ll always have all the old EU books and the films/cartoons Lucas gave us for my Star Wars fixes!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Th only spinoff movie I would make time for is one featuring those bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back. They captured my imagination even tho they had less screentime than Phasma!
        Nothing beats th old EU books!
        Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ‘Tales of the Bounty Hunters’ was one of my favorite EU novels! I loved the short stories about all the bounty hunters. It would make for a pretty great film too. They could do it like it had a bunch of disconnected, slightly overlapping stories too so we could see everyone in their element, doing their own thing. I would so see that!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yay!
        I always wanted to see more of Zuckuss, IG-88 and especially Bossk!
        Every now and then, those pesky Trandoshans turn up in my fiction! 😉
        “Everyone in their element” – sounds good to me! Ell to the yeah, I’d go see that too!!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Can you imagine how great a movie with Bossk and IG-88 would be?!? Sure, I’d love to see them all on screen but I’d happily take a film where those two team up to take on a bounty. I’m with you too, Bossk was always my favorite. He looked so captivating! He grabbed my imagination with just a few seconds of screen time. I also always loved the idea of IG-88 too, this droid hunting and acting on its own. I mean I liked Boba Fett, sure. But Bossk and IG-88 were always the bounty hunters I was most fascinated with!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. It’s amazing!
        Th only reason all these cool figures appeared was to promote their respective action figures – so much great design and only a few seconds onscreen!
        I finally got to see my Death Star plans movie (Rogue One!) after only 26 years of waiting, so there is hope that this bounty hunter movie we wish for will eventually materialise!
        Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

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