HAPPY STAR WARS DAY! Today, the long awaited Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released! I haven’t been in to see it yet, but I hope to go this weekend. In the build up to release, I have been collecting Phasma items like a mad woman, asking for them for Christmas, and watching Gwendoline Christie’s social media like a hawk. I am utterly in love with Phasma for a plethora of reasons; one of the biggest is today’s review of Delilah S. Dawson’s PHASMA.
This was the very first Star Wars book I had ever read, and I was really apprehensive about starting it, because I was afraid I was “in” enough with Star Wars lingo, culture, and knowledge to be able to keep up, and plus, the Star Wars fandom has long positioned itself as a man’s world. However, I follow Delilah S. Dawson on Twitter, and once I got over the initial shock and joy that she was going to be writing an entire novel about Captain Phasma’s backstory, I read on her timeline that this book was aiming to be accessible for anyone who wanted to give it a shot. Bolstered by this, I eagerly awaited the release date. It’s been months since release, and I’ve already read it twice, but I still get so excited to just think about it. I’ve never finished a book before and flipped back to the front to read it again, but I did that with this amazing novel.
Let me preface this review with this: I am absolutely gaga for Captain Phasma for a lot of reasons. Some of which are as follows:
- She’s a female villain in a universe (multi-verse?) dominated by male villains. Darth Vader, the Sith, Kylo Ren, the Emperor — heck, when was the last time we saw a woman working for the Empire at all, even keying in coordinates for planetary destruction? I love a good lady badass, and when she’s a creature of violence and physicality, and not some scantily robed mastermind wrecking havoc from afar, I’m even more game. Her armor is so badass, and she really stands out as a figure of power and command.
- Gwendoline Christie. That reason alone is enough to make me worship at the Phasma shrine. I fell in love with Christie as the rough-and-tumble, most-noble-person-in-Westeros knight Brienne of Tarth. She was so refreshing as an actor: completely beautiful but able to make me forget that I cared what she looked like, vastly intelligent and humorous, serious and playful. She takes up the whole screen, and not just because of her height. I wish that I could have had Christie to watch as I grew up, a head and a half taller than anyone else in my year at school, large and bulky and distinctly unfeminine. I have her now though.
- That armor! Hello! A supernova space fashion icon. She stands out, she’s imposing, and she got probably the most iconic armor since Vader.
I remember seeing Phasma for the first time in the promotional shoots and admiring how ingenious she looked. I also remember seeing her march in the Disney Christmas parade and literally sobbing because she was so iconic and powerful. She was the character I always wanted from Star Wars. When I first saw her on screen in theaters, I was overcome with emotion because she just exuded power and control and poise. Here, at last, was who I had been waiting for.
So clearly, I was completely over the Death Star about Dawson’s book. I purchased it on release day, which I hardly ever do, and devoured it in one sitting.
This book really has so much going for it. It’s well written, which is a big plus for me because I’m a snob about writing. It’s clever and funny, it’s active and adventurous, it’s dark and touching, it’s informative and entertaining. Without a doubt, this is my top book of the year.
The plot of the story revolves around the capture of a rebel spy, called Vi Moradi, by the First Order. She’s taken down to a torture chamber by the elusive Cardinal, a high ranking Stormtrooper with a serious grudge against his rival Captain Phasma. As Vi attempts to win over a formerly clean-nosed and now unhinged Stormtrooper to the Resistance, she reveals passages of Phasma’s life to her captor, who is looking for any thing he can find to bring Phasma from her high pedestal as General Hux and Kylo Ren’s favorite solider.
The novel really is two parallel stories unfolding as it progresses. On the present side, we have Vi and Cardinal waging a battle of wits and intrigue as they each try to get something vital to their cause from the other, and debate the ideologies of their sides. On the side of the past, we have Phasma’s prior life unfolding and, as expected of a high ranking First Order officer, it isn’t pretty. Dawson, with expert skill, crafts the narrative so well, that by the end, I care nearly equally for each plot line, and find myself as won over by Cardinal as I am Phasma, though in two very distinct, even opposite ways. I really hope we get a sequel!
Phasma grows up on a severely uninhabitable piece of planet called Parnassos, which was once a thriving Imperial base, and now is infested with flesh eating bugs, desserts, and primitive cultures that survive in the only ways they know how: by blood. When a First Order ship is downed by ancient defensive devices, Phasma and her ragtag group of comrades set out to aid Brendol Hux (father of film Hux) and his soldiers return to their ship, hoping for some reward of salvation from the bitter planet for their dwindling tribe. In the ensuing journey, Phasma learns more about her home planet, her companions, and herself through violence, betrayal, and plenty of badassery.
Phasma’s story isn’t told through Phasma herself, but though the story given to Vi by one of Phasma’s old friends, so the same level of remove that prevails on screen, where we don’t even see Phasma without her protective helmet, reigns again in the novel. Her mind remains as remote as her face, and we are left to make up our own minds about her motives, ambitions, and heart through her actions. This kind of storytelling is complex: we are asked whether we can trust the layers of he-said-she-said and the narrators themselves. In the end, we are about as successful in understanding this anti-hero’s mind/heart as we are with her appearance on screen, as if we were trying to see through her chrome armor with our own bare eyes. For me, this is exquisite pleasure. I love examining layers of truth and untruth and meddling about with theories and ideas to form my own notions of a character, especially one as wonderfully crafted as Phasma.
By the end of the novel, I respect the choices of Cardinal which he made in order to be true and right, and I respect the choices of Phasma which she made in order to survive. We can’t really compare these characters apples to apples because they come from such diverse backgrounds, and because of that, their minds operate completely differently. I think that’s the most fun part of the Star Wars world — examining characters motives based on the unique worlds they come from, and letting each figure stand alone. Somehow, I can love Cardinal for his uprightness in equal measure that I can love Phasma for her wickedness.
I think a lot of Phasma’s allure for me comes from her complete and utter lack of conformity to gender roles. She is not bound by rules of femininity, domesticity, or emotion that many other female characters are. She is a creature born from salt and stone, bathed in blood and sweat, and at the end of the day, the only creature she owes anything to is herself. That’s why I love Phasma. No matter what, she’s going to look out for her own best interests. If that involves stepping on some toes or spines, so be it. As long as she can end the day alive and in control, she will do whatever it takes to better her own life. I can’t help but respect and love her for it.
I completely, completely recommend that any Star Wars fan go out and get this book. Not only is it expertly written by someone who clearly knows their stuff but also has artistic license to carve out her own world, but it is so fun, so exciting, and so enjoyable. You may not love Phasma as much as I do when you finish, but at least you’ll understand this underrated character some more, and with a world as full as Star Wars of characters to examine, Phasma had totally proved herself worth a second look.
Are you looking forward to the release of The Last Jedi?