Phasma by Delilah Dawson
On Sale: September 2017, ISBN-13: 9781524796310
“It’s easy to be a hero when your own survival is aligned with someone else’s, when your victory is a victory for your entire clan.”
When Star Wars: Episode VII arrived, the world greeted it with overwhelmingly positive reviews and emotions. The Force Awakens immediately won over my Star Wars fangirl heart, despite rationally understanding that the film was practically a play-for-play Episode IV rehash with predominantly new characters. But when homage is done this well, and when the movie canon gets an actual female protagonist who wields a lightsaber, I can find very little to complain about.
Except… what was the deal with Captain Phasma?
The marketing before and after the film heavily featured Phasma--from pop dolls and assorted merchandise, to interviews and video vignettes, Phasma remains a major part of the Disney-Lucas hype leading into Episode VIII. I confess that while I love Brienne of Tarth, Gwendoline Christie, and the buildup behind a female stormtrooper captain with that awesome chrome outfit, I left The Force Awakens wondering what the big deal was re: Phasma.
Enter Delilah Dawson’s fabulous, utterly engrossing, and highly insightful Phasma.
From the outset, I was poised to like Dawson’s Phasma—from a narrative story structure, the novel makes a perfect choice to frame this mysterious character. Phasma’s background and the judgement of her brutal past is gradually revealed not through a first person narrative, or even through direct interaction with the character. Instead, Dawson takes a Scheherazadian nested narrative approach to both Phasma’s origin story and towards her storyteller, Vi Moradi. On a mission to gain intel for General Leia Organa—in order to defeat the enemy, Leia wants to understand the notorious First Order Captain first—Vi is captured by a stormtrooper clad in all-red, led to a small room, and interrogated under threat of torture to reveal all she knows about Phasma. Over the course of her interrogation, Vi reveals different stories about Phasma to her eager jailor—a man from Jakku named Cardinal, who yearns to expose Phasma as a dangerous cancer to the First Order—while she carefully plans her way towards freedom.
The stories that Vi reveals about Phasma begin with almost a sympathetic slant. Phasma is a warrior from brutal planet Parnassos, where children are scarce and survival to adulthood is hard. Vi recounts Phasma the warrior sister protecting her leader brother, and the ways she fought for her tribe in order to secure their land and survival. Cardinal isn’t a fan of this particular story of Phasma’s heroics—but Vi is quick to remind him that being a hero is easy, if your end goals are aligned with the group’s. And Phasma’s end goal… well, that’s something that changes over the course of Vi’s interwoven narrative.
Dawson has created a triumvirate of characters in Phasma—two of which we get to know intimately, and one who remains removed and remote. Vi, as the rebel storyteller, is in very many ways Scheherazade—she is cunning, and despite being trapped in the situation she understands her audience’s hunger for more stories, and yearns to feed that spark of desire so that she can escape with her life (and even, perhaps, a win for the Resistance). Her training as a spy and her nimble mental gymnastics in the harshest of circumstances make Vi an awesome new addition to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and a character to root for in this particular book. Then, there is Cardinal—who seems like your typical First Order soldier at first, but whose own motivations and backstory we learn in pieces through his perspective over the course of the book. A boy from the backwater planet Jakku (remember Jakku?), Cardinal is devoted to the ideals of the First Order—a place where class and status doesn’t matter, where everyone has a chance to keep the peace and ensure the safety of the galaxy. Cardinal’s desires are to protect the First Order from anyone that would harm his interpretation of its position and its ideals—this is an important point for the character, as it helps readers understand why he is so dead set against Phasma’s leadership.
And then, there is Phasma herself. Is she a heartless barbarian, or an evil misanthrope? Or is she someone who calculates and does anything to survive? Delilah Dawson creates an origin story for the legendary leader—and she does it all brilliantly from external perspectives. Phasma is separate; she is still protected by that chrome-plated stormtrooper armor. We get to see her actions, we understand her past, but all of that is still external to the character. We project upon Phasma; like Cardinal, like Vi Moradi, we draw our own conclusions about her monstrosity.
As far as the Star Wars new canon goes? Phasma is utterly memorable and will make you hungry for more. Bring it on, The Last Jedi.
In Book Smugglers, 8 interrogation droids out of 10.