Canon Novel Review: Phasma

Phasma (novel)

Spoiler Review –

Phasma, by Delilah S. Dawson, is part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi” initiative, taking place only a few years prior to The Force Awakens. Dawson weaves together two entertaining and engaging tales, set 10 years apart, which reveal and strengthen the fearsome presence of Captain Phasma that TFA wasn’t really able to do, now making the character one to watch out for in The Last Jedi.

In the book’s present, we follow Resistance spy Vi Moraldi as she is captured by the First Order and spirited away into the lower decks for interrogation at the hands of Captain Cardinal, a rival of Captain Phasma. In the past, a tale is spun regarding Phasma’s history on her home planet of Parnassos, and how her journey off-world involves Brendol Hux, father of Armitage Hux and creator of the First Order’s stormtrooper program. Both offer engaging narratives, though the surprises and overall strength of the novel comes from the story set in the present, at least for me, but they’ll both keep you turning the page regardless. This is all possible thanks to Delilah S. Dawson’s writing, who has a commanding mastery of prose that makes even the obvious of statements or moments feel surprising or enjoyable to read, while her characterizations yield compelling, nuanced POVs no matter a character’s allegiances. I had savored her writing from the tease of it in her 2015 short story, The Perfect Weapon, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest when reading a full novel of her work. How she inhabits and breathes life into the characters, while keeping you guessing on their motivations and truths, is the true joy of Phasma.

As I mentioned above, I found the battle of wills between Vi and Cardinal in the present to be the ultimately more entertaining storyline, thanks to Vi’s fighting spirit, Cardinal’s dilemma, and minor details about the First Order. Vi’s indomitable spirit, despite being captured, really endured her to me from the start, and how she continued to see the positive in such a hopeless situation was refreshing. Captain Cardinal’s conditioning, duty, and personal beliefs clash as his interrogation of Vi goes on, and watching him crack is both fun and elicited some empathy for him from me. Through them, we uncover little details about the First Order, like new details on the Hux’s stormtrooper program (like where they are concentrating their search for orphans and midnight subliminal messages in new recruits’ sleep) and how the organization is fractured more than we realized. Vi and Cardinal’s story goes in unexpected directions throughout, hiding some of the bigger surprises of the novel.

The past was still engrossing, as the journey Phasma, a small sect of her people, and Brendol Hux go on is full of unexpected moments for a Star Wars story, including some heavy Mad Max-vibes, and provides plenty of fun. If it hadn’t managed that, the inescapable ending and less fleshed out characters would’ve been much harder to swallow, though the final few glimpses into the past hold some terrifying and unforgettable gravity. That the past is a tale being told by Vi from a story she was told by Siv, one of Phasma’s warriors who partook in the journey, has interesting implications, as it makes you wonder how much of it really happened, especially when Vi reveals she did embellish parts of it to drive the point of the story about Phasma home to Cardinal (there is some clarification on what might have actually happened, however minor it may be).

As for what the novel does for Captain Phasma, that her history is recounted via a third-party means we aren’t privy to her intentions and thoughts, but her actions really do speak louder than words. And while Phasma might not be as successful as Legends novel Kenobi was using the same conceit, it still manages to alter perceptions regarding the eponymous character, something The Force Awakens tripped up a bit on. Mainly, she’s a driven, cold-blooded individual, two things that shouldn’t mix, and when do, leave a violate mindset everyone should fear. And even my assumptions and thoughts on the character’s basic nature was changed here, hinting the chrome Captain’s role in The Last Jedi and beyond (if she survives) could be far more intriguing than originally imagined.

Here are a few other things:

  • Above are the retailer exclusive inserts for the hardcover edition of the novel, giving us first looks at characters from the novel: Captain Cardinal, Vi Moraldi, and Keldo, who is Phasma’s brother and is a major factor in her history. I hope the paperback edition contains all three inserts.
  • Captain Phasma didn’t only get a novel this year, she’s also starring in a 4-part comic miniseries, Captain Phasma. By Kelly Thompson with art from Marco Checchetto and colors by Andres Mossa, it’s a little more heavily tied to The Last Jedi, as it takes Phasma from the Starkiller trash compactor to where she is in the upcoming film. It does just as much work to strengthen her character as this novel has and the art is truly stellar.
  • There is a hint in Phasma that Vi Moraldi isn’t even the character’s real name, and Dawson’s previous work, The Perfect Weapon, also revealed that it’s main character’s name, Bazine Netal, wasn’t their real one either. Though one could imagine that implies Vi and Bazine are the same character, they simply aren’t, but it is intriguing Dawson’s written two characters whose real names we’ve not actually learned.
  • While Brendol Hux might be a repulsive man, as the Aftermath Trilogy gave us a big heaping of, I really enjoyed how Dawson wrote him here: he was a meta commentator on the proceedings in the past, like he had been dropped in the book and already knew what was going to happen, laughing at the backwater nature of the various survivors he runs into while on Parnassos, frustrated they weren’t just done with it and onto the ending where he gets off-world.
  • UPDATE: At NYCC 2017, Dawson revealed her Spotify playlist for the novel and it’s essentially Mad Max: Fury Road with some Rogue One and The Force Awakens mixed in. Sounds appropriate after you read it.
  • UPDATE: The Last Jedi is out and Phasma was certainly back. YMMV on her role, but she got a better part this time out. Check out our reviews!

Delilah S. Dawson’s next potential work is eagerly anticipated by me after Phasma, an overall engaging tale that alters your perceptions of the character while introducing new and compelling characters to flesh out the sequel trilogy a tad more.

+ Vi and Cardinal in the present

+ Delilah S. Dawson’s writing

+ Making Captain Phasma a force to reckon with and watch out for in the movies ahead

 Some forgettable characters in the past-set story

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

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Captain Phasma (comic)
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Before the Awakening
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