Alright, let me get this out of the way… When I first heard there was an entire novel coming about the tragically underused, almost throwaway character from The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma, I was bummed. I mean, there are so many awesome new characters and events to explore in this time period in the Star Wars canon that I felt like an entire novel about Phasma was simply not needed. Well, when I’m wrong I’m wrong. With Phasma, author Delilah S. Dawson has crafted an amazing and creative origin story for the chrome-laden Captain of the First Order’s Stormtrooper division, pulling inspiration from very unexpected sources (a dash of Dune, a smidge of Lord of the Flies, and a whole lot of Lost – yeah, for real). Bottom line – Phasma is a tour de force novel from start to finish, and one of the best pieces of work in the new canon. Of course, my review will contain lots of ***SPOILERS***, so as always skip below the image to read the rest of the review if you so desire. But first, let me say this – READ THIS BOOK! There, how’s that for a recommendation?
Before going any further, I want to make everyone aware that I consume almost every Star Wars novel in audiobook format, which you know if you listen to our podcast, The Exhaust Port, and let me say narrator January LaVoy (who also narrated the amazing novel Bloodline) straight crushes it and certainly added to my enjoyment of Phasma. Also, the format of the novel takes a little getting used to, as it’s mainly conveyed in a story format, via a captured Resistance spy named Vi Moradi as she’s being interrogated by a First Order officer named Captain Cardinal. Cardinal is a rival of Phasma’s and is desperate for some intel on her in order to bring her down, as he senses there’s something she’s hiding. Well, it just so happens Vi has been on the trail of our chrome Captain as well, so when her ship is apprehended by the First Order Star Destroyer the Absolution, Cardinal takes matters into his own hands, secretly interrogating Vi for every bit of information she has on Phasma. What unfolds during the telling of the story is a gripping tale of a warrior and her rise to power – from the desolate and primitive world of Parnassos to being in the position of power we meet her in during the events of The Force Awakens. And I’m very happy to report she’s MUCH more than a cool looking character in chrome armor. Having summed that up, I’m going to outline a few bullet points containing what I loved about Phasma:
- The format — as I mentioned above, having the events unfold in a storytelling format took a little getting used to, but after the first few chapters it was smooth sailing. Dare I say the format is what made the book. The contrast of cool confidence that Vi emits with the slow breakdown that Captain Cardinal experiences as the novel progresses was an extra dimension that added to my overall enjoyment of an already amazing story. Both of these characters are very well written and thoroughly fleshed out, even though Phasma and her rise to power were the main focus. Kudos to the author for pulling this off, to me it was a risk that paid off in spades.
- Parnassos and Phasma’s beginnings — I have to admit, I was not expecting Phasma to come from the humble beginnings of what essentially amounts to a primitive tribe. She and her brother Keldo lead a clan called the Scyre, that’s constantly at war with another primitive clan called the Claw (the Claws are lead by a Dug, nice touch Delilah, nice touch). As events unfold the feel of this social structure took on a very Lord of the Flies feel to me (further emphasized by a cataclysmic event I’ll reference below). One thing I have to say though is that from the very beginning of the book, Phasma is a very capable and ruthless fighter and leader, as she commands and trains the warrior sect of her clan.
- The catalyst — the main events (again, as told by Vi to Cardinal) are set in motion when a starship crashes on Parnassos, thanks to an old planetary defense system (more on that below). It turns out this craft contains none other than General Brendol Hux of the First Order (featured in the Aftermath series of novels and father of General Armitage Hux, from The Force Awakens). Phasma and her warriors from the Scyre agree to take Hux and his crew on a journey across the desolate landscape of the planet to get back to their ship, with the hopes of joining them and helping her people escape the planet.
- Let’s talk about Phasma, the person — more kudos to the author for not trying to make Phasma an overly complicated and conflicted character. To me that took guts, and again, it pays off incredibly well. Phasma (yes, that’s her real name) is what she is – a ruthless, and dare I say heartless, warrior who will do anything to achieve her goals. She is who she is, it’s simple and it works. During the course of the book she betrays her Scyre clan (and her brother, Keldo), brakes a truce with the Claw Clan by killing their leader, sacrifices more than a few of her own clanmates, and grows more and more selfish as she and her warriors traverse the treacherous landscape of Parnassos in an effort to get the stranded First Order contingent back to their crashed ship, all the while striving to earn the favor of General Brendol Hux so she can join the First Order and leave Parnassos and life on the planet behind. Early in the book it seems she wants help from the First Order for the sake of her entire clan. However, as the novel progresses we realize more and more that Phasma is out for herself, and whatever she needs to do to accomplish this end game she is going to do, including murdering her own brother. Sorry for the spoiler, but I warned you… Also worth mentioning is that as the story progresses she slowly trades her handmade leather mask and armor for more modern apparatus, eventually claiming an ill-fitting set of First Order Stormtrooper armor from one of the fallen members of the group, morphing into what she believes Brendol is looking for.
- Phasma’s face — yes, Phasma looks just like the actress that portrays her in the films, Gwendoline Christie, setting up the possibility of what is (hopefully) an eventual unmasking of the character in either The Last Jedi or Episode IX.
- The Lost factor — I was struck by how similar parts of the story were to the television show Lost. I’m not sure if Dawson is a big fan of the series or not, but after reading Phasma I have to believe she is. The similarities to the abandoned facilities Phasma, Hux, and their party encounter as they traverse the landscape of Parnassos are uncanny, with Con Star Mining Corporation standing in for the DHARMA Initiative. We even come across a character (a Gand no less, thanks Delilah!!) who states time passes differently on Parnassos. This is never fleshed out or explained further, and I simply took it as another nod to Lost. Maybe I’m crazy, but to anyone else who reads the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! I hope to run into Delilah at a convention one day soon and to have to opportunity to sit down with her and discuss this very detail from the book.
- The disaster of a planet that is Parnassos — as the crew travels across the planet, Brendol is able to determine that a nuclear event occurred on the planet, due to an accident caused by Con Star Mining, that ruined the planet and made it unlivable. However, the planetary defense system the corporation installed is still intact, further isolating the inhabitants of the planet. As the group gets closer and closer to the source of the blast (and the First Order contingent’s ship) everyone starts to experience radiation poisoning. Not to mention, it’s made clear that the living conditions are getting worse and worse on the planet in general, with conceiving and birthing children even becoming a rarity.
- Vi Moradi — in her role as captive Resistance spy and storyteller, Vi excels. Again, a great job by the author to flesh this character out as she conveys the story to her captor. Also, big ups to narrator January LaVoy for keeping it simple with Vi’s voice, essentially using her own voice for this character. She plays Cardinal like a fiddle, prolonging the story (which certainly works to the reader’s benefit) and wearing him down to the point where he is questioning the First Order and its leadership.
- Captain Cardinal — I loved the character of Captain Cardinal. Clad in custom red armor, Cardinal was initially placed in charge of the First Order’s training program in addition to being General Brendol Hux’s personal guard. He is also one of the only troopers in the First Order to have been given a name in addition to his number (CD-0922), further setting him apart. However, when Phasma mysteriously arrives things change almost overnight for him. The program is split, and Cardinal is placed in charge of only training the kid, while Phasma gets the older troops. Cardinal is also replaced as Hux’s personal guard. This sets into motion his growing desire and obsession to find out everything he can about the mysterious Captain Phasma, sensing she’s hiding something, and eventually realizing she was behind the eventual death of Brendol Hux. I loved that as the book progressed he softened towards Vi, being torn between finding out the truth about his rival, conducting a secret interrogation, and wanting to let Vi go in the end. Vi also wins him over, planting seeds of doubt about the First Order and their overall goals in general. To me this further emphasizes that First Order trooper programming isn’t foolproof, reinforcing Finn’s defection in The Force Awakens. A small but noteworthy detail in the book that adds to the believability of Finn’s story arc in the film.
- The First Order — Cardinal quickly realizes how ruthless the First Order truly is when he goes to General Armitage Hux with information on Phasma and her role in the elder Hux’s death. Armitage quickly laughs it off and states he was aware and even conspired with her to have him killed! THIS IS THE FIRST ORDER!!!!! I loved it, and if you’ve read the Aftermath series you know that the younger Hux has every reason to hate his dad.
- The fight — well, you knew that Cardinal would confront Phasma and that a duel would ensue. You also probably guessed Phasma would whip his ass, and she did. The setup is cool, though. Vi presents Cardinal with two items of importance to the story that she retrieved when she was on Parnassos – a beetle native to the planet whose bite causes a victim to liquefy over a short period of time (and which was the vehicle of Brendol’s death), and a dagger coated in a fungus that Phasma used on Parnassos, notably to kill Balder, the Dug leader of the Claw Clan – which he packs to use in his fight. Phasma crushes the beetle and ends up stabbing Cardinal in the lung with the dagger, seemingly sealing his fate. Phasma disables all the camera feeds and leaves Cardinal to die. However, Vi shows up and gets him to a ship and the two leave the Absolution together, hopefully setting up another story during which Cardinal is fighting with the resistance, right Delilah??
- Phasma’s armor — if you have the Visual Dictionary from The Force Awakens you knew that Phasma’s armor was forged from the remains of Emperor Palpatine’s yacht, the Imperialis, but you didn’t know how this came about. Well, thanks to this book now you do. A year after leaving Parnassos Phasma traveled back to find the ship and used one of the defunct Con Star factories to forge the chrome armor herself. Awesome! (Also, for more info on the Imperialis check out the awesome 5 issue Lando comic series!).
- Siv — the story that Vi tells had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is a former member of the Scyre who journeyed with Phasma and Hux on the quest across Parnassos to find the crashed ship. In the end, Siv was deemed to be “too soft” to come with them and join the First Order, even though she was revealed to be pregnant at the time. She takes up residence in an old Con Star facility, which is stocked with everything she and the child will need to survive, as well as a large contingent of droids to help and serve them. Vi promised to go back and get her and her child, so we are to assume that is where she and Cardinal head immediately after leaving the Absolution, especially in light of Phasma’s comment that she might need to travel back to the planet to tie up loose ends, although this is left open-ended.
- The mystery of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane — and that’s exactly what it is, a mystery. Yes, she is mentioned by Cardinal in a conversation with the younger General Hux, but it’s ambiguous. I’m assuming she is dead at this point in the timeline, but again, it’s left open, purposefully. Just wanted to mention that as I know people will be wondering. Everyone wants more Rae Sloane and don’t worry, I’m sure we are going to get it.
In review, Phasma is a great novel, one of the best in the new canon. What makes Phasma so good is that it’s so different from any book we’ve gotten to date, and this is accomplished in amazing fashion by author Delilah S. Dawson. I hope Lucasfilm and the story group already have another book cued up for her, as I’m in love with her writing style! I have been very vocal about my support of the full canon reboot that occurred when Disney bought Lucasfilm, and Phasma is a great example of why the new canon is vastly superior to the old EU and Legends. Again, no slight on that material and I’ve read it all, I’m just enamored with all the new stories – and more so the varied styles these stories are being told in – and can’t wait for more. I highly recommend Phasma to any Star Wars fan, you’ll blaze through it. You can also learn more about Delilah S. Dawson at her website, and on Twitter and Instagram. Hit her up after you’ve read the book and let her know how awesome it is! Lastly, here are a few official images of some of the characters in the book – Vi, Captain Cardinal, and Keldo.