WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS
Leading up to the return of Captain Phasma in December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, author Delilah S. Dawson ( @delilahsdawson ) delivers a dramatic prequel novel that tells us Phasma’s origin story.
The story in Phasma is told in a unique way with the framing device of an interrogation by First Order Captain Cardinal and Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Cardinal is a rival of Phasma’s whose position Phasma has usurped within the First Order, relegating him to a lesser role. Moradi is a spy caught hoping to survive and possibly turn Cardinal to the Resistance. Moradi tells various stories from Phasma’s past from her youth, to her early adulthood on her home planet of Parnassos. While these second hands stories take up the bulk of the novel we also get present events as Cardinal attempts to hide and exploit his interrogation of Moradi aboard the First Order battlecruiser, Absolution.
The fascinating thing about this novel is that we get three main characters, Cardinal, Moradi and Phasma all with nearly diametrically opposed worldviews. Cardinal is a zealot, a true believer in the principles of the First Order. Saved from a harsh life on Jakku and allowed to rise because of merit, Cardinal is suspicious of Phasma and worries she is not as devoted to the First Order as he is. Unfortunately for Cardinal he doesn’t know that the First Order isn’t worth his trust or devotion.
Moradi shows a similar devotion to the Resistance that Cardinal shows the First Order. However Moradi is a character who sees the true state of the galaxy and goes into her devotion with eyes wide open. She is willing to sacrifice herself to protect those she fights with and those she cares about.
Phasma shows a similar realism in terms of assessing the galaxy and people around her, but she is only devoted to one thing, herself. Every person around Phasma is another step in the ladder of power that Phasma has been ascending everyday of her life.
One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favor of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression on her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins—and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters.
Deep inside the Battlecruiser Absolution, a captured Resistance spy endures brutal interrogation at the hands of a crimson-armored stormtrooper—Cardinal. But the information he desires has nothing to do with the Resistance or its covert operations against the First Order.
What the mysterious stormtrooper wants is Phasma’s past—and with it whatever long-buried scandal, treachery, or private demons he can wield against the hated rival who threatens his own power and privilege in the ranks of the First Order. His prisoner has what Cardinal so desperately seeks, but she won’t surrender it easily. As she wages a painstaking war of wills with her captor, bargaining for her life in exchange for every precious revelation, the spellbinding chronicle of the inscrutable Phasma unfolds. But this knowledge may prove more than just dangerous once Cardinal possesses it—and once his adversary unleashes the full measure of her fury.
Dawson’s prose is simply a joy to read, I can’t say I have single objection as a reader to her style or how she executes the seamless switches between present and flashback in the novel. She also does very efficient character and world building, small touches that show who these people are and the worlds in which they live. Cardinal’s interactions with his young charges is an example, Moradi’s casual knitting and internal monologue in her ship, the Scyre folk’s practice of extraction and salve are just a few examples.
As a long time fan there are echoes that felt familiar in this story to me to other stories and characters. Cardinal remind me to a degree of a less experienced and independent minded Kal Skirata. The world of Parnassos feels a bit like Kesh from John Jackson Miller’s Lost Tribe of the Sith. Later in the book there is an arena scene that feels like a mash-up of Gladiator, Mad Max and the Asajj Ventress arena scene from the Gendy Clone Wars series. The exposure we get to the First Order stormtroopers in the novel has very clear echos to the Prequel era Clone Troopers, especially with the numbers instead of names and the training regimes.
Close readers will notice ties in this book to Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy as well as Jason C Fry’s Servants of the Empire series. These ties continue to really flesh out what we know about the First Order but still leave us anxiously waiting to learn more about Supreme Leader Snoke and how he came to be atop this movement.
The book further gives us a tantalizing look at the internal power dynamics in the First Order between Brendol, his son Armitage, Phasma, and Cardinal. General Armitage Hux got a good deal of screen time in The Force Awakens including one scene that showed his rivalry for power with Kylo Ren. This book goes on to develop his character a little more heading into The Last Jedi and shows us just how ruthless a customer he is.
One of the biggest disappointments of The Force Awakens was how little Phasma was used and how easily she got punked by Chewie, Han and Finn. The novel helps explain to my mind the odd moment in TFA were Phasma is captured and very quickly complies with the heroes request to shut down the shields. Phasma’s naked self-interest and the casually expendable way she looks at other people’s lives, help make what is a kind of weak bit of writing in the film have a plausible character based origin. But this all goes further and based on the novel, I have to wonder if Phasma wanted Starkiller Base to be destroyed because having command for it made General Hux too powerful. In my reading of Phasma’s character, Hux is only useful if she can team with him to displace Kylo Ren and then turn on him herself and be Snoke’s chief lieutenant.
There is a lot going on in this novel, but there is one thing that stood out to me as a reader that I particularly and that is the characters of Siv and Torben. We spend a good deal of time with Siv and less with Torben but the relationship between these two characters is something that I absolutely loved.
Of course one of the big events in the novel is the confirmation of a fact that had been previously discussed, that is the origin of Phasma’s armor. That is some armor with a pretty cool lineage.
In addition to reading the novel, I did also sample the unabridged audiobook which is read by January LaVoy. In terms of audiobooks, Penguin Random House does a terrific job on production quality with sound effects. I really enjoy LaVoy’s smooth voice, it is easy to listen to. The only critique I would have is I am not a real fan of her voice for Cardinal. But it is a very enjoyable listening experience.
Phasma ends in a way that opens up the possibility of a sequel and given the quality of this novel a second order of Phasma is definitely called for. While Phasma is billed as part of the Journey to The Last Jedi, it would really fit better as part of the Journey to The Force Awakens. This is a relatively small critique however of a novel that was easily the most pleasant reading experience of the new canon adult novels. This one is easy to recommend as a must read that introduces some very compelling new characters and fleshes out some preexisting characters in ways that enhances the movie watching experience significantly.
I definitely think Delilah Dawson earned her Captain’s cape with this one.
Star Wars: Phasma is on sale now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook formats. For more information on the book and how to buy visit Penguin Random House.