While I always pick up a new book with an open mind, Phasma struck me as an unusual choice for a Star Wars book. While I thought she was an effective character in The Force Awakens she was also limited by her screen time. Certainly her role was less than the publicity profile attached to her in advance of the film might have suggested. That said, I was committed to reading Phasma because I had previously delighted in Delilah S. Dawson’s The Perfect Weapon, a fine short story which had depicted the background character Bazine Netal to great effect.
That slight element of trepidation regarding Phasma must have stuck with me though as I started the book. After the first 100 pages or so this book was failing to click with me. It seemed to get off to a sluggish start, and the setting for the book, which alternated between an interrogation cell and the parched landscape of the ruined planet Parnassos wasn’t the most pleasant of locations for me to escape to in my limited reading time.
Wait though. I insist that if you feel the same way as I did when reading, you must persevere. This is a book that gets into your system, just like the poison from one of Parnassos’ infamous gold beetles. As the story progresses, and you get a greater insight into Phasma, the story blooms into one of (if not the) finest Star Wars books of the new canon. It really delivers, and is a key book in adding layer upon layer of context to The Force Awakens and the journey to The Last Jedi. The slower beginning, and strange interactions between a young native Phasma, Brendol Hux, and a cast of unknown tribal side characters is absolutely necessary to ground you in their environment, and to show the extent of Phasma’s journey.
More than anything else this is a book about Phasma’s ability to evolve. In fact I think a good title for the book could have been Phasma: Evolution. It traces the character from her desperate and raw beginnings and shows how she keeps adapting to circumstances and communities that she finds herself in. Phasma repeatedly shows an unnerving ability to assimilate, to shed her old skin and adapt to a new environment like a cuckoo in the nest before dominating and decimating that environment and moving on to more advantageous surroundings. Whereas others succumb to extinction, Phasma evolves and moves to the next level with stealth and clinical force of will. It still doesn’t mean she likes sand though.
By the time she reaches the First Order she is part of a pairing set up to work directly to Brendol Hux. His trusted right hand man Cardinal, is responsible for training the youth of the First Order, Phasma for taking those youths post-training and building them into fully blown soldiers of the First Order. The ending of the book which depicts both characters progression after the death of their mentor Brendol Hux is an exquisite exploration of power, and the role of clinical dominance within the First Order regime. Amidst it all the deliciously evil son of Brendol Hux, Armitage Hux surveys all as part of his own aims to compete for Snoke’s affections.
One thing that struck me as intriguing about the book was the repeated concern Phasma had with keeping her face hidden. It made me wonder whether that anonymity was being retained in order to evolve further beyond the First Order at some point, should she be required to adapt to any future defeat of that force. It is a curious point within a book that was filled with mystery. We also are told that Phasma keeps her visage hidden behind a suit of chromium armour forged from a Naboo ship described as Palpatine’s Naboo Yacht, which later became Brendol Hux’s personal ship before being lost in the sands of Parnassos. A question is raised in reader’s minds as to whether that ship from Naboo was one familiar to fans of the saga from the Prequels. We know that in Naboo culture chromium signified the presence of royalty.
Phasma takes its place then, for this reader, among the best works of the new canon. A rewarding read that one feels will become a more critical work as time passes and we see more of the jigsaw being fitted together in this new alternative continuity. As things stand it will send you back for another watch of The Force Awakens, and will allow you to watch that film with a fresh eye. Between that and the new Marvel Comic series this autumn is becoming all about Phasma. She’s finally getting her place in the spotlight, and she’s performing to the standard expected of the poster child for the First Order.