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Captain Phasma Is More Interesting Than You Knew

by Culture Slate 4 months ago in star wars

More Than Meets The Eye

It’s hard to oversell how massive the hype surrounding The Force Awakens was when the first trailer dropped. It seemed at last, after waiting so long, Star Wars was back. There were many things to enjoy as more and more information was released, but among the litany of new things on display, one character caught fans' eyes. Standing amongst the ranks of the new and improved stormtroopers was their leader. Because what else could she be? Clad in a resplendent chrome suit of armor, Captain Phasma was a sight to behold, and fans were eager to see her in action. And with Game of Thrones fan favorite Gwendolyn Christie underneath the armor, her character was sure to be a memorable one.

Alas, unlike The Force Awakens, Phasma failed to impress in her first outing. And she fared no better in the sequel, The Last Jedi. She talked a big game and was certainly intimidating, but when the chips were down, she failed to impress. In her first movie, she showcased her ruthless efficiency in combat, only to then be promptly captured and reduced to a punchline by the third act. Expectations weren’t very high in her second outing, and fittingly she did little in the film aside from losing a one-on-one fight with Finn. Like Boba Fett before her, it seemed Phasma had been reduced to another armor-clad merchandising opportunity in need of a major course correction.

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It’s certainly not uncommon in the realm of fiction for characters to get reworked in an effort to appease the fanbase. Star Wars in particular has a no shortage of characters that fit this mold. Some of these individuals, like Darth Vader or Darth Maul, were well received, are fully fleshed out, and receive expanded universe stories to capitalize on this. Then there are those that are given supplementary material in an attempt to prop up their otherwise underwhelming screen presence, thus giving them a second chance to impress audiences. Phasma fits nicely into this second category, and like her bounty hunting predecessor Boba Fett, her story was expanded upon in comics and a book centered around her.

An all-too-common pitfall that comes with this sort of treatment is that oftentimes these characters lose what made them special in the first place, or they become elevated to a status that is ultimately unnecessary and unearned. The Boba Fett of the Star Wars Legends continuity certainly fell victim to this. A man who started out as a skilled bounty hunter and mini boss for our heroes was quickly elevated to a one-man army of legendary skill. And while this arc isn’t necessarily out of place in Star Wars, it’s hard not to view his meteoric rise to power as a byproduct of his popularity. Phasma wasn’t as well received as Fett, but this allowed for her story to go in a far more interesting direction.

With the release of The Last Jedi just around the corner, Phasma received her first wave of expanded universe material. Her novel, simply titled Phasma, offered readers a glimpse at the First Order commander’s beginnings, and they weren’t pleasant, to say the least. Phasma was born on a remote planet called Parnassos, a barren hellscape that would be more at home in a Mad Max film rather than Star Wars. These harsh conditions molded her into an uncompromising warrior who would kill without remorse if need be. As the book progresses, she grows progressively colder and develops an all-consuming drive to survive no matter the cost. And by the time the First Order arrives, she is quick to curry their favor.

Her ruthless nature and callous disregard for her subordinates’ wellbeing allowed Phasma to fast track her way to the upper echelons of the First Order high command. Despite her contemptable tactics and likely murdering the competition, Phasma was quickly hailed as an icon in the ranks of the First Order. Her helmeted face was plastered all over recruitment posters and propaganda videos in the war machine presenting her as an ideal to strive for. In a way, this allowed her character to flip the script when compared to Boba Fett, a man who started with little before being made into an unstoppable war machine and the leader of all of Mandalore.

On the surface, Phasma is everything Fett became, she’s a skilled combatant and an effective leader in her own right, she’s everything she needs to be to sell her image. Because underneath her chrome façade is a cold-blooded survivalist who will lie and kill anyone, ally or enemy, to maintain her illusion. Is she even capable of all the daring-do the propaganda would have you believe? Of course she is, but why risk it? In a rather inspired, yet perhaps unintended, twist, Phasma serves as a corrupt foil to Luke’s final acts in The Last Jedi. Luke used his status as a legend to stop the First Order in its tracks and save the Resistance. Whereas Phasma uses her status as a shield to inspire her followers to die in her stead.

This willingness to sacrifice others is front and center in all of her expanded material. It slowly corrupts what was once a pragmatic protector in her youth, to a borderline craven opportunist consumed by self-preservation. A mind-set not born from cowardice, but rather the desire to achieve power as a means of survival. Growing up on a world where only the strong survive demanded it, and she became more and more willing to sacrifice anything to hold on to that power. This philosophy carried over to her service to the First Order, and on more than one occasion she killed her own soldiers in a bid to save herself and her image.

No matter what medium she appears in, Phasma remains true to this philosophy. The façade of the First Order commander is front and center in the films, but by making it a sham, the expanded material was able to make her a more gritty and realistic character. Sadly, The Last Jedi did little to capitalize on this supplementary material, and delivered an underwhelming end for a once promising character, leaving fans of the films little reason to mourn her passing. With that in mind, do yourself a favor and give her expanded material a chance. I think you’ll find her to be a much more memorable villain with a brutal worldview that you can’t help but love to hate.

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Written By Micah Mitchells

Source(s): Kotaku, Wookieepedia

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