One of the more intriguing and, so far, underwhelming characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the shiny Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie. While she stands intimidatingly over most of her co-stars, her character did little in the film to back up the hype she received prior to the film’s release. With Star Wars: Captain Phasma, we get more backstory into the character, giving audiences an alternative view of the events at the end of The Force Awakens and leading directly into December’s release of The Last Jedi. Captain Phasma had two essential points it needed to accomplish to be called a success as a story. First, it needed to tie-up the loose end of exactly how Phasma would escape the destruction of Starkiller base and cover-up her own role in its destruction and second, give a glimpse into the enigmatic character, leaving readers wanting more.
Accomplishing the first task is textbook storytelling. A straightforward framework showing Phasma covering her tracks and tying up any loose ends gets her off-world before the big boom. The fact that she does it with such ruthless efficiency, including framing a suspect, noting the lightsaber battle she stalks past, ordering a squadron of Stormtroopers to remain behind to watch her back, and commandeering a TIE Fighter and its pilot serves as more character work than she was given in the film itself. Kelly Thompson weaves a tight timeline while artist Marco Checcetto’s attention to detail gives new perspective on the moments before the end of The Force Awakens.
Phasma’s relentless hunt of her framed suspect, as well as her calculating use of her pilot and the population of the planet on which they find themselves speak clearly to the central core of Phasma’s being: her need to survive above all else. When they reach the planet’s surface, Phasma orders her pilot to remove her uniform to strip any symbols of the First Order just in case. It is here we get the image seen ’round the internet with Phasma taking her helmet off in shadow. An important thing we learn about Phasma in this book is her pathological obsession with vulnerability. She insists on being called Captain and calling her pilot, TN-3465, Pilot. There is no personal connection between them, nothing to anchor Phasma to the well-being of the woman. Making the pilot female is a clear choice on the part of Thompson to demonstrate the potential for further vulnerability. Would Phasma feel more beholden to protecting a fellow female First Order fighter? What seals the deal concerning her complete aversion to her own vulnerability is the helmet reveal. Under it, we see not a face, but another helmet of some sort.
My only quibble here is that whatever is happening under her chrome mask is never really explained. I don’t know if that was a deliberate choice or if it will be explored in The Last Jedi or Episode IX, but I really want to know what is going on. Is she some sort of robot or more like Vader? Or is she simply hiding her face, much as she hides her past in the story?
In the end, Phasma must tie up loose ends, return to the First Order, and achieve her singular goal: survival above all else.