Phasma: An Origin Story that Maintains Mystery
Origin stories are a hit or miss for me. This is especially true when it comes to villains, and particularly those characters who are meant to inspire fear. Hannibal Lecter is a good example of this; the more we learned of his backstory, the less scary he became. This isn’t to say a villain can’t be complex; they can—but if the story isn’t done well, it can erode the menace that initially caught the audience’s attention.
The novel “Phasma” by Delilah Dawson manages to avoid this pitfall, revealing the story behind the towering chrome captain of the First Order without ruining her mystique.
Dawson tells the majority of the story from the point of view of characters other than Phasma. These are characters like Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy; Cardinal, a First Order soldier and Phasma’s rival; and Siv, a member of Phasma’s clan from her crapsack, Mad Max-esque homeworld.
Seeing Phasma through the eyes of others allows the reader some understanding of what shaped the character, but we still don’t walk away truly knowing her—which is smart. Part of Phasma’s appeal is her mystery. She’s given such short screen time in “The Force Awakens” that we were left asking “Who is under that armor? And why does she serve the First Order?”
The novel answers these questions while preserving the enigma that is Phasma.
That’s not to say readers won’t learn what drives Phasma. The novel drives home the fact that Phasma is not a nice lady (even if Gwendoline Christie’s fabulous face lurks under that chrome helmet). Phasma comes from a hard life on a harsh planet, but at the end of the day, no one makes her do the things she does. Phasma makes some dark choices over the course of the story, but the book doesn’t ask the reader to empathize with her choices and it doesn’t try and justify them.
Phasma acts like a ruthless soldier for the First Order because she’s always been ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.
The quibbles I did have with the novel are minor. I felt the present tense, which is used throughout the novel, sometimes didn’t mesh well when the narrator was describing past events. At one point, I got a bit confused as to who was conveying what information. (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of present tense in books. That’s not a knock against it as a writing style or readers who enjoy it, just my personal preference.)
Overall, I really enjoyed the story. If anyone is looking to scratch a Star Wars itch between now and the release of “The Last Jedi,” “Phasma” should do very nicely.