-This review conatins a major spoiler for The Last Jedi. Proceed with caution-
Genre: Military SF/Space Opera
Publication Date: 01/09/2017
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .
Captain Phasma is the perfect stormtrooper. Efficient and utterly loyal to the First Order. A literal poster soldier, her reputation is without fault. yet her origins remain a mystery, even to those with whom she serves.
Resistance agent Vi Moradi has uncovered the truth or Phasma’s rise. Which is handy, because that knowledge is the only thing stopping her from being killed on the spot by the First Order. Because if there’s one thing Captain Cardinal hates more than a rebel, it’s Phasma . . .
Prior to Disney’s takeover, the Star Wars Expanded Universe contained hundreds of novels. Some were brilliant, others less so, but they wove a massive tapestry chronicling in detail almost a hundred years of history. As well as outlying books thousands of years apart. But with the EU now no longer canon, the narrative of Star Wars is being rewritten in a new direction.
If Phasma is anything to go by, then the furture looks bright for the new canon. Dawson expertly weaves together threads from the The Force Awakens, Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, and elements from across the history of Star Wars. There are enough knowing winks (a conversation about sand, for example) to keep long-time fans happy, and the central narrative is as gripping as anything put out by the likes of Stackpole or Denning.
This is an unashamed origin story, largely set around a decade prior to The Force Awakens. The problem with prequels is that we tend to know where they’re going, but that’s not an issue here. A cynic might suggest that Phasma’s popularity is the result of deliberate engineering by Disney to sell merchandise. But as ways to sell things go, it’s one I’m more than happy to fall for. But while Phasma is already attaining cult popularity, we know almost nothing about her.
At least until now. Given such free rein, Dawson has given Phasma a fascinating and often brutal background. Born into a dying tribe on an also-dying planet, Phasma is a warrior from the outset. Tough choices are a daily occurrence, so it’s no wonder she goes on to become a feared and respected leader. Even if it is only a chance encounter with a stranded Brendol Hux that gives her a chance at reaching the stars.
The origin story itself, essentially a death march (Think Fury Road with more stormtroopers and fewer flame-thrower guitars), is told in flashback. The framing narrative with Cardinal interrogating Vi gives us a glimpse of daily life in the First Order. Cardinal is a character just as fascinating as Phasma, giving the First Order a much-needed human face. Despite the propaganda and brainwashing, he is a decent human being. He even makes some valid arguments as to why the First Order is needed. I’d say there’s more nuance in Cardinal than in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi combined.
There is only one real issue with Phasma, and it’s not the fault of the book at all. There is a revelation toward the end concerning Phasma’s motivation. It’s an interesting idea, but sadly nothing is likely to come of it, what with Phasma being killed off. Again, this is not the fault of the book – I expect Dawson was as unaware of Phasma’s fate as everyone else – but it takes away from what is otherwise a strong novel. Read as a standalone, it’s hard to fault Phasma. But read as ‘Journey to The Last Jedi’, it sets up a false lead. Of course, there’s more than enough set-up here for further novels set between Phasma and her on-screen demise.
Phasma is a book that stands alongside Thrawn as the best of the new canon, and I hope that there’s plenty more to come.