As we well know, Captain Phasma was grossly underused in The Force Awakens. We were teased with marketing hype for this amazing-looking character, and what we got was a glorified extra who was implausibly bested by a rookie trooper with a blaster.
Dawson paints an amazingly complex, competent, and commanding character in Phasma. From her post-apocalyptic homeworld a la Mad Max, Parnassos, Phasma jointly rules a war-like clan with her brother. But, when a First Order ship containing General Brendol Hux (the father of the General Armitage Hux), the world and way of life of Phasma’s clan is turned upside down. The novel follows the odyssey of Phasma and her small group of loyal warriors (not including her brother) as they escort General Hux and his surviving troopers back to his ship to call the First Order to rescue them. The group endures brutal physical hardships along the way, and the hellish journey seems to shape Phasma into the sharpest tool she was always destined to become. Phasma is a cold and calculated warrior with little time for personal friendships and relationships. She is Machiavellian to her core, even if it means betraying her own people and family. Above all else, Phasma is a survivor. She is highly skilled, and amazingly adaptive and intelligent. While mental and physical hardships would beat a soft (or “normal”) person down, Phasma is honed into a sharper weapon because of them. She conquers her obstacles and is continually made stronger by them. It is because of all these qualities that General Hux recognizes Phasma would be more than beneficial and fitting for the First Order. And coming from a dying planet with little resources and a low survival rate, Phasma and her warriors are willing to risk nearly everything to have a better life, and possibly, bring what technology and civilization the First Order has to offer back to their clan on Parnassos. The reader knows this aspiration is naive and idealistic, but one of General Brendol Hux’s main tasks is to find strong warriors on back water planets to train into weapons of the First Order–and he’ll say anything to hook those people in to serve the First Order. And, as the survivor she is, Phasma rises above the rest to become the literal poster child of the First Order.
With all of Phasma’s abilities, it begs the questions, then, how Finn was able to best her in TFA. The Phasma Dawson writes is not one to give up or shy away from a challenge, even with a blaster pointed at her head. My only guess would be that perhaps she let him best her. And if my hunch is correct, then Phasma’s arc may be more complex in the films to come (I hope,) i.e. she defects from the First Order at the first signs that it’s going to be the losing side.
I think the very writing and releasing of this book was Disney’s way of saying, okay we know we really short-changed you on Phasma when we marketed her so much. I appreciate we got this rich backstory, but I also very much hope that her role has been greatly expanded in The Last Jedi.
I also want to note that the prevailing reason I read Star Wars novels is to keep up to date on the universe canon. So to that point, I don’t exactly read SW books expecting literary masterpieces. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the tale Dawson wove. Phasma is definitely an “on the edge of your seat” read, and you want to go through quickly to find out what happens next (it’s a framed story,) mostly because Phasma is such a compelling and enigmatic character. Phasma is one of the best Star Wars novels I’ve read in a long time, and a great fleshing out of the captivating Captain Phasma.
PS: Yes, you do find out how she got that amazing armor!