Thursday, October 18, 2018

Disappointing The Phandom

Fandom is a funny thing, especially when pertaining to a major franchise such as Star Wars. When presented with a universe populated by hundreds of unique characters, you really cannot tell exactly which of the of them will “stick” in the hearts of the fans. Sure there are obvious characters like Luke, Leia, Han, Rey & Kylo, you know the main heroes & villains of the story. But every now and then you get other characters who gain their popularity not for doing particularly much in the movies themselves but for something as basic as just looking cool.

This was the case for Captain Phasma, who made her split second debut in the 2nd teaser trailer of Episode VII way back in 2015.

Given that it had been 10 years since the last major movie, Revenge of the Sith, it was understandable that fans were over the moon and overflowing with excitement at seeing all these new characters shown in the first 2 teasers and eventually the official trailer for The Force Awakens. There was definitely a lot to take in, from the cute ball shaped droid rolling through the desert, to the new dark sinister figure in a snowy forest activating yet another new type of lightsaber. But for many including myself, it was the image of a solitary chrome plated Stormtrooper with a long flowing cape that made the biggest lasting impression.

As the weeks and months passed towards the release of Episode VII, we got more information about this “new” shiny stormtrooper. Most notably we got a cool sounding name, Captain Phasma and that SHE was to be played by actress Gwendoline Christie who at the time was best known for kicking all sorts of asses as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones. Given this new information, most fans deduced that Phasma truly must be a major part of the new film and the hype over the character continued to grow.

When the first toys for Episode VII came out a few months before the actual movie, Captain Phasma was one of the most popular and hardest to find action figures of the bunch. I should know. On the day the new toys were released, I went to 8 different toy stores looking for her and struck out on each one. And it wasn’t until the ninth and final store that I finally found her. When I saw Phasma on display in the store window I couldn’t believe my eyes and to this day remains one of my fondest “toy hunting” memories.

Then Episode VII finally was released and Captain Phasma ended up doing pretty much…..nothing. Well ok she had a few lines, walked around looking cool and then was thrown down a garbage shoot. Oh but before that, she was coerced at gunpoint to turn off the shields of Starkiller Base which led to its destruction by the Resistance forces. Not quite the glamorous resume for such a majorly hyped up character.

To say that Phasma fans were disappointed would be quite the understatement. On my part, I wasn’t THAT bothered since I enjoyed The Force Awakens a lot so I could live with the underuse of Phasma in the film. Besides, a few months after Episode VII and work started on Episode VIII, it was confirmed that Phasma had actually survived the destruction of Starkiller Base and that she would have a more substantial role in the next movie. So I was at least a little optimistic.

Then The Last Jedi finally came out in 2017 and Captain Phasma finally made her highly anticipated return towards the later half of the film. To be honest, I had actually forgotten about her at that point so I was genuinely surprised when she showed up. Unfortunately she didn’t do too much either in Episode VIII. True she had a pretty epic but short battle with Finn...which she lost, and then supposedly fell to her fiery demise during the destruction of the First Order ship, The Supremacy.

And once again...Phasma fans were disappointed. For someone who was super hyped up from the start, very few characters in Star Wars have done so little as Phasma and fallen out of favor with the fandom. Case in point, after being one of the hardest to find figures of 2015, she became one of the hardest to sell figures a couple years later. It took me forever to find a buyer for my Phasma even at half the original selling price. Eventually I had to bundle it with a more desirable character in order to finally sell it. But don’t get me wrong, I didn’t get rid of my Phasma because I didn’t like the character anymore...I actually did it because I found a better version of Phasma for my shelf.

See here’s the thing, it totally doesn’t bother me that there wasn’t much of Phasma in both Episodes VII and VIII. In fact, after reading more about the history of the character, it made more sense that she hardly used. It turned out that Phasma wasn’t even originally part of Episode VII. Phasma’s look, that of a shiny silver Stormtrooper was actually one of the rejected design concepts for the “big bad” of the film that eventually became Kylo Ren. As the story goes, toward the later part of the film production, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy saw the rejected artwork posted on a costume department wall and liked it so they decided to use it. 

The name “Phasma” was given by director JJ Abrams because the character’s silver chromed armor reminded him of the murderous flying silver ball from the 70’s horror movie Phantasm. And finally while originally intended to be male, Gwendoline Christie was chosen to play Phasma as a response to internet backlash over a lack of females in the initial cast announcement. This at least made Phasma significant for being the first major female villain in a Star Wars theatrical film.

Despite not doing much in the films, Disney has made the effort to flesh out her character more through other media with a limited series comic book and a novel. I’ve read the comic which explains what she did literally right after she was thrown down the garbage shoot in Episode VII. And while I haven’t actually read the novel, I have read the synopsis (that can be found under her Wookieepedia entry online) which delves more on her origins as part of a warrior clan on the planet Parnassos and how she eventually worked her way through deceit and betrayal to the top ranks of the First Order.

Both stories give a really good idea of the type of character Phasma is. While on the surface it seems like she is your typical “by the book” soldier, completely loyal to the First Order, it turns out to be quite the opposite. Phasma is more of a self serving opportunist, loyal only to herself who will stop at nothing to secure her own self preservation, from *spoiler* killing her own flesh and blood to erase her past, to deceiving an entire endangered tribe to fight to their deaths for her as she hunted down a First Order officer whom she suspected knew that she turned off the Starkiller Base shields. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that she would be the one to turn off the shields in order to avoid getting killed. In fact, a deleted scene from The Last Jedi shows that when backed up against a wall she would kill even her own troopers without hesitation in order to save herself.

Oh and here’s another interesting tidbit about her armor, it was apparently crafted out of the plating of a Naboo starship that was once owned by Emperor Palpatine very similar to the one featured in Episode I The Phantom Menace.

Unfortunately, Gwendoline Christie was not announced as part of the cast of Episode IX, which may mean that Phasma probably didn’t survive her fiery fall...but you’ll never know. Stranger things have happened in the Star Wars universe….like a certain bounty hunter supposedly surviving the belly of carnivorous pit.

At the end of the day though, the Episodes VII-IX trilogy is not about Phasma, it’s not her story. No one at Disney or Lucasfilm ever said she was going to be a major character. All the hype around her purely fan based. She was just one of the many new characters introduced that just happened to be “shinier” than the rest. I appreciate the fact that the writers didn’t try and shoehorn too much of Phasma than what was necessary for the story. She had a specific purpose to be a foil for Finn and his character’s development and she was effective at it. And that’s good enough for me to remain a fan of Phasma.