From the first moment I saw the caped and chrome armored Stormtrooper we now know as Captain Phasma, I was excited. When I heard the role was being played by Gwendoline Christie I bounced with glee. She is an amazing actress and seemed like a perfect cast for an intimidating commander in the First Order. But, I have to admit, I was a bit worried. She looked awesome. She looked like the real deal. She looked like someone who took no prisoners and showed no mercy.
You know who else did? Boba Fett.
…and Darth Maul.
Sadly, the Star Wars films have a history of introducing characters with amazing visual appeal and screen presence who fall flat when we see them in action. Fans remember Boba Fett as the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, but if you go back and remove thirty years of nostalgia, he’s a pretty ineffectual character. He discovers Han Solo by what amounts to galactic dumpster diving, then turns over the info to the Empire. He never confronts Solo. We see a character appears to be highly skilled, but we need see him being highly skilled. Granted, it’s a smart business move – but Star Wars is about pulp heroics, not pragmatism. To further show Boba Fett’s lack of dynamic action or any expression of how awesome he is beyond the cosmetic, he never once successfully wins a fight. He shoots a few times at Luke in Cloud City, missing every time. The next time we see him is during the battle above the Pit of Carkoon. He entangles Luke, then gets knocked over and killed off in a slapstick comedy joke.
So, let’s get this straight? A character who is billed as Han Solo’s arch nemesis who never actually fights Han and who never shows any of his fabled battle prowess? This feels like a real wasted opportunity here. Boba Fett could have been awesome, but instead he just looks cool.
Darth Maul had a similar fate, though at least we see his intimidating persona given some legitimacy through his battles with Qui-Gonn and the battle of Naboo. He’s less an the unfulfilled promise of an awesome and dangerous villain and more an under-utilized villain who later became the first in a string of stock bad guys that garnered little emotional investment.
Which brings us to Captain Phasma. Before the release of The Force Awakens we were given the impression that Phasma was a merciless military commander who we’d see doing the kind of horrible things we’d expect from the First Order. We’d fear her.
But we didn’t. We saw a promising opening when she mercilessly ordered the slaughtering of innocent villagers. This is truly horrible and shows just how evil the First Order truly is as well as her zealous dedication to it. She’s all but absent for the rest of the film until Han, Chewie and Finn are sneaking around Starkiller Base. They confront her, put blaster in her face and command her to lower the shields.
When I saw the film, I was really hoping this would be a knock down, drag-out fight between the three heroes and the formidable Phasma as they fought for the key to deactivate the shields. But nope. She complies instantly and then is used as the butt of a bad joke – just like Boba Fett. No resistance, no clever military contingency plan, and not even a squad of troops secretly summoned when she’s captured. She buckles like a belt.
We know Phasma will be back for Episode VIII, but given that after she’s presumably tossed into a trash compactor this feels like an afterthought and a diservice to the character. There are plenty of things that could have been done to give Phasma a stronger presence in the film, but I think one key change would have given the audience of a sense of both just how skilled she is and why she wasn’t quite as keen when it comes to blasters.
One of the best scenes in the entire film could have been improved even more with a simple change. During the Battle of Takodana an iconic line was introduced to the Star Wars lexicon with one word:“TRAITOR”.
Instead of allowing a simple Stormtrooper, named by fans TR-8R, and canonically known as “Nines”, to face off against Finn, swap out to Phasma. Change nothing else. The Stormtrooper walks the dog on Finn and its a perfect opportunity to see Phasma get up close and personal as well as physically express her zealotry, hatred for Finn, and express perhaps a sense of shame the Captain feels at her soldier defecting and thus showing her own failure? Just as Phasma is about to put an end to Finn’s heroics, Chewie and Han can still save the day. After they battle is over, show Phasma stiltingly getting up and realizing she’s underestimated FN-2187 and his friends. This would give more weight to her reluctance to oppose them later in Starkiller Base.
But that’s not what we got. Instead we got another awesome looking villain who is all but forgettable, save for a really cool costume. I genuinely hope that we’ll see a break in this pattern when Episode VIII is released in 2017 and our chrome-clad Captain returns to the screen.