Captain Phasma received the honor of being many fans’ favourite already long before the film itself came out. To be fair, she wasn’t the only one. But for being a fairly minor character, the amount of adoration is somehow unprecedented.
Of course, there are many good reasons and I am sure you don’t need to hear them from me. The chrome stormtrooper design is undeniably meant to stand out and the fact that she’s a female trooper pushes through the stereotypical “default cast of roles” in films. It is, in fact, a fairly minor thing – making a “random enemy soldier” a woman instead of a man – but the point is exactly that most filmmakers never bothered with such a minor thing. In fact, when casting for the role was still open, J. J. Abrams and his team did not expect Phasma to be a female trooper. But sometime during the process, as other actors’ parts were gradually revealed to the public, the major female roles – even Rey’s part – remained so far undecided; with the lack of information, the audience started to feel restless. And as the voices asking for more information about the female roles reached the team’s ears, they stopped and thought: wait a second, why don’t we cast Phasma as a female trooper? A small thing indeed, but it’s the mental flip that filmmakers, so far, have been very slow to learn to make, to break through the set pattern in many people’s minds which does not even make them think about such an option. And that is why the case of Phasma is worth mentioning. It is an actual example of the fact that any character can be female, or vice versa, that female character does not necessarily have to be defined by how they look. The whole point of Phasma is exactly that you don’t know what she looks like. And after all, Star Wars has a superior tradition in full-armour-clad characters, they are actually one of the most iconic things in the series. Think Darth Vader or Boba Fett. It was a correct question for the authors to ask themselves: why couldn’t such a character be also a woman?
But what can we say about Captain Phasma as a character? What is she like? Efficient and ruthless are the words that spring to mind. She seems to be very observant about her own troops (finding out Finn right after his failure on the mission) and she is capable of carrying out even the cruelest orders without hesitation (as seen in the village in question). I would also say she is devoted to her cause, if it wasn’t for one thing that makes me pause. But more about that later.
The place where we get probably the best insight into Phasma’s personality beyond “yes, sir” and “on my mark—fire!” is her relationship with Finn. The dynamic is there from the beginning, but its culmination is wonderful. The “payback time” scene with Finn, gives much more dynamic and a nice touch of realism to both characters. Now that the tables have turned, Finn vents all his frustration accumulated probably during the years of being bossed around by Phasma, and Phasma acts with obvious annoyance. I would say she sounds like she feels humiliated by somebody so below her rank and that brings some human emotions to her otherwise untouchable metal shell. That is important for her not being just a generic baddie henchman, or in this case, henchwoman.
Let’s face it however, Phasma would had probably be a merely generic villain if not for two things. First, as mentioned, had she been a male stormtrooper, for a casual viewer it would be the one baddie officer nobody even remembers. Secondly, however, and much more importantly, it is the way Gwendoline Christie delivers the role that makes it great. And there we are back at the famous quote of Stanislavski usually at home in stage acting: there are no small parts, only small actors. (Though I am aware in this particular context there is no way it could apply.) The Force Awakens is, I daresay, lucky enough to have good actors in all the roles.
The great news is that we can expect Captain Phasma to return in the next episode, because despite her unpleasant ending, Gwendoline Christie has been confirmed to reappear in Episode VIII. Even if the Captain remains a minor character, it will be good to have her there, also because her presence gives consistency to the baddies’ structure. What more can we expect? Who knows, but Phasma might now have an extra reason to desire revenge on Finn (and possibly his other culprit, Chewbacca – now that is a fight I would like to see). I am not entirely sure if Phasma is a vengeful person, but I have a feeling she might be. On the outside she seems very stern, but also beyond petty revenge, and she seems to want to keep true to her post and status. I can imagine she would feel it irresponsible to waste her time on hunting Finn when there are other important tasks at hand. But the scene with her shutting down the shields betrayed some of her human weaknesses hidden under the chrome armour. For one, she let herself be bullied into helping the enemy in a most treasonous manner. Of course it is difficult to be a hero with a blaster aimed at your head, but everywhere else Phasma seemed to be dedicated to the First Order for life. The question is of course what is her loyalty based on. If she has been raised for one purpose like Finn, the choice, just like Finn’s, might not have been entirely hers and she may have realised she wasn’t as eager to sacrifice herself. Also, she displayed a fair amount of anger at that moment, and that was what led me to think that maybe her emotions might cloud her senses in regards to Finn. But we shall see. Maybe the experience has changed her in some way. Maybe she will have to face the responsibility for her crucial role in Starkiller Base’s destruction? Maybe the brand of “traitor” she so happily bestowed upon Finn now applies to her as well? We will obviously have to wait until Episode VIII to see more.
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