When additional canon provides the context to one of the main antagonists, one has to ask: What was the point?
Even though I have mixed feelings about the final product, I loved every trailer for The Force Awakens, especially the official and final trailers. In the official trailer, we got the first look at the chrome trooper named Captain Phasma, who looked visually stunning walking towards the camera in her armor. Coupled with the hype around casting Gwendolyn Christie from Game of Thrones during that show’s peak, some great fight scenes were anticipated. Also, she was a female trooper who was not a petite brunette but a towering, intimidating blonde. And when the film was finally released amidst much anticipation, the first fifteen minutes looked promising for Phasma.
Then the rest of the film happened. And while Phasma was not even the character that was the short-changed the most (Finn is a space janitor?!), the casting of Gwendolyn Christie as Phasma seemed like a waste as she ended her appearance in The Force Awakens getting thrown in a trash shoot after disabling the shields for Starkiller Base. You could make an argument that she was only in the film as a plot device for that moment.
Now, let’s rewind to how Phasma was marketed by Lucasfilm leading up to the release- as the first female villain in a Star Wars movie. She was held up against female characters like Leia and Rey in the promotional material and her potential in popularity was being compared to Boba Fett. Here is an exert from the LA Times article, The women of ‘Star Wars’ speak out about their new Empire, that was published weeks before the theatrical release:
This, even though Episode VII was in the books and both Christie and Kennedy knew that Phasma was absolutely about to have a Boba Fett in the Sarlacc pit moment. Other outlets picked up on this and built up the hype even more.
She did go on to appear in The Last Jedi; however, the character headlined two main pieces of content released before the film: a prequel book, Phasma, by Delilah S. Dawson and a comic miniseries by the same name that filled in the gap of what happened after The Force Awakens. The novel chronicles Phasma’s early life on her desolate home planet Parnassos and how that changes when she and members of her clan cross paths with Brendol Hux. Told from the perspective of a Resistance spy, Vi Moradi, under torture from another ambitious First Order Officer, Captain Cardinal, the reader learns that Phasma has risen due to her ruthlessness and willingness to backstab anyone to get ahead. In the comic miniseries, we follow the lead character as she tracks down and eliminates a witness to her disabling the shields for Starkiller Base, also tying up loose ends in the process.
Marketing spends and projects are so often indicators of which characters entertainment companies might be willing to bring back or explore more within future content. These two stories (one an adult novel and the other a short comic run) came to the same conclusion regarding the character: Phasma is only loyal to herself and, therefore, is more of a liability for the First Order than she is a threat to the Resistance. This complete context of her character does make her an interesting antagonist; however, this is only clear for those who have read at least one of these stories. Still, given that both of these came out leading up to The Last Jedi, there was hope that there would be a payoff for engaging in this additional canon material.
promotional materials and content | credit Lucasfilm and Marvel
Unfortunately, The Last Jedi came and went and the “importance” of Captain Phasma never materialize. And any potential ended with Phasma plunging to her death on the bridge of the Supremacy. So what exactly happened? Were there plans that were left in development for the character or was there just a miscommunication between Kennedy and both Abrams and Johnson on where Phasma fit within the larger story? There was an unfinished scene that saw Finn revealing to her subordinate troopers the role she played in the destruction of Starkiller Base. With seeds of doubt planted in the First Order troopers, Phasma responds by shooting and killing them before attempting to finish off Finn. It was an obvious attempt to pay off what was established in the novel and the comic miniseries, but because it was not properly established in the film, it felt out of place and was sacrificed on the cutting room floor. Turns out, there were way more communication and planning issues overall so what happened to Phasma was not surprising, just disappointing. Unless years from now, we get a tell-all from Kennedy, Abrams, Johnson, or any other major figure within Lucasfilm, we might never know why the promise of Phasma never came to fruition. My guess is that the look of Captain Phasma was so appealing for merchandising that she was marketed as a major antagonist and her role in the films was never going to be substantial. The same type of false advertising that marketing Finn as a force-sensitive Stormtrooper (his force sensitivity was never officially confirmed even after all the hints in The Rise of Skywalker). Given the response to the sequel trilogy, I think Lucasfilm’s days of false advertising a character’s “importance” to a story are done. Phasma did not prove to be the merchandising giant that Boba Fett was (we have Mandalorians and Boba Fett himself to take on that pressure) but the character’s lack of progression is a cautionary tale for those Studio Executives who would get ahead of themselves in the hype game.