There have been a lot of Mad Max comparisons leading up to the Force Friday release of Phasma, encouraged by author Delilah S. Dawson’s references to Fury Road. The tale of Phasma’s journey across the irradiated desert on the planet Parnassos certainly has a lot in common with George Miller’s blood-and-gasoline opus; people on this planet are desperate to survive, and will cannibalize and wage war in order to do it.
Phasma the novel also features a near-silent protagonist, but without the visual component, it takes a long time for the story to show what exactly is behind the chrome mask. I had this essay and the ensuing Twitter conversation in mind as I read the book. Would the novel be a character study, or more of a Wookieepedia entry? It turns out that it’s a bit of both, Phasma’s characterization is drawn in reflections as distorted as those on her helmet. We see Phasma mostly through other people, and her story makes her more frightening, not more sympathetic – a good call for a character tied to the evil First Order.
The story is framed by an interrogation. Resistance agent Vi Moradi finds herself in the clutches of Cardinal, a stormtrooper training officer who wants to get revenge on Phasma for usurping some of his duties and his value in the Supreme Leader’s eyes. Vi knows Phasma’s history second hand, and so it’s through this thirdhand account that we get the Parnassos sequence.
Knowing the Mad Max inspiration definitely colored my experience of Parnassos. The planet itself clearly had a dramatic history, and Dawson does a good job of putting together enough scenes so that a savvy reader can figure out the timeline of the several disasters there without having it directly stated. I’d call Parnassos Space Australia to keep going with the Mad Max theme if it wasn’t so much more brutal than that; the middle of the book generates tension from every corner, since the reader knows that even if the characters escape a mine filled with ancient droids, they’ll have blood-sucking beetles and enemy raiders to deal with.