Captain Phasma

The “Sin” of Star Wars Expectations

I recently came across a quote from Frank Oz – the man who brought Yoda to life – where he gave his very direct opinion regarding Star Wars fans who disliked The Last Jedi. Speaking at a SXSW event, Oz states that,

“I love the movie [The Last Jedi]…All the people who don’t like this ‘Jedi’ thing is just horse crap. It’s about expectations. The movie didn’t fill their expectations. But as filmmakers, we’re not here to fulfill people’s expectations.”

How could I, or anyone else, NOT consider what Frank Oz has to say on this point? He is a gifted filmmaker with a perspective and understanding of storytelling which I can only dream of reaching. For a number of days I allowed Oz’s point to marinate in my mind, bouncing around my brain as I reflected on my own expectations for Star Wars, not to mention the expectations of the entire community of Star Wars fans. Of course, I am in no position to speak for the entire Star Wars “fandom.” It is so massive, so diverse, and so damn opinionated that it would be folly to even try to provide any “grand unified theory” to sum-up Star Wars fans. In fact, the ONLY thing that can be said is that Star Wars fans are “unified” around Star Wars, but what Star Wars means for each fan is subjective. It is personal. And because of this, I think Frank Oz is absolutely correct: some fans certainly disliked The Last Jedi because the film did not meet the very personal and deeply held expectations they may have had going into Episode VIII.

The thing is, while I agree with Oz, I only do so up to a point. Beyond that, I fundamentally disagree with him. Why? Well, just as I cannot provide a “grand unified theory” of Star Wars fans, Frank Oz is in no position to provide a definitive answer for why people did not like The Last Jedi. It is a generalization to do so, a fallacy stating that a part (those fans who did not have expectations met by The Last Jedi) actually represents the whole (every fan who did not like The Last Jedi). Logic just doesn’t work that way, and it is important to recognize that a great deal of nuance exists within the Star Wars community precisely because individuals have those deeply personal ties to the decades spanning franchise. And this applies to fans who truly loved The Last Jedi and those who absolutely despise the film, as well as all those who fall somewhere in the middle (which is where I happen to land). My point is: some Star Wars fans didn’t like The Last Jedi because it didn’t meet their expectations, plain and simple, while other fans had a more nuanced reaction and didn’t like it for a trove of entirely different reasons. 

But beyond this  pretty obvious fact, that some fans didn’t like it because of high expectations, the more I thought about what Frank Oz said, the more I was bothered by the implication: that Star Wars fans should have no expectations for the stories which they love. Realistically, how can one NOT have expectations when they go into a Star Wars film (or any film for that matter)? How does one fully set-aside their expectations and experience a story entirely devoid of expectation? Frankly, I do not believe it possible, unless perhaps one ejects every single Star Wars thought from the mind. But going into a Star Wars movie with a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate, is just not possible, at least for me. Maybe someone out there can show me how to do it, how to just sit down with popcorn, Junior Mints and an oversized cup of Diet Coke and watch Star Wars for what it is – just another movie. Me, I cannot set aside my thoughts, and feelings, and ideas about Star Wars because the franchise has seeped into my bones. I live Star Wars, I breathe Star Wars, it infects me like a damn virus. For me, Star Wars is NOT “just another movie,” it is a way of life. And as a result, I am guilty of the sin of expectation, I demand greatness from Star Wars and yes, sometimes, I even expect it to acquiesce to my expectations.

There were a lot of things about The Last Jedi I didn’t like, and some things I absolutely did like, and I lay a number of these out in my post Reflections on The Last Jedi.” But I also know, and can easily admit, that I had expectations for The Last Jedi which were not met. I am not ashamed to say it and why should I hide it? For example, I wrote a post titled The (Mis)Use of Captain Phasma where I blasted writer/director Rian Johnson for not utilizing the First Order villain more effectively in the movie. I absolutely expected her to be a greater factor, especially after a novel and a comic series preceding the release of The Last Jedi built her up as a total badass. How could I not expect more?

Luke and Ben

Many Star Wars fans, myself included, expected Luke to NOT try to kill his nephew given that he threw his lightsaber away at the end of Return of the Jedi. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

So yeah, I had expectations for The Last Jedi. But you know what, I also had expectations for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Solo. I had expectations for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. I had expectations for The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels, and Star Wars: Resistance. And, going forward, I have expectations for Episode IX, The Mandalorian, Galaxy’s Edge, and every other Star Wars movie, novel, comic, video game, etc. But I am under no illusion that all of my expectations will be met. Are Star Wars filmmakers and storytellers supposed to meet every expectation of “the fans”? Certainly not. They can’t do it. At best, they can only hope to meet one very basic, very simple expectation: that the fan will be entertained. That is, after all, what the entire Star Wars franchise is, a massive form of entertainment. Right? We all expect to be entertained, to be transported to the galaxy far, far away so that through the experience we will find some form enjoyment.

And, as a fan, the best I can do is manage my expectations. I have to willing and able to acknowledge that everything will not line up with how I want it to unfold. But managing expectations does not mean jettisoning expectations. Rather, it means having an open-mind and giving things a chance, even when – no, especially when – things do not immediately line-up with those expectations. 

Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda, stated that “…All the people who don’t like this ‘Jedi’ thing is just horse crap. It’s about expectations. The movie didn’t fill their expectations. But as filmmakers, we’re not here to fulfill people’s expectations.” He is right, some fans didn’t like The Last Jedi because it just didn’t meet their expectations; others had more nuanced reasons for their dislike of the movie. And he is correct, filmmakers are not here to fulfill everyone’s expectations; and fans, myself included, do have to manage expectations. However, I am not going to give up my expectations for Star Wars. I am going to continue to demand greatness from it, and yes that means holding the filmmakers and storytellers to a high standard and having expectations for the franchise. And the reason I am going to do this is simple:

Because a long time ago I was mesmerized as I watched a small space ship being chased by a large space ship over a desert planet. From that moment forward, my expectations for Star Wars started to blossom and I can’t change that. So instead, I will live in the sin of Star Wars expectation and, if Frank Oz or anyone else wants to be annoyed with me, I will wear that annoyance as a badge of honor. 

The (Mis)Use of Captain Phasma

So this post has spoilers from The Last Jedi but you probably guessed that already…

Following the release of The Force Awakens in December 2015, I was perplexed and annoyed by how small Captain Phasma’s role had actually been in the film. The marketing for The Force Awakens had led me to believe that Phasma, the villainous First Order stormtrooper wearing chrome armor and a cape, would play a larger part in the movie. However, that wasn’t the case, and I was left grasping for understanding about why Captain Phasma was underused. 

In a previous post – Star Wars: Phasma – I highlighted this disappointment, noting in that piece that “I was pretty shocked by how little she factored into the movie.” As well, I also noted my conviction that Captain Phasma would undoubtedly be a greater factor in Episode VIII. In fact, I wrote as much, stating that,

“…I can’t imagine a scenario in which Captain Phasma doesn’t play a larger role. It would be silly for writer/director Rian Johnson not to utilize Phasma in a more direct way, particularly now that Starkiller Base is gone and, presumably, First Order and Resistance forces will be fighting a dirty and gritty war. Besides, with many fans expressing disappointment over how little she appears in The Force Awakens, it would make practical sense just to give us more of her.” 

Well, Captain Phasma certainly shows up in The Last Jedi, but her appearance was woefully underwhelming, even more so than her brief appearances in The Force Awakens. Rather than “more of her” we actually get less, and while we do see her fire her blaster and watch as she battles Finn (one of her former stormtroopers) this hardly makes up for the brevity of her screen-time, not to mention the fact that she dies only a short while after she finally shows up. To say that I was left stunned by Phasma’s (mis)use is an understatement, and while my expectations were admittedly high and could partially be to blame for how I feel, it is never-the-less perplexing that this mysterious villain would be so quickly laid to rest in Episode VIII without her doing anything of significance in the developing war against the Resistance which would serve the First Order’s interests. In fact…

…I find it most perplexing that Phasma died right BEFORE the climactic ground battle the First Order launches on the planet Crait. With Resistance fighters staging a last ditched effort to hold off the First Order, this would have been a perfect and brilliant moment to see Captain Phasma in her prime, leading soldiers fearlessly into battle (*What could have been an engagement that echoed Rogue One’s gritty Battle of Scarif was more of an aesthetic homage to the film at large with the bright red mineral dust of Crait overwhelming the battlefield*). Captain Phasma charging into a battle against the Resistance, that was what I was hoping for, that was the expectation I had anticipated when Phasma was first introduced in the lead up to The Force Awakens. The set up was there, the pieces in place for the Captain to lead her soldiers into a deadly battle, and yet…

…what we get is Captain Phasma falling to a fiery death on a burning First Order ship after being struck by Finn. Talk about disappointing.

FinnBattlesPhasma
Captain Phasma battles Finn
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

The thing is, this disappointment is amplified by the fact that two stories about Phasma were released in the lead up to The Last Jedi. The novel Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson and Marvel’s Captain Phasma comic series offer readers a deep and intriguing look at the woman inside the chrome armor. In particular, we learn in these stories is that Phasma is a survivor, that she will literally go out of her way to stay alive. Having discovered that survival at all costs is her modus operandi, it feels out of place that Captain Phasma would purposefully put herself in harms way by engaging Finn in a fight while the ship around her breaks apart and burns. As well, that she lets her guard down once she believes she has beaten Finn is equally confusing, something she never would have done in her earlier life on the planet Parnassus. 

In laying out my disappointment, and my belief that she was misused in The Last Jedi, I will readily admit that a small sliver of my brain believes Captain Phasma survived her fall. Given all of the unexpected turns that happen in The Last Jedi it wouldn’t be surprising if Captain Phasma survived her fiery flirtation with death, and Phasma is certainly the type who could do so. If so, this could create a very interesting plot-line in Episode IX, with Finn realizing that Phasma is still alive, and a badly injured Phasma holding a blistering grudge against him for besting her. In fact, I am just going to go on record and say this:

I think we will see Captain Phasma again in Episode IX. 

If I am right, I hope Captain Phasma and her re-emergence is treated with incredible care, and that she isn’t misused once again. An opportunity exists to not only show audiences that Phasma is a survivor, but for her to use her survival as a means of rising within the ranks of the First Order, to challenge General Hux for the #2 spot behind the newly minted Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. In fact, I think it is safe to say that IF Captain Phasma survived, Kylo Ren will be pretty damn impressed she did. And I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Phasma were to execute General Hux with Kylo Ren’s blessing…

But if I am wrong, if we won’t be seeing her again in Episode IX, then so be it. While I believe she deserved far more treatment and was misused in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I am otherwise left with the worry that watching her fall to her doom was a cheap trick, a “gotcha” moment where she will return in IX just to be dispatched once again. At this point, while I have yearned for more of Captain Phasma on the big screen, and grew even more fond of her through the novel and comic series, I am otherwise just flat out tired of investing the time and emotional energy into this character….and I guess I will just leave it at that.

Star Wars: Phasma

As I headed into my first viewing of The Force Awakens, I was under the impression that Captain Phasma would be one of the primary villains in the film, on par with Kylo Ren and General Hux. Well, she is certainly villainous, strutting around with a Vader-esque swag in one of the coolest looking outfits created for a character in the Star Wars universe. Plus, on those  occasions where we hear her speak, she is incredibly intimidating, her voice projecting calm, collected authority.

Phasma VF
Captain Phasma stands in the wreckage of Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana…except, we don’t see her participate in this battle in the movie.
Photo Credit – Vanity Fair

And yet, Phasma barely shows up in the film. Given how much the chrome armored Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, appeared in promotions for the The Force Awakens I was pretty shocked by how little she factored into the movie. But this doesn’t mean I’m specifically disappointed with Phasma as a character. Really, I thought she was fascinating, someone who  even  in her brief appearances really captivated me and left me wanting more. Ultimately, my disappointment stems from the fact that Phasma was entirely underused, not once seen leading soldiers into battle or firing her blaster. And while she does give a few orders in the film, they are insignificant in relation to the overall plot of the movie. In fact, her biggest role comes in her last appearance where she is captured by Finn, Han, and Chewbacca and they force her to lower the shields that surround Starkiller Base. But here, in her final act, I felt she was entirely misused, neutered of any  authority as she is man-handled by the three at gun point. As THE leader of the stormtroopers in the First Order, it made no sense at all that Phasma would be so willing to let these three individuals order her around. Wouldn’t she rather  die than betray the First Order? Apparently not…

Going forward into Episode VIII, I can’t imagine a scenario in which Captain Phasma doesn’t play a larger role. It would be silly for writer/director Rian Johnson not to utilize Phasma in a more direct way, particularly now that Starkiller Base is gone and, presumably, First Order and Resistance forces will be fighting a dirty and gritty war. Besides, with many fans expressing disappointment over how little she appears in The Force Awakens, it would make practical sense just to give us more of her.

But while I am hoping we get more Phasma in Episode VIII (and even IX), I had another thought: Captain Phasma would be a GREAT character for a stand-alone Star Wars film.

Boba with Carbonite Han
Boba Fett walks alongside Han Solo (who is frozen in carbonite). Notice that Fett’s cape is draped over the left shoulder.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Now, I am under no illusion this will actually happen but I’m still gonna dream about it because I believe Phasma is precisely the type of Star Wars character we all tend to love  – a mysterious and intimidating figure shrouded in unique armor. Along these lines, I would actually liken her in a lot of ways to Boba Fett and even wonder if Phasma was created with everyone’s favorite bounty hunter in mind (she even drapes her cape over the same shoulder that Boba Fett drapes his). Plus, like Boba Fett, Captain Phasma need not say/do much of anything for us to know she is someone you do not cross. Honestly, while I do think she was underutilized in the movie, I give J.J. Abrams a lot of credit for creating a character who, with very little screen time, radiates an incredible amount of badass.

But whereas we were given a young Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones, along with Jango Fett (who Boba looks like as an adult since he is a clone of Jango), I would go so far as to suggest that in a Phasma film, the chrome helmet needn’t come off. In fact, the only exception to this would be if the helmet were to be knocked off in the heat of battle. Otherwise, we already know what Gwendoline Christie looks like, and we can simply us our imagination to conjur up images of her intimidating expression. If there were a scene with a young Phasma, I would even suggest that the child keep her training helmet on. In short, a Phasma film, set prior to the events of The Force Awakens, would be an excellent way to establish the duty and devotion she has to the First Order, duty and devotion so entrenched she is always wearing her gear.

Does this mean she wears her gear to bed or when showers? Of course not, that would be silly. But we wouldn’t need, nor should we want, to see Phasma in the confines of her quarters. Seeing Phasma in her downtime would take away from the badassery that surrounds her. Besides, I can’t imagine Phasma being the type of figure who decides to take a nice, hot bubble bath after a long day of work.  No, what I want to see is a character so duty-bound, so devoted, so loyal to the First Order that nothing else matters. For Captain Phasma, there is ONLY the First Order.

Leave a comment and let me know what you thought about Captain Phasma’s role in The Force Awakens.