Finn

Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor (An Imperial Talker Review)

I recently picked up a copy of Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and, I have to say, it was a serendipitous find. While the encyclopedic book by Ryder Windham and Adam Bray had been on my radar for a while, it was not a purchase I was planning on making any time soon. That is until I stumbled upon a copy for a reduced price on recent shopping trip. Immediately scooping it up, I dove into the book the night I bought it and found myself incapable of putting it down. From the Foreword, written by Star Wars actor John Boyega who portrays First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187 (Finn), to the final pages which detail the popular fan organization known as the 501st Legion, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor is a fascinating read that explores the history and cultural relevance of the iconic white-armored Imperial soldiers.

For one who is interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of Star Wars, especially the endless creative decisions that have gone into the universe, this book will definitely satisfy. Beginning in Chapter One (“Creating an Army”), Windham and Bray offer an in-depth understanding of the vision George Lucas had for stormtroopers and how that vision blossomed into reality on the big screen. Laying out explanations and examples of the early stormtrooper designs created by artist Ralph McQuarrie, and describing the aesthetic choices made by the production and art departments working on the film, the authors provide a rich picture of the development of stormtroopers for A New Hope. In subsequent chapters, Windham and Bray expand on these creative choices by examining how the original design of the stormtroopers would be altered time and again, with new trooper variants being incorporated into the ever growing Star Wars galaxy.

In regards to these variants, as a big fan of the Snowtrooper – check out my piece Trooping Through the Snow – I particularly enjoyed learning about how the specialized troops in cold weather gear were created for The Empire Strikes Back. As Windham and Bray mention in this section, McQuarrie’s original design for the snowtrooper officers – which were conceptualized as super commandos from the planet Mandalore – would ultimately be used by Lucas as the armor schematic for Boba Fett. As well, the all-white super commando design would be used in the Star Wars Rebels animated show, debuting in the aptly named episode “Imperial Super Commandos.” As well, I also found the information detailing Death Troopers from the film standalone film Rogue One to be  fascinating. The design of the Death Trooper, the authors note, goes back to the original McQuarrie concepts which depict tall, sleek stormtroopers. 

While the aesthetics and production decisions which have gone into designing stormtroopers and their many variants for the films (and other mediums) are explored in Beyond the Armor, Windham and Bray also explore the variety of stormtrooper toys and collectibles which have been created over the years. Admittedly, these sections really stood out as I know very little about the way the toy industry operates, but also because the authors discuss a handful of toys which I had as a kid. And for me, no stormtrooper-related toy described in the book stood out more than the Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set because it is one of the Star Wars toys I still own from my childhood. Plus, it is still in perfect condition, a Star Wars miracle considering all of the other Micro Machines action sets I owned did not survive the disaster area known as “Jeff’s room.”

Stormtroopers
The Micro Machines Stormtrooper/The Death Star transforming action set (center) with a few other pieces of my “Trooper Collection.”

The relationship between stormtroopers and fan culture is also explored in Beyond the Armor, with special emphasis focusing on the 501st Legion. A fan-led organization that specializes in the “bad guys” of Star Wars, the 501st Legion, founded by Albin Johnson in 1997, combines a love of costuming with community service. While the information about fan culture and the 501st Legion was not as interesting or relevant to me, it is never-the-less a critical aspect of the book which helps to highlight the cultural legacy of stormtroopers specifically, and Star Wars more generally. And, at the very least, one will undoubtedly walk away from the book knowing far more about Star Wars fan culture than when they first started reading. I certainly did. 

As I said at the outset, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor was an unintended purchase but, in the end, one that worked out for the best. While reading an encyclopedic book with behind-the-scenes information about Star Wars is not everyone’s cup-o-tea, this book is definitely one worth getting, especially if you happen to stumble upon it for a reduced price like I did. Admittedly, there are some sections that drag on a bit more than I thought necessary but this never kept me from wanting to keep reading and learning. In all likelihood, I won’t be reading Beyond the Armor again from cover-to-cover unless I get really ambitious, but it will definitely come in handy as a reference book when I need to refresh my memory about some stormtrooper-related topic. Plus, if nothing else, it will look pretty cool on one of my Star Wars bookshelves.

If you have read Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor and would like to share your thoughts on it, leave a comment below.

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.

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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.

A Man Who Wants to Run

During my most recent viewing of The Force Awakens, I was slammed by an epiphany so insanely obvious I was shocked it hadn’t hit me earlier. This epiphany came during the conversation Finn has with Maz Kanata while the two sit at a table in her castle. Finn, adamantly stating that there is no way to fight the First Order, is confronted by Maz when she climbs onto the table and crawls towards him. Adjusting her “glasses” as she looks at Finn, Maz states to him that, “I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people…I am looking at the eyes of a man who wants to run.”

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Maz Kanata
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Finn who tells Maz she doesn’t know anything about him. Of course, we know that Maz is right, Finn DOES want to run, even if she doesn’t necessarily know all of Finn’s backstory. But although Maz confronts Finn and reveals what she sees in his eyes, she does not try to convince him to stay and fight. Instead, she simply points to two individuals who Finn can hitch a ride with to the Outer Rim. And that ends their discussion, as Finn gets up to leave and Maz returns to her seat.

Okay, so far, so good. Now, what of that epiphany I mentioned? Well, in the moment Maz says to Finn that she has “lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people” and that she is “looking at the eyes of a man who wants to run,” the following thought entered my mind:

Kanan Jarrus was running, too.

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Kanan states that his Master’s last word to him was “run.”
Photo Credit – Star Wars Rebels Season 1, Episode 14: “Fire Across the Galaxy”

And with that, the flood gates opened…

What if as he followed his late-Master’s order to “run,” Kanan Jarrus (formerly Caleb Dume) ended up on Takodana, in Maz Kanata’s castle?

What if he when he met Maz Kanata for the first time, she could sense who he was – a Jedi?

What if in conversing with Kanan, in discussing his past as a Jedi, she looks into HIS eyes and sees “a man who wants to run,” saying the same thing to him that she says to Finn?

What if, what if, what if…

Honestly, I see no reason this encounter shouldn’t happen. No, it NEEDS to happen. Think about it – it would add a fascinating dimension to Maz’s interaction with Finn, the recognition that she hasn’t just seen the eyes of random men who were running, but saw those eyes in one of the last members of the Jedi Order. In this vein, an encounter between Maz and Kanan could function as a building block for Maz’s backstory, a window into her past. While the centerpiece of their interaction would obviously focus on Kanan running from his past life as a Jedi, the conversation could also provide keen insights into Kanata’s views on the galaxy, particularly a galaxy reeling from the aftermath of the Clone Wars. Frankly, after meeting Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens, I would love to hear what she has to say about the Clone Wars, the fall of the Jedi Order, and the rise of the Empire. Plus, it would be pretty cool to see her counsel the young Kanan, providing the young Jedi with her own ancient “Yoda-esque” wisdom.

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Depa Billaba commands her padawan, Caleb, to run.
Photo Credit – MARVEL Comics

Speaking of Kanan, it sort of goes without saying but this interaction would be an easy way to bolster the already rich backstory surrounding him. And, there is already a perfect medium for us to see Maz confront Kanan “the runner” – the Marvel comic series Kanan. This series provides a fascinating glimpse of a young Kanan running from the Empire in the days and weeks after Order 66, and I think an encounter between Maz and Kanan would be a natural fit for the series.

So what do you think? Am I crazy for wanting to see Maz Kanata have the same interaction with Kanan that she does with Finn?


Addition: Since writing this piece, the Kanan comic series has come to an end (the last issue was released on March 16, 2016). Sad, I know, but I am still convinced that a meeting between Maz Kanata and Kanan Jarrus would be a great story. Hopefully it is the will of the Force that the two characters cross paths.