[Update: Writer Kelly Thompson has reached out to Screen Rant to state that the BB unit in the comic is not the BB-9E that appears in The Last Jedi. Original article follows.]
Last week's Force Friday II was a surge of excitement for Star Wars fans as all kinds of merchandise featuring characters both new and familiar from Star Wars: The Last Jedi dropped. Along with those lovable Porgs, one of the biggest hits among the new characters in The Last Jedi is the First Order's flat-topped, black and chrome evil doppelganger of BB-8, BB-9E. BB-8 was introduced in The Force Awakens and immediately won over fans new and old. Though, his master Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) said BB-8 was "one of a kind," it seems like the best pilot in the Resistance was mistaken about the uniqueness of BB units in general. It turns out there's more than one BB unit in the galaxy.
Though fans naturally assumed they'll have to wait until The Last Jedi premiering in December to see BB-9E in action, Marvel dropped a big surprise in the pages of their new 4 issue comic limited series Star Wars: Captain Phasma. Written by Kelly Thompson and illustrated by Marco Checcetto, Captain Phasma (not to be confused with the new novel Phasma written by Delilah S. Dawson) picks up during the climactic events of The Force Awakens immediately after Finn (John Boyega), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca send the chrome-plated Stormtrooper commander down one of Starkiller Base's trash compactors. In an interview describing her new series with StarWars.com, Thompson confirms her comic book contains BB-9E's official in-canon debut:
I think we’ve got a lot of classic Star Wars elements — planets, aliens, and monsters that are all trying to kill you. Evil plots and betrayals. Plus, a small role for a little droid that just made a big splash this past week!
In Captain Phasma, the not-so-good captain immediately brushes off the humiliation of being thrown down a trash compactor by the traitorous former Stormtrooper FN-2187. Well aware that Starkiller Base is under attack by Resistance fighters, and with an active 6 minute countdown until Starkiller Base's weapon is fully charged and ready to fire, Phasma's first priority is saving her own skin so that she is not mistaken as a traitor herself. Making her way to a console, Phasma's first order of business is to make sure no one finds out that it was she who lowered Starkiller Base's defense shields. While she goes to work ensuring her lack of culpabilty, Phasma narrates events through her voice recorder in her helmet, with her version of events not exactly reflecting the reality. According to Phasma's recorded version of events, she is the one investigating the mystery of how Starkiller Base's shields went down.
Once Phasma has deleted the record of her lowering the shield, it suddenly occurs to her that someone else may have lowered Starkiller Base's defense shields. Phasma's instincts serve her well; she discovers there was a traitor who the computers recorded as tampering with the shields: a Lieutenant Sol Rivas. Phasma immediately goes on the hunt for the traitor and locates Lt. Rivas, but the explosions rocking Starkiller Base prevent her from getting a clean shot. As Phasma pursues Rivas throughout the forests of Starkiller Base, we learn that she was a witness to the pivotal lightsaber duel between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), though Phasma has no idea who Rey is and only identified her as "an unknown opponent." It seems Phasma had no hand in Rey's capture on Takodana or her failed interrogation by Kylo Ren. The chasms that formed when Starkiller Base began to rip asunder from the Resistance's bombing nearly did Phasma in, but she recovered herself and continued her pursuit of Lt. Rivas.
Phasma tracked Rivas to an auxiliary TIE Fighter hangar but Rivas had lifted off in a TIE Fighter by the time Phasma arrived. Phasma immediately requisitioned a second TIE Fighter and its pilot, TN-3465, for immediate pursuit and discovered a BB unit on board - thus, BB-9E makes his official debut in Star Wars canon.
Though it's a very brief appearance of just a few panels, we immediately learn a few key things about BB-9E: it was also on Starkiller Base during the events of The Force Awakens. Like BB-8 and R2-D2, BB-9E performs the functions of an astromech Droid and has a forceful personality. Phasma immediately takes a dislike to the little Droid, but with BB-9E aboard the TIE Fighter, we now know how Captain Phasma was able to survive the destruction of Starkiller Base and that BB-9E is her (possibly unwelcome) sidekick on her pursuit of the mysterious Lt. Sol Rivas. However this adventure turns out, Phasma will soon rendezvous with her superiors in the First Order to be part of what's to come in The Last Jedi.
With Captain Phasma wrapping its brief run in December, likely before The Last Jedi premieres, fans will be treated to an adventure spotlighting both one of the most underutilized characters from The Force Awakens and the new Droid that's already becoming a fan favorite. Whether Phasma and BB-9E form the kind of bond BB-8 made with Poe, Rey and Finn remains to be seen, but it's cool to have a canonical BB-9E story in the pages of Marvel comics to whet the appetite for his feature film debut in The Last Jedi.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi premieres on December 15, 2017.