"Dooku continues his attacks. Stop him, we must," Yoda said solemnly....
Finally Mace spoke. "The question before us now is—who will strike the killing blow?"
Before diving into this review-proper, I should say that I am a Star Wars fan. I am especially a fan of The Clone Wars animated television series, and have watched the 6 seasons encompassing the show somewhere in the vicinity of 5-6 times, from very beginning to bittersweet ending. Among the many reasons why I love The Clone Wars so much include its focus on the utter brokenness of the Republic and corruption in the Senate, the dark-shrouded and morally tenuous Jedi Council, and, most of all, the in-depth, complex character arcs for not only Anakin and Obi-Wan, but for all of the female characters as well—on both the light and dark paths associated with the Force. The Clone Wars gives us Ahsoka Tano, a young Padawan who grapples with her impulsive nature, the expectations of the Jedi Council, and her own ultimate disillusionment and heartbreak at the failure of the Council to act in accordance with its ideals. It also gives us the Padme Amidala I so desperately yearned for in the prequels--this animated version is a fighter, a leader, and a politico who doesn’t let Anakin push her around, and who is desperately, single-mindedly committed to the tenants of the Republic and democracy (even when it puts her in grave danger).
Finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this column, The Clone Wars also gave us Asajj Ventress, a woman who was traded into slavery as a child, became a Jedi Padawan, then turned to become a former Sith apprentice and assassin for Count Dooku after her Jedi master was killed. Then, after being betrayed by Dooku and left for dead, Ventress turned back to her clan of Nightsisters on Dathomir, swearing vengeance against Dooko—only to fail and see her entire people massacred by the Separatist leader’s cruelty. Now, clanless and alone, Ventress is not the agent of evil or darkness one would think—she is a complex character, with one of the most fascinating arcs in the Star Wars expanded universe (at least, in this reader/watcher’s mind). Which brings me to Dark Disciple by Christie Golden, a new (canon) story in the Star Wars EU.
In Dark Disciple, Asajj Ventress is given a new adventure, one that tests her to her breaking point. In this novel, based on unproduced episodes of The Clone Wars, the Jedi Council decides in one of its darkest moments that Count Dooku must be stopped at any cost; they assign one of their own Jedi Masters, Quinlan Vos, to assassinate the Separatist Leader and Sith Lord. Vos isn’t alone, however—the Jedi also tell him that he must win the trust of Asajj Ventress and that they must work together if they are to have any hope of succeeding in their mission to kill Dooku.
And that’s the end of everything.
From the very outset of Dark Disciple, things are very grim. For the Jedi to choose the path of assassination instead of peace, to enlist one of their own to strike the killing blow with the help of a Nightsister and former Sith acolyte, one knows the balance of the Force must be dangerously near breaking. Even grimmer and darker things become, as Vos and Ventress start to work together, gradually fall in love, and Ventress begins to teach her partner the ways of the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a recipe for disaster, exacerbated by the lies that Vos and Ventress tell themselves and each other, the manipulations of Count Dooku, and the instability within the Jedi Council itself.
But it’s really fascinating, awesome stuff to read—especially if you’re a Ventress or Clone Wars fan.
Dark Disciple has a lot of awesomeness going for it—the overall fracturing of the Force and the imminent fall of the Jedi, the amassing power and seductive call of the Dark Side. Moreover, it focuses on one of my favorite characters ever, by giving Asajj Ventress a new story arc and offering her the greatest test she has ever faced, as well as the possibility of a path of forgiveness, so far beyond the bitter heartbreak and path of vengeance she has traveled her entire life. The romance between Asajj and Quinlan is perhaps a touch cheesy (this is Star Wars), but in this reader’s opinion, ultimately believable and sweet and the attraction-factor and banter quality is right up there with Han and Leia, or Obi-Wan and Duchess Satine. I love the additional depth Dark Disciple gives to Asajj and her backstory, her trust issues, her anger and darkness...just as I love the moments of happiness and hope that Christine Golden allows Vos and Ventress as their relationship deepens. The inevitable betrayal, fall to darkness, and heartbreak is all the more painful and all the more meaningful because of this hope.
In other words: Dark Disciple is utterly fantastic and everything I could have dreamed of and hoped for...until the book’s final pages.
I will not directly spoil what happens here, but I will say that this ending ranks among the worst possible endings of any television show, book, or film one could imagine (we’re talking Dexter levels of bad). It’s emblematic of the worst and most odious parts of the prequel era (remember Padme dying because she has lost the will to live after popping out Luke and Leia?), and continues the misogynistic tradition of sacrifice female characters at the altar of making male characters feel pain and thus giving them purpose.
The worst part is that all of this happens with a beloved character, from a beloved series, at the end of a book that was almost perfect…and this ultimately it kills any goodwill or trust I might have had toward Star Wars writers, and makes me incredibly nervous that something similarly insidious and lamentable will happen in The Force Awakens.
In other words: if you’re a Clone Wars or Ventress fan (or a fan that dares to dream that The Force Awakens might NOT be a misogynistic dudefest, that the film might just let female characters shine on their own without placing them on the sacrificial altar)? You might want to skip this one.
In Book Smugglerish, 1 heartbroken red lightsaber out of 10.