Books TV Discussion

Star Wars: The Clone Wars #41 – ‘Everybody Loves Ventress’ – TV Rewind

In this ongoing series, Ian Blackout revisits Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The TV show may have ended, but the war isn’t over yet…

Dark Disciple (2015)

Written by Christie Golden, audiobook narrated by Marc Thompson.

From the small screen to the printed page now. Announced in 2014, Dark Disciple was among the first Lucasfilm Story Group ‘canon’ novels, following the cancellation of The Clone Wars series and the reclassification of the old Expanded Universe material as Legends. With Christie Golden at the helm, the book is adapted from the unproduced scripts of an eight-episode arc, by Katie Lucas among others, and forms part of the Clone Wars Legacy project.

Realising countless lives are still being lost while the war itself is at a stalemate, the Jedi Council privately come to an alarming but necessary conclusion – they must assassinate Count Dooku. Quinlan Vos is charged with this highly dangerous task, who in turn will require the assistance of Dooku’s former apprentice turned bounty hunter, Asajj Ventress. In order for the scheme to succeed, Ventress cannot know that Vos is a Jedi, nor the true nature of his mission, meaning the unorthodox Jedi is working off the books and on two levels of deception. But the path of brutal political expediency never runs smooth, and Vos had behavioural quirks to begin with. Before long the Council’s last hope has gone off the radar completely. Has Ventress fallen back to the dark side? Has she recruited Vos? Worse still, has Dooku? Now the Jedi may have bitten off more than they can chew as Obi-Wan Kenobi investigates what can be salvaged from the situation…

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While still presented as the wildcard of the Jedi Order back in his Season Three screen-debut, many of Quinlan’s worst excesses from Legends material seem to have been airbrushed away. Across the Dark Horse content of 2000-2005, Vos had several heavy dalliances with the dark side, the existence of which would impact the telling of this tale at this late stage.

Ventress on the other has no such narrative ret-conning, having also existed in those old days but with the majority of her character development taking place within the animated Clone Wars series. That said, Asajj’s previously sketched-in backstory remains intact, with the novel even going so far as making a reference to Genndy Tartakovsky’s fantastic 2003-05 animated micro-series.

Christie Golden’s writing is driven yet flows off the page. The book easily spins the plates of the relationship between Ventress and Voss, and the reactions (and interventions) of the parties around them as the assassination plot seems to falter. Because we get the inner thoughts of both central characters, the reader is never in any doubt as to their true motivations (even when that becomes unclear to the characters themselves). There’s no pull-back/reveal to this aspect of the story, so when doubt begins to creep in it’s seen as a classical tragedy, rather than our own preconceptions of how we’re expecting the players to act.

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Once the duo begin training on Dathomir in the graveyard of the Season Four massacre, the text takes on an almost dreamlike quality. Removed from the bustling centre of the galaxy and involving hallucinations and psychotropics, there’s the feeling of a Lovecraftian holiday romance between Asajj and Quinlan (not least because they’re literally having an affair – there is a lot of flirting in this novel). This fatalism makes every second of their time together count, knowing that it can’t become permanent.

Extra credit also goes to Marc Thompson, narrator of the audiobook. His rendering of familiar voices captures the essence of the characters perfectly. A particular highlight of this is Obi-Wan Kenobi, a seamless blend of Ewan McGregor (from the movies) and James Arnold Taylor (from the TV series).

Dark Disciple has the depth and character complexity of the best Star Wars novels, feeling more like a piece written directly for the page than adapted from a script. The audience gets insights here which almost certainly wouldn’t have made it to the screen, and the book is better for that. And yet, it proudly takes its place in the televisual tapestry by making frequent off-hand references to events previously seen in the show, and going on to make Vos an interesting counterpoint to Anakin Skywalker.

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Whereas the prequel-era’s Chosen One is frequently tempted to slip around his teachings, Quinlan struggles to break free of them here. Vos’ instinctual pull to the light side of The Force is what almost derails the mission at several points, and yet both characters want to harness the dark for what they believe are the right reasons. Neither have a view of the bigger picture around them, and it seems that every new adherent to the dark side thinks they’ll be the one to finally master it and live in balance.

The hardest scrutiny applied to a Star Wars novel is one of impact. Of permanent development for its central characters and the lasting consequences around them. As anyone who’s seen Episode III already knows, the plot to assassinate Dooku here is unsuccessful, and one of the protagonists even gets a name-check in that movie. So how best to tackle that? Make it a story of the mission’s failure like 2008’s Valkyrie, or just go full Inglourious Basterds and show a success anyway? Ah, but that would be telling…

Ultimately, Dark Disciple is a romance (or more properly a break-up novel), wearing the guise of a wartime conspiracy thriller. And a very good one at that. Although the book occasionally feels a bit ‘YA’ in its emotional swings, having two characters this broken (and becoming moreso as the story progresses) makes for a far more interesting and engaging story than the Anakin/Padmé relationship. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on here, it’s that everybody loves Ventress…

Join us next time as we stay in print and find out whatever happened to Darth Maul…

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