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Star Wars: Dark Disciple Review (contains spoilers)

Note: This article contains spoilers for the new book, Star Wars: Dark Disciple.

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Often in the real world do people lose themselves in the grasp of new love. They attempt to redefine themselves within the sheltering confines of a new relationship, only to emerge a changed version of the person that once was. We find that with Quinlan Vos, who falls in love with the enigmatic and exotic Asajj Ventress in Star Wars: Dark Disciple, the new novel by Christie Golden that was adapted from eight unaired scripts from The Clone Wars.

Vos, in his heady willingness to embrace new feelings of love, strays from the Jedi path he always knew and not only accepts a larger view of his emotional range, but also of the Force. And with this emotional bravery comes reciprocated feelings from the most unexpected person: Asajj Ventress, the one-time Sith acolyte turned yellow-lightsaber-wielding bounty hunter. Together, their relationship will force them each to face their past, as well as their affiliations to the dark side and the light, drawing in both the Jedi and the Sith as they grow into fully-formed beings of both light and dark that crave nothing more than freedom to be who they are.

However, it is one thing to be brought into the light after living a lifetime in darkness. It is quite another for a person who has lived in the light to fall to the dark.

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As a reader I found myself excited for Master Vos and his daring exploration of what it means for a good Jedi to know love. On the other hand, I became anxious for the man and his too-quick compromising of his core beliefs. This sort of change did not feel healthy, albeit far too realistic. Who hasn’t had a friend change overnight when starting a new romance?

However I think Master Vos’ willingness to embrace love was the right way; it is a complicated area of the Force that the Jedi never truly conquered. If anything can be learned from the fall of the republic and of the Jedi, it is that the Jedi Order did not grow and change. It did not iterate upon itself to become a more perfect organization of Force devotees, and in doing so became obsolete. Quinlan and Asajj were on the right path; if only they did not have death, destruction and the dark side to unite them in common purpose.

Master Vos’ willingness to accept the power that the dark side granted him was another thing altogether. Asajj led him down the wrong path, and it nearly consumed the man. Throughout the entire novel, I grappled with the idea that it was possible to control the dark side. It went against all Star Wars canon to this point. The dark side consumes; it takes exceptionally powerful Force users such as Anchorites or Chosen Ones to balance the Force. Unfortunately, Quinlan Vos was neither.

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I’m in an interesting position: I feel rather fortunate that I never knew the EU version of Quinlan Vos, who, for all accounts (and all my research), was a very interesting character. The Quinlan Vos I know is a glimpse of a background character in The Phantom Menace, a mere mention in Revenge of the Sith, and sadly, not much more than a caricature in a bizarre season three episode of The Clone Wars that actualy gave him a surfboard. Needless to say, there was a major opportunity to make something of the character in canon, and this novel does so exceedingly well. I had a clean slate for who this Vos is, and had nothing to compare and analyze. It was breath of fresh air to see his arc unfold without the trappings and baggage of previous work in the back of my head.

At the outset of the novel, Quinlan Vos is a good Jedi, perhaps a great one. He embraces the Force with a delight and happiness we see in Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and the self-awareness and experience of one who understands the ways of the Living Force. One wonders who Vos would have been if he never crossed Ventress. Who would he have become? Would he still have gone the same way? Clearly, his embrace of the dark side could not have been achieved without major doubt in the surety of the Jedi Order.

And to that point, the idea of an assassination attempt by the Jedi shows just how lost the order is. It is decidedly a bad idea, and not the way of the Force.  This seems like a last resort for an order of knights who have lost their way in the fog of war. As the dark side shrouded and impeded their ability to use the light side of the Force, they have made decisions that are worse and worse. This feels like an all-time low for the Order. Kenobi is at his best in the anticlimax of the book, reprimanding the Jedi Council on how they have lost their way.

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I am also relieved to see a genuine and deep friendship between Kenobi and Vos. It makes the younger Kenobi of The Clone Wars a more well-rounded character and less of a sarcasm machine for Anakin to bounce off. Kenobi’s depth is real, just as his admiration for Ventress is as well. It is always refreshing to understand a little more of Kenobi the man rather than Kenobi the master. Besides, who doesn’t love to see Kenobi in his natural habitat: a seedy bar!

The romance between Vos and Asajj is honest, well-won, and a pleasure to read. Golden is masterful in her development of this relationship, allowing the reader to see both points of view with equitable charity. Golden paints scenes with passion, sensuality and tenderness not often found in science fiction, and rounds the characters in ways not often seen in Star Wars. The romance in the first half of the book is legendary, and only sets up the tragedy of the second half to deliver upon.

At the outset, Vos and Ventress are at once complete opposites and kindred spirits. He is the optimist, a beacon of casual, unorthodox hope. She is world-weary and damaged, smoldering with anger at many futures lost. He is steadfast in his place in the universe, a loner who loves his friends and his home. She is lost, rejected at every turn, living day-to-day; a loner by necessity, not by choice. He seems to radiate unbounded light; she expounds a controlled darkness that’s apart from the ways of the Sith. Together, they forge their own way into a grey area of the Force based on the full range of their emotions, and it takes Vos to plunge into darkness and hate for Asajj to find her goodness.

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Despite the twists and turns that Quinlan Vos takes between the dark side and the light, not a page went by that I didn’t think of the line from Episode III: “In short, they are going very well. Saleucami has fallen, and Master Vos has moved his troops to Boz Pity.” I knew the character would end up there, but in what form? For a while, I wondered if Vos would be an enemy retreating to Boz Pity!

I do think there was an opportunity lost here. The Outer Rim sieges should have begun here. It would have been great to see this final conflict in the war, to see Asajj and Vos fighting side by side. And, of course, did Vos survive Order 66?

Additionally, there are many interesting things to be learned about Count Dooku in this book. As the years go by, it is clear that the Count is one of the more enigmatic characters in the saga. Was he truly a Sith? (Sort of.) Did he really want to overthrow Sidious with Kenobi’s help? It turns out that yes, he actually did. Dooku, like Ventress, sought to use the dark side but not be consumed by it. We identified as Sith, but by his own admission in the book, he was not “a normal Sith.” This clarity and insight into the character alone makes Dark Disciple a must-read.

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Surprisingly, one of the most boring parts of this book is the rather pedestrian adventures of Anakin and Obi-Wan. Anakin feels static; there’s nothing of the edgy, anger prone character from the Utapau arc. Where did he go? There was an opportunity to tie this book’s Anakin into the larger Star Wars saga here that was missed.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing scenes at the Nightsister village, where Asajj pressures Quinlan to take a step wholly unnatural in his slaying of the Sleeper. Such twisting and darkness was beautifully portrayed—but did you catch the multiple references to Dune? Time and again, Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi epic provides inspiration for Star Wars. Here, it all but confirms that the Nightsisters are directly inspired by the Bene Gesserit of Dune. First, they are both referred to as witches. Second, they both drink a substance known as the water of life as initiation, which provides insight and power. Third, the water of life is created by a creature that lives deep below the planet’s surface. Fourth, their organizations are led by “Mothers.” Fifth, the entire idea of “awakening the sleeper” is a direct reference to Dune’s Kwaisitch Haderach, who is referred to as a sleeper that must awaken. These are unmistakable markers for those in the know, and it is very satisfying to see Star Wars still drawing influence from such a rich source even 40 years later.

Finally, the end of this book merits special attention. As our character converge for final confrontation, we finally see Quinlan Vos brought back to the light side through his own choice He did it for love, and was redeemed from within. However, none of it would have been possible without a momentarily prescient vision from Ventress. What spurred this? It would seem to be an honest redemption of her place in the Force; an acceptance of the light side through her love of Vos that led to unlocking newfound powers. And, in doing so, she understood she must sacrifice herself to save her true love.

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In my accounting, Asajj Ventress was the first person in canon to die of Sith lightning. Not Luke, not Yoda, not Windu, not Palpatine, and not Vader (trust me; proof coming soon to RetroZap). Why did Ventress die, when all others did not? In my opinion, she accepted her destiny in this moment and allowed herself to succumb to this attack in a way others would not. Either that or Nightsisters are really vulnerable to it. No matter what, the redemption of Ventress, a character with over a decade of backstory behind her, was an absolute payoff, and the redemption of Vos was well deserved after his torture throughout this novel.

From a literary standpoint, Golden uses overuses litotes in her writing, creating paragraphs that cause a reader to be lifted out of the story. They stand out and feel unnatural in contrast to the other 99% of the book. I’d like to see this removed from her future works, as it does nothing to improve her considerable command of storytelling voice and pacing.

And, as for future work, I hope Golden writes many, many more Star Wars novels; she took what could have been a throwaway story that was never aired into an absolute classic of Star Wars storytelling. Honestly, I prefer this story as a novel; it allows us to get inside the minds of the characters and linger with their thoughts and motivations in a way that 22-minute animated storytelling just cannot do. It is far and away the best novel of the new canon. If this is the direction for the future, I am very, very pleased.

The Clone Wars Season 4 Episode 19 Review

Hello and welcome back to another review of the latest installment in The Clone Wars! This week Asajj Ventress returns home to the Nightsisters, and Grievous leads an attack to destroy the Dathomiri tribe, in the strangest and possibly darkest Clone Wars yet, “Massacre”. This is season four, episode nineteen, which means we only have three episodes left until the end of the season, and these last few episodes look fantastic judging from the new trailer we saw last week. Really though, if you have not seen that trailer, watch it now! Okay, enough about future episodes (I’m sure I’ll bring them up again at the end of my review.), time to talk the latest episode!

This episode revolves entirely around the Nightsisters, over a year later from when we saw them last. This episode starts with Asajj returning to Dathomir after an unknown amount of time wandering the galaxy since her betrayal in the last season. It has me wondering why this episode (and the next episode) will be focused on Asajj so much, since “Massacre” continued right where the conflicted character of Asajj left off, I wonder if this will be the end of Asajj’s character, one way or another. She’s a character we’ve been seeing less and less in the series since season one, and honestly, I just don’t see her going back to the Sith, or making anymore mayhem for the Jedi in the war.

So how will they take this character out of the series? The more I watch it, the more I feel like they’re going to go the comics route and allow her to escape and flee into hiding, which would be pretty awesome. I think an ending like that would capitalize the tragedy that her role has turned into, first being betrayed by her master, then by Savage, and then being the last of the Nightsisters. I’m also wondering if she will even be around long enough to face Obi-Wan again, or maybe even Savage. One thing I hope doesn’t happen is leaving her character at a cliffhanger again, letting us guess where she is and what she’s doing for another year.

Massacre was, I would say, the most out-of-universe episode to date. Some parts just didn’t feel like Star Wars, which I guess was bound to happen when you’re creating an episode about a group of witches. But there were lots of things that kind of made me wish for a little familiarity in this episode (besides battle droids). Instead of using the Force, the Nightsisters replaced it with their magic, summoning Nightsister zombies to their aid in battle, (those were really weird, and well-designed I might add). There was one part that even reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with the voodoo doll, to torture Dooku, even at one point allowing Talzin to emerge from his torso to warn him. There were no Jedi, no clones, and no good guys in this episode. This was a brawl of the baddies, and combining that with the bizarreness of the Nightsister’s magic, and you’ve got one strange episode, not knowing who to root for, if anyone.

One thing I’d like to touch on briefly before I wrap up my review is the return of some season one technology. The “Defenders of Peace” Defoliator tank is back; it’s always great to see stuff from past seasons show up in current episodes, even though it is strange it’s taken this long for it to show up again. Hopefully we’ll be seeing it in some large scale battles soon.

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All in all, “Massacre” was a very unique episode, the red colors of the world of Dathomir fit the dark and evil mood perfectly. Like I said before, it did not feel as much like a part of the Star Wars universe as I would have liked, but the story was decent, exciting, and the ending left me with a great sense of uncertainty for Asajj, and pity for her character. And that wraps up my review this week! What did you think of the episode? Love it? Hate it? Let us know by leaving a comment below! Thanks for reading, and I cannot wait for next week’s episode with the return of some classic characters! May the Force be with you… always!

-Ryan

 

Momma Ain’t Happy, Nobody Happy: Mother Talzin and The Clone Wars

In the past year we have been introduced to a major new player on the Dark Side stage, Nightsister Clan Mother and Shaman Mother Talzin.  First introduced in last season’s three-part The Clone Wars story arc, dubbed “The Nightsisters Trilogy,” Talzin has gone on to appear in some recent Expanded Universe works, most recently in Dan Wallace’s Book of Sith.  As we get ready for Mother Talzin and the Nightsisters of Dathomir to return to The Clone Wars, lets take a look at what we have learned about Mother Talzin, her clan, and how they are connected with the rest of continuity.

In The Clone Wars we are introduced to Mother Talzin in episodes 3.12-3.14: “Nightsisters,” “Monster,” and “Witches of the Mist.”  Along with all the continuity changes that take place with Dathomir and the back story for Asajj Ventress and Darth Maul, we are introduced to a clan of dark Magick using witches referred to as the Nightsisters.  The Nightsisters were first introduced by Dave Wolverton in his Bantam era novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia.  Lucas and his Clone Wars team combined the concept of the Nightsisters and some Sith Witch concept art from the prequel films to create the look of the Nightsisters for the show and their leader Mother Talzin.

The clear attempts by the book licensee Del Rey to weave TCW into the novels has resulted in Mother Talzin has received passing reference in James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis novel, a larger role in Scholastic’s The Wrath of Darth Maul, as well as an entire section in becker&mayer!’s Book of Sith.

While Talzin’s reference in Darth Plagueis is more of the passing variety, her appearance in The Wrath of Darth Maul (Wrath) and her “writing” in the Book of Sith have direct impact on the story that will be featured in the concluding story arc of Season Four.  In Wrath, Talzin went to Orsis where Maul was being trained in combat to claim him as a Nightbrother and return him to Dathomir.  Talzin was prevented in this by the appearance of Sidious and she submitted to Sidious’ superior claim to Maul, but she did take a parting gift home with her.  On her way back to her vessel to leave, Talzin brushed an open wound of Maul’s with a talisman capturing his blood upon the magical object.  This talisman will become very important later on.

Also in Wrath we learn that somehow Maul survived his maiming on Naboo and fall down the reactor shaft only to awaken in a dank hole on Lotho Minor were he spent the next decade.  As of that book it was unrevealed if Maul had some mysterious benefactor that saved his life and got him from Naboo to Lotho Minor.  The Book of Sith may provide some answers in a few abilities of the Nightsisters that it described.

What if Maul actually died briefly on Naboo?  In the Book of Sith it lists the talismans that the Nightsisters possessed, one of these was the “Talisman of Resurrection” that allows them to return a spirit back to it’s body, the sooner this is done though the better shape the physical body will be in.  What if Mother Talzin arrived on Naboo just in time to use this talisman on Maul?  This poses the further question of how would she have known where and when to be to save Maul?  Well we know she already had the talisman with Maul’s blood on it that she could use to track him, but she also had the ability through divination and scrying to “view events occurring anywhere in the galaxy.”  This is the arability that she used when meeting with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to locate Savage Opress for them in “Witches of the Mist.”

So we now have an explanation of how Maul could have been returned from the dead as well as rescued by Mother Talzin.  But if Mother Talzin saved Maul, why not keep him on Dathomir?  Well the ability of divination allowed her to see multiple possible futures, perhaps she foresaw the return of Ventress and creation of Savage Opress and is playing out events according to her visions.  Leaving Maul in a safe and secluded place was the best option for her.  Leaving his mind broken also kept him from making any trouble.

We also learn that Mother Talzin is a bit of a charismatic leader, not only did she defeat Mother Zalem, but she unified warring Nightsister tribes into one coven and assumed the dual roles of Clan Mother and Shaman.

In Season Three we saw Mother Talzin exhibit a number of abilities, such as the ability to conjure a weapon from thin air for Savage Opress, to use the waters of life to heal Ventress’ body and mind, and to mesmerize Savage Opress.  Based on the waters of life ritual we know Talzin could have healed Maul’s mind and injuries following the events on Naboo, but she did not.

The biggest revelation regarding Mother Talzin and the Nightsisters is that they and she know about Mortis.  The Nightsisters spirituality is centered on two beings, the Winged Goddess and the Fanged God, who are depicted and described just like the Daughter and Son from Season Three’s Mortis Trilogy.  Mother Talzin believes that there is a spiritual realm and a physical realm, this Winged Goddess and Fanged God exist on the spiritual realm, but through their magicks the Nightsisters are able to bridge the gap between the two realms and tap into the power granted by the Goddess and the God. In fact she claims that she experienced a near death experience that brought about her connection to the spirit realm, and it is this through this connection that “the spirits pull upon the folds of my robe as I walk and echo beneath my voice when I speak.” (Book of Sith pg. 100)

The Book of Sith goes into great detail listing other abilities and aspects of the Nightsisters’ culture that will undoubtedly show up in The Clone Wars at a future point, but it is clear from our examination that Mother Talzin has some very strong powers and some very curious connections with the Force wielders of Mortis.  In appearance they are rather similar to the Son in particular.

The question becomes, what is Mother Talzin’s role in the saga and what are her real goals during the Clone Wars?  If I may speculate, I believe she is trying to cultivate a trio of instruments by which she can rule the galaxy.  Perhaps her goal is to position Maul, Opress and Ventress so that all three are under her influence and control.  One of the interesting features of the Book of Sith is that Ventress commented in the margins of Mother Talzin’s writing, the tone of her comments makes me think she at some point grew disillusioned with Talzin and ends up either trying to usurp Talzin’s position or leaving the Nightsisters all together.

The future is always in motion, but one thing is for sure, Mother Talzin and the Nightsisters are playing a much more central role in the Clone Wars era then we ever thought they would be.

~ Peter