A long time ago, a girl’s parents took her to see a science fiction film called Star Wars. On that day, she fell in love with all things Star Wars, even the extended universe that began with Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book, Heir to the Empire. But in 2012, Disney purchased Star Wars and proceeded to erase the majority of the extended universe she had come to know. With much of her Star Wars knowledge no longer applicable, she begins a journey through the new canon. Her goal – to travel the path of the new canon, experiencing as much of the new material in story order as best as she possibly can.
Dark Disciple is a novel by Christie Golden that is based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The novel was originally published in hardcover in 2015 by Del Rey. The paperback version, which I read, was published in March 2016.
The war between the Republic and the Separatists has been raging across the galaxy for three years. Count Dooku, the leader of the Separatists, has amassed enough power that he can act out in the open by demanding the cooperation of worlds. When a planet refuses, he attacks. His slaughter of the inhabitants of Mahranee begins the story, and his actions prompt Jedi Master Mace Windu to suggest a bold idea – assassinate Count Dooku.
The Jedi way is to find light in the darkness, to find order in the chaos, to walk the path of peace, and to not act out of fear. Mace Windu argues Dooku’s death would plunge the Separatists movement into confusion because they would be scrambling to find a new leader (the Separatists don’t know about Darth Sidious). Obi-Wan Kenobi objects, but Windu counters that the Senate has charged the Jedi with fighting the war, a war they are not winning. Master Yoda, the head of the Jedi Council, reluctantly agrees. Save lives, Dooku’s death will.
Obi-Wan selects Master Quinlan Vos with the dreadful task. We met Vos in the episode of Star Wars: The Clone War called “Hunt for Ziro.” Vos is a warm fellow, cheerful, a good tracker, and has a reputation of being late and bending the rules. The Council usually assigns him undercover missions, and his familiarity with the galaxy’s underbelly is why Obi-Wan places this huge responsibility on his shoulders. Obi-Wan tells Vos Yoda’s plan – get help from Asajj Ventress.
Asajj Ventress is the second-best character from The Clone Wars (first place: Ashoka Tano; third place: the pirate Hondo Ohnaka). When she was a child, she was made a slave. After an attack by Weequay raiders, she was rescued by Jedi Knight Ky Narec, and he trained her as his Padawan. They lived on Rattatak for ten years; Narec was killed by Weequay, lighting the fuse of rage that led her to kill the Weequay warlords and take their place. Dooku found her on Rattatak and made her his apprentice, training her to use the dark side of the Force.
Although she was loyal to Dooku, Darth Sidious sensed her growing power and accused Dooku of wanting to strike him down and rule the galaxy with Ventress. To assure his Master this was not true, he ordered Ventress’s death. His betrayal sent her back home to Dathomir, and Mother Talzin helped her become reborn as a Nightsister, a practitioner of dark magic. Yoda wants Vos to solicit her help because she has tried twice to kill Dooku.
The existence of the film Revenge of the Sith reveals that Count Dooku survives this novel, so what the novel does well is explore mastery of the Force and the differences between being a Jedi and being a Sith. Golden’s language conveys what bodies go through and how the senses are activated when someone uses the Force, making you feel like a Jedi, a Sith, and a Nightsister. Another strength of the novel is it doesn’t assume you’ve watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Golden weaves exposition subtly throughout the story, never bogging down the action to dazzle us with unnecessary lectures on Star Wars lore.
Vos earns Ventress’s trust, and she trains him in the ways of the Nightsisters, not of the Sith. The difference is how the Nightsisters don’t completely succumb to the rage and fear like Sith do. The goal is to tap into your emotions while staying true to yourself. Ventress admits she was consumed by hate and rage when she was with Dooku, but as a Nightsister, she gained the ability to not be blinded by any emotion. Ventress insists on training Vos because she concludes that to go against his Jedi teachings he must be able to strike down Dooku in cold blood without hesitation, a quality Sith and Nightsisters have in common.
Unfortunately, intel causes Ventress to rush Vos’s training so they can enact their plan. For a third time, Ventress fails to kill Dooku, and Dooku takes Vos prisoner. Dooku exposes Vos to the ways of the Sith. After he returns to the Jedi, Vos claims that he was not turned, but Ventress senses something is wrong, but Obi-Wan dismisses her claim, thinking her judgement is clouded because she and Vos became lovers.
But Ventress is right, Vos does succumb, and Ventress fights to bring back Vos from the dark side. She’s never been in love before, so she stumbles as she tries to figure out the best course of action. After refusing to run away with her, Vos insists on accepting the Council’s mission, which is trying to kill Dooku again. This time Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker follow.
During the final confrontation with Dooku, Ventress plainly tells Vos the true nature of the dark side. To be Sith, one is a slave to fear, hatred, and rage; the dark side tempts with all one desires, but one is never satisfied because the dark side creates a black hole in the soul, devouring all joy, love, and control. Ventress confesses that she has left the path of the dark side, and she realizes that they have a choice between walking the path of peace or the path of fear. Ventress chooses the path of new beginnings, and she feels the true power of the Force.
Ventress pushes Vos and is struck by Dooku’s Force lightning, which was meant for Vos. Vos attacks Dooku in a rage and successfully gets Dooku on the ground. As Vos holds his lightsaber to Dooku’s neck, he looks over at Ventress’s broken body, and his tears release the pain and anger inside of him. It dawns on him that killing Dooku out of vengeance would be the final step in turning completely to the dark side. He turns off his lightsaber and proclaims to be a Jedi.
Like in many episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Dark Disciple explores the difficulty of being a Jedi. Choosing loving Ventress over hating Dooku saved Vos, and Obi-Wan admits that Ventress’s sacrifice saved them all from Dooku and from the darkness. By engaging in an act regularly used by the dark side, the Jedi Council betrayed themselves and the very nature of being a Jedi.
The Jedi are flawed, and it took the act of a reformed Sith to teach them that one act of evil to stop evil does not make the action good.
If the Jedi are tempted to use questionable tactics, then are they really the hope and the saviors of the galaxy?
Up next: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir (comic)