Dark Disciple is a unique Star Wars story, an exploration of one woman’s personal growth and a unique take on the morality of the Force. However, something is missing, and I kept digging through the pages to find it.
The story, written for The Clone Wars by Katie Lucas, Dave Filoni, and Matt Michnovetz and adapted by Christie Golden, is a heartfelt exploration of Asajj Ventress’s connection to the Nightsisters. Technical issues turn a strong story into something lukewarm, though.
The novel follows Ventress, Vos, and a supporting cast of The Clone Wars regulars through a twisty series of missions. The Jedi want to stop Dooku once and for all, and think that teaming up one of their order with Dooku’s former apprentice is the best way to do it. Naturally, Vos and Ventress don’t get along at first, but things don’t stay that way.
The novel captures a lot of the fun of The Clone Wars. Quinlan Vos’ love for the Jedi Order shines in well-described early scenes (“overly solemn Padawans and squirmy-puppy younglings”), and Asajj Ventress’ visit to the same setting delightfully contains how awkward she must feel in the stronghold of her old enemy.
The Jedi are the opposite of Ventress, not necessarily because of her philosophy, but because of her experience. She never had the found family that Vos does, and her quest to find it drives the novel.
Ventress’ bitterness is so powerful. She feels that she has lost the strong platonic connection she had with her Sith Master (“Dooku had not loved her. She had thought he had.”) The most vivid moment in the novel is actually the aftermath of a different story entirely, the massacre of the Nightsisters.
The dialogue written for the Jedi Council, Obi-Wan, and Anakin is done very well. Anakin is not a large part of the story but, perfectly in character, invites himself into it whenever he gets a chance. The Council scenes lack description – it takes an early scene several pages to establish that it takes place in the Council chamber, but the voices are spot-on. The book actually succeeds in something that I think The Clone Wars tried but never quite got right: portraying the Jedi Council as either incompetent or outright hostile to the emotional needs of the people it serves. The best conversations among the Jedi Council members call both backwards to Barris Offee’s turbulent relationship with the Jedi and forward to Anakin’s.
Golden does good work with other established Star Wars characters, too. Commander Cody only appears briefly, but makes a very important distinction when he says he’d rather see a friend turn to the dark side than simply betray people out of some more secular meanness.
For all that it’s mentioned, the fact that Jedi are supposed to suppress their emotions does not really become an issue in the plot. It would have been overdramatic if it had been, but it would also have been interesting to see more about Anakin’s reactions to Vos, another emotionally volatile Jedi.
The Vos-Ventress relationship, of course, is critical. Could it have been anyone else in Vos’s place, I found myself asking? Would the story have gone differently if it had been Obi-Wan who was partnered with Ventress? Or a female Jedi? There are moments where Vos is not entirely sure why he’s going along with her, and I think those are the moments that mean it had to be him, because his instincts demand that he always move forward and never over-think his actions. For all the flaws in him, for the occasional corny or flat dialogue, it had to be Vos. There is a sincerity to the conversations between him and Ventress that is refreshing. Obi-Wan advises that Vos might need to flirt with Ventress in order to join her quest, but as they get to know one another, the flirtatiously aggressive banter that Obi-Wan also shared with Ventress fades away.
In particular, I’m grateful for that. It shows the difference between the way Ventress interacts with Obi-Wan (or the galaxy at large) and how she interacts with Vos. It never plays with the idea that Ventress’s anger is fake, or asks the reader to believe that she means “yes” when she says “no.” Her sensuality is a front (as, at times, is Quinlan’s) and Dark Disciple shows what’s going on behind that front in a time of transition.
Similarly, Vos’ desire to “find a story” to make his lackadaisical life mean something is more of an emotional hook than Jedi characters are sometimes given. His story goes dark and plays with his emotions in interesting ways. This Quinlan is not quite the one in the comics and not quite the one from The Clone Wars; in between, he’s willful and personable.
However, some confusing scenes give the book a patchwork feeling, as if it hasn’t all been edited for clarity. Ventress and Vos train for one mission the reader never sees, making the training scene feel out of place.
When Ventress and Vos first meet one another, it’s not entirely clear why Ventress agrees to Vos’ plans, although as a sometimes-companion of Boba Fett and company, she is used to allying with questionable people. The prose is unexciting, with some abrupt shifts in tone that don’t entirely work. One mixed metaphor about onion-shaped buildings is particularly contradictory. The novel clearly spells out that Ventress uses her flirtation as a tactic, but there isn’t anything new brought to that idea in the novel. Some scenes are formulaic, serving more as markers to tell readers exactly what genre the book is than to establish anything particular about the characters.
Despite that, some of the emotional hooks work. Vos and Ventress aren’t an unlikeable pair. The book shows people who have a grayer sense of morality than many Star Wars characters, and makes a strong argument that it isn’t always easy to tell the dark side apart from the light. It is absolutely, like Christie Golden said in our interview, the story of people making bad decisions.
Picking apart which sections were written for The Clone Wars and which were added by Golden does not seem particularly useful, and I believe that she achieved her goal of making it impossible to tell who wrote which section. (The very first scene sticks out as an extremely loosely connected, divergent plot line regardless.) Dark Disciple definitely fits into the later seasons of The Clone Wars, with its emotional character relationships, odd couples, and dialogue that ranges from stiff and cliché to insightful and emotionally affecting.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.