“When did you become the good guy?” “Don’t insult me.”

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M: Asajj Ventress’s first appearance in the Clone Wars movie is honestly what sold me on the series… She’s feminine, terrifying, and serves as such a good counterpart for Obi-Wan.

K: Their rivalry is hilarious to me because he just flirts at her every time they meet. But yes, Ventress is a seriously cool character. Lady villains are as awesome as lady heroes in the Star Wars.

M: It takes a special person to dismiss Obi-Wan’s flirtations with the coolness that she does. But, we’re not here to talk about their rivalry, or even Ventress’s role as a villain throughout the first few seasons of Clone Wars. Today’s topic… well, it came about like this. I see this meme popping up all the time featuring Hondo and Obi-Wan that says something like “Villains who turn into awkward friends are SO important,” which is funny enough in its own way, but if we’re talking villains who turn into amazing neutral sometimes-allies, Ventress definitely takes the cake. Or meiloorun.

K: Haha. I think “neutral” is the key word here. There are other characters who are supposed to be neutral, like Hondo (though his presence usually offends me, so it’s hard for him to come across as neutral) but I think Ventress’s arc takes her to a place where she’s truly neutral in a way other characters aren’t.

M: Quick disclaimer– we’re talking just Clone Wars here. Dark Disciple is for another day, because although I’ve placed it on hold at the library, I haven’t gotten to read it yet.

K: Good point, I don’t know what the EU has to say about Ventress so this is strictly Clone Wars-based analysis.

M: SO, truly neutral. I think to understand why Ventress fills the neutral role so well, however, we need to start by looking at her backstory and her time as a villain. I think one of the most fascinating things about her is how similar she is to our heroes, Anakin and Obi-Wan.

K: *Obi-Wan voice* Do tell.

M: This is only something I’ve realized fairly recently, but Ventress is basically an alternate reality version of Anakin. She, like Anakin, started life as a slave and lost her initial Jedi master all too soon (the impetus of her journey to the Dark Side). And although she eventually becomes Dooku’s minion, she’s operates on a similar sort of cold justice–an “eye for an eye” kind of thing.

K: That is a fascinating parallel. I’m thinking back to the Clone Wars novelization by Karen Traviss and how so much of what Ventress does is driven by this need for revenge against the Jedi for something they didn’t do (help her homeworld) and how that also kind of parallels Anakin’s eventual hatred for the Jedi. She has a sense that her grievance is justified.

M: Yes, exactly! In a weird way she’s motivated by many of the same emotions as Anakin is. Things need to be set right, even if that means using questionable means. I also think it’s interesting that, like Anakin, she’s always seen as inferior by her peers. She’s never quite accepted into the Sith inner circle, always referred to as “Assassin” or derogatorily referenced as Dooku’s pawn. Anakin, given that he is a different sort of Jedi, also feels constantly on the outside.

K: Part of the problem for Ventress is that Dooku probably isn’t supposed to be training her in the first place. After all, with the Sith there can be only two, so he’s breaking the rules by having this unofficial “apprentice.” Which I suppose is another backwards parallel to The Team because Obi-Wan wasn’t supposed to train Anakin either–he went against the Council and they just gave in and basically gave him retroactive permission.

M: Oooooh yes. Good point. And finally, one last parallel for Anakin: Dooku (at Sidious’s command) turns on Ventress because she’s becoming too powerful. That fear of power and the idea that she is dangerous for the Sith is (again, a backward parallel) similar to Anakin’s position as “The Chosen One” and the fear the Jedi Council has of his power.

K: Definitely. The lineup of that situation also parallels RotS, with the leader (Sidious/Yoda) demanding that the master (Dooku/Obi-Wan) kill their dangerous apprentice (Ventress/Anakin). And in both cases, the masters fail.

M: Whoa, this goes even deeper than I realized. GAH, the Star Wars.

K: They don’t mess around.

M: Poetry– it rhymes, as George would say. Okay, but I don’t want to leave Obi-Wan out of this, because I think that there are parallels between he and Ventress as well, albeit more in terms of personality rather than backstory. I love the chemistry between Obi-Wan and Ventress, as we’ve mentioned, and I love how they both have a love of the craft.

K: Ok, for Obi-Wan I see that, but I may need an example for Ventress.

M: Ventress’s obsession with power and her commitment to the Dark Side come about in part due to a fascination with the Force and its power. In the “Nightsisters” episode when we get all those cool flashbacks of Ventress’s story, there’s this really interesting moment when she goes and seeks out Dooku to ask for training. He agrees, on the condition that she proves herself. I think Ventress’s way of fighting (again, mostly coming from the Clone Wars novelization) is very intellectual. She’s seeking out knowledge and improving her technique constantly– in order to prove herself.

K: Which relates to both our heroes: the constant knowledge seeking is very Obi-Wan, and we all know how desperately Anakin wants to prove himself.

M: She’s also intensely interested in what motivates people, and the psychology of her enemies. Whereas Anakin is more about the general strategy and gets into this zone where it’s all about the win and the fight, I think both Ventress and Obi-Wan carefully weigh the motivations and psychological processes of their opponents– which is what makes them so fun to watch.

K: Oh that makes a lot of sense. And when they do it to each other, it makes them really good opponents and also allows for the level of banter they reach so comfortably.

M: Yes! For example, going back to the great novelization of the Clone Wars movie, I love Ventress’s thoughts about Obi-Wan: “He talked too much. Maybe he liked the drama, or used it to work himself up for a fight.” Uh, accurate.

K: Yes! She uses her observations of Obi-Wan every time they fight to get more and more of a sense of how he thinks, and how he operates. She knows him pretty well by the later seasons of Clone Wars. Probably better than Anakin does in some ways, since Anakin’s not very good at paying attention…

M: I think she certainly has a better idea of Obi-Wan’s weaknesses.

K: For sure–if it had come to a duel to the death between the two of them, I don’t think Ventress would have tried to do a flip over his head to take the high ground (sorry, Anakin).

M: Bahahahahahaha no, she would not have. She would have read that situation much better. And finally, one more Obi-Wan parallel… everything she loves DIES.

K: Ow that’s not a fun comparison.

M: Seriously though– her master dies. She’s thrown out of the Sith. Her entire people die (and Obi-Wan’s the “last of his breed” as he says). Basically she turns into this Ronin of sorts, an outcast, constantly hiding… much like Obi-Wan on Tatooine. Which brings us to the new Ventress we find in the latter half of season 4. A neutral Ventress.

K: I mean, sure, she’s not above seeking occasional revenge or joining up with bounty hunters, but she’s no longer actively evil. However, she’s definitely not “good” either.

M: I think we first see this, speaking of, when she teams up with Baby Boba’s gang.

K: Ah yes, Baby Boba. A character I often forget exists because I have a lot of apathy for Boba Fett in general. (Cue gasps from the larger Star Wars fandom.)

M: Haha dude, me too. Especially Baby Boba, I have about as much feeling for him as Mace Windu does. Back to Ventress: this is in Season 4, the episode is called “Bounty.” Basically she was hired to be part of this whole kidnapping operation, and it goes south quickly, given Baby Boba’s lack of planning. The princess they’ve kidnapped appeals to Ventress, telling her “I never asked to be ripped away from my home.” Which strikes a chord in Ventress.

K: Ventress knows all too well what it feels like to lose everything.

M: Which leads her to finish the mission in a really fascinating way. She does this acrobatic double-cross where she manages to both get the bounty and give the princess back to her people (though for a price, of course), and also does the honorable thing by sharing the bounty with the team as agreed upon. It’s fascinating because it’s both acting in self-interest (which is at her core), but has streaks of both cruelty and integrity.

K: She finds a weird kind of balance.

M: Basically, she stops being nihilistic.

K: Her next big appearance is one of my favorites though–a somewhat accidental team up with Obi-Wan, where we once again get to see that neutrality at play.

M: I am so obsessed with this episode, despite he-who-does-not-exist-post-TPM, because the Ventress/Obi-Wan chemistry is insanely good. Maul lures Obi-Wan out by killing innocents, and Obi-Wan is… well, not his usual self, because Maul knows exactly how to hurt him and throw him off balance (Qui-Gon, that’s how).

K: (GAAAH) Plus he has a heavily armed, ridiculously strong henchman in his brother Savage.

M: Savage is so OP it’s obnoxious. Obi-Wan doesn’t really stand a chance. So he’s getting completely slaughtered when Ventress arrives, planning to kill Savage and collect the bounty/exact revenge.

K: She could just wait for them to finish killing Obi-Wan before doing that (although since Maul is incredibly Extra™, that might take a while…)

M: (“Your death will be beyond excruciating,” etc. etc. )

K: …but instead, she lures the two Zabracks away and then gets Obi-Wan back on his feet.

M: Cue my favorite Ventress line: “Kenobi! Don’t tell me someone’s finally knocked the fight out of you!”

K: Look at her word choice, she knows him so well haha. Also, she’s clearly been watching season 4 and knows that it’s just Obi-Wan constantly getting beat up.

M: Ugh someone help him– oh wait, Ventress does! And there’s this weird respect between them because she knows he’s not a quitter and he knows she’s a valuable ally. And then she slaps him awake– she’s not being *nice* after all. Haha, I love his confused “Ventress?” when he finally wakes up.

K: This is definitely not something he expected, hence his question/teasing comment “When did you become the good guy?”

M: “Don’t insult me.” Ugh their banter here is ON POINT.

K: I like the idea that for Ventress, the implication that she’s on Obi-Wan’s side is as insulting as it would be for him to be considered on her side. But it’s not “I am a Sith and could never be pathetic like you,” the way it might have been before. She’s found her own path now. And that doesn’t involve being one of the “good guys” either.

M: Yes yes yes. She’s doing whatever is in her own best interest, so she’s quick to team up with Obi-Wan. And I love how their previous rivalry turns into an easy, almost practiced duo. “Ready?” “Like you even have to ask.”

K: Yes! They fight very well together, switching places a lot, tossing lightsabers around–it’s fun to watch.

M: Toward the end of their fight, when they decide to run (“I learned from watching you!”), Obi-Wan cues Ventress, and she jumps over Savage while he flings her up with the Force. They don’t even have to explain what they’re thinking. I mean, this is some Obi-Wan/Anakin level choreography, as short-lived as it is. And once they’ve escaped, Obi-Wan points out that now they’re sort of a team. Because, as he says, Maul and Savage are after both of them. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

K: The old Ventress would have immediately turned on Obi-Wan once they got out of danger, but neutral Ventress…she just kind of nods tiredly like “yeah, you’re right Kenobi, see you around.”

M: And she is “around” one more time– this time to awkwardly partner up with Ahsoka.

K: Going back to how Ventress has parallels with our heroes, that’s actually how Ahsoka gets her to help–by pointing out that they “aren’t that different.” In this arc, Ahsoka is on the run from the Jedi Order, alone and hunted in the undercity of Coruscant. Ventress, having been kicked out of the Sith and hunted by the Jedi and the Sith alike, can relate. So, though she initially is just going to turn Ahsoka in and collect the bounty, she reluctantly agrees to help Ahsoka clear her name instead.

M: Granted, Ahsoka makes some wild promises about getting Ventress a full pardon as well.

K: That makes me laugh every time. Like Ahsoka, sweetie, you’re on the run for suspected treason, it’s not like you have power.

M: But hasn’t Ventress got to know that, too? I always sort of get the sense that she’s in for the fun of it, rather than Ahsoka’s actual “reward.” Ventress never even admits to being on board, she just says she’ll go wherever the tide is flowing.

K: And she does have fun, particularly when she and Ahsoka take out a platoon of clones–although Ahsoka insists they do it without hurting them, of course.

M: And Ventress isn’t too perturbed about the whole “not hurting” them part either. You get the sense that she’s bored out of her mind being a bounty hunter. Ahsoka’s an amusement, as well as a way to fight against the Jedi in one way or another. So, Ventress helps Ahsoka out briefly and leaves her with a cryptic “These are strange times” as a farewell.

K: All would seem to be well, but a lot of unfortunate events transpire, and Ahsoka gets caught again. Then, once in custody, she tells Anakin she thinks Ventress is behind the things she’s accused of, so Anakin, being Anakin, tracks Ventress down and demands some answers at lightsaber-point. Which leads to another really interesting conversation.

M: Ventress explains that she was only after Ahsoka for the bounty… but then she tells Anakin that she realized she has a lot in common with Ahsoka (again, this reveals that Ahsoka’s promised pardon isn’t what motivated the team-up).

K: Anakin gets really angry about that comparison (predictably) until Ventress explains further: “My master abandoned me…and that’s exactly what you did to her! You and your precious Jedi Order.” And then he’s just really upset (and so am I).

M: Ugh we can’t get into how this plants more seeds for Anakin’s fall because that’s terrible, and makes me sad, but eventually Ventress gives Anakin all the right info– that it’s really Barriss who Ahsoka last talked to. Anakin heads off to attempt to set things right, and that’s the last we see of Ventress in Clone Wars.

K: Her journey is a long, twisty one but very interesting in light of the other journeys highlighted in Clone Wars. In particular, Ahsoka–who also becomes a version of neutral, albeit significantly more skewed toward the Jedi than Ventress would ever be.

M: Very true. Ventress and Ahsoka’s similarities only deepen over time. And while Ventress spends the remainder of her life caught in the after effects of the Dark Side, she manages to be the most fascinating “villain turned awkward friend” of the series… and I think it comes down to the fact that she ends up having sympathy for the people she was previously fighting against.

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The Actual Queen of RotS

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M: Padme, my queen! And today: why she’s a severely underrated character, specifically in RotS.

K: Few things make me more angry than hearing people say things like “Ugh, all Padme does in RotS is cry, she’s such a stereotypical pregnant lady, George Lucas totally ruined her character.” NONE of those things are true.

M: This, like we often say, is a result of people only thinking about the prequels in terms of memes or their skewed memories from when they saw the films 10 years ago. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like a choke pun about Padme the same as the next Star Wars nerd. But the fact is, Padme is incredibly valuable through the entire prequels trilogy, especially in RotS.

K: Let’s take stock: when, exactly, does Padme cry in RotS? When do tears actually fall? I can think of…three times. Number 1: She’s watching the Jedi Temple burn from her apartment in Coruscant. It’s the middle of the night. Her husband is supposed to be in that Temple. She has no way to get news. Number 2 is on Mustafar, where she WATCHES HER HUSBAND TURN TO THE DARK SIDE, an event that practically makes Obi-Wan, king of repressed emotions, start sobbing. And Padme is PREGNANT.

M: (king of repressed emotions) She cries when she’s giving birth. You try to give birth without crying!!!

K: Yes, that’s number three. And if she DIDN’T cry then, it would be dumb.

M: So, WE HAVE ESTABLISHED that Padme crying is a completely justified reaction to the situations she finds herself in. But I have to back up– when is crying a negative thing to begin with?!

K: TRUE!

M: The implications behind saying “crying is bad and stereotypically female” is that it is bad to have feminine qualities. That statement is in and of itself incredibly sexist. Female qualities are not inherently weak or lesser.

K: Yes. And, the thing is, George Lucas knows this. The men in RotS have their fair share of weeping. It’s a HUMAN thing, not a “female” thing, and it’s not a sign of weakness.

M: SO, Padme can cry. Stop being crybabies about someone being human. Now, let’s also take into account that Padme is plenty busy in RotS. It’s not like she’s just waiting around for Anakin to come back.

K: She’s still a freaking Senator, people. And an INVOLVED senator. She’s pushing back against Palpatine, a little hesitantly it’s true, but she is. And she’s hesitant because she thought she knew Palpatine. They were both from Naboo and he was her mentor. Going against him at all takes a lot of guts. Something Padme is never short of.

M: Yes, I’d like to emphasize just how gutsy it is to speak up against Palpatine’s acquisition of power. The people, and the Senate, LOVE Palpatine. They think he’s the best thing to happen to the Republic. He has everyone wrapped around his finger. Speaking against Palpatine, at this point, is basically treason, given that emotions and politics are so hyped up due to the war.

K: And let us not forget that Padme’s husband is one of Palpatine’s strongest supporters.

M: This is when I really wish that the deleted scenes from RotS made it into the film. Granted, I completely understand why George Lucas decided to cut them– after all, the film is primarily about Anakin. But there was a whole subplot he wrote for Padme that shows 1) how much George cared about the character and respected her in terms of the universe, and 2) how much Padme was doing, independent from Anakin. This side plot basically has her (along with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma) CREATING the rebel alliance within the midst of the republic. Padme consistently stands for principle, throughout the entirety of the films.

K: It’s what drives her enemies crazy! It’s what makes her so hard to control, because she won’t compromise on things she feels are important. It’s why the Trade Federation wants her gone badly enough to hire bounty hunters and then just straight up send her into a death arena. Honestly, Obi-Wan and Anakin are just a bonus in AotC.

M: OMG,  good point! The entirety of AotC is incited due to Padme’s political, principle-filled stance. The whole story is the consequence of her refusal to back down from something she believes in, even when it puts her life in danger. If that’s not brave, admirable, and downright BADASS I don’t know what is.

K: I know this was supposed to be about RotS, but let’s talk AotC for a minute. Here’s Padme– she’s only what, 25? 24? And she’s already been Queen of Naboo for two terms. She’s served in the Senate for about 3 years and has established herself as a powerful enough threat that enemies are BLOWING UP SHIPS to try and stop her from attending a vote.

M: Padme is far more powerful than Anakin and Obi-Wan are, if we’re being honest. She has more of a direct influence on the world than most of the other characters do.

K: Especially in AotC, because there’s no war on yet and the Jedi haven’t become leaders of the Grand Army of the Republic. I honestly love that there are people trying to kill Padme in AotC, and that none of them are like “oh it’s so dishonorable to try and kill a girl, and she’s so young and pretty too!” Nah, she’s just a threat.

M: Her gender has absolutely nothing to do with it. Which is one of the best things about Star Wars and its treatment of women in general– they aren’t treated according to their gender, but according to who they are and what their abilities are.

K: Exactly! Which is why you have the Trade Federation creeps in the arena being like “Wait, no, she’s supposed to be DEAD not picking locks, climbing poles, and kicking some Nexu ass!”

M: One of my favorite parts of the arena scene is when she climbs the pole and Obi-Wan’s like “She seems to be on top of things” cause PUN from Obi-Wan and also she’s so much more savvy than both of them it’s amazing.

K: Also, when Anakin is expressing his concern for Padme in that scene it doesn’t seem to be because of her gender. They’re all disarmed, and while Jedi have the Force at all times, that would still leave Padme unprotected. So he asks “What about Padme?” not to say “She’s helpless and useless”–because he SAW her taking down droids in the battle on Naboo, he knows she’s a capable fighter–but because she doesn’t have a blaster and can’t protect herself with the Force. It’s strategic thinking, figuring out a plan. He just doesn’t know she’s sneakier than both of them and carries lock-picking equipment at all times.

M: I agree! Because she’s flipping amazing and can handle herself. But, let’s get back to RotS.

K: Let’s talk about pregnancy for a moment. As much as people claim they want strong females of all kinds in their media, pregnant women seem shockingly underrepresented. Like, statistically speaking, if the human race in these fictional universes is going to continue, someone’s got to get pregnant.

M: True! Females are strong as hell– and giving birth certainly proves that. Let’s validate that part of womanhood with representation of it in stories. Like with Padme!

K: Yes. So I LOVE that Padme is pregnant. And that she is happy to be pregnant (well, when she’s not freaking out that this child is going to get Anakin kicked out of the Jedi Order and cost her her position as Senator). And yes, it does mean she’s not going to swing around on a chain and fight a Nexu in RotS–pregnancy IS a very physically and emotionally involved process. But that’s not a bad thing (although I’m sure it’s not always pleasant). And it does NOT mean Padme’s any less important or strong than she is in the rest of the prequel trilogy.

M: YESSSS. She’s not any less important or strong for doing something intrinsically female. What it really comes down to, for me, is that Padme is a very nuanced and interesting character. She’s soft-spoken, yes, and wears GORGEOUS clothing and looks attractive– which, yes, are typically feminine qualities but not bad ones for a character to have. She’s strong in the best way– in principle, intelligence, and determination. She fights for her beliefs more than most Jedi do at this point. And it’s an absolute tragedy that people only remember her for saying “Anakin, you’re breaking my heart” and dying while giving birth. I mean, dying while giving birth does NOT make you “weak.” Like, are you really saying that the millions of women who have died in order to continue the human race are weak and not worthy of your respect? If so, shame on you. But also, there is so much else going on in that scene!

K: Seriously! People get so hung up on the droid saying “there’s nothing wrong with her.” And, I just had this thought now, it’s a freaking DROID saying that. Droids understand numbers, data. Not humans. Not really. So yeah, maybe her vitals are all fine, but that doesn’t mean she’s doing well.

M: It’s not like Obi-Wan, Yoda, or Bail Organa know how to deliver children or understand how to help a dying woman.

K: She’s just been Force-choked by the person she loves most in the world for pity’s sake. And Padme’s at least a little Force sensitive (see: she and Anakin stare across Coruscant in a moment of heightened melodrama) and her unborn children are much more than a little Force-sensitive so I’m sure all of the Dark Side energy exploding around Anakin wasn’t helping. There’s *something* wrong with her. It’s just not quantifiable.

M: Also, I take issue with comparing saving Vader’s life with saving Padme’s. Yes, Palpatine and his medical droids “save” Anakin by turning him into Vader when he is a burnt crisp with no limbs, and Padme does die. But the editing in that sequence juxtaposes the two for a reason. We see the dark room where Anakin is writhing on a table, droids hacking away at him, compared to the serene and calm place where Obi-Wan is trying to comfort Padme. I really feel that the reason these two are compared the way they are is to make it clear that Anakin’s treatment isn’t ethical or kind in the least. He’s being tortured back into a half-life, one that is likely worse than death. I think it’s clear that it was the humane thing to let Padme die (even though this gets into all sorts of medical ethics I’m not equipped to discuss).

K: Ooh, I like that. I mean, no I don’t like it, Padme dying is awful, but it’s true that, all things considered, that was almost best. (Gosh what a horrible thing to say). What if she’d lived? She’d be hunted? At the very least, they’d try to take her babies away from her. And if she went into hiding, she probably wouldn’t get to keep both of her children with her, and how do you choose which baby to stay with without dying of guilt? Not a pleasant fate, any way you look at it.

M: Exactly! And putting her death against Anakin’s horrific writhing as he’s being kept alive even though his life from now on will be terribly miserable, not to mention painful (bacta tank and meditation egg, anyone?)… It’s a great contrast, one used to illustrate that they are letting her go because it’s her time. Just like the Jedi say.

K: It’s what Anakin couldn’t do.

M: OUCH my heart, you wounded me.

K: But in the end, Padme’s final words, her undying belief that there is still good in Anakin, are what the Star Wars saga is all about. It’s a foreshadowing of her son, of her husband’s eventual redemption. And through that, the restoration of democracy and balance to the galaxy.

M: Padme literally gives herself up in order to provide hope for the future. Without her, there likely wouldn’t have been a Rebel Alliance, and there certainly wouldn’t have been the hope of Luke and Leia. She’s the hope that the rebellion is built on.

K: A moment of silence for all of the poor misguided souls who are missing out on Actual Queen Padme Amidala.