“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.

I am a Jedi, like my Father before me

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M: “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” But Luke is also like his father in many other ways…

K: …and boy does it freak Obi-Wan out.

M: Poor dear never stops stressing. Even after death.

K: He and Yoda both spend a large part of ESB and RotJ just panicking that they are going to lose Luke to the Dark Side the same way they lost Anakin. Which is understandable considering the parallels between the two Skywalkers.

M: Let’s start with the basics. Both Anakin and Luke grew up on Tatooine–which obviously messes a person up, all that sand–and both enter Jedi-hood late in life, after some serious trauma.

K: The Jedi Council thought Babykin was too old, imagine Mace’s face if he got a look at 22-year-old Luke asking to be trained as a Jedi.

M: And he’s certainly not the Jedi Council’s idea of an ideal student. He’s whiny and stubborn and has some sort of revenge/heroism dream when it comes to fighting the Empire. He is so incredibly normal, I can’t stress that enough. Just a stereotypical 19-year-old kid who isn’t quite sure what he wants to do with his life… he just knows he wants it to be *different.*

K: And off of Tatooine.

M: His initial Jedi crash-course is frighteningly similar to Anakin’s. He’s helping some random Jedi Master get off Tatooine and then said Jedi dies before he really gets to train.

K: Ooh good parallel. It’s not quite as bad as Anakin with Qui-Gon, because Luke wasn’t promised a Master and training at the Jedi Temple only to have it seemingly taken away, but the loss of Ben is a big turning point in Luke’s life.

M: Given that his aunt and uncle have just died, he transfers his need for guidance onto Old Ben.

K: And then he’s just left adrift with this vague knowledge of the Force, a lightsaber that apparently belonged to his father, and a disembodied voice that occasionally appears in his head (and for all he knows, that might just be him going crazy).

M: Luke is incredibly unprepared for being “The New Hope.” He’s got all sorts of attachments, and has a huge amount of power with very little idea of how to control it or even what it is exactly. The whole situation is so similar to Anakin’s that it’s no wonder Yoda immediately tries to say he is too “like his father” for training.

K: Despite that, I think it’s important to note that Luke has made a lot of progress by the time ESB starts. He’s a commander in the Rebel Alliance, leading a fighter squadron. He’s more mature, and he’s clearly been trying to practice with his lightsaber and the Force. He just needs some guidance. Which Yoda is wildly reluctant to give him.

M: Post-Anakin-Stress-Disorder.

K: Hahaha. Compared to the way he taught Jedi during the days of the Republic, Yoda takes a very different approach with Luke. Very little combat training, that we see anyway. Lots of open talk about the dangers of the Dark Side and practicing with the Force and meditation. He’s trying to learn from his (and Obi-Wan’s) mistakes.

M: Of which there were plenty. Luke’s training with Yoda is basically “Difficult, being a Jedi is, deal with it you must.” Yoda immediately teaches Luke not to give in to fear or despair, and does not give him violence as an outlet– no practice lightsaber duels or special missions. Luke’s outlet is… Yoda Backpack Obstacle Course.

K: “I can be a backpack while you run.” He even replaces “hate” with “aggression” on the list of emotions for Jedi to avoid. He does not want a repeat of Anakin. But let’s back up for a second and talk about that scene in Yoda’s hut when Obi-Wan intervenes to get Yoda to train Luke.

M: Oh yes, go ahead.

K: Up to now, Luke’s whole experience with Yoda has been a test of Luke’s patience, literally. Then Yoda asks him “Why wish you become Jedi?” and Luke says “Mostly because of my father, I guess.” Which, ow, my heart. But right after that, Yoda says he can’t teach him because he has no patience. And then the clincher, “Much anger in him, hmm. Like his father.” But what I love is Obi-Wan’s response: “Was I any different when you taught me?” I mean, we’ve all seen Obi-Padawan–he’s got some repressed anger for sure.

M: “Why do I sense that we’ve picked up another pathetic lifeform?” Obi-Padawan is no paragon of humility or acceptance. But back to Luke– Yoda straight up trolls Luke. He makes Luke eat his weird soup while chirping “patience” like 5 times, and then as soon as Luke gets frustrated Yoda gets hella serious… but this time, it’s Obi-Wan who comes to the young Skywalker’s defense. Which I love. Because Obi-Padawan was NOT on board with training Anakin… but this time, given Obi-Wan’s hard-earned wisdom, I think he knows that Luke’s natural emotions don’t mean he’s going to go slaughter younglings as soon as he’s unsupervised. It just means he needs some good-old-fashioned Jedi Master guidance in controlling his emotions.

K: But, the fact remains, Luke’s training begins like his father’s–with a lot of doubt about whether he can pull this Jedi thing off. (Also with a claim about not being afraid, which Yoda sees through both times.)

M: Luke is so focused on the future, which Yoda is quick to point out to Obi-Wan. “All his life as he looked away to the future, to the horizon, never his mind on where he was. What he was doing. Hm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” Meanwhile, Luke just wants to get going on this Jedi training so he can save his friends and fight the Empire.  

K: And get going he does, in the ESB scene that probably most closely parallels Luke and Anakin. Luke has a vision of his friends in danger–and his immediate reaction is to run to the rescue.

M: Ugh, this scene kills me. I’m just sitting here like a Force ghost: “No, Luke, no!” (Though of course we know this ends much better than Anakin going to his mother.)

K: (Or trying to save Padme.) Before we really get into Yoda and Obi-Wan’s freak out about this situation, I have to make a quick aside about Vader. Embarrassingly, it took me the LONGEST time to figure out why he tortures Han on Cloud City. Because, as Han himself says, “they never even asked me any questions.” But getting information was never Vader’s goal–he wants Luke. And as the son of Anakin Skywalker, it is more than likely that Luke has an affinity for terribly upsetting Force premonitions. Vader just needs to create the scenario of danger and pain that will bring Luke to him.

M: And Vader also knows from experience that loved ones– and wanting power to save them– will likely be a terrible temptation to the Dark Side.

K: It’s so smart and so creepy. I love it. But the Jedi do not. Because they are worried, justifiably, that Luke is going to make all of Anakin’s  mistakes if he attempts to save Han and Leia.

M: Cue the freak out. Yoda takes a “go big or go home” approach to his warning: “If you leave now, help them you could… but you will destroy all for which they have fought.” Harsh.

K: But it could be true. And it’s a risk Yoda is not willing to take with someone as important as Luke.

M: I love how for once Obi-Wan just comes straight out and explains why they’re worried: “This is a dangerous time… You’ll be tempted by the Dark Side… I don’t want to lose you to the Emperor the same way I lost Vader.” (cue tears)

K: Gah, we don’t want you to lose Luke the way you lost Anakin either, Obi-Wan!

M: But back to the action–this is the Star Wars, and limb loss is imminent. A mistake on Vader’s part. One I’m sure he regrets later bahahaha.

K: Yeah, nothing gets a person on your side like cutting off their hand. Immediately after this obviously painful moment, when he’s been utterly beaten, Luke faces the same offer that Anakin gets from Palpatine: “Join me.” He’s offered a chance to overthrow the Emperor and have unimaginable power at Vader’s side.

M: But darling Luke rejects the Dark Side, despite that tempting power.

K: And parallels his other parent by refusing to join Vader in evil.

M: So, Luke refuses the offer for power, but after losing his hand and having a traumatic encounter with a parent… has some angst. Similar to Anakin’s situation at the end of AotC.

K: It’s not an exact parallel of course–Obi-Wan is the one Dooku offers a partnership to in AotC, and Anakin’s mother is dead not a supervillain, but the trauma and the clothing choices these separate experiences lead to are undoubtedly similar.

M: And that brings us to the beginning of RotJ when Luke arrives at Jabba’s palace. Which, admittedly, is my *favorite* Luke entrance EVER. Boy knows drama, like his father before him.

K: And fashion, like his mother before him.

M: 10 points to Hufflepuff for Jedi threads.

K: That scene where Luke comes to Jabba’s palace sets the mood for the rest of Luke’s journey in RotJ. Yes he’s our hero, but he’s a little…ambiguous.

M: He’s wearing all black, very Vader, hood up in a way that would make my suburban mother call him a drug dealer, and he freaking Force-chokes some Gamorreans.

K: It’s understandable if the audience is a little worried about Luke going forward. He’s in more danger from the Dark Side than he’s ever been before this point. Which is important from a plot standpoint–if we didn’t believe there was a chance Luke could fall, we wouldn’t be so afraid of him facing the Emperor.

M: I also want to point out that RotJ was originally titled Revenge of the Jedi. Obviously, George eventually changed his mind about that, but I think that title makes it even more clear that this isn’t the same innocent Luke who wanted to go to the Tosche station and pick up some power converters.

K: In the novelization of RotJ, there’s a ton of commentary throughout the Tatooine section about Luke struggling not to *enjoy* killing all of Jabba’s minions and blowing up the sailbarge. He knows that’s the wrong way to approach it, but he can’t deny that revenge is sweet. He’s rescuing his friend and getting rid of an awful criminal, which are good things, but he’s still feeling that pull to the Dark Side.

M: I can understand Luke’s struggle not to enjoy it, because I sure enjoy watching it. The skiff scene is the best. But he does keep his promise and go back to Yoda. And I love Yoda’s subsequent warning: Luke is in danger of suffering the same fate as his father.

K: Yoda’s right–Luke very nearly does suffer the same fate (presumably minus the horrific injuries though).

M: Backing up though, I want to briefly mention Obi-Wan’s conversation with Luke prior to the Endor sequence.

K: Oh yes, please. Especially because Luke’s angry at him–very Anakin.

M: And Obi-Wan responds in his typical roundabout way as well. But also, Obi-Wan (probably unintentionally) piles on Luke the same pressures Anakin faced. Obi-Wan tells Luke that he is their only hope, that he has an important destiny, and that if he doesn’t face that destiny then the Emperor wins.

K: Yes, Luke is facing a lot of pressure in that scene with Obi-Wan, and he’s feeling more alone than ever after watching Yoda die. Like, jeez, poor kid.

M: And so he goes to face his father.

K: His first tactic? Trying to talk Vader out of being evil. Gotta love Luke. He really is determined not to turn to the Dark Side. And he does a good job initially, even when they get to the throne room and the Emperor is there egging him on.

M: But, like Anakin does and Yoda warns against, he underestimates the Emperor, as his focus is on Vader. (Luckily, Vader finally doesn’t underestimate the Emperor.)

K: The fact that Luke tries SO HARD to do the right thing over and over (“I will not fight you, father”), and that he finally does tap into the Dark Side out of desperation to save someone he loves–can we say “Anakin in RotS”?

M: Again, like Anakin it looks like his fear is what will weaken him.

K: But instead, his compassion for his father coupled with his realization (thanks, robot hand) that he’s in real danger of becoming the very thing he hates saves him.

M: Meanwhile, Vader watches the Emperor hurt Luke, in a way that reminds me of the scene where Mace Windu confronts Palpatine…the very night that Anakin turned to the Dark Side himself. And just like on that night, he has a decision to make.

K: Only this time Anakin gets it right! He stops the Emperor! And I get super emotional about it!

M: And Luke does what Anakin wanted to do all along– save a loved one from a terrible fate.

K: Well, and Anakin gets to save a loved one too. Win-win.

M: And the Force ghosts can finally stop worrying. Until Kylo shows up… *grumble*

K: But that’s a topic for a whole different post.