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.