Quinlan Vos & Asajj Golden in STAR WARS Dark Disciple

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I want to get the basics out of the way first. If you don’t like or want spoilers don’t read on. I will tell you the point of a person reading a book and then sitting down to write up about what they didn’t just read when there is one. Seems like a waste of time to me, so go read the book and watch Thrawn return to new canon like any good Star Wars fan this week and come back here.

Dark Disciple is one of the better new canon STAR Wars novels. It is so by a healthy margin and I was aware of it probably 1/3 of the way through my reading of it which is a great feeling to have but in turn allows entry for trepidation as you become aware of your desire to not be let down by the conclusion. Because of this, though not the only reason, I found myself being very satisfied if the story would have ended at a couple of spots around 2/3 of the way in. Character arcs were already satisfying, the pacing felt right, and my reading time to enjoyment ratio expectations were met.

Once you achieve satisfaction early, the feared though admittedly double-edged premature elation, storylines and characters, familiar ones, seem added in for padding and validation of a story that didn’t require it. Dark Disciple was its own story that feels slightly intruded upon and extended for the benefit of others. I do wonder if this is because Christie Golden’s strengths, input, and enthusiasm were more invested in a very specific part of the story, the part that I felt was well done and that hooked me. It felt like a really good core that then had to hit prescribed beats, some of which struggled to match the base of the real story. The only story.

The relationship.

Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress, while not the first names that come to mind to most STAR WARS fans aren’t new to to even the new accepted canon. Vos, or at least the inspiration for the character, can be seen here in the background in The Phantom Menace.

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Asajj Ventress, who btw is hot now, is familiar to any of the fans of the Clone Wars animated series, and as most fans know Dark Disciple was slotted to be an 8-episode story that occurred in the animated series before it was cancelled.

For those who don’t know, Vos is a full blown Jedi Master, a very capable, trusted, and powerful member of the Jedi. He has a bit of flavor though, and you can’t imagine how welcome that feels. While seemingly mismatched couples are the last thing one would deem as new to the STAR WARS mythos, Golden presents a Ventress that is vulnerable, desirable, and attractive. Vos feels like a man where we can buy the attraction to and of him beyond because he’s a focal point of a story. He’s a Jedi but he’s got a little fringe in him, which is why he was chosen to essentially infiltrate Ventress and co-opt her to help him assassinate her former master, Count Dooku.

from Wiki:

Psychometry, also known as Postcognition, or telemetry was a Force power that was a mental technique of picking up impressions and traces of information about the object touched and the events that have surrounded it.

Vos, while being a master and possessing varied skills, also has a bit of focused ability of psychometry. I found it a fascinating element throughout Dark Disciple having this man who could experience and learn from touching inanimate objects become truly alive, truly an individual, when confronted with something alive. It’s something that we can all relate to. For all our hobbies, toys, and consumption of products, and the order they give our lives, it all goes out the airlock when nice booty is in proximity. We are never more alive, we are never more happy, and never more prone to do incredibly dumb shit. This is as true in STAR WARS as it is in our own world and life. Golden had to sell this courtship on both ends or Dark Disciple was going to be a disaster and have no substance. It would be Anakin riding a shaak.

Vos’s psychometry also continued to make me think about a man who has this talent to at times glean information about the outcome of others through objects they own, and how he himself was being honed to be a tool himself, a tool to murder. While the murder of his former master was an event that had a lasting impression on him, he himself was on an assassination mission.

I mentioned how it felt like that there was a mandate for certain characters to appear a number of times, some of the worked, even on ones I’d least expect it from. Boba Fett typically makes me cringe because he’s a usual suspect as a perfunctory add to a story, but he’s done right and in proper moderation in Dark Disciple. His final line in Dark Disciple resonates, not just to Asajj, but to the reader. It feels right, it’s simple and it pays off his appearance because it has meaning to Asajj. I’m a STAR WARS novel enthusiast but often times character interactions speak to us the reader, in a language built in to us by our shared love of the existing mythos, even if not have meaning in-story at that moment. Because we are captured in a myth of our choosing sometimes moments that don’t make sense transcend, and many such examples can be found in Matthew Stover’s novelization of Revenge of the Sith, a novel that FAR outpaces the film it is retelling in print precisely because Stover understands and captures the opera of STAR WARS, it’s mythic density — to not be overly self-aware and know we have the existing movies to come, to understand that Episode 3 was not the beginning but the end. Most of time, however, these moments in the EU we unearned, leaning too much on our existing appreciation. One is our toys, the other is Toy Story.

Dark Disciple is also a bit of an odd book.

Typically when I would associate the word “economy” with a novelized form of a large multimedia property, I’m trying to be kind in saying it’s straight forward, no frills, usually lacking depth or the need offer a second thought, even when on an epic stage or platform. Novels like these have a ceiling of being page turners and can legitimately be good and rule sales charts. Most of the time they are not, but they can be. In the case of Dark Disciple I really enjoyed Golden’s choices and jumps in time. Escape plans don’t take multiple chapters, we are just there and to the point. Relationship evolution, which is either usually too shortened to be believed or too long and boring feels precise and believable. I totally buy and even felt protective about everything about the Vos/Ventress relationship in the novel even when I was prepared for both to double and triple cross the other. Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos are creatures of action who are used to their actions having relatively large significance on a galactic stage. The only time I was taken out of the relationship was when it became clear that Golden had to get to points to serve a plot. One that isn’t really interesting when it steps outside of the confines of this dual redemptive dynamic and dance that Golden successfully makes us want to survive. Vos and Ventress matter. Everything else is an intrusion, most of all the silliness of the story’s third act.

Outside, things start falling apart. Mind you, in Dark Disciple a man is sent to play a woman who may be playing him, to help him kill somebody, the intended victim then seduces him to go play her and the Jedi, who get wind of it and then try to play him, who actually is still playing all of them, including his original target and their original target. All of this occurs while as a reader you think that no one smart is making any of these decisions, much less has an idea what they are doing. It serves as a prime example of what Palpatine finds tedious and why he had to take over in the first place. Let the one smart guy in the galaxy run stuff. During all of this, you picture Sheev lounging back on Corcuscant playing Candy Crush because he needs a challenge when away from his recreational hobby of plotting the downfall of the all powerful Jedi.

I think the pitfalls of Dark Disciple are related to STAR WARS in general and have to be somewhat accepted because its basis is too much part of the fabric of the universe: The Jedi are really stupid and bafflingly ineffective. As a body and institution it doesn’t make a lot of sense, their decisions don’t really pass even a cursory thought, and when they do make logical choices they beat themselves up over it because the one out of one million times they would take such a smart course fails. Not being pragmatic is a character trait. A total institutional lack of pragmatism excluding when one has to write a book people will believe is a storytelling problem. There is a reason that the characters we love that are Jedi are rule breakers. The ones that have a story worth telling fall for gingers who want to kill them or murder those aforementioned gingers, pissing off his uncle in the process.

The obvious thing to do, Clone Wars day one, would be to kill Dooku. The Jedi would be among the only people in the galaxy capable of such a thing, and, yes, the very idea to enlist Asajj in the plan was not even needed. You know what we do when we want to kill somebody? We expend massive resources that we actually happen to have that we trust and send an elite squad of people — it just so happens they are such a group — to go take them out. You take Anakin, Kenobi, Mace, Yoda, and 5 others and go take that dude out the day after he declares war. The idea that Yoda and Mace haven’t already done so is a facet of STAR WARS and the Jedi as an institution that you have to accept, thus not being able to make sense of choices that permeate from it. It’s probably why the separatist army was plotted to be droids so we can view this galactic war as not being quite as bloody as it could be when considering the Jedi’s targets. Everything involving the Jedi in Dark Disciple brings the book down, and removes us from this incredibly worthwhile story of Vos and Ventress. I always thought Zahn purposely gave us this great logical and totally pragmatic character of Thrawn and put him next to a crazy clone Jedi/Sith from this era to show us this. All these guys were crazy, watch me bend them over by just being normal and rational. Everytime we were inflicted with a council meeting was a downer because you knew nothing that made any sense was going to come from it. You saved and redeemed Vos? GREAT! If you just killed him you would have saved yourself time, resources, money, and other lives. Bang up job though! Oh, and no worries about that whole murder of the totally innocent best friend of his too. Vos went all darkside, murdered, led military campaigns against his bosses, and didn’t even lose his job at the end. This is what you have to accept. If you do, Star Wars novels, generally, more or less, will treat you right. Some are actually amazing.

I’ve read all of the new canon STAR WARS novels thus far and the Vos and Ventress story is the best of that material so far. I think the only one that thus far that had any meaning and gave us something we didn’t have before that can project to the future. Dark Disciple may be the essential Vos and Ventress story, where something like Tarkin was (hopefully) definitely not for the Grand Moff. I always find it interesting that when authors want to enlighten us about powerful SF/F characters their answer to throw them out of their element is to send them on a camping trip, like in Tarkin or Lords of the Sith (which admittedly was by many measures better than the former, and was entertaining). Dark Disciple changes what I thought I knew, it changes who is on the page, and instead of feeling like a little story that happened in a bigger tapestry, it felt like the most important story told to and of the characters within.

I do wonder if Dark Disciple will catch some criticism from a volatile contingent on the internet that goes crazy when any female character dies, whether they read the book or not, especially when it’s in service to facilitate the growth and evolution of a male character. The whole Women in Refrigerators thing. Dark Disciple lost its footing when it had to tread where we’ve all been before numerous times before, but for enough moments it made me care, and from it survives a character that now has new history, motivation, redemption, and paid the price for it.

It’s a character I’d pay to see again because of it.

Asajj Ventress Tinder Right In STAR WARS Dark Disciple?

I thought about something a lot while both reading the novel and writing my review.

It had to do with beauty.

I’m a fan of STAR WARS. I’ve read dozens of the novels — I think the Zahn Thrawn stuff might be my favorite STAR WARS product period — more than dabbled in the comics, and while I’ve watched all of the Rebels output, I’m not sporting comprehensive experience with Clone Wars but my general impression purely from an aesthetic point of view was that Asajj Ventress, while certainly fit, was always rendered as somewhat of a mess.

Asajj Ventress

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I get it, so I guess there’s some niche she falls into representative as an ideal but I think she came of as really edgy, angular, at time an oddly shaped noggin, deathly pale, and at least from my perspective firmly in the unattractive category. Further, a quick scan of Asajj cosplay and I’m convinced that a left Tinder swipe from me would be the norm.

This isn’t about my taste though, I’m just trying to walkthrough what kept me going back to this, especially for a character they were going to kill off, (though admittedly the way she is put to rest allows for an easy return.) The first think that struck me when reading Dark Disciple was that Asajj was a looker, and classically so.

Ventress was beautiful. Not just to Quinlan Vos, but she was written as being used to being viewed as such and wielding the influence that could gain her in her job.

She’s full blown Bae Af.

I do realize that in a setting where millions upon millions of species exist the concept of what beauty is could be incredibly diverse even beyond our own personal taste but…

slender, but deceptively strong, with unusual ice-blue yes and, well, a lot of other things that people might reasonably notice.

There are numerous passages about her physical characteristics, and Ventress is almost classically beautiful in the way many would define it. Her blonde hair, blue eyes, full lips, slender arms, and so on — what’s clear is apparently Asajj cleans up nice.

I don’t even know why the subject struck me, beyond that her beauty was clearly being stressed in the novel, probably simply for the purpose of accelerating the romance of Vos and Ventress which, for me, was by far the strongest part of Dark Disciple. In my head though I kept thinking I knew what was going to happen at the end of the book though because of it. One of these two had to lose something.

Something beautiful.

Dooku’s Ventress had changed, she was turning a corner, doing the fringe thing, the same route a fan favorite Han Solo came from. She was just making a living and she was good at it. She had suffered loss and sought something after being rejected from a place in the Sith. Her family was destroyed and she found Vos. She found something worth dying for, something she couldn’t live without.

The strength of this relationship was the only thing that kept meaning in a really senseless third act in the novel. She died for reasons both the Jedi and Sith would not agree with, which seems fitting for Ventress, with her and Vos finding themselves, much in the way we’ve seen others have in STAR WARS and now the defunct EU/Legends.

I do understand that there’s an inertia that this era of STAR WARS has to move towards in terms of eliminating the more well known Force users as we move toward the original trilogy timeframe and beyond where we are led to believe not many are around, making Luke and Leia important. We already have Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka as new fan favorites that we anxiously see how they fit into the cinematic universe or how they reach their end in the mythos before it, but I really wanted these two to walk out of this together, as both seem or were made too good by Golden to have suffered the senselessness and missteps of their former employers.

They both worked for people getting played, and frankly, were too good for. I think that they both bonded while on the aforementioned fringe, unattached, spoke volumes. As many rush to or are forced to take sides in a war, two somewhat opposing forces find what’s important. Individuality, and those appreciate that in us. So, while not unwelcome, I kept wondering why she had to become more of a physical ideal than she seemed to be before.

I’m unsure of this was a more compelling story than a monster (which admittedly might be taking it too far), physically and by a lot of her actions, finding love from and in an enemy, and not letting it define her, but for some reason it still worked for me in Dark Disciple and was one of the reasons I thought Ventress would survive with a new marketable look.

I think what I will remember about Asajj Ventress is her beauty. While it was flowering, finally becoming what it should have been outside of doctorine and special interest groups, when choosing for herself her company and family, she sacrificed it, and because of that something beautiful might have died but it most definitely lived. Vos is proof of that.

Epilogue: Jedi Clarity in STAR WARS Dark Disciple Review

I just wanted to clarify a point I made regarding the Jedi in general, and why they are an obstacle a reader of this era of the STAR WARS universe just has to accept to have a chance of really being able to get into any story. Just as a quick recap, I really enjoyed Dark Disciple for the relationship aspect of Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos, thought it was both economical and effective, but didn’t like the actual plot beyond them, the third act, and the vast majority of what felt like mandated special guest appearances.

I still enjoyed Dark Disciple more than any of the previous STAR WARS novels set in the new canon.

Back to the Jedi, and specifically the Jedi Council, which I wanted to clarify myself on. I don’t think it’s a leap to say that anyone who has read the EU, specifically after the prequels came out, that the Jedi, what made STAR WARS kind of cool, became a problem. It kept on going even in better novels we saw placed during the New Republic era.

Here’s the problem.

1. You can’t have a council of a powerful, wise, and mostly benevolent faction with near unlimited resources and true integrity be consistently stupid and short sighted. By consistent, I mean it’s hard to think of two smart things they ever did.

2. They are an army of unmatched superheroes who still lose. LIKE EVERYTIME.

This creates a storytelling obstacle that we just have to get over. Some of us even buy that Sidious was so powerful with the darkside that he made shit unclear for the aforementioned army of superheroes, including the Council. He clouded them. Or something. Guys, don’t get me wrong, I love Sheev, the Emperor is my guy, but if he was that powerful, he would have got seriously bored even wanting to topple these losers. Furthermore, when these guys were in other systems are they still as not connected to the force? He can do that?

YET, we are supposed to believe that they believe one of their former own, Dooku, is so much of a threat that he’s actually holding his own against all of them, when we are pretty confident there are at least two Jedi, Windu and Yoda, who’d have a reasonable chance in ending him whenever they bothered to take a trip down to Republic Intelligence and go find him. Maybe both of them could go. Done deal.

YET, the brilliant idea, which is common sense, that Dark Disciple is based on is that the Jedi have finally thought about killing Dooku. YES! Finally! It’s incredulous that this wasn’t priority #1 from day one.

Why do they need Ventress again?

They don’t.

Again… ARMY of superheroes. Pick out a squad. Give me a few Masters and a transport. I’m confident that if you send Ben, Anakin, Mace, and a couple of other of those cool looking dudes in the background of the prequels, and Dooku would be finished.

And that’s not even the worst part. The third act of Dark Disciple is this insane plot within a plot where they try to figure out if Vos has still turned and betrayed them, yet they are still going after Dooku, and it turns out everyone is still evil, Vos murders another Jedi, his best friend, and at the end he’s redeemed? Death penalty? Imprisonment? Nah son, he doesn’t even lose his job. In fact they let the guy have a private funeral for Ventress on a planet steeped in the Darkside. Ben Kenobi has time to accompany him, because it’s not like there’s a war going on or that he has a padawan of his own that’s a handful to look after.

Isn’t it always interesting that these Jedi can do almost anything except detect the only person they need to detect, who is right in front of the, who basically is everyone they exist to defeat? The are almost demi-gods except when they can’t be. We see it with Palpatine, we saw it with Jacen, hell, they still had their doubts about Dooku for the longest time. Vos does it here. Remember when Maul surprised them in the Phantom Menace? Qui-gon can speak to people AFTER HE DIED. Note, while all of this is happening, the real threat is hanging out in Coruscant, doesn’t even appear in Dark Disciple, probably off somewhere in his bathrobe being more taxed with the daily Sudoko and setting his Fantasy Football team than with the Jedi.

Remember, these are the guys who think they have the Chosen One, a lifeform created by the will of the force who they know is troubled, and can’t spare a few bucks to buy mom’s freedom? I get it, no attachment, or rather, I don’t but let’s pretend I did — wouldn’t it be fruitful or just the right thing to do to be able to tell the kid his moms has a condo somewhere around the block from beach bingo and is chilling? The Jedi have to control and have access to insurmountable wealth and I’m guessing the Jedi have sweet tax exemption. Some moisture farmer did instead?

The odd thing is that you get instances of Anakin in these Council meetings where he’s supposed to come off as the young, aggressive, and wrong voice but he’s really saying exactly what needs to be done. You can clearly see why Anakin would lean to the other side because of every council meeting he ever attended. In fact, you get the feeling that Mace and Anakin could and should get together and solve a lot of problems. Might have solved some future trust issues between them that may prove important. A shatterpoint.

We are supposed to accept all of this because of Darth Vader. Darth Vader is rad and we all saw him redeemed by his son in the good movies, even though that in itself was incredulous. Vader is a mass murderer, he killed a school of children, he hunted down Jedi, he tortured Debby Reynold’s daughter, has led troops in the subjugation of planets and systems, and he’s at least pretty cool with genocide. He also has the worst road rage ever, killing captains of his ship with impunity. I like that part though. Oh, he also killed his pregnant wife, or she died of broken heart or something. You don’t get to kill Natalie Portman. I was mad enough when her double, Keira Knightley died. Quit destroying beautiful things.

But none of that is the real problem. The real problem is that at the end of Dark Disciple we get this kind of silly admission that the mission failed because it represented what Jedi should not do: kill their enemies, even if it’s one of their own. You know, the novel’s message. In a universe this technologically advanced and undoubtedly corporate dominated, the simple issue of tarnishing the Jedi brand would be reason enough to kill Dooku, much less the widescale crimes he has committed. No, they should have done EXACTLY this, indeed they should try again and again until they get it right.

Why?

We saw it in Revenge of the Sith. These guys would make the same exact mistake. They went to arrest the Chancellor. Mace did the right thing by getting his crew together, and by what we saw of Mace if they went in with the intent to kill they probably would have killed even Palpatine, who make no mistake, I regard as the most dangerous dude we probably have ever seen in the entire mythos by a wide margin. Instead, Palpatine a man of action, killed all of his boys. You don’t arrest Sith Lords. After that, Palpatine set out to do exactly what I noted above, he destroyed and then practically erased the Jedi brand from history.

To their credit, Yoda and Ben learned.

They sent Luke to kill Vader.

I know, I know, but he didn’t… but before he redeemed his father, Luke beat his old man down. He could have killed him.

This is why the films and the books work a little easier when the Jedi are culled in number. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love a lot of the stories with Jacen and Jaina, but what happens is that you then need to do something crazy like find a planet/society full of Sith to counter it (which they did). Because really the only thing there is for force users to do is fight other force users. Luke himself gets so powerful in the old EU that they literally have to invent reasons for him not to be around for really dumb political reasons so he doesn’t just solve all problems by simply showing up. So what happens? The whole new army of Jedi are absolutely played by everyone again. Admiral Daala? Like I said, silly, and it’s just an issue that’s comes with the territory.

If you look at most of the great STAR WARS novels, most of them are Jedi-lite. Stover pulls off an unbelievable job with his novelization of Revenge of the Sith because he spun it like a legend focusing on an era ending, with two dudes left standing to try to stop it: Ben and Anakin. Their best.

“A pair of starfighters. Jedi starfighters. Only two.

Two is enough.

Two is enough because the adults are wrong, and their younglings are right.

Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.”

The Zahn novels are great, and Shadows of the Empire is wonderful because we get Xizor’s POV and how he perceives Vader and Palpatine. People are watching Rebels now and we have just enough force users to match each other. I suspect we will see the same in The Force Awakens.

I liked Dark Disciple but much of it is because years ago I have learned to accept that the Jedi have to be worked around to enjoy STAR WARS novels, and when they don’t, you are probably reading a hell of a book. Zahn made Joruus C’baoth crazy, and if you read those novels again, which are fantastic, by far the weakest part of the story is the C’baoth angle. This is why the first STAR WARS spin-off, the initial “Anthology” film, really has my interest. Jedi-lite.

Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos should have learned this lesson having had ample opportunity and even talked about running as far away from these crazy clowns as they could because a SMART society, or just one that seems believable, could probably do worse than simply eradicating all force users in general ala X-Men/Mutant persecution. In fact, when the run off possibility is brought up we, being veteran STAR WARS fans and just human beings in general, instinctively in our head know as soon as we read the sentence that’s the shark move. That’s the logical choice that makes sense that never gets made, and that’s what we have to accept. It’s what’s supposed to trigger an emotion in us that we know they never make that choice. Because the Jedi are basically anti-choice. Get it? We know that the Jedi, the reason why we probably first fell in love with STAR WARS, are what you should run away from. How did that happen?

And you know what? It would be okay if they made great decisions. If there abstinence somehow bore out a clarity from them to help govern and support logical and smart policies and choices, it would be okay. But they don’t. Almost ever.

Vos and Quinlan had never been happier than with each other and not part of their Force crews and making good money at something they were good at. That’s why that part of the novel was great. The rest? Not so much.