Forget about the Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos you think you know. These latter-day Star Wars characters are back in a tale adapted from discarded Clone Wars TV scripts, and anything can happen.
Dark Disciple doesn’t exactly play fast and loose with the recently reset Star Wars off-screen canon, but it doesn’t cleave totally to it, either. The storyline depicting Vos’ flirtations with the dark side is heavily inspired by, and dovetails with, existing Expanded Universe lore, showing that the new Lucasfilm Story Group will indeed reference or dip into this rechristened “Legends” canon when it suits their purposes. Why start from scratch when you don’t need to, after all?
Christie Golden deftly translates the story of Quinlan Vos, as unorthodox a Jedi as ever there was, being tasked with an unorthodox Jedi assignment: assassinate Separatist leader Count Dooku so the Clone Wars can be brought to a swifter end before too many noncombatants perish in the crossfire. Of course, no one is aware yet that Dooku’s Sith Master, Darth Sidious, is leading the Republic in a massive puppet show with countless strings. Among them: The Jedi Council’s desperation here in ordering a political assassination leads well into the Order’s doom on the big screen in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
At the suggestion of his superior Obi-Wan Kenobi, Vos’ mission leads him to Dooku’s scorned former apprentice, Asajj Ventress, who is trying to start a new life as a bounty hunter. Dark Disciple, then, serves as a sequel to a story arc that did come to fruition on The Clone Wars, featuring Asajj’s new career bringing her into a brief partnership with some familiar figures from the Star Wars galaxy’s underworld that gets rekindled, if only briefly, here.
Ventress, of course, got a lot of screen time in The Clone Wars, but aside from a TV storyline Vos’ exploits have been mainly confined to the comics and he still feels very “fresh.”
And they get fresh with each other, as well. Here we have an unexpected romance where it’s most forbidden, with consequences for the whole galaxy. (Sound familiar?) But this is no retread of familiar territory, and the characters’ attraction is incredibly organic, unlike a certain Padawan and his Padme, and it serves the main plot well. It’s hard to imagine the romance unfolding on screen in animation, but here Golden has the free rein to explore that thread to its natural conclusion – within the boundaries of Star Wars discretion, of course.
The Ventress depicted on television was becoming a sympathetic figure, due in no small part to the writing of Katie Lucas (yes, that Lucas — she writes the foreward). Gratifyingly, that transformation continues here. There’s a physical transformation as well, as she has begun to regrow hair and adopt a more human visage than her Nightsister and Sith heritage would allow. She’s becoming her own person. Ventress is no Jedi, but she gets the chance to redeem herself in their eyes – and it’s clear that the Jedi Order is no longer the bastion of virtue that it claims to have been once upon a time.
Ventress’ history with the witches of Dathomir, and her pain upon losing them to Dooku’s machinations, is explored. This is very much her tale, and although it seems that Vos is just along for the ride, we learn more about him through the prism of his partner and lover than we do about most of the Jedi of the Old Republic.
Count Dooku is given proper menace here, and the character is treated with the gravitas that Sir Christopher Lee lent the series. Although nothing is preventing us from seeing Darth Tyranus wreak havoc again in books, comics or animation, this feels like a fitting capstone to his arc, coming out so soon after the iconic actor’s passing. (I’d still like to see a pre-Sith Dooku depicted in some substantial form, as well as his apprenticeship of the almost-renegade Qui-Gon Jinn.)
Not everyone makes it out alive, and, as with the prequel movies, some particularly fateful moments pass in Dark Disciple seemingly in the blink of an eye, but that’s war. This story may be light on starship combat but is full of classic Star Wars action nonetheless, and it’s full of well-crafted characterizations that keep the pages flying. For me, Dark Disciple is the first true page-turner among the new crop of Disney-branded Star Wars novels.
Dark Disciple is available Tuesday in hardcover and ebook formats. A copy of the book was provided for review by the publisher.
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