Crisply written by Christie Golden, Star Wars: Dark Disciple is an amazingly entertaining book I recommend highly to anyone who likes a good yarn, but especially to both casual and devoted Star Wars fans.
Based on a story arc from The Clone Wars left undone when that show was prematurely cancelled, it bears the hallmarks of that series’ best. It’s not just compelling, it’s relentlessly entertaining.
The story is this: Count Dooku massacres innocent civilians he could have let escape. The Jedi are frustrated and, unable to stop the horror, plot Dooku’s assassination. They send a Jedi Master, Quinlan Vos, to assume a cover identity and bait an unsuspecting Asajj Ventress, Dooku’s former apprentice, into a plot to assassinate him.
While Golden could have relied on the target audience’s knowledge of story intricacies, she resists the urge. Any casual fan could plug into this book, even if it’s the first piece of Star Wars esoterica they’re reading outside the films.
The major themes are played out with minor characters on center stage, reinforcing the epic nature of events. The films’ implicit condemnation of the Jedi Order is laid bare as it’s apparent this philosophically crippled group cannot redeem themselves, and are racing toward extinction.
I’ll avoid spoilers as best I can, and will refrain from rambling. If you want supplemental takes on this review, I recommend you listen to me on my regular gig Words With Nerds, in a special guest spot on The 602 Club, and chatting on Commentary Track Stars: Off-Topic.
Asajj Ventress has always been a tantalizing glimpse of “what could have been” in the Star Wars movies. If Lucas had been willing to mix it up a little bit more, a seductive villainess would have added real spice.
However, the Clone Wars series used her to great effect. Its cancellation left you feeling there was at least one more good storyline left with her. This book is, apparently, that storyline.
Golden’s writing shines as she makes the audience feel a human vulnerability in Ventress that turns pity into anger. Ventress is emotionally manipulated on a level expected from villains, not heroes. The writing makes it painful to witness; you feel for Ventress as a wounded soul.
Ostensibly this story is Quinlan Vos’ arc (a minor character if ever there was one) but it’s really Ventress’ show. While Vos is brought to life by Golden, Ventress is the focus of our empathy. Her pain and loneliness pull you into the story.
This is her time to shine and Golden does not let you down.
Importantly, the Clone Wars series constantly reinforced that the Jedi had become lost. Arrogant and prideful, they pursued actions false to their ideals. With the Jedi desperate to end the war once and for all, we see in this book that conflict exists within the order. Obi-Wan and Yoda, the voices of the ideals, find themselves swept along in bad ideas endorsed by the Council.
The characterization here of Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movies for those who don’t remember) is of particular note. His advocation for assassination, stern demeanor and rejection of mercy telegraphs his character’s fateful moment of choice in Revenge of the Sith. It becomes very plain that Windu is teetering on the edge of the Dark Side himself (quick note: I called that well before the series even came on the air, proving Lucasfilm should hire me).
Subtly, the Council’s endorsement of assassination also plays into Anakin’s fateful choice at the beginning of Episode III. He is, in a sense, only fulfilling the mission that (obviously) fails here.
I want to note Obi-Wan Kenobi’s characterization in particular. Played out through him is all the frustration of a hero born in dark times. You feel deeply for him as he tries to spin things for the positive when there is only sorrow and disillusionment.
His sympathy for Ventress, a woman who has tried to kill him repeatedly, is a wonderful thing Golden highlights. He does not want to hurt Ventress or use her. His internal strife about this situation foreshadows his coming discomfiture in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin challenges him about asking to spy on Palpatine, and Obi-Wan replies gently, “The Council is asking.”
I risk spoiler territory here, but feel the need to mention a moment at the end of the story where he speaks on behalf of the fallen. It’s strongly written and highlights that despite everything, Obi-Wan Kenobi remains true to what a Jedi hero should be.
To be clear, I do not recommend Star Wars books lightly. I was one of the first to jump ship on the post-Return of the Jedi “Expanded Universe” many years ago.
If you are a fan, I urge you to buy this book and read it. You will not be disappointed. It’s an example of what can be produced when you have a strong story and real talent writing.
This is a solid book plainly on its merit, and as such is one of the best Expanded Universe books I’ve read.