After Count Dooku leaves her for dead, Asajj Ventress goes to where the revenge is cold and the witches are hot.

By Christian Blauvelt
January 08, 2011 at 01:57 PM EST
Lucasfilm Ltd

To quote Anakin Skywalker, this is where the fun begins.

For Star Wars diehards—not your casual fan, mind you, but those who can tell a Kowakian monkey-lizard from a krayt dragon—the title of last night’s stunning new episode of The Clone Wars, “Nightsisters,” said it all.

The Nightsisters, evil witches from the planet Dathomir, have been some of the most popular characters to emerge from Star Wars’ Expanded Universe—their presence here alone signifies a great disturbance in the Force, and a major departure from the first half of season three. Political intrigue, gangland wars, black market corruption, bank deregulation—these have their place, sure, and the stand-alone episodes that explored these issues in the fall helped to flesh out that Galaxy Far, Far Away, making it human and relatable instead of merely a playground for clones fighting droids. But as noble as those installments were, they made us crave the B-movie thrills that had defined previous kinetic story arcs. And last night, that craving was satisfied.

“Nightsisters” began with one of the most exquisitely animated space battles we’ve seen from The Clone Wars yet. Every corner of the frame teemed with detail. Honestly, it looked almost as good as the grand conflagration that opened Revenge of the Sith. (Lucasfilm must have felt the same, because they released this episode, along with the two others in this arc, as a 90-minute movie in a few theaters this December.)

Soul-scarred warrior Asajj Ventress, would-be Sith and endlessly devoted servant of Count Dooku, led her droid starfighters into battle against Anakin Skywalker, and her most dreaded nemesis, Obi-Wan Kenobi, over the carbon-choked skies of Sullust. But while the fight raged, on far-off Serenno Count Dooku received a message from his Sith master Darth Sidious ordering him to terminate Asajj’s life. She’d grown too powerful, almost as if Dooku had indeed been training her to one day help him overthrow Sidious.

Remember, with the Sith there can be only a master and an apprentice. No more. No less. One to embody power. The other to crave it. After a brief moment of hesitation, Dooku complied with his master, and told Ventress she was no longer his apprentice. That look in her eyes, when she learned Dooku had betrayed her! Despite her overwhelmingly cartoonish villainy, you couldn’t help but feel for her.

But she had no time to process her betrayal. Obi-Wan and Anakin had followed her wrecked starfighter into a Separatist cruiser and got the jump on her. With an extra level of desperation she held them off, even Force-choking them both with her boundless reservoir of blind rage.

She escaped, only to be picked up by the crew of a salvage ship. Did you see the Tusken Raider, gaffi stick in hand, painted on the side of the salvage freighter’s hull? The Twi’lek captain, speaking with a peculiar Southern-inflected twang, said, “Ya took quite a beatin’ there, didn’t ya, missy?” In her stupor, Ventress commanded that they take her to the planet Dathomir. The captain mockingly drawled, “Now why would anyone wanna go there? Ain’t nothin’ there but fog…and witches.” “Exactly,” said Ventress, before she promptly Force-choked the life out of the crew.

NEXT: Sometimes you bite the Sith, and sometimes the Sith bite you.

With its red sky, gelatinous seed pods hanging from mountain-sized trees, and pervasive fog, Dathomir looked like a truly alien world. This is no planet defined by one topographic feature! Asajj staggered out of the freighter and into the waiting arms of Mother Talzin, the leader of the Nightsister coven. I first became a fan of the Nightsisters when I read Dave Wolverton’s The Courtship of Princess Leia when I was 13—probably the perfect age to fall in love with hot witches! Supervising director Dave Filoni told me recently that the Nightsisters use a kind of magic, but, to be honest, nothing I saw in this episode contradicted my previous understanding of Dathomir’s witches—that they do use the Force but access it via different means than the Jedi: through incantations and rituals instead of mental concentration and meditation.

It’s really admirable, actually, how “Nightsisters” worked within previously established EU canon, even while offering up new revelations. Who knew Ventress was a Nightsister?! It makes perfect sense, and to be honest I’m shocked none of the Clone Wars comic book writers had taken the character in that direction before. But when Ventress’ life flashed before her eyes, most of what we saw meshed with what we already knew of her background. That she was “orphaned” at an early age, but rescued by kindly Jedi Knight Ky Narec who took her under wing and taught her the ways of the Force, only to watch helplessly as he was gunned down.

She found that her anger and self-pity gave her solace, while slavish devotion to a “master” gave her purpose, and so she became the perfect disciple of Count Dooku. Then when he betrayed her…well, let’s just hope the Nightsisters have a good shrink. Honestly, I’m not certain The Clone Wars’ character animation has ever been better than during that hallucinatory backstory sequence. Here’s a show that can deliver action, meticulously plotted stories, and go deep inside the hearts and minds of its characters.

Ventress would now devote her life to a new passion: revenge. Mother Talzin gave her and two other Nightsisters an invisibility shield to attack the Count. They approached him like three wraiths, but when they finally cornered him, they were powerless against his Force lightning and scurried home to their Mother, heads hung in shame. But Talzin sagely noted, “Where some see failure, others see opportunity.” Hence, next week and the arrival of Savage Opress, the Clancy Brown-voiced warrior (and relation of Darth Maul!) who will take Ventress’ place at Dooku’s side…and try to fulfill her vendetta.

You can probably tell I geeked out pretty hard over “Nightsisters”? Did you think it was a winner too? How will her falling out with Count Dooku change the way Ventress is presented on the show from now on? We know from the Star Wars: Obsession comics that Ventress eventually just abandons the war. Will that be her next step on the TV show? Sound off below.

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Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…
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