Last time, we looked at one of the leaders of the Separatist Alliance’s military arm. While General Grievous was urged to use the unorthodox in his fight against the Jedi, he was in the end a blunt instrument in Count Dooku’s hands, a hammer used to smash the opponents of the CIS. Of course, Dooku also had need of a scalpel during the Clone Wars, a more selective agent who would not mindlessly charge into battle, and in whom he could implant his own ideas and training, giving him a tool with which to possibly unseat his master one day.
Enter Asajj Ventress.
Ventress was created as a part of the Clone Wars multimedia project to give the Republic a mid-tier antagonist before Grievous was revealed, first appearing in the comics but making her mark in the Genndy cartoon series as well. It was in The Clone Wars, though, where she made her biggest impact, giving audiences a major female villain for the first time in Star Wars screen history barring the antagonist of the Ewok movie (because who remembers that?). But her gender was far from her only reason for her popularity. She was menacing, she was magnetic, she was intelligent and even funny at times thanks to her talent for sarcasm. She gave the heroes a run for their money, but was far from a one-dimensional villain, as we’ll see.
How Ventress came to join Dooku was told in the Genndy series, with her being a gladiator in a pit fight and impressing Dooku not only with her skill at stealth, but also with her ruthless, deadly combat efficiency. Her claim at this proficiency resulting from her being Sith, however, was laughed off, before Dooku shocked her into unconsciousness. When she came to her senses, he offered her twin curved lightsabers and a chance to learn to become a Sith, an offer she took up with eager relish. She would later fly against and then duel Anakin Skywalker, falling from a ruined temple top and disappearing for the rest of the cartoon.
Ventress’ first major appearance (outside of the comics and novels), and possibly the main reason for her popularity, was in The Clone Wars movie. In an episode taking place prior to the film’s events, she lured the Jedi away from their base on Christophsis to allow her agent, a turncoat clone trooper, more freedom to act and sabotage their efforts for the upcoming battle. During the movie itself, she opposed Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in their efforts to rescue Jabba’s son, their familiarity with each other telling without telling that this was not the first time the trio had faced off. Though her efforts to prevent the Republic and Hutt crime lord from allying fail as the Jedi escape with the Huttling, it was not for want of trying. In fact, her efforts to try and please her master are largely what define her character through the first two seasons of the show.
She acted as a diplomat to the king of Toydaria, and as attempted assassin when he refused an alliance with the CIS, only to be roundly foiled by Yoda and forced to flee. Her mission to rescue the captured Nute Gunray was more successful, as she and a droid contingent boarded a Republic cruiser and, with the help of a traitorous Senate Guard Captain, saved the Trade Federation Viceroy from prison, dueling both Luminara Unduli and Ahsoka Tano to a draw, separately and at the same time. She and General Grievous would work together to plot out an attack on Kamino, where she again proved her mettle by coming within a few meters of escaping with the prime clone’s genetic material and bringing the Republic’s war effort to its knees.
While Ventress as a Separatist lackey and dark side acolyte could be used interestingly, it did not give her much chance for dramatic development. Her character revolved around her villainy and, aside from the teasing flirtation between her and Obi-Wan, she was an antagonist and acolyte only, her interactions limited to those two roles. It was to the surprise of many, then, that she did not remain so. Darth Sidious, possibly concerned about Ventress’ growing abilities or simply as a test of loyalty for his current apprentice, ordered Dooku to kill her, a task which Dooku reluctantly agreed to and, after contacting Ventress to inform her of her impending termination, ordered done.
But Ventress’ abilities had advanced too far for Dooku to simply leave the matter to his lackeys. She escaped the death trap set for her and, confused and enraged by Dooku’s betrayal, fled to Dathomir, home of both the Nightsisters and Ventress herself. Allying herself with her old clan, they make a covert attempt on Dooku’s life which, while unsuccessful, plays into Ventress’ hands, and those of her new master, the clan’s leader Mother Talzin. Dooku’s revealed vulnerability causes him to seek out a new apprentice, a Dathomiri Zabrak named Savage Oppress, provided to him by Talzin and, unbeknownst to Dooku, personally selected and subconsciously controlled by Ventress herself.
The situation came to a head when Savage, proving to be even more brutal and animalistic than Grievous, earned Dooku’s wrath by killing the Toydarian king against Dooku’s orders. Ventress took this moment, with Savage and Dooku both isolated as Dooku “instructed” his apprentice, to once again attempt to kill her old master, this time aided by Savage. But as the fight wore on, her control over Savage snapped thanks to the magnitude of his rage against their belittling him and making him a pawn, turning the duel into a three-way brawl and ultimately forcing Ventress to flee once again. She went back to Dathomir to recover and further plot against Dooku, only for Dooku to preempt her and order Grievous to hunt her and Talzin down.
A droid army landed on Dathomir and Grievous and Ventress dueled, with Ventress gaining the upper hand at first, only for Grievous’ troops to counterattack and force her and the Nightsisters to retreat. The rest of the battle, such as it was, left Ventress alone once again as the entire clan, bar herself and Mother Talzin, was wiped out by Grievous and his droids. Talzin also ultimately abandoned her, though before her departure, she urged Ventress to find a new path. Her departure left Ventress, for the first time since seeking to become a Sith, without any sort of direction, with nowhere to go and no one to trust.
Just like Grievous, Ventress has episodes of TCW that prove cornerstones for her character arc, one being season three’s “Nightsisters”, which took her away from Dooku and the Separatists and started her on a new course. That course would come to a conclusion in season four with an episode titled “Bounty”. Without guidance or purpose, she wandered the Outer Rim, beyond the sight and reach of both the CIS and the Republic, and ultimately wound up in a small cantina on Tatooine. After casually killing a rather slovenly drunk, she was forced to take his place in a cadre of bounty hunters, joining them on a mission to the planet Quarzite. The mission, guarding a precious parcel on its journey along a subterranean rail line, went wrong early on as the train was attacked by marauders. The fighting raged through the entire train, with most of the other bounty hunters getting thrown or knocked off and leaving only Ventress and Boba Fett aboard with the parcel.
When the leader of the marauders emptied the parcel, revealing a young girl, his sister and the intended bride of the elderly despot of their world, Ventress is forced to make a choice: turn in the girl for the pay as per their mission, leaving her to a life made miserable away from her home and family, or let her go with her brother. The chord of loneliness still humming within Ventress at her repeated abandonment and her own experiences with servitude caused her to turn on Fett, imprisoning him within the parcel and turning him in in the girl’s place, claiming both the bounty and a thank-you fee from the girl and her brother.
For the first time on the show, and possibly since the beginning of her tutoring in the ways of the dark side, Ventress made a decision of her own volition, one meant for the good of another that directly violated her acting orders. That she managed a tidy profit at the same time inspired her to continue in the bounty hunting line of work, though leaving Fett and most of his crew behind. She befriended Latts Razzi, one of Fett’s team, who accompanied her back to Tatooine in search of their next target. It was there where she first felt the rising tide of dark side power that signaled the reemergence of Savage and the return of his brother Maul.
She tracked her former lackey, intending to claim the bounty placed on his head, and confronted the brothers soon after they had captured Obi-Wan, intending to torture him to death. She intervened, lending Obi-Wan one of her lightsabers long enough to allow him to regain his own, and fighting alongside him in an attempt to bring both Zabrak darksiders down. Between Savage’s raw power and Maul’s Sith-honed skill, however, the pair were outmatched and escaped together, Obi-Wan ultimately letting Ventress go and fade back into the Outer Rim, but not before offering her a chance at exoneration if she were to join the Republic war effort against her former Master. She turned him down, saying she was on no one’s side but her own.
Ventress would make her way to Coruscant’s underworld in search of work, where she ran across Ahsoka Tano, on the run from the Republic much as Ventress herself was. She captured Tano for the bounty the Republic had placed on her, but was persuaded to release her after hearing Tano’s story, and she helped the young Jedi with her investigation into a bombing at the Jedi temple. Upon reaching a suspicious warehouse, they parted ways, only for an unseen assailant to knock Ventress out and use her bounty hunting equipment and lightsabers to frame her by attacking Tano and destroying the warehouse and any evidence she hoped to recover.
The frame brought Anakin Skywalker’s wrath down on Ventress, as he pursued her into the undercity in hopes of capturing her and forcing her to clear Tano’s name. Without her weapons, Ventress was quickly subdued, but managed to persuade him that she was not the one responsible for the plot, and that someone had stolen her weapons, allowing him to capture her. She noted that Tano had a contact within the Jedi temple who had given them the location of the warehouse where Tano had been attacked, giving Skywalker the name Barriss Offee. Skywalker, convinced of her (relative) innocence, released her, and Ventress once again disappeared.
Unlike Grievous, Ventress doesn’t have an established final appearance, and both the comic and TV versions of her end their tales on an ambiguous note. As of yet, Ventress’ last appearance left her as a bounty hunter, without her lightsabers (the final remnants of her former life as a Sith acolyte) and without any path before her but her that of her own choosing.
With such a complex and winding story, and being a strong, charismatic character in her own right, it’s no wonder that Asajj earned quite a number of fans in her time on TCW, despite appearing in only thirteen episodes (not counting the movie), four fewer than Grievous. Rumors have connected her with many projects that have yet to be released, from the books Lord of the Sith, A New Dawn and Heir to the Jedi (yes, all three of them), all the way up to Episode VII itself, but for now what role she will play in the stories of the new canon, if any, is unknown.