Asajj Ventress, as voiced by Nika Futterman, is a character that fascinated me, and many others, from the first moment she graced our screens in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, both film and series. Initially introduced as a Commander in the Separatists’ army and an apprentice to Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress is a feared force in the galaxy during the Clone Wars and the nemesis of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Although this post will largely focus on her portrayal in the 2008 TV show, it is worth mentioning that many of the things briefly mentioned below are worked out in great detail in comic books and novels which are all worth reading. This post will contain spoilers for those who haven’t watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars in its entirety.
In the comic series Star Wars: Obsession Asajj says of herself:
“I am fear.”
Ingeniously, this applies to her character in two ways. On the one hand she is a woman feared throughout the galaxy because of her strength and her ruthlessness. On the other hand, she is a woman who is terribly afraid herself. Asajj is a character who is frequently used as a pawn by others. Most notable in that respect is her relationship with Count Dooku, starting when he presents her to Darth Sidious who sends her out to kill Anakin Skywalker. She is used by both men to further their own agenda. Dooku shows his loyalty to Sidious and Sidious is able to trigger Anakin to use his anger as a way of defeating his enemies. After this defeat, Asajj becomes an assassin for Dooku while always hungering to be trained as a full Sith. She is kept on the periphery by Dooku and Sidious, never fully trained, never fully accepted, which means she is constantly striving to prove herself to others and fearing that she is lacking. This comes to a close in the 12th episode of the third season of The Clone Wars when Sidious starts to consider her a threat and orders Dooku to eliminate her. He does so by betraying her during the Battle of Sullust and she is left for dead.
This is where her character is really given the room to grow and develop in The Clone Wars. Rather than have this indeed be her end, Asajj returns to her roots, namely to the Nightsisters clan on Dathomir. In a genius story-telling decision, Filoni and the writers makes it a part of Asajj’s healing to be confronted with her own past and her decisions therein. After knowing her as an assassin without conscience and with a razor-sharp tongue, the audience is now confronted with her history. Forced into slavery as a child, she was saved by a rogue Jedi, Ky Narec, and trained in the ways of the Force, becoming herself a force for good. When he is murdered, however, she gives in to her anger and is set on her path of carnage. Her own conclusions following her past lead her to respond with a need for vengeance, which is not only unsuccessful but also leads to the eradication of the Nightsister clan and the creation of Savage Opress, Darth Maul’s brother. Without a home to go to, she becomes a bounty hunter and tries to find her own, independent, place in the Galaxy.
What makes Asajj’s characterization, as quickly summarized above, so singular on the small, and the big, screen is that she is capable of inhabiting different (female) roles, rather than being restricted to the ‘cold bitch’-stereotype that comes so easily to Hollywood when it’s dealing with women who wield weapons. Unfortunately, many characters who are called “strong women” are often female characters stripped of true emotion and depth, who are given weapons to kick ass but don’t really serve the plot of a show or film in their own right, but rather as a plot device for the, often masculine, main character. Asajj in The Clone Wars has her own story line and character despite being used by others. She is shown as a daughter, a padawan, a force for good and a force for evil, a powerful commander, and as a servant. She inhabits each role in her own way
Similarly to how Lucas confronted the audience with a young Anakin Skywalker in the brilliant Star Wars prequels, making his transformation into Darth Vader even more shocking, so Filoni presents the audience with a young and innocent Asajj who repeatedly has the ability to choose taken away from her. Although she played a pivotal role in the continuation of the Clone Wars, she was always a pawn in the game of others. Again, the links to Anakin Skywalker cannot be denied. Both cogs in Sidious’ plan to tear the galaxy down, they battle with their own insecurities and with their torn histories. This may also explain why Asajj seems to have an obsession with Obi-Wan Kenobi, the one constant person in her life who never fails to sass her right back.
Asajj is a woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon, who uses her weapons as an extension of herself and doesn’t quite know who she actually is. She moves between roles of independence and leadership, between being perpetrator and being victim, between being confident and scared. Although it may seem strange to some to call a light-saber wielding alien assassin realistic or human, that is exactly what she is. Not exploited for her sexuality or power, Asajj is a character who is explored and developed in her own right. She isn’t restricted to being a side-character in a different character’s story-line or to being evil or sacrificed in order to progress a man’s development. She is a character with agency who doesn’t know everything, who is lied to and who lies herself.
Not only does this development make Asajj Ventress a well-rounded character, it also makes her a fascinating woman. She has conflicting loyalties, she has passions, fears, and above all she has a desire to make an impact and be respected. Her search for confirmation is at times desperate but the end of The Clone Wars leaves her at an incredibly hopeful point. As a bounty-hunter, it seems that Asajj has, for now, decided to find a role for herself within the Galaxy that she chooses. Joining up with Obi-Wan Kenobi against former ally Savage Opress and helping Ahsoka Tano in escaping, The Clone Wars‘ final two season show Asajj Ventress making decisions for herself and reforming herself. She is not suddenly “good”, she hasn’t laid aside her biting sarcasm and she’s not looking for a man either. We left Asajj Ventress at a point in her life where many doors were open to her.
What happened to her during Order 66 is unknown, but there is a persistent rumour that she will appear in Star Wars: Rebels‘ second season as the female Inquisitor. Although I personally would love to see Asajj return to our TV screens, I can’t imagine her willingly joining with the Empire after her journey. What I do hope for is to see Asajj again, because her character, unlike any other, shows that strength doesn’t mean lack of emotion and that ‘woman’ doesn’t mean submission. If there were women on TV like Asajj Ventress little girls might not have to fight for their right to live their own lives in this world.