One was introduced in the original Clone Wars animated series, the 2D shorts that would attempt to bridge the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The other we first met in the theatrically released animated film that would serve as a pilot for the computer-animated (and soon to return!) Clone Wars series that followed. One was a fierce, dark side-wielding assassin, the other a sassy 14-year-old Padawan experiencing life on the battle lines for the first time.
Despite both of their origins as apprentices to established characters from the Star Wars films and their relative opposite nature from each other, both women would go on to headline some of the most compelling arcs of the series, and both would challenge the pre-conceived ideas of Force users and their obligate places in the universe.
SPOILER WARNING: The following contains plot elements from the initial 2008-2014 run of The Clone Wars.
At first glance, Asajj Ventress and Ahsoka Tano seem cut from a different cloth. Ventress is a cold-hearted assassin, a Sith apprenticed to Count Dooku, his secret hope of one day perhaps challenging Darth Sidious’ dominion over him. According to the Art of Star Wars books, her character design was initially created as a concept for the apprentice character in Attack of the Clones that ended up becoming Dooku as played by Christopher Lee in the films. Ahsoka is an eager young student who is initially presented as a sassy and reckless thorn in Anakin Skywalker’s side. Her nickname, ‘Snips,’ is bestowed after Anakin decides she’s being “snippy” with him. Her actual first name, Ahsoka, is based on Ashoka the Great, an emperor who once ruled all of India. Her initial character concept had named her “Ashla,” a term also used in Star Wars to refer to the light side of the Force, and it would ultimately become a pseudonym that Ahsoka herself would use.
Both women, upon their introduction, feel as though they could easily amount to nothing more than the sidekick roles that their literal apprentice titles suggest. Ventress could have just been a cool assassin character to serve as an antagonist for the Jedi to fight since the film continuity would make it hard for them to fight Darth Sidious or Dooku directly on too many occasions (although the series really stretches the limit on the latter). Ahsoka could have easily become an annoying pest to Anakin and the Jedi. Instead, she became one of the most popular stand-out characters in the modern Star Wars canon, even earning a vocal cameo in The Rise of Skywalker.
While a lot of the issues with Ahsoka that could have made her obnoxious get smoothed out after her initial introduction (and thank the Force for whoever decided to drop her “Skyguy” nickname for Anakin), both characters, and with them, the Clone Wars series, really hit their stride in Season 3. Ahsoka is aged up to depict the passage of time in the war, and her costume evolves as well. Her plots similarly gain a layer of maturity along with the layer of fabric now covering her midriff.
Ahsoka becomes a strong point of view character for the audience. Due to the nature of the major Jedi and Republic characters needing to remain in the dark about things that are coming due to Sidious’ machinations, Ahsoka becomes someone who can begin to more seriously question the status quo. This discrepancy between her loyalty to the Jedi and trusting her own inner compass to lead her to what’s right makes a major appearance during the Onderon Civil War arc. Commanded by Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council to simply instruct and observe, Ahsoka ultimately chooses to fight alongside the insurgent rebellion.
This inner conflict reaches its fever pitch in the heartbreaking fifth season finale of the show when Ahsoka is framed for the bombing of the Jedi Temple and cast out of the order. Once her name has been cleared and they attempt to reinstate her, the damage from her long-brewing doubts is far too great and she chooses to seek a different path for herself.
A fitting aspect of this arc is that it includes a temporary team-up of Ahsoka with Asajj Ventress. The two run into each other deep in the underworld of Coruscant, both literally and figuratively, as Ventress herself has also been betrayed by her order. Count Dooku, on the command of Darth Sidious, has discarded Ventress, ordered his troops to kill her, and after a series of failed attempts on her part to gain revenge have failed and cost her everything, she’s alone, finding work where she can as a bounty hunter. Her story is one of the more tragic within the franchise. Unlike most dark side users who fall due to their ambitions or through exploitations of their weaknesses, Ventress is almost born into it, hailing from the Nightsisters of Dathomir, a dark side-infused cabal of witches. She’s then taken from that family by a pirate and temporarily saved by a Jedi Master who recognizes her talents and briefly begins to train her as Jedi before being killed himself. It’s the rage and grief from this loss that sends her down the path of the Sith before they too discard her.
The temple bombing arc is the last we see of either character in the initial run of Clone Wars, but thanks to other media within the Star Wars universe we are able to gain a much more fleshed out timeline for both. In the series Rebels and in her self-titled YA novel, Ahsoka goes on to become one of the early members of the Rebel Alliance and becomes a major figure in the pre-A New Hope Age of Rebellion. Her showdown with Darth Vader, her first face to face encounter with her former master since his fall to the Dark Side, stands out as one of the emotional high points of the show, as well as one of the best lightsaber battles in all of Star Wars. Though we know she is likely dead by the events of the Sequel Trilogy given her aforementioned voice cameo among the past Jedi, there’s a sense that there is much more to her story coming beyond the plots we’ll see in the revived Clone Wars episodes premiering this month.
Ventress, on the other hand, is unlikely to return in the new episodes, as her final arcs for the series were adapted into a novel as well, Dark Disciple. In that novel, Ventress begins a forbidden love affair with a Jedi, Quinlan Vos, when he attempts to partner with her to assassinate Dooku on behalf of the Jedi, a path that leads Vos himself to the dark side, while simultaneously exposing its flaws and corruption to Ventress who rejects the path that has consumed her entire life. Like Darth Vader and Ben Solo, she is ultimately redeemed and brought to the light side of the Force but must do so through self-sacrifice to save someone she loves.
While Ahsoka remains a firmly ‘good’ aligned character, the fact that she does so by rejecting the way of the Jedi and forging her own path still challenges the Jedi/Sith binary of Star Wars. This is evident in her lightsabers that she carries during the post-Clone Wars era, the pair ignite as a silverish white versus the typical Jedi colors, signifying that she stands as her own figure, but perhaps also indicating that like her original namesake, “Ashla,” she is on a more pure path towards the light. Meanwhile, Ventress’s lightsaber in Dark Disciple, while a purchase from the black market, is depicted in official artwork as glowing yellow, the color which signifies the guardians of the Jedi Temple. It’s a strange thematic twist to have an often antagonist character carry something that signifies a protection of the things the Jedi hold most dear. Yet, also like Vader and Ben Solo before her, the thing which leads her back to the light is the thing most often feared and warned against by the Jedi as a path to darkness: attachment.
During the speculation throughout the Disney Sequel trilogy, there were often hopes expressed that Rey would end up a ‘Grey Jedi,’ someone who rejected the notion of the Jedi and the Sith, the light and the dark, and instead existed somewhere in the middle. While that was ultimately not her path, audiences could look at Ahsoka and Ventress for canon examples of characters who do just that.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns on February 21 on Disney+.