I am writing an article about Star Wars Expanded Universe references in the animated TV shows for an upcoming book, and so decided to reread Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple. This book is a fascinating case study in transmedia storytelling and adaptation. Dark Disciple is based on scripts written by Katie Lucas for The Clone Wars animated show before it was canceled in 2013. However, the seeds of the story originated in the Dark Horse Comics Republic line, which was part of the Clone Wars multimedia project in the early 2000s. The book both draws upon and contradicts the comics in interesting ways.
Dark Disciple pairs up Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress, two characters who never appeared in the live-action films. Jedi Master Vos first appeared in the Republic comics and the series followed his fall to the Dark Side and eventual redemption.* Ventress appeared in the comics and in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars micro-series as an apprentice for Count Dooku. Both characters quickly became fan favorites. When George Lucas launched The Clone Wars (TCW) animated show in 2008, he made Ventress a primary antagonist. Vos appeared in a cameo in season 3 of the show.
When Lucasfilm reset the Star Wars continuity in 2014, it effectively declared the Expanded Universe – including the Republic comics and Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars – noncanoncial, but the live-action films and Lucas’ TCW were grandfathered in. Thus, Ventress and Vos both started as characters in tie-in media, but eventually became part of the Star Wars canon.
Ironically, throughout all their adventures in the books, comics, and TV shows, Vos and Ventress had little interaction until Dark Disciple. In the book, the Jedi Council sends Vos on a mission to recruit Ventress to help assassinate Dooku. Pairing the characters up works brilliantly. Dark Disciple is essentially a character study of how these two learn to trust and respect one another. They start off as opposites, but also struggle with inner demons. Vos is a bon vivant who specializes in undercover missions in criminal syndicates. Ventress is no longer with the Separatists, but is still full of anger and fear. They’re both highly sensual characters, but Quinlan seeks intimacy, whereas Asajj fears intimacy. Perhaps not surprisingly, their rivalry turns into romance.
Star Wars doesn’t do romance particularly well. Aside from Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, most Star Wars romances come across as too forced or too sudden. Yet, perhaps because they’re both strong, sensual characters, the relationship between Vos and Ventress works. It’s the odd couple that realizes they enjoy the other’s company. Vos is the one man who could convince Ventress to let him into her life. And Ventress gives Vos a much more tempting reason to leave the Jedi Order than the Republic comics ever did. Like many relationships, there are times when their love is selfless, and other times when an unhealthy attachment blinds them – leading to other problems.
Many fans of the Republic comics were disappointed by the depiction of Vos in TCW. In the comics, Vos was a darker, brooding character. By contrast, in the TCW show, Vos is much more lighthearted – even comedic – character. Dark Disciple bridges the two versions. This is still the Vos from the TV show, but the book explores his inner turmoil and lack of direction. Later on, he falls to the Dark Side and joins Dooku. This is not a direct adaptation of the Republic comics, but fans of the comics will probably find that this book partially rehabilitates the character. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”
As much as I would love to eventually see Katie Lucas’ scripts produced as full episodes – not impossible given the TCW revival – this story works well as a novel. The ability of the narrator to get inside the characters’ heads helps to convey the complex emotions they’re feeling. I could imagine the romance between Vos and Ventress not playing as well on screen without knowing their inner thoughts. Golden chooses to play the story straight, as a romantic tragedy, and downplays the sometimes over-the-top action scenes it inherited from The Clone Wars.
Ultimately, Dark Disciple is one of the better Star Wars books in the canon and an important capstone to The Clone Wars TV show. I’d highly recommend it for fans of the show. I especially enjoyed seeing how the book played with the themes and characters from the Expanded Universe. It’s fascinating to see how minor characters who first appeared in ancillary tie-in materials have become such an important part of the Star Wars experience.
* Lucasfilm later retconned Vos as a background character in The Phantom Menace.