Tonight’s the night Star Wars fans have been long awaiting if you missed the nationwide charity screenings of the Savage Opress trilogy the first week of December, which began exactly one month ago today. The first chapter of this particular arc kicking off the second-half of The Clone Wars’ season 3 is “Nightsisters”, with a flavour unlike any we’ve yet seen in the Star Wars universe to date. Imagine a sword-and-sorcery environment rendered organically within the very recipe of the galaxy long ago, and far, far, away, and you’ll get a sense of what to expect throughout the course of all three chapters in this mini-epic.
Tonight’s episode picks up with a stunning bit of space battle involving Master Kenobi and Jedi Knight Skywalker, pursuing Separatist leader Count Dooku’s assassin, Asajj Ventress. This entire sequence, from the way it begins to the lightsaber dueling in a ship hangar bay, evokes the opening ten minutes of Revenge of the Sith (2005), not only structurally, but also because the new character models of Anakin and Obi Wan are so much more realistically rendered, that it’s often easy to flashback to the pair storming another Separatist ship hangar bay in search of another of Dooku’s assasins, Droid Army General Grievous.
By the time the duo nearly escapes with their lives intact, leaving Asajj presumably dead, locked inside the cockpit of her small fighter ship, we’ve experienced a heady dose of classic Star Wars action that stands alongside the best chase sequences of the live-action feature film companions. Ventress then sends a plea to her Master, requesting immediate help out of the situation she’s fallen into. What she fails to know is that Dooku has set her up to this end, wishing to be rid of her ineffective string of close-calls in carrying out the assignments he’s given her. In a twist of cruel fate, Dooku (trivia if you didn’t know it: “dooku” means “poison” in Japanese!) reveals to Asajj that he’s finished with her, and promptly cancels out of the conversation to allow her death in the resulting main ship explosion.
It is in this instant that the tone of the story twists into something unique: Asajj manages to survive, and follows her only logical course of action, as she returns home to the planet she’d once called the home, during her formative years of training – Dathomir, which should whet the palate of all fans having read the terrific early expanded-universe novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia (1994), which features said location as a key backdrop. True to its source origin in that novel, the planet is inhabited by a race of female Amazonian-esque witches; here they keep the men of the planet tethered away in camps on another side of the world. This matriarchy of warrior women seek out the men for breeding when required, but otherwise train in their own design of martial arts and magic, the latter of which is a form of manipulation we’re told has no relation to the Force.
These women are headed by Mother Talzin, whose impressive regalia and form is a direct manifestation of an early “Sith Witch” sketch production designer Iain McCaig contributed to the list of possibilities for the look of Darth Maul himself in The Phantom Menace (1999). At the time the design had been rejected as being “too terrifying” according to series creator George Lucas, but now almost 12 years later here we see it coming into fruition as a sort of Bene Gesserit mother (from sci-fi classic novel and films, Dune, by Frank Herbert) of the Dathomir witch colony. It is to her that Ventress appeals for assistance in exacting revenge from her former Master, and Mother Talzin is quick to cook up a scheme. Let’s just say that her plan sets into motion a very interesting power-struggle, but which is not devoid of a back-up plan. The latter is a real shocker that will ultimately floor fans and perhaps even the most casual fans alike, but for that you’ll be waiting until two weeks’ from tonight, as this trilogy resolves itself.
In the meantime, marvel at the revelations we receive about Ventress’ dark past. Orphaned at an early age on Rattatak, we see her adopted by a Jedi and trained to excellence in Force abilities. How her training ends and brings her to further training on Dathomir as a teenager is for you to enjoy yourself during this episode’s unspooling, but it definitely lives up to the hype one would expect about really fleshing out one of the series’ most-interesting villains that was not to be glimpsed in the live-action series. This is proof that the magic of Lucas’ universe is still pulsing, and that the three-year Clone Wars period only hinted at in the theatrical films is just as engrossing as the Skywalker saga, despite the existing knowledge we have about the way it all turns out in the end! As they say in screenwriting, “It’s not what happens, but how it happens that’s interesting”; otherwise historical dramas wouldn’t exist for entertainment purposes.
Be sure to tune in to Cartoon Network at The Clone Wars’ new time slot of 8:30 PM Eastern/Central/Pacific time, or catch the episodes soon after, streaming for a limited time on starwars.com, cartoonnetwork.com, or for individual purchase on iTunes.