“The swiftest path to destruction is through vengeance.”
“Nightsisters” covers so much ground that it’s not too difficult to forget that it is, after all, merely a half-hour installment of The Clone Wars series. Indeed, it feels more like a cinematic overture of it’s bigger cousin, the Star Wars prequels. But a comparison might almost be to the detriment of this particular installment. “Nightsisters” features an exceptionally well-paced, frenetic plot which contains appropriate measures of intense action, characterization and even humor. The dark, almost other-worldly atmosphere of the episode, as well as the score, are likewise praiseworthy. As much as the opening half of Season 3 focused on political machinations, the second half begins with one helluva explosion.
The episode begins with an epic space battle that is clearly meant to evoke the opening of Revenge of the Sith. The cacophony of ships and laser fire threatens to overwhelm the moment, but with a focus on Asajj Ventress and her hunt for Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, the battle becomes immediate and compelling. Much like the ROTS film, Anakin and Obi-Wan banter back-and-forth during the fray, but this time around their dialogue is more genuinely funny and engaging — Anakin even sarcastically bemoans the fact that, when he and Obi-Wan split up, Ventress chases after Obi-Wan instead of himself. The overall effect of the action and dialogue is that the audience can immediately immerse itself in the episode and, from here, the story begins to quickly unfold.
The plot begins in earnest when Count Dooku receives an order from Darth Sidious to execute Ventress. Sidious has detected Ventress’ growing power and, eager to keep a potential rival from gaining an upper hand, orders Dooku to sever ties with Ventress. In and of itself, this is a fascinating development. It demonstrates that Sidious is not supremely confident in his position and that he is vigilant enough to maintain his position of supreme power. This is an interesting echo of what Darth Vader will eventually say to Luke about joining forces to destroy the Emperor. Furthermore, Dooku’s hesitation and reluctance to destroy Ventress demonstrates a connection between the characters, adding a bit of depth to what had been, essentially simple “bad guys”.
But, of course, Dooku isn’t quite in a position to openly defy his master so he orders his own fleet to fire on the Separatist command ship — on which Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ventress eventually crash land and engage in a blistering duel. Much like the opening space battle, the scene is high on action and light on anything else. But the banter between Obi-Wan and Anakin is noteworthy — demonstrating Anakin as a thoroughly engaging character (unlike his movie portrayal), as well as Ventress’ utter aggression. Her force-choke maneuver against the two Jedi is sudden and powerful. We never see if Anakin and Obi-Wan are able to overcome Ventress’ attack because the ship itself is bombarded and destroyed. But it’s notable just how much of a fight Ventress is able to put up against the Jedi.
Ventress is assumed dead in destruction of the ship, but she’s discovered by a salvage ship. Once she awakens, she ruthlessly chokes the scavengers and takes the ship to Dathomir — a wonderfully conceived and executed locale. The planet, filled with blood-red overtones, is home to the Nightsisters an order of powerful witches. Once there, we learn a great deal about Ventress’ past — as a former Nightsister infant, captive, Jedi Padawan, and following the murder of her Jedi Master, the growth of her Dark Side tendencies, culminating in her joining Dooku as an apprentice. The flashbacks are a bit of an exposition dump, but they are handled rather well, unfolding in an engaging and compelling montage. More importantly, we learn that Ventress’ past has been a difficult one and we learn — perhaps more succinctly and convincingly than with Anakin — why her life became consumed with using the Dark Side to pursue a life of revenge. By the time the scene is complete, Ventress has become a far more complex and sympathetic character.
Once re-inducted into the sisterhood, Ventress is given two comrades and a mission to exact vengeance on Count Dooku. A spell is cast over them to turn them into mere shadows and off they go for a potentially fateful confrontation. It’s at this point that, if viewers haven’t yet remarked how incredibly detailed the animation for the episode is, they ought to be checked for corrective lenses. The shadow effect for the Nightsisters is exceptionally rendered, creating a visual that is stunning and affecting. The confrontation between Dooku and the three shadowy Nightsisters is likewise a visual tour de force. Dooku is eventually disarmed, but his Dark Side powers (force lightning) overwhelm his would-be assassin.
But what was the point of all this flash and flare? It turns out that Mother Talzin, leader of the Nightsisters, has used Ventress thirst for vengeance to compel Dooku to accept a new apprentice, a male member of the Nightsister’s realm. The identity of the new apprentice is not revealed, but the setup demonstrates how the impulses of vengeance and ambition and insecurity can become a powerfully destructive combination.
Overall Grade: B+
“Nightsisters” opens the second half of The Clone Wars with plenty of style and, quite enjoyably, more than a little bit of substance. Ventress goes from a relatively simplistic villain to a more complex, even slightly sympathetic character. Even Dooku comes across as a bit sympathetic. This focus on the “villains” of the series has been a long time coming and, for one episode at least, the payoff is significant. Overall, this is a well-balanced, entertaining and meaningful episode.
Oh, and be on the lookout for a well-placed homage to Battlestar Galactica (a droid responds to Dooku with the famous, “By your command”).