Asajj Ventress - Tragic Hero
What makes her my favorite character, an inspiring heroine, and a victim of PTSD
A Life of Torment
Asajj Ventress may very well be my favorite character in the entire Star Wars universe. Her story resonates deeply within me, and she embodies a tenacity that most characters never even glimpse. To me, Asajj exemplifies a beautifully dynamic character. She exudes the ability to overcome the most painful moments in her life. And it is her life that shapes every aspect of her, both good and bad.
Asajj was a Nightsister, born on the planet Dathomir to the witches who inhabit there. Sold into slavery as an infant, she never knew her parents. Her master, Hal'sted, actually turned out to be kind and took care of her. Yet, her happiness was short-lived when Weequay pirates attacked and killed Hal'sted when Asajj was still a child.
In a turn of events, she rescued Jedi Ky Narec during these attacks. Ky, recognizing her connection to the Force, adopted Asajj and took her as his Padawan learner. Thus began her training as a Jedi and perhaps one of the most peaceful times of her life.
Years later, tragedy struck again when Narec died at the hands of another gang of Weequay pirates. Overcome with grief and sadness, Asajj channeled all of her emotions into anger -- into the Dark Side.
Embracing her newfound power, Asajj began a campaign of terror, slaughtering Weequay pirates and decimating the criminal government. Fascinated by her swift and surgical crusade, Count Dooku took her on as his apprentice. Despite her growth in power, Asajj Ventress was nothing more than a glorified assassin to Dooku. She did all of grunt work and took the blame whenever one of Dooku's schemes failed. In a final battle with Skywalker and Kenobi over Sullust, Dooku left her for dead. Asajj barely escaped with her life.
Reeling from her defeat and growing anger with Dooku, Ventress decided to return to Dathomir, home to her own people. With the help of Mother Talzin, she attempted to assassinate the Count. However, even the power of the Nightsisters wasn't enough to kill Dooku. In a final effort, she trained a Nightbrother, Savage Oppress, as her own apprentice. Taking cues from his masters, Savage betrayed them both.
In retaliation, Dooku had his cyborg commander General Grievous raze the entire Nightsister clan. Asajj lost everything. Her sisters, their life force, and even Mother Talzin were all annihilated under the clanking sounds of battle droids. So, she did the only thing she knew how to do: she ran.
Reclaiming her life, Asajj became a mercenary. Yet, she had changed. She betrayal Boba Fett, by freeing the target, a young girl destined for slavery. Eventually, she even aided her former nemesis, Ahsoka Tano. Although she lost her lightsabers, Asajj found a kinship with Ahsoka: they were both lost, abandoned by their masters.
Later, Asajj befriended Pantoran bounty hunter Lassa Rhayme. Using her newly fashioned yellow lightsaber, Asajj helped Lassa complete many contracts. The two became close, even forming a romance. But Asajj had known so much loss, she feared the intimacy. Her fear eventually led her to leave Lassa and work again on her own.
During the waning years of the Clone Wars, the Jedi enlisted Ventress' help through fellow Jedi Quinlan Vos. He and Asajj trained in hopes of finally assassinating Count Dooku. Despite the Jedi Code, Quinlan became infatuated with her. And in spite of her own reservations, Asajj reluctantly fell in love with him as well. Finally confronting Count Dooku, both Vos and Ventress were overwhelmed. Asajj managed to escape, but Quinlan did not. Imprisoned and tortured, Vos became Dooku's new apprentice.
Ultimately, Asajj was able to free Quinlan. He still loved her, but was consumed by the Dark Side. In an effort to break free, Quinlan and Asajj both confronted Dooku. After nearly killing Quinlan, Asajj jumped between the two, absorbing a deadly blast of force lightning. In her final moments, Asajj Ventress turned toward the Light, saving Quinlan from his anger. He took her burned body to the magical waters of Dathomir and laid to rest the fallen angel he loved so dearly. Her body slowly diffused into the Force as her sisters welcomed her home again.
"Oh, I have a story all right. Quite a lot of stories, actually. But none of them end well."
Nearly everyone experiences some kind of traumatic event throughout their life. Usually, we deal with the fear, pain, and anger naturally. But what if it didn't go away...for months...for years even. That's PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD may encompass feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, anger, and numbness. More than that, people who suffer from PTSD tend to turn inward on themselves, often becoming isolated and shutting out their friends.
re-experiencing the trauma (flashbacks, nightmares, etc.)
feeling numb and avoiding places and people that are reminders of the trauma
distorted thinking (loss of interest, negative thoughts, feelings of guilt)
reactive emotions (angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping/concentrating)
People with PTSD usually suffer from at least 2 of those symptoms. However, each symptom may manifest differently for different people and situations. It's also important to note that those who suffer PTSD may not have experienced the trauma directly. Sometimes merely hearing about a death or tragic event can cause these symptoms. Yet, the highest risk factor for PTSD is a a lack of social support. This is why two people may experience the same event and only one will develop PTSD.
So, who suffers from PTSD? Generally we associate PTSD with soldiers, which is true. However, overwhelmingly, abused children and abused women have the highest chance of developing PTSD. About 50% of abused children and 45% of battered women will develop PTSD as opposed to 30% of military veterans.
That's not to say that soldiers don't experience PTSD, as they do and their numbers are increasing. But each of these groups have something in common, they often lack the ability to leave the situation and seek help. These people feel powerless to leave because of their duty (soldiers), commitment or fear of reprisal (battered women), or they are too young to make life choices (abused children). It's no wonder then that quite often, people of these groups often don't get the help they need. They become more isolated, blame themselves more, and may even become suicidal.
Asajj’s Personal Scars
So, does Asajj Ventress suffer from PTSD? Well, consider her character traits...
- Asajj has nightmares about her past, which often drive her Dark Side.
- She often portrays herself as feeling numb to others, only rarely showing emotion. She isolates herself, just as she did from Lassa Rhayme and Quinlan Vos.
- Asajj often blames herself for the failures of others and/or events that are out of her control. She blamed herself for Vos turning to the dark side, just as she blamed herself for her master's death.
- Finally, she is very reactive when experiencing traumatic feelings. She shows anger, aggression, and deadly outbursts whenever confronted.
If you look at her past, it is evident much of her anger stems from social isolation: being sold into slavery, losing her masters, losing her sisters, and finally, losing her love. In fact, much of her loss represents the loss or absence of family. Without parents, she looks to her slave master, her Jedi Master, and even Count Dooku as a father-figure. They are either killed or end up betraying her. Similarly, she loses her clan in much the same way. Everyone she knew as a father, a mother, or a sister dies. And Asajj takes all the blame for their deaths.
Perhaps most depressing of all is how in spite of everything she endured, she chooses to isolate herself from anyone who shows her kindness. This is her way of protecting herself. She can't be hurt if she doesn't allow herself to care for others. Thus, she pushes everyone away. It is only when Quinlan Vos enters her life that she allows herself to love. And it is only his persistence that finally breaks down Asajj's defenses.
Yet, despite all of the torment and the scars Asajj caries, she still shows kindness in the most unexpected moments. Remember Pluma Sodi, the child-bride that Asajj saves from slavery. She sacrifices her money, her teammates, and her reputation to save ONE life. Remember Ahsoka Tano, and how they both fought each other at every turn. When the Jedi Order abandoned Ahsoka, Asajj came to her aid. And remember the greatest sacrifice of all. Asajj gave her life to save Quinlan Vos, not even knowing if he would ever overcome the Dark Side or truly love her again.
Asajj shows a depth of character that I rarely see in any kind of fiction. To endure so much and yet still be able to love others, to help others, to shoulder their burdens shows more strength of character than most real humans possess. And this is why I love Asajj Ventress...not merely because of her story, but in how she defined it.
Asajj Ventress is a hero.