Asajj Ventress' journey to find a new direction for her life led us into one of the most emotionally compelling and action-packed episodes of Season 4. Bounty offered a winning combination of all-new characters like Highsinger and familiar faces like Boba Fett, but it also provided a visual and auditory feast for those of us who like exploring the exotic, far-flung reaches of the Star Wars galaxy and dropping in on the diverse, often-conflicted denizens thereof. Far from being simply a combat-fest, this episode also entertained by making us think: where is Asajj Ventress going and how will she get there?
We'll start where Asajj started, in Chalmun's Spaceport Cantina on Tatooine. I was glad for the opportunity to visit this hallowed landmark in the Star Wars galaxy, especially because The Clone Wars portrayed it as different, but not too different, with some homages but not too many. The music in the cantina reminded me of the Bith band's tune from A New Hope, but you certainly couldn't call it a copycat song. I was pleased to see that Asajj, who carried herself with unusual confidence, prompted shifty and appraising looks from the cantina's denizens when she entered the room. Similarly, I was pleased that the cantina music stopped after Asajj killed Oked and then resumed after she commented on the disruption. The cantina patrons traded a few knowing chuckles and then got back to the business of lounging around -- a Twi'lek dancer even began schmoozing with a Snivvian customer.
The initial smorgasbord of A New Hope familiarity soon gave way to the introduction of another familiar face: the bounty hunter Bossk. While it may seem like The Clone Wars is shrinking the galaxy by bringing in so many existing characters, I enjoyed reuniting with Bossk and his fellow Star Wars veterans. Dropping in on auxiliary characters like the Trandoshan hunter in backwater cantinas like Chalmun's sets the right tone in the series. Even though it's a big galaxy, we can count on the occasional familiar face to add another layer of authenticity to the scene. (Speaking of familiar faces, did anyone else notice Embo leading an animal past Asajj and Bossk as they went to meet the rest of the gang? That was weird.)
The meeting at the bounty hunters' base introduced us to the group leader, Boba Fett. Having just broken out of prison himself in the same riot that allowed Bossk to escape, Boba was leading his "merry band of bounty hunters" (as Bossk put it) into a job that for some reason required six hunters. Given that Asajj was working for Dooku while Boba was either in prison or on the run, it made sense that this would be the two characters' first meeting. Asajj's initial disdain for the boy never faded, but then, neither did his drive to demonstrate his capacity for leadership. It was this stubborn pride that called for the return of what I'm calling "the Boba Fett headstrong youth music." The track was last used in Season 2's Fett-vs.-Windu arc and has become the trademark way of reminding us that Boba is more than meets the eye.
The most striking part of Boba that did meet the eye was his new look. After checking his appearance in Deception just to confirm my suspicion, I believe I can say with confidence that Bounty featured the debut of a new character model (or at least a significant improvement on the Deception model) for Boba. His redesigned head highlighted the fact that his father served as the clone trooper template -- his resemblance to the Republic soldiers was striking.
Like his father, Boba proved to be an excellent shot with his twin blasters. (If I'm not mistaken, those were actually Jango's WESTER-34 pistols.) Unlike his father, Boba actually displayed a desire to protect the innocent when he thought that Pluma, his living cargo, was about to be kidnapped. In offering to protect her, Boba showed an empathetic instinct that I didn't expect from him. This compassion, however, underscored the fact that he was still learning the ropes of this bounty hunting business -- after all, no one throws a girl in a box to hide her from kidnappers unless those kidnappers are actually her rescuers.
Another important note about Boba Fett in this episode is that he's leading a team -- something the older Boba Fett rarely did in the EU. As a young person, he needs more than just his own skills to accomplish serious jobs, which explains why he formed a team. Even so, his role as team leader underscores the interpersonal difficulties he will face later on in life. His solo approach to bounty hunting as an adult evidently stemmed from his distrust of others -- that tension was apparent in his interactions with Asajj.
That said, Boba seemed to work well with the other members of his team. Their introduction in the series left me wanting to know more about Boba's exploits since escaping the Republic prison -- where did he find these people, and what other jobs had they completed? The fact that his teammates were pretty decent bounty hunters enhanced the combat scenes that would come later in the episode. Boba's droid protector Highsinger was particularly lethal, with the ability to resist an attempt to short-circuit him and a phenomenal spinning blaster technique that mowed down several opponents on the train. (He also had a really cool head design.) By contrast, the bewitching Latts Razzi's unusual leaf-rope weapon seemed cool when she first used it, but it proved unwieldy and inefficient against an enemy that was dexterous. I didn't see the point of Razzi's bizarre tool. If the TCW team wanted to diversify the bounty hunters' armaments, this didn't do the trick -- everyone else just used blasters.
There's one more element of Boba's crew that I feel the need to address: Dengar. His voice was provided by Simon Pegg, a prominent celebrity whose vocal hatred for the Prequel Trilogy made him an unlikely choice for a role on The Clone Wars. Indeed, there was an outcry of disbelief and disapproval when the news broke that Pegg would be voicing Dengar. Personally, I don't believe that Pegg's Prequel-bashing should have prevented him from officially playing in George Lucas' sandbox. Casting is a business, and if Lucasfilm finds the right man or woman for a job, it shouldn't matter too much what that person thinks about other Lucasfilm projects. That being said, I really didn't like the voice that we heard in this episode. Pegg's accent simply didn't jive with what I expected Dengar to sound like. I hate to criticize Pegg, because he's done so well in other roles, but his performance was almost jarring in terms of how mismatched he was in the role of Dengar.
On a more positive note, one of the understated upshots of this episode was the way that it exposed us to a sliver of Belugan society and invited us to wonder about the rest of the planet's political affairs. Certainly the Belugans themselves sported interesting physiology and quirky voices that contributed to the authenticity of the Outer Rim setting. Even more compelling, though, was the situation on Quarzite: its decadent and corpulent ruler, Otua Blank, and the marauders who sought to oppose him. Krismo and his "ninjas," therefore, were an interesting element to add to the mix. They seemed to be a rebel group, but what made them galvanize against Otua Blank? Some may say that Krismo organized them to help him rescue his sister, but their uniforms and training suggested a more disciplined and formal separatist group. The ninjas' obvious disaffection with Otua Blank's excesses suggested a more complicated state of affairs than we glimpsed in Bounty.
The twist involving the box itself was a classic example of the fact that not everything is as it seems. It would have been an interesting enough episode if Boba, Asajj, and the others had displayed their skills and shepherded a treasure chest of jewels and gold on its way to the planet's ruler. Indeed, the very fact that the conveyance device was a box led us to believe that it contained precious minerals or something of that sort. The entire game changed when we -- and the characters, but most importantly Asajj -- found out that the "treasure" was Pluma, Otua Blank's kidnapped bride-to-be. Obviously, the ninjas went from being the enemy (of both the bounty hunters and the audience) to being the good guys. What mattered more, however, was that Asajj began to connect with Pluma and draw a sense of purpose from the girl's plight and her own role in it.
It's finally time to talk about Asajj Ventress. (Did I keep you waiting with decidedly less important analysis long enough?) It's safe to say that this episode was a turning point in Asajj's character development. The fact that she is even receiving character development is one of the most interesting and praiseworthy aspects of The Clone Wars. Asajj entered the episode in an outfit that reflected her place in the galaxy: it was dark and combat-oriented but not her usual Sith attire. The markings on her face, as well as the tone of her clothing, reflected the fact that she hasn't fully left behind her old ways.
Ironically, Asajj's desire to be left alone in Chalmun's Cantina ensnared her in a team effort, one about which she was initially apathetic. As a former pseudo-apprentice to Count Dooku, she probably could have defeated the entire group of bounty hunters at their base, and she certainly could have killed Bossk and Razzi in the cantina. The fact that she agreed to help with their next job indicated that she was already a changed woman. It also suggested that she was trying to keep busy while she sought out a new path for herself. When she leaned over the back railing of the train on Quarzite, she seemed to be looking for guidance from the planet's landscape as it whipped by underneath the vehicle.
There were other indications that Asajj was moving away from the Dark Side path that had dominated her life until now. For one thing, she made surprisingly little use of the Force during the ninjas' initial attack. Only when the battle was going poorly did she start relying on the Force, and even then, Dark Side-specific Force powers didn't appear until she started choking Krismo. The fact that she did choke Krismo (and Boba) showed that she still has a long way to go before she's free from the Dark Side's pull. Even so, it's important that she at least seemed to try to avoid it.
The emotional high point of this episode was the conversation between Pluma and Asajj. It opened my eyes to how much Asajj is still suffering from the effects of Count Dooku's betrayal and Grievous' slaughter of the Nightsisters. If you had asked me in 2008 what I expected from Asajj in this series, never in a million years would I have predicted an exchange like this one: "You'll never know what it's like." "I wish I didn't, but I do." That scene was extremely important to Asajj's growth and development. This is a woman whose entire personality has been built around her extraordinary cruelty. Her status as one of Count Dooku's most feared and lethal enforcers made her a legendary part of the Clone Wars books and comics, but now we're seeing an entirely new side of her.
The conclusion of this episode proved that Asajj is developing a measure of compassion, or at least some sense of adherence to what is right. She even gave Boba's team their share of the credits, which she could easily have kept all to herself. (She did say on the train that she "needed the credits.") In the latter half of the episode, her personality seemed to vacillate between emotionally introspective and dispassionately harsh. Even as she told Pluma, "Run along now," she retained a note of menace in her voice. Then, as Pluma, Krismo, and the ninjas departed, her facial expression suggested that she was troubled by what Pluma had said to her -- and, perhaps more accurately, what the young woman represented to her
Asajj said some of her final lines ("Boba's is in there, too" and "He'll turn up") without the characteristic venom that we've come to expect in her voice. In fact, when she referred to Boba's whereabouts, she actually seemed to be conveying genuine good humor. I don't think anyone expected Asajj to change this much at the beginning of the season, much less at the beginning of the series. It's one of the best surprises that The Clone Wars has offered so far. Dave Filoni and his team have managed to take a henchwoman of the Sith Order and turn her into a dynamic, thought-provoking character with interesting desires and surprising weaknesses.
Mixing all of this emotional complexity into an action-packed plot was no small feat, but Bounty absolutely got the job done. The fight on the train was an excellent example of the way the series has refined its approach to depicting hand-to-hand combat. The fight last a long time, but its style of switching back and forth between fight "zones" kept it interesting. This episode had a faster pace than most, but it also seemed to contain more story than other episodes. Between the introduction of Boba's crew, the outlining of the plan, the various phases of the attack on the train, and the dénouement, it made great use of time. The musical cues to accompany these plot point were likewise well-chosen, especially the exotic tune that we heard as the ninjas appeared and started to chase the train.
When it's all said and done, The Clone Wars' humanization of Asajj will stand as one of its biggest accomplishments. Bounty joins a number of other Asajj-centric episodes that have enhanced her personality and given us more to think about when we evaluate her character. The fact that this episode also had so many other highlights makes it one of the best of Season 4, if not the best. Ultimately, its single most important quality was that, while it offered so much in those twenty-two minutes, it also set the stage for Asajj's continuing journey. This journey won't be an easy one for her, but as she said at the very end of the episode, "Now, I have a future." I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say that I'm really curious to know what that future will be.