In one key encounter, multi-layered symbolism underscores new paths taken by a fan-favorite Jedi.
Studying Skywalkers is an exclusive column that investigates the characters, themes, and lessons of Star Wars from an educational, literary perspective. In this installment, StarWars.com looks at the symbolism featured in a pivotal scene within the novel, Dark Disciple.
Spoiler warning: This blog contains major spoilers from the novel, Dark Disciple.
Last month, we examined Christie Golden’s new novel, Dark Disciple, which focusses on Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos, and their Jedi-informed quest to hunt down and assassinate the Sith Lord Count Dooku. A key moment in the novel features important symbols which encapsulate the significance of character development between the two protagonists, and enhances the power of Golden’s prose. This scene is centered around a creature called the Sleeper. Monsters are common tropes in literature, especially in fantasy, and reveal much about characterization. This pivotal scene with the Sleeper has ramifications that accentuate the significance of Vos’ personal journey.
Arguably, the most pivotal scene in Dark Disciple occurs from chapter 15 to 17; Ventress takes Quinlan Vos to Dathomir, home of the Nightsisters, to ensure that Vos tastes the dark side of the Force, in order to complete their mission. She believes that only through darkness can they complete this dangerous mission. As with all dark side users, Ventress explains to Vos that the dark side makes one powerful. In order to complete this dangerous trial, Vos must embody the dark side and kill the Sleeper, an ancient creature that lurks in the depths of a body of water, which features the “Water of Life.”
Ironically, the “Water of Life” is anything but, as it sets out a turn of events that ensures Vos’ descent to the dark side, and symbolizes the end of life as he knows it to be. Ventress explains Vos’ task:
The depths of these pools have never been plumbed. All we know is that they are very deep indeed, and they are home to many creatures. There is one that the Nightsisters called the Sleeper. To fully be accepted as an adult, a young woman of my clan underwent a rite of passage. Using her Force abilities, she would awaken the Sleeper, dominate it, and force it to remove a piece of its body. (p. 118)
This brief passage is replete with symbolism, as metaphorically, it encapsulates Vos’ journey within himself. The deeper he explores the pool, and the further he journeys from the surface, the more he distances himself from his Jedi training.
In essence, by going away from the surface of the water, and from the light, the more quickly he leaves the light inherent within himself; he goes into darkness literally and metaphorically. He is also told by Ventress that while he can train with an aquata breather, for the actual trial, he must hold his breath underwater. This act of holding his breath is shared by the reader, as the bibliophile clings to the hope that Vos will not only survive, but will keep the goodness within his heart. His symbolic descent into darkness is palpable.
Once he encounters the Sleeper, he is supposed to kill the creature. This is problematic, to say the least, as the creature is dangerous and powerful. While there are no concrete descriptions of the creature (“it varies from person to person”), it is known that it is massive, deadly, and has tentacles. Similar to the grotesque Scylla from The Odyssey, these tentacles, as well as the teeth of the Sleeper are the stuff of nightmares. Vos must face his understandable fears, but symbolically, the real fear is within him, and what he could become through this encounter.
The fact that this trial starts underwater is a powerful symbol in literature as well. Water typically symbolizes rebirth of some kind, and harkens back to the New Testament and John the Baptist. Unlike the life giving example of the Bible, Vos’ baptism is one of death; death to self, death to ideals, and death to an innocent creature. The Sleeper is suffocated by Vos in a brutal act of violence, and Vos succeeds in suffocating his beliefs and ideals.
Vos rises from the water, and his encounter, as a different person. The reader learns of, “… the sharp delight he had taken in brutally asphyxiating an innocent creature” (p. 133). This is a dramatically different persona from the Jedi Master that risked his life to save Black Sun member Marg Krim’s wife and innocent children earlier in the novel. Life is precious to the Jedi, and Vos’ emergence from the water features a rebirth in his ideals, as well as his personal mantra. Life is no longer sacred, as the taking of it becomes a means to an end for Quinlan Vos. He has lost his way.
Ventress senses the imminent danger that she and Vos have unleashed when they awaken, and destroy, the Sleeper, but not immediately. The irony is palpable, and symbolizes the darkness Vos has awakened within himself. His descent slowly turns her from her previous way of thinking, and causes her to steer herself towards the light. It is a beautiful, yet tragic metaphor that is Shakespearean in nature, and lends itself to a more poignant understanding of these two beloved Star Wars characters.
Dan Zehr is a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning, and runs Coffee With Kenobi (with co-host Cory Clubb), a Star Wars Podcast that analyzes the saga through critical thinking, analysis, interviews, and discussion. He is also a member of the Rogues (as Blue Leader), a network of teachers that incorporate Star Wars in the Classroom.