The Sith assassin Asajj Ventress has a long history. She almost took the place of Count Dooku in Episodes II and III. Lucasfilm dug up her unused original design for The Clone Wars animated series where she became a major villain. But her story there was left unfinished and she almost made it into the sequel trilogy era.
Before Christopher Lee
The idea for a creepy-looking female Sith was originally one of those considered by George Lucas for Episode II. After Darth Maul’s death in The Phantom Menace, it was necessary for Darth Sidious to get an interim apprentice before finally seducing Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side.
The concept artist Dermot Power came up with the design of a menacing bald-headed, tattooed female Sith. In the end, Lucas favoured the idea of Count Dooku as an old man, eventually portrayed by the amazing Christopher Lee. Casting this incredibly talented actor is perhaps the only reason to excuse Lucas swapping more Maul-esque Ventress for a “boring” bearded human.
The Assassin’s History
Dermot Power’s design was however reused later. Asajj Ventress first appeared on-screen in the 2003 animated Clone Wars miniseries. This one had nothing to do with the later long-running animation. It was bizarre, featuring Republic troopers duelling with lances on speeders and Anakin eating worms. But it also included Count Dooku’s new assassin, the bald-headed, grey-skinned lady with two swords who held a grudge against the Jedi and wanted to prove herself to be called a Sith.
These basic characteristics of Asajj Ventress remained unto the current canon. In the 2003 Clone Wars, she disappeared after being defeated by Anakin Skywalker and falling into a ravine on Yavin 4. In 2008, the new Clone Wars movie and TV series brought her back. She became a recurring villain.
While Ventress started as a fairly one-dimensional villain, she underwent a complex character development throughout the series. Eventually, Darth Sidious, fearing her growing power, bade Dooku to get rid of her. Ventress escaped and returned to her roots that lay (as we learned) among the Nightsisters, “Force-witches” of Dathomir. The Sith eventually destroyed the witches as well, and Asajj ended up in a similar niche to Maul: the betrayed, expandable asset with a grudge against everyone and everything.
The circumstances briefly threw her together with Ahsoka Tano, at the time also fallen out of grace of her former allies. It was Ventress’s short semi-redemption arc. She then disappeared into the underworld… and there her trace ended as far as the series was concerned. Just at the time when Disney acquired the rights to Lucasfilm, a novel was written explaining what happened to her later, but then the entire canon was upended and much that constituted the conclusion of Ventress’s story was suddenly left in a limbo.
That is perhaps what led The Clone Wars‘ original creator, Dave Filoni, to consider Ventress’s reappearance in the second season of his 2018 show Star Wars Resistance. Set around the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Star Wars Resistance followed the adventures of the Resistance spy Kazuda Xiono.
In the seventh episode of Season 2, “The Relic Raiders”, Kazuda investigates the remote planet Ashas Rae. He stumbles upon a Sith shrine buried under a more recent Jedi Temple. In an Indiana Jones-y way, Kazuda explores the temple and ends up caught in an old Sith trap. He gets rescued by an old woman named Mika Grey whom he presumes to be an archaeologist. The show’s creators had stated that her character was inspired by Asajj Ventress, but the head writer Brandon Auman has recently confirmed that Mika was originally supposed to actually BE Ventress.
Thwarting Kylo Ren’s Plan
As we learned at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren and the First Order were at this point searching for Sith artifacts that could lead them to Exegol. Mika Grey was aware of this and she sought them too in order to destroy them before they could fall into the wrong hands.
If you rewatch the episode with the knowledge that Mika Grey was supposed to be Ventress, you can see it – and hear it. Mika has exactly the same mannerisms, she has no patience for Kaz messing around, she is laughing at superstitious villagers who fled after she unearthed the Sith temple. She is physically strong – even in her advanced age, she is able to pick up and hold a grown-up man like Kaz. She has some rudimentary knowledge of Sith and Jedi beliefs.
While Mika Grey is on the heroes’ side in the series, she is at the same time not a purely “good” person. She does not seem to care much for other people and is not particularly nice. When she later returns with Kaz to the Colossus station, she makes her living by scamming pilots, pretending to be a fortune-teller. A very plausible retirement plan for the former Nightsister Ventress.
“The Relic Raiders” ends with the First Order arriving to claim the relic. Mika Grey destroys them up by making the relic self-destruct. Originally however, there was the idea that Kylo Ren would be present in person, which would offer a perfect opportunity for an epic lightsaber duel between two very powerful Force users.
Aged To Wisdom
Why did Dave Filoni eventually decide against including Ventress? It was out of fear that she would draw too much attention to herself. That Resistance would become “the Ventress show”. Clearly this fear was well-founded. Replacing Ventress with Mika Grey made her into just another supporting character.
In the last scene of “The Relic Raiders”, Mika gets asked whether she knows of the Force. Her reply is exactly something old Asajj might answer: “I know a bit. But if you’re wondering if I am a Jedi or a Sith, I am neither of those things.” And she adds: “The Force does not belong to any one person. It is something that is inside all of us. We just find it in different ways.”
That sounds like a rather amazing, but entirely plausible, character development for old Asajj Ventress. Her “old woman’s wisdom” would come from her rich lifelong experience with the Force, which was deeply individual after becoming disappointed with both the Jedi and the Sith and their grand schemes.
Given Dave Filoni’s tendency to recycle old ideas and bringing The Clone Wars characters into other shows (like Ahsoka in The Mandalorian), we may still see Asajj return somewhere – perhaps even in live-action. Let’s hope for that.