So what makes "cool?" Is it an attitude? Popular consensus? Smoking? It's smoking, isn't it? Smoking makes you cool. Take note, kids. All kidding aside, I think it's something that Poe touched on in his Variations on a Theme column: it's a mystery.
Not a mystery why things become cool, but mystery itself that does it. Boba Fett is still the most popular Star Wars character among the hardcore geeks, despite only being on screen for only about five seconds. No one knew a damn thing about him (other than that he died a pathetic death), but he's the king.
Aurra Sing had a similar push, getting action figures, novels, comic series, trading cards and any number of other items out of her 12-frame appearance in Episode 1. The fanboys may have hated the prequels, but they loved Darth Maul. All because of the mystery.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that George Lucas's, shall we say, "laconic" storytelling style breeds this mystery; by focusing on the big boom rather than the interpersonal relationships, characters become ciphers and ciphers become mysterious badasses. It's happened since the first Star Wars film and it's still happening now.
The newest member of this "quiet fraternity" comes from Cartoon Network's ultra-cool, yet ultra-brief Clone Wars cartoon: Asajj Ventress.
A ruthless and cunning military mastermind of the Confederacy, Asajj Ventress is instrumental in fighting the Jedi during the Clone Wars. Count Dooku discovered the mysterious Asajj Ventress on a war-torn planet shortly after the Battle of Geonosis. Though she had never trained as a Jedi, Ventress demonstrates a corrupt mastery of the Force. Under the tutelage of Count Dooku, she has embraced the dark side, using her twin curved lightsabers to cut down all those who would oppose her. Often accompanied by the bounty hunter Durge, Ventress is more than a match for the Republic's greatest Jedi.
Asajj made a fine entrance in Season One of Clone Wars, taking out an arena full of every weird monster from the Samurai Jack character pack. She then challenged Count Dooku, who handed her her butt before taking her as a pupil. But that's not her origin - for that, we have to look back to The Phantom Menace.
When conceptual artist Iain McCaig was working on a new lackey for
Emperor Palpatine Darth Sidious, his initial designs were for a "Sith Witch," a pale woman with darkened eyes and tattered, flowing robes. Truly freaky, the idea was eventually put aside in favor of Darth Maul. The idea was briefly resurrected for Attack of the Clones, but the character was turned into Count Dooku instead, so it's fitting that when she finally appeared in the form of Asajj Ventress, the Sith Witch would be at his side.
There are two figures of Asajj available - one in the regular, realistic style that will blend in with all your other Star Wars figures, the other in Genndy Tartakovsky's animated style as she is seen on the show.
Seeing the two versions next to one another is really something. The "normal" version is detailed well, showing off what the character would look like if she made it into film. Hasbro has been delivering surprisingly good sculpts for a while now, and Asajj is up to the level you'd expect.
Her cape is textured nicely, with a hood falling back over her shoulders.
Her tri-tone skirt has light tan edges separated from the smooth brown material by pleated sections. Her boots are a dark brown, and her leggings and shirt are a wrinkly, textured grey. Her face has the underlying skeletal structure of a black woman, while the packaging art makes her look more Asian. She's got tattoos on her head that the animated version does not - she's also lacking some of the make-up.
The cape can be removed to allow her total range of motion with her twin fencing-style red lightsabers.
Asajj moves at the neck, shoulders, gloves, waist, hips and boots. The blades can be removed from her weapons, and the hilts stored in the holsters at her hips. The lightsabers each have a hook at the end that allows them to snap together as a double-bladed unit.
Since Hasbro has lost the Batman license to Mattel, their sculptors haven't had much of a call to put their animated sculpting skills to use. Now that Cartoon Network is giving us these five-minute installments of Star Wars, however, the company who for so long handled the Batman: The Animated Series toys can again stretch its cartoony muscles.
Obviously, the animated version is not as detailed as her "Expanded Universe" sister - she's got the sleek lines of the cartoon, not the varied textures of real life. Her white shirt looks more like a wrapping of bandages than an actual garment, and her skirt is one solid piece with a patterned belt. Her legs are a solid white with no sculptural details.
Animated Asajj does not include a cape like the other version, but she does have her lightsabers. The translucent red blades have a nice molded "flare" effect at the base, and the hilts are angled properly. Each lightsaber is a single molded piece, so no removable parts.
The figure's face, of course, looks just as it does in cartoon form - much easier to do in this style than by assigning her an arbitrary face. Articulation, as with all animated figures, is minimal: she moves at the neck, shoulders and waist; not enough to qualify her as an "action" figure, but you can get a nice selection of poses. She does include a Star Wars: Clone Wars logo base to help her stand.
It's wonderful that the Star Wars saga is being told, even if it's in such infuriatingly truncated daily segments. The Clone Wars were mentioned in the original Star Wars decades ago, so it's great that we finally get to see them. The Jedis get to kick all the butt that the political manuevering of the prequels doesn't allow, and they've got some fine enemies to fight. Whether you prefer the animated style or more realistic figures, you can have an Asajj Ventress to call your own.