Welcome back to The Women of Star Wars. This week, we’ll be taking a look at Duchess Satine’s sister Bo-Katan. As I mentioned last time, the sisters share very little in the way of personal beliefs and stand in direct conflict regarding Mandalore’s future. I find this really interesting and wish they could have interacted more in The Clone Wars. They do share complex characterization, which tends to make both characters more believable than likable. They also both want strong leadership for Mandalore but disagree on what form that strength should take. Is it possible to have peace without force? Does it make you a hypocrite to use violence while espousing peace? Do we embrace our cultural heritage or take bold steps toward a brighter future? Both sisters are headstrong and uncompromising, only working together briefly when the alternative is seeing Maul on the Mandalorian throne.
I think Bo-Katan is a fascinating character because she’s complex by nature. Unlike the vast majority of Star Wars characters, she’s neither a hero nor a villain. The righteousness of her actions and how they align or conflict with the heroes’ goals is completely incidental. She starts out as a literal terrorist, sowing chaos and destruction with Pre Vizsla in opposition to her sister’s progressive, pacifist policies. Her path to allying with Ahsoka Tano in the Siege of Mandalore and attempting to unite the Mandalorian people could be seen as a redemption arc, and I’m sure some would interpret it that way. However, Bo-Katan is more like Ahsoka than Asajj Ventress. She learns from experience and adapts her strategies and goals, but her ethics and overall beliefs don’t shift over time. No matter what happens, Ahsoka is an agent for good who will help anyone she can, while Bo-Katan always serves herself and her goals for Mandalore. I love that Katee Sackhoff was able to bring the character from animation to live-action, and I hope they can use the same actors for more characters as they cross over.
Bo-Katan is introduced in season 4, episode 14, “A Friend in Need.” Here, we see her leading Death Watch with Pre Vizsla, but she isn’t named yet, and there’s no indication of her relationship to the Duchess. Lux Bonteri, Ahsoka’s love interest and the son of Padmé’s friend Mina, storms into a meeting of Separatist and Republic senators, over which the neutral Duchess Satine presides. The impassioned young man storms in and accuses Count Dooku of his mother’s murder. The Separatist senators drag him away to be dealt with by the Count himself, but Ahsoka sneaks out to help him. With Padmé’s blessing, Ahsoka spends most of “A Friend in Need” trying to save Lux both from external threats and his own bone-headed ideas. Although he only met with a hologram of Dooku, Lux used a device that can track a hologram signal to locate him. Ahsoka and Lux escape on a ship with R2, but he quickly knocks her out so he can fly to Carlac without her interference. There, he rendezvouses with Death Watch, offering them the tracking information as long as they kill Count Dooku.
Ahsoka wants nothing to do with Death Watch and pleads with Lux to leave before it’s too late. Lux is the kind of person who can never see what’s in front of him and insists that Vizsla and his men operate honorably and will keep their word. However, Death Watch’s behavior speaks for itself, and Lux realizes what’s really going on when a tribe of locals come and ask for their women back. Vizsla had been using them as slaves for food preparation, among other things. He agrees, bolstering Lux’s faith in him. But in the morning, when the men return, Pre shoots the chief’s granddaughter, killing her, and a battle ensues. Bo-Katan doesn’t make much of an impression for herself in “A Friend in Need,” but it goes a long way in showing what she’ll tolerate or even encourage. Killing Count Dooku is all well and good; he’s the rare example of a prequel-era character The Clone Wars doesn’t humanize and flesh out, and killing him (if it worked) would benefit everyone except Palpatine. But she and her terrorist buddies are occupying a planet against the wishes of its people, and she watches while they take the natives as slaves and kill them for no reason. This is the first impression we get of Bo-Katan, and it shows someone who doesn’t really value anything aside from Mandalorian rule. While her alliances and methods may change, this is the first indication that Bo-Katan isn’t a “good” person underneath. If it doesn’t directly relate to her personal goals, she doesn’t care about the suffering of innocent people even when it’s indirectly her fault.
Bo-Katan’s next appearance comes in season 5, episode 14, “Eminence”. As I mentioned last time, this is the beginning of a story arc concerning the second Mandalorian civil war (that we know of). Death Watch finds Maul and Savage Opress in their destroyed ship and decide to work with them to retake Mandalore. This is the first time Bo-Katan shows that she believes in anything; several times, she dissuades Pre Vizsla from trusting these self-proclaimed Lords of the Sith. She says that Sith are no better than Jedi, and if they trust Maul, he’ll just betray them when it’s convenient. However, Maul silences her with a Force choke, and Vizsla seems impressed rather than deterred. Once the gangsters have been marshaled, Bo-Katan joins Vizsla in the Mandalorian capital of Sundari. There, they publicly call the Duchess’s leadership into question. Through phony arrests of Maul’s new allies, the Death Watch curry favor with the people and imprison Satine. Bo-Katan feels no guilt over this, no inclination to help her sister until Maul decapitates Pre Vizsla and declares himself the rightful ruler of Mandalore. It isn’t the senseless violence that changes Bo-Katan’s mind, or even the terror wrought on the Mandalorian people. The notion that an outsider like Maul could ascend the throne convinces her to release Satine and fight against Death Watch. She’s joined by some of her Nite Owls, an elite squad of female fighters who joined Death Watch with her. But some stay behind, splitting both Death Watch and the Nite Owls in two.
I have a problem here, not with the story but with Bo-Katan’s reasoning. It’s always frustrated me that she didn’t put up more of a fuss when Vizsla recruited Maul. She and Vizsla are both the heads of Death Watch, and some members only joined because of her; I find it hard to believe that she had no choice but to go along with Vizsla and Maul until it got to this point. At one point, Maul did use the Force on her. But this should have enraged her, rather than subduing her protests. I hardly believe she was surprised when he killed Vizsla, or later her sister, for that matter. After Satine is killed by Maul in her own throne room, Bo-Katan talks a lot about her. She seems genuinely devastated after she’s killed, talks about her governing style and the kind of leader she was, and even accepts the Darksaber in her sister’s name. I just find it all somewhat disingenuous, especially from a character who doesn’t usually pull any punches. However, I think most of this boils down to screen time. They had three 22-minute episodes to get Maul in with Death Watch, recruit all the major gangs, cause a Mandalorian civil war, kill two political leaders, and crown himself. There’s even more story with him after that, but it would be better suited to another topic. The point being, the sisters only interact twice during this arc, and Bo-Katan doesn’t put up more of a fight against Maul’s influence. This is most likely because they didn’t have time to flesh everything out. This is one of my favorite story arcs and shows how dark they were willing to get with the show. I also love the exploration of Mandalore’s politics; The Clone Wars shows that politics in Star Wars can be exciting and can even enhance the drama between the characters. It just needs to be handled carefully. All this being said, this arc also adds to the mystique of Bo-Katan. It’s hard to gauge exactly what she expected to happen or how far she would be willing to go if Maul hadn’t taken the throne. I enjoy her occasional musing on her dead sister and their relationship; it’s powerful, and I think there is an understated sense of regret and guilt. But I think it’s a great shame that they didn’t have more screen time and dialogue together when Satine was alive. I also want them to explore the guilt Bo-Katan feels if there indeed is any.
Bo-Katan is next seen in season 7 of The Clone Wars. She briefly appears in “Dangerous Debt” and “Together Again,” in which she spots Ahsoka with the Martez sisters on Oba Diah. After their business with the Pykes is concluded, Ahsoka is approached by Bo-Katan and two Nite Owls, who ask for her help in retaking Mandalore. This segues into the vastly superior Siege of Mandalore arc, which is the most cinematic and possibly best story arc in the entire show. In “Old Friends Not Forgotten,” Ahsoka and Bo-Katan contact Obi-Wan and an ecstatic Anakin with an enticing offer: secure Republic aid in the Siege and Maul is their prisoner. However, it isn’t that simple, as politics predictably gets tangled up in Jedi matters. However, Anakin decides to split the 501st in two, pairing Ahsoka with Rex to lead the Mandalore-bound division. Among the banter, Bo-Katan makes a cutting remark, noting that Satine once meant something to Obi-Wan. He responds that she did and still does, but he can’t let his feelings cloud his judgment and interfere with such a big decision. This is yet another display of how much more control Obi-Wan has over his emotions than Anakin. In “The Phantom Apprentice,” Ahsoka and Bo-Katan question Prime Minister Almec, and he reveals that he heard the name Skywalker in a vision and went crazy. Ahsoka and Bo-Katan find Maul in the throne room, and the latter heads outside to join the battle. This brief union of former enemies ends in “Shattered” when Ahsoka carts off the restrained Maul. This is one of my top three Clone Wars story arcs, and I honestly think it’s perfect. It’s interesting how bristly Bo-Katan gets in “Old Friends Not Forgotten” and “The Phantom Apprentice,” complaining that the Mandalorian people won’t tolerate Republic occupation. She then clarifies that she won’t stand for it, either. It’s just kind of funny how the whole operation was her idea, and she was enraged when it seemed like the Jedi wouldn’t help, but now that the troops are here, they can’t leave fast enough. I don’t think she ever even thanks Ahsoka, although the two do share a meaningful goodbye.
Bo-Katan appears in the two-part Rebels season 4 opener, “Heroes of Mandalore”. She clashes with Sabine immediately, rightfully blaming her for creating a weapon that targets Mandalorian armor. However, Bo-Katan has some past mistakes of her own. When Sabine initially offers her the Darksaber, she rejects it, saying she had her chance to rule and failed. She also says she’s not her sister, a curious remark under the circumstances. Could Bo-Katan be second-guessing Satine’s pacifist policies? Maybe she was a great ruler after all? Satine would never wield a weapon regardless, let alone the famed Darksaber. Rebels is also where we get the gorgeously animated backstory for Tarre Vizsla and the Darksaber, in season 3, episode 15, “Trials of the Darksaber”. Regardless, Bo-Katan does agree to help Sabine and the Rebels free Alrich Wren, her father imprisoned by Mandalore under Imperial rule. At the end of this hour-long premiere, Sabine again asserts that Bo-Katan is the rightful ruler of Mandalore and must take the Darksaber. Clans Vizsla, Wren, Kryze, Eldar, Rook, and Fenn Rau cheer her on, and she accepts. “Redemption” revealed in the final moments of The Mandalorian’s first season that Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) had somehow taken the Darksaber from Bo-Katan in the intervening years. Star Wars has its Disney+ plate full already, but this is a story I hope they tell someday, even if it’s only an extended flashback of some sort. It’s hard to imagine Bo-Katan surrendering the Darksaber sooner than her life.
This leads neatly into Bo-Katan’s two appearances on The Mandalorian thus far, in season 2, episode 3, “The Heiress” and episode 8, “The Rescue.” “The Heiress” is a very short, action-oriented episode that does more to characterize Din Djarin than Bo-Katan. This is fitting, since it is his show, and she ultimately points him to Ahsoka Tano. This was a no-brainer after the way Ahsoka and Bo-Katan parted, though I still hope they meet again in one of these shows. In “The Rescue,” however, Bo-Katan has more to say. She rejects Boba Fett as a Mandalorian, saying he’s just a clone and Jango merely his donor. This comes off as a bit of a role reversal from “The Heiress,” where Din rejected Bo-Katan and her followers as Mandalorian because they took their helmets off. Here, she reminds me of her earlier ambivalence towards the Republic aid she begged for, as she tells Boba and Koska to stop fighting, despite having started the fight. Bo-Katan remarks that if they had fought like this against the Empire, they would still have their home planet. This is just funny to me because she’s the one who lost Mandalore and who incited this bout of useless bickering and body-slamming. Her big moments really come later in the episode, when they approach and eventually reach Gideon’s ship. She mentions that Gideon must surrender to her personally, but she doesn’t clarify why that is or when it should happen. This leads to Din beating Gideon in single combat to protect the Child and taking the Darksaber. Gideon mocks the situation, telling the Mandalorian that he must fight Bo-Katan so she can win the blade in combat. He tries to simply gift it to her or yield without a fight, but she sharply and wordlessly rejects the object she came here for. This carries the implication that she initially lost Mandalore and the Darksaber because Sabine freely gave it to her, or at least that’s what she believes. Maybe some of the clans didn’t support her because her claim wasn’t valid without a fight. That would fit in nicely with her own thinking, after all. An outsider like Maul can’t rule even if he took the blade rightfully, but she simply felt entitled to it? One assumes this fight will happen in season 3, and I look forward to that. It’ll be interesting to see how she gets the Darksaber back, or if she even can. Bo-Katan has tried to rule her people like three times now, and it never works out. How poetic would it be if she had to yield to an outsider, the very thing she had earlier refused to do?
Much like her sister Satine, Bo-Katan is the type of character that I enjoy immensely but know I wouldn’t like in real life. She’s disagreeable, contradictory, and at times her beliefs seem somewhat arbitrary. It’s okay to kill and enslave people, but she draws the line at a foreigner ruling Mandalore. It’s not okay to accept the Darksaber without a fight unless it seems okay at the time. She demands help and then questions the audacity of those helping to “occupy” her city. She sees Din Djarin as a religious zealot for the helmet thing but rejects Boba because he’s a clone. This is a riveting portrait of a complex and unyielding spirit, a consistently inconsistent woman who knows what she wants and will do anything to get it. On the surface, it seems like Bo-Katan evolved from a villain to a hero, like Asajj Ventress or Darth Vader. But really, asking if she’s a good guy or a bad guy is just asking the wrong question. Bo-Katan is a power-hungry opportunist who isn’t interested in the moral implications of her actions. She reminds me of Voldemort saying, “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”