I am one of those all things considered Star Wars fans. I have seen every movie, I watch and I am currently watching all of its TV series, and I have played a fair number of the videogames, and read some of the comics and novels. But it is easy for fans such as myself to forget that there are millions of people – possibly even billions – for whom Star Wars is just the live action films (though this might change post Mandalorian). Earlier this year, I decided to marathon all of the completed works in Star Wars: the saga films, the two spinoff features, The Clone Wars and Rebels. And as I finished watching Solo, I once again tried to put myself in the shoes of the casual fan during that inexplicable Darth Maul cameo. There had to be a lot of people out there scratching their heads and going “Hang on; isn’t this guy dead?” I also love how the almost Force-free Solo just can’t resist having Maul summon his lightsaber and ignite it right before ending his call with Qi’ra despite having no real need to do so. Maybe Disney was worried audiences would forget that they were watching a Star Wars film if there wasn’t at least one lightsaber scene.
Onetime prequel trilogy lackey Darth Maul became canonically alive but not quite well a decade ago (Holy shit!) in Clone Wars‘ third season. Having survived both getting chopped in half and falling into a bottomless pit at the end of The Phantom Menace, the ex-Sith lord ended up on a junkyard world and over the years turned himself into a giant metal spider cyborg while also going completely insane, consumed by his hatred of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his abandonment by his master, Darth Sidious. Maul’s Wookiepedia page makes it all sound so much cooler.
I don’t remember when exactly I became aware of Maul’s resurrection, but my reaction was an ESPN-esque “C’mon man.” He was never exactly my favorite character; five years ago, I went on this deeply un-charitable rant:
“Hey, speaking of not being able to let go of stuff, what the hell is up with the continuing presence of Darth Maul in secondary Star Wars media? Have you seen that dense, spoiler-filled trailer for the second half of the current Star Wars Rebels season? Guess which spike-headed, full-body tattoo enthusiast with cyborg legs is STILL kicking around a mere five years before ANH? Seriously, fanboys, what is the deal with your obsession with Maul? I get that he was the only cool and edgy thing (in strictly visual terms; film Maul had as much personality as a sock drawer) in a movie that was overflowing with pandering little kid crap but your drawn out attachment to this vastly overrated character is getting insane. Let. Go.”
That was not nice of me. And it leads me to the point I made right up there in the title: I was wrong about Darth Maul. I considered him a one-note edgy badass, good only for generating action scenes – admittedly great ones. I believed that his returning to life was moving Star Wars closer to something like the DC or Marvel Universe than I would of liked; a franchise in perpetuity where characters die and come back to life with alarming regularity, where status quo changes are only ever temporary, and where progression as a concept just doesn’t exist. But Maul as a character was made so much better for it. In fact, its why he’s even a character at all and no longer just some guy who does flips and has a rad sword.
Due to the cancellation and resurrection of Clone Wars (Noticing a pattern here? It’s like poetry; they rhyme.), Maul’s character arc was assembled piecemeal. And while it took years and came together out of order, it works splendidly. It’s not groundbreaking to have a villain motivated by vengeance, but key ingredients to making Maul 2.0 work were bitterness and vulnerability. His near death at Obi-Wan’s hands reduces him to a crazed, broken mess. There’s also this lovely little moment when Maul (out of the loop concerning events in the wider galaxy for a decade plus) finds out that the titular Clone Wars are in progress and he says “So it started without me.” It’s a brutal realization of how little he actually mattered to Sidious’ designs. And this is where Maul’s other motivation kicks in. He desires revenge against Obi-Wan for obvious reasons but he also seeks to throw a wrench in his uncaring former master’s plans.
Since Revenge of the Sith exists, we know that Maul does not succeed at either of those things. He does not, however, give up his pursuit of Obi-Wan (cue this meme). While nowhere near as destitute as he once was, Maul is at another low point when he resurfaces again in Rebels, having lost all of the wealth and material power he acquired from the underworld. But Maul is far from helpless, and here is where he showcases that he learned more than just martial prowess from Sidious. His manipulation of Ezra Bridger would probably have made the Emperor proud if he and Maul were still on speaking terms.
Star Wars: Rebels is the unsung crown jewel of Star Wars‘ Disney era. While the series would have been S-tier even if it didn’t bother with wrapping up Maul’s story, this scene here is perhaps one of the saga’s finest, made all the better by how simple and short it is. While it is a duel – a brief one – Maul’s passing almost feels like a mercy killing. His strange and arduous journey has ended and he is finally at peace. Obi-Wan acts without wrath, despite all that Maul has taken from him. Maul is held by Obi-Wan in his final seconds of life; they share a moment where they accept that their respective parts in this grand galactic tale are at an end. This is further driven home by the following scene, where Obi-Wan passes the Lars homestead and hears Aunt Beru calling Luke.
This not something I ever expected to write but here it all is. In the absolute best possible way, I was wrong about Maul. At the rate that Star Wars is now redeeming one-note, style over substance badasses, I may have to write a spiritual successor to this essay once The Book of Boba Fett has wrapped up.