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How Darth Maul survived and thrived after The Phantom Menace

He has a life before and after the final season of Clone Wars

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Dave Gonzales is a journalist, podcaster, and author of MCU: The Reign Of Marvel Studios, releasing Oct.10, 2023.

With Darth Maul back at the center of Disney Plus’ final season of The Clone Wars, and facing none other than Ahsoka Tano in the penultimate episode “The Phantom Apprentice,” we’re re-upping this look back at the former Sith warrior’s rise to prominence after being sliced in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace.

Of all the Star Wars characters to pop up in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, few expected a character from the maligned prequel trilogy. Surely, Han Solo could run in with Boba Fett before the events of Empire Strikes Back? Or cross paths with Jabba the Hutt before his inserted A New Hope - Special Edition scene? What was wolfman Arleil Schous up to in those days before drowning himself at the Mos Eisley cantina?

Instead, a movie about hyperfuel and heists ends with a surprise reveal that empowers The Clone Wars cartoon: the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate is run by the ex-Sith apprentice Darth Maul.

The cameo, brought to life by original Maul actor Ray Park and Clone Wars voice actor Sam Witwer, works as a surprise to every tier of Star Wars viewer, from those entering the fandom with Solo who can just say “oh look a guy with a lightsaber!” to those who will never forget the “Duel of the Fates” in The Phantom Menace to the hardcore fans who know that inserting Darth Maul into the cinematic Star Wars canon fills a gap between his storylines in The Clone Wars and Rebels. Obsessives can glean a lot of information from a brief hologram appearance.

If you only watch Star Wars movies, you might be curious how Darth Maul is alive, considering Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor version) cut him in half in Episode I. The answer starts with Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. In the fourth season of the show, Mother Talzin — the head witch of the Nightsisters (long story, we’ll get there) — sends Savage Opress — another lightsaber-wielding Zabrak (Darth Maul’s face-patterned, head-spiked species) — to the trash planet of Lotho Minor to find his “brother.” Opress locates an animalistic Darth Maul attached to a robot spider body, roaming the wasteland in rabid isolation. This episode takes place 12 years after The Phantom Menace, coming very close to mirroring the passage of canon time and real time.

darth maul spider legs the clone wars Cartoon Network

Oppress takes Maul back to Mother Talzin, who uses magick to restore Maul’s mind and reconstruct his legs out of droid parts. A sentient Maul was officially back in the Star Wars saga.

darth maul robot legs the clone wars Cartoon Network

The writers of The Clone Wars dedicated several episodes to Maul’s sad, second attempt at claiming power in the galaxy, which was driven by revenge against the Jedi. First, Maul challenged Obi-Wan Kenobi to a re-match. He didn’t win, so of course he hired some pirates and tried again. He ... didn’t win that fight either, plus Savage Opress lost an arm and Maul caught more leg damage. After escaping, the two Zabraks found themselves picked up by a Mandalorian splinter group called Death Watch. After forming an alliance against the Jedi, Maul, yet again, gets a new pair of legs — humanoid legs.

Through the fourth and fifth season, Maul was a constant presence and occasional threat on The Clone Wars. He eventually took over Death Watch, and wielded their version of a lightsaber, the Darksaber (it’s black), to take over Mandalore (the planet Boba Fett’s armor is from) and kill the pacifist leader of the planet, Duchess Satine, who also happened to be a romantic interest for Obi-Wan Kenobi at the time. Kenobi didn’t technically leave the Jedi Order for love, but he did have to watch his crush die because he cut Maul in half on the X-axis instead of the Y-axis.

darth maul humanoid legs clone wars Cartoon Network

Taking over Mandalore required a small army and some political pull in the galaxy, so Maul and Opress slaughtered most of the the Black Sun’s leadership and took control, got the Pyke Syndicate to pledge to them just by overtaking the Black Sun, and finally, after killing a Hutt, got Jabba to pledge the Hutt crime family’s allegiance to the supergroup, which Maul called the Shadow Collective. By the time he was ruling Mandalore with Death Watch, he was also one of the central criminal powers in the Star Wars universe.

Maul tried to take on Darth Sidious and become the true Sith Lord in the galaxy, but, while it was a thrilling Force battle (for Cartoon Network), the coup didn’t work out. This was Maul’s last story-arc on The Clone Wars, but not his end; Palpatine kept Maul alive for mysterious reasons, and after Cartoon Network canceled The Clone Wars, the planned Darth Maul coda was turned into a four-issue comic book series called Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir.

darth maul: son of dathomir comic - general grievous Dark Horse Comics

This gave us a more complete look at Maul’s backstory: He was born on the planet Dathomir to Mother Talzin, leader of the Nightsisters — magick-wielders who possessed a power parallel (and linked) to the Force. At some point before the events of The Phantom Menace, Darth Sidious teamed up with Mother Talzin to exchange knowledge and power. Talzin thought she was going to become Sidious’ Sith apprentice, but instead Sidious stole her son Maul and betrayed her (that’s so Sidious!). Maul became the apprentice.

The Son of Dathomir storyline finds Darth Sidious and Maul returning to Dathomir, with Count Dooku, Mother Talzin and General Grievous all making battle appearances in a grand finale over galactic supremacy. It’s revealed the whole conflict was part of Sidious’ plan to eliminate Talzin, which he does, although Darth Maul is once again left alive, fleeing Dathomir as Sidious and Dooku maniacally laugh to themselves. The last we hear of Maul during this prequel-trilogy era is in the young-adult novel Ahsoka, when we learn that the former Padawan and Maul were both fighting in the Siege of Mandalore (the Republic wanted the planet back) when the Clone Troopers turned on the Jedi. Maul is able to escape in the chaos. He’s very good at surviving this stuff.

Maul returned for The Clone Wars’ final arc, “The Siege of Mandalore,” and — minor spoilers for episode 10, “The Phantom Apprentice” — he exists mostly to confront Ahsoka Tano with the awful truth of what’s to come for the Jedi. The encounter coincides with with the events of Revenge of the Sith, and no matter what happens to Maul in the series finale, we know it’s not the last of his menacing.

Maul returned to the Star Wars timeline in the second-season finale of Star Wars: Rebels, “The Twilight of the Apprentice.” He shows up on a planet called Malachor where there’s a Sith Temple that controls a very powerful Dark Side weapon. When Ezra (the young Jedi protagonist of Rebels) happens across Maul, he has abandoned any aspirations to becoming a Sith Lord, now only desiring revenge against both the Sith and the Jedi for… well, I guess his entire life at this point.

darth maul in star wars rebels Image: Disney XD

Maul wields what initially appears to be a cane, but ends up being a new, red, double-bladed lightsaber with an arcing piece of metal close to one of the blades — the guy can’t catch a break, but he’s always boasting a sweet weapon. And this just might tie into Maul’s appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Maul’s Rebels saber could be a modified version of the weapons of the Inquisitors, Darth Vader’s personal Jedi hunters, who also used double-bladed red lightsabers (though they were not Force-users). That assumes that Maul defeated an Inquistor and stole their gear. Inquisitor sabers have a circular track running along the outside of the lightsaber hilt that allows the blades to rotate like a helicopter blade, even allowing them to fly for short distances. Maul presumably took one of these and modified it, bending the spinning-blade track out to be a grip guard.

Or that’s what lightsaber nerds and the internet have come up with. Point being, it’s the lightsaber we see Darth Maul with in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

This weapon makes logical sense for anyone who missed the last few years of animated canon: Darth Maul had a red lightsaber in The Phantom Menace, even though we learn in Star Wars: Rebels that Maul has kept the Darksaber on Dathomir. The glimpse of mechanical legs that we see in Maul’s hologram in Solo look clunky enough to be representations of the Death Watch legs, which themselves could be the Rebels-era legs, we’ve just never seen all three examples in a consistent art style before. Either way, having that lightsaber places these events after Son of Dathomir (which took place before Revenge of the Sith) canonically, but before Star Wars: Rebels, when he reappears roughly two years before A New Hope.

In Solo, Maul wears a Crimson Dawn chest emblem, and Dryden Vos makes allusions to answering to a more powerful figure in the film, so the assumption is that Maul is running the Crimson Dawn. But why (and when) did he go back to Dathomir? Qi’ra is told to return to Maul on Dathomir, though he last set foot there to fight Darth Sidious. Did he return after the rise of the Empire? If so, how the Shadow Collective has devolved into the Crimson Dawn should be of some interest. Is it a play on words because Darth Maul is red and he and his brother killed most of the Black Sun? Was Maul in on all of it because the Pyke Syndicate (seen in Solo’s Kessel scenes!) had previously sworn allegiance to Maul when he was the Shadow Collective?

darth maul vs obi wan lightsaber duel star wars rebels Disney XD

Star Wars: Rebels third season devoted a sizable chunk of time to giving Maul a fitting end, as he and Ezra traveled back to Dathomir, now an abandoned planet, to learn that the secret to defeating the Sith is on Tatooine … with Obi-Wan Kenobi. The whole story-arc builds to a final showdown between Maul and Kenobi that is one of the best examples of how essential the animated Star Wars entries can be. But Maul definitively dies in the forgiving arms of his Jedi nemesis two years before Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star. The Maul we see in Solo: A Star Wars Story appears to be a Maul looking to rule the criminal underworld again from Dathomir, where we know no one survives.

Ultimately, Maul could simply be an unseen mover of any future Qi’ra storylines if Han Solo’s lover crosses paths with the smuggler ever again or Maul could factor into some sort of Solo sequel as a main antagonist. But Maul has been up to so much since he got cut in half in Naboo — how much of it would have to be explained to general audiences?

The Star Wars Expanded Universe has always worked in support of the films, with stories in other media getting to have as much fun as they want without influencing the movies in a major way. Maul showing up in Solo, with visual markers canonizing his various appearances over the years, is the first time a key character’s Star Wars history has transitioned from the movies to the animated shows the back to the films. And despite his entire life having been chiseled into canon, there’s still mystery left to Maul, room for him to play a greater role in the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian season 2 flashback? Ray Park is waiting for the call.

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