How Darth Maul Became One of the Most Compelling ‘Star Wars’ Characters

When the character of Darth Maul stepped on screen in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, he instantly became a fan favorite with his intimidating red skin, black tattoos and horns. However fans left the theater disappointed after seeing Maul getting severed at the waist by Obi-Wan Kenobi. For the next thirteen years fans watched as Maul was sidelined, assumed never to return. However in 2012 George Lucas alongside Dave Filoni and the rest of the creative team behind Star Wars: The Clone Wars decided to bring the character back to life and include him in canon stories moving forward. By doing so Lucas, Filoni and co. revolutionized the character for a new generation, creating a storyline that would span several years and turn this throwaway villain into one of the most compelling Star Wars characters of all time.

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When fans saw Maul wield his iconic double-bladed lightsaber for the first time, many expected the character to be Darth Sidious’ enforcer for the entire prequel trilogy, just as Darth Vader had in the original trilogy. George Lucas on the other hand approached the role of the villain differently this time, choosing to highlight one Sith in each of the three prequel films, Maul, Dooku, and Vader respectively. This meant that Maul was set to die and never return, but little did Lucas know at the time that he would be returning to that character some thirteen years later. Before we can explore how Maul made his triumphant return, we must first explore some of the publication history of the character in Star Wars: Legends.

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In the time between The Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars, fans were eager to learn more the Dathomirian Sith Lord. Legends material played with the idea of his return, including the character The Force Unleashed video game as well as several comics, although none of those appearances were ever considered canon by George Lucas. Then in 2011 when Dave Filoni was looking to develop a new Dathomirian Sith by the name of Savage Opress, he considered the possibility of resurrecting Maul who would later revealed to be Opress’ brother. Lucas liked the idea, and agreed that bringing back Maul would be a good move for the series. With a quick tease at the end of the Dathomir arc in season three of The Clone Wars, Maul was set to enter the canon once again.

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Bringing back a character who had been cut in half and missing for twelve years in-universe offered its challenges. Lucas and Filoni determined that the best way to bring the character back was to use his hate and anger for Obi-Wan Kenobi as his will to live. This concept has since been explored in canon, most notably with Darth Vader using his hate and anger to live within his suit of armor and even Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens using his pain to enhance his rage and power, simultaneously keeping himself alive. When Savage Opress finds his brother Maul, the former Sith Lord has gone insane, constructing himself an arachnid-like set of robotic legs and thriving from only scraps of food. One Savage could return Maul to his people to heal his mind and construct a new pair of robotic legs, Maul set out with only one task: revenge.

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After encountering and nearly escaping a duel with Kenobi, Maul and his brother are rescued by a Mandalorian terrorist group called Death Watch. With their combined forces, Maul builds the Shadow Collective, a group of crime syndicates with the purpose of conquering Mandalore. Maul gathers forces from all over the galaxy, including the powerful Hutts. They successfully gain control of Mandalore and the attention of Kenobi. Maul proceeds to kill the Duchess of Mandalore and love-interest of Obi-Wan Satine Kryze right in front of Kenobi, enacting his first step of revenge. Once again Kenobi escapes before Maul can kill him, and Maul’s plans on Mandalore are cut short when he receives the attention of Darth Sidious, who duels both Maul and Opress, capturing the former and killing the latter.

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Maul was then subjected to torture at the hands of Sidious and Dooku, but is quickly freed by Death Watch. Maul then seeks revenge on Sidious and is able to capture Dooku and General Grievous. Dooku joins forces with Maul in a moment of desperation, but after a long and grueling battle between Republic, Separatist and Shadow Collective forces, Maul is forced to retreat and Sidious no longer saw him as a threat. Maul returned to Mandalore during the final days of the Clone Wars but was attacked by Republic forces just prior to the events of Revenge of the Sith. After dueling Ahsoka Tano and once again facing defeat, Maul retreats, this time returning to his homeworld of Dathomir. This storyline will be explored fully in the upcoming Siege of Mandalore arc in The Clone Wars season seven, debuting on Disney+ later this year.

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From there Maul began building his new criminal empire by the name of Crimson Dawn. Notable members of this crime syndicate include Dryden Vos, Tobias Beckett and Qi’ra. This is the portion of Maul’s life we have explored the least, as Crimson Dawn’s rise to power and fall have not yet been documented. We see Maul briefly at the height of his power in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the next time we see him is as a hermit on Malachor in Star Wars: Rebels.

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The Maul we find in Star Wars: Rebels is a different Maul than we’ve seen before. This version is older, more frail and lacks the drive for power he once did. After briefly joining forces with the aforementioned Tano and Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus and his apprentice Ezra Bridger to duel Darth Vader and his Inquisitors, Maul betrays the Jedi, blinding Kanan in the process. Maul escapes once again, but returns to the Jedi in order to steal and merge a Sith Holocron with a Jedi Holocron. Once he successfully does this, he learns that his lifelong nemesis Kenobi lives, and that he is safekeeping the key to destroying the Sith.

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Maul travels to Tatooine to kill Kenobi, and encounters the old man alone in the desert. After Kenobi switches from his stances from Soresu to Ataru and finally to the stance of Qui-Gon Jinn, Maul attempts to use the same killing blow on Kenobi that killed his master all those years ago. Kenobi recognizes this, and in one swift motion kills Maul. Defeated and almost at peace, Maul asks if the boy Kenobi is protecting is the Chosen One. Kenobi says yes, putting Maul at peace as his final words were “He will avenge us.” Maul was then laid to rest by Kenobi, ending his story.

What makes Maul such an interesting character to fans of the franchise is his story of tragedy and inability to change. As we learned in canon comics and novels, Maul was stripped from his family at and early age and submitted to ruthless training and torture in order to extract the dark side of the Force from within him. After he was severed in half on Naboo, Maul only knew one emotion and one task: rage and revenge. For the next thirty years Maul sought power only as a way to enact revenge on Kenobi and Sidious. Ultimately Maul had many opportunities to reject that feeling or revenge and to walk away, but chose not to. Sam Witwer, who portrayed Maul in The Clone Wars, Rebels and provided the voice in Solo said that in the upcoming season seven of The Clone Wars that Maul comes very close to turning away from it all, but we will see why he chooses not to and the events that lead up to that decision.

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Maul is a story of tragedy. While yes he is a villain he is defeated time and time again, forced into hiding, retreat or humiliation yet he never gives up. While his motives and end goals may be tragic, I think that everyone can relate to failure and the feeling we sometimes get when we feel we cannot do anything right. Maul felt that for thirty years. It humanizes his character, a red and black monster with horns who slaughters women and children in order to get what he wants. One of the most powerful aspects of Star Wars is its ability to humanize characters we should never relate to, and yet we find ourselves rooting for them.

Maul is another character from Star Wars that fans have grown to love over the last twenty years. Had Maul not returned he would have still been a fan favorite for his appearance alone, but thanks to George Lucas and Dave Filoni Maul has now touched the hearts of a new audience of fans, brought old fans back to the saga, and has now become one of the most compelling characters in the entire franchise.

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