Warning: This article is going to get into major spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story – spoilers that might be confusing to people who just watch the movies and haven’t explored other Star Wars media. But even if you have been paying attention to certain stories, it’s worth getting a refresher explaining why a certain character makes a surprise appearance near the end of the film, along with what this appearance might mean for Star Wars movies and stories set in the same era going forward.
SPOILER: The Cameo Nobody Expected
Perhaps predictably our anti-heroes end up taking on Dryden Vos and killing him after the situation gets screwed up. Han Solo leaves to resolve some unfinished business with Tobias Beckett and encourages Qi’ra to come with him, but at this point she’s so committed to her position that she ultimately sticks to the life she knows, being a gangster’s lieutenant over being a hired gun like Han. After Solo leaves, she reaches out to her boss via a hologram. While she’s being congratulated for a job well done, it’s revealed here just who Qi’ra really works for:
Most fans were imagining Boba Fett and Jabba would be certain to pop up in Solo for quick cameos, yet neither do, and only one of them is alluded to as a “big shot ganster”. Instead, we’ve got Darth Maul making an appearance as the criminal mastermind that Qi’ra ultimately answers to. The 2008-2013 animated series The Clone Wars had the idea of resurrecting Darth Maul. In theory, the idea was terrible, but in execution, it gave a previously one-dimensional villain a lot of depth. It also gave us some of the best episodes out of that series – along with some of the best episodes of the follow-up series, Star Wars Rebels.
So let’s explain why he’s back at all. If you haven’t looked at any canon Star Wars media outside of the movies, then you’ll remember this moment as being the exact last time that you saw Darth Maul:
After The Phantom Menace‘s marketing campaign set up this creepy-looking dude as the future Emperor’s Sith apprentice, he was cut in half by a clever Obi-Wan Kenobi before falling into a bottomless pit of doom. We all assumed that Darth Maul had died, and that would be the end for the character.
That’s where The Clone Wars comes in. As it turns out, Maul’s sheer anger and hatred toward Obi-Wan somehow kept him alive after losing control of his entire lower body and falling thousands of feet, allowing him to survive and force together pieces of scrap-metal to serve as a body before somehow ending up in the junkyards of a grimy planet called Lotho Minor, where he would subsist off of whatever salvage he could find and by eating whatever unfortunate explorer fell into his traps whenever he was hungry.
Let’s flash forward over a decade later, during the height of the Clone Wars. The Nightsisters (Dark Side-worshipping witches) of the planet Dathomir (Maul’s home world) have come up with a plan to turn another Nightbrother into a warrior as dangerous as Maul. Maul’s brother, Savage Opress was put into an extensive training regimen to become as big a threat as Maul at his peak, managing to kill a few Jedi and become a unique enemy in his own right. But shortly after his first encounter with Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Savage returns home with a new task from head Nightsister Mother Talzin: to find his brother, whom she learned was somehow still alive.
After following a trail of evidence, Savage eventually made it to Lotho Minor, where he found his brother gibbering insanely and incoherently, a broken shadow of his former self (and apparently also a spider-mech of sorts). Savage somehow manages to bring Maul back to his senses and the bisected Sith Lord has a renewed sense of purpose when revenge against Kenobi is on the table. The Nightsisters restore Maul’s vitality and give him a pair of new mechanical legs, allowing him to become more dangerous than ever before and serve as a dangerous wild card as the Clone Wars progressed. Suffice to say, a lot of innocent people, skilled soldiers, and dangerous criminals alike were killed by the wrathful Sith Lord.
Darth Maul: Criminal Mastermind
Eventually, Darth Maul decided to change his method of seeking revenge with his brother Savage; instead of doing hit-and-run operations to kill Jedi, the two of them managed to link multiple criminal organizations together to form a group known as the Shadow Collective, something which Maul surprisingly managed to be adept at through a combination of fear and respect. Maul’s Shadow Collective even managed to corrupt Mandalore’s government, a crucial planet that attempted to maintain neutrality in the conflict, in order to set it up as a puppet state for his criminal Empire, becoming the leader of an elite group of Mandalorians known as Death Watch. (Essentially, this story arc was an arguably more exciting version of The Phantom Menace with fewer Gungans and trade negotiations.) Maul even got revenge on Obi-Wan by killing Duchess Satine, a woman he loved prior to becoming a Jedi and still had feelings for, in front of him in order to make him feel in a single moment what he had suffered with for more than a long and painful decade. But alas, good times were not meant for Maul, and his dreams came crashing down harder than Luke Skywalker’s hopes to go to Tosche Station to pick up power converters.
See, Chancellor Palpatine had heard about Maul’s return, and he realized that one way or another, he could threaten his grand plan for Galactic Domination. So he showed up to Mandalore as Darth Sidious, killed Savage, and kicked Maul’s shiny metal ass twelve ways from Sunday before taking him prisoner, noting that there was still a use for him. Maul would later be rescued by the remnant of Death Watch who were still loyal to him, but at that point the Shadow Collective was falling to pieces without his leadership and the criminal elements were pulling support after realizing it was a lost cause. Maul fought a tough battle and even returned home to Dathomir, but the remaining population of Nightbrothers and Nightsisters were all slaughtered, including Talzin, who Maul learned was his mother. Maul escaped with his life, but he had lost everything he held dear.
Maul opted to lay low on Mandalore with the remainder of his loyal forces standing guard, and when a major battle hit the planet, he was ready to make his next move. Anakin and Obi-Wan were initially assigned to deal with the insurgency, but when both were called off to deal with an emergency rescue mission over Coruscant, Anakin’s apprentice Ahsoka Tano went in their place. Tano and the Republic forces ultimately turned the tide of battle, and Tano managed to hold her own in combat against Maul. Maul was captured by the former Jedi before she decided that saving the life of her superior Captain Rex was more important than bringing the rogue Sith Lord to justice. In any case, both Maul and Ahsoka managed to survive when Order 66 was implemented, though with the apparent defeat of the Shadow Collective at the hands of the Republic/Empire, Maul was back to having nothing by the end of the conflict… Something which apparently changed.
So What Does This Mean Going Forward?
Evidently, Maul realized that even if he wasn’t going to pass for a Sith Lord in the age of Darth Vader, it still felt damn good to be a gangster. Maul, having since ditched the title of “Darth”, somehow still kept a portion of his network around between the events of The Clone Wars and Solo and reorganized it into a group called Crimson Dawn. Palpatine was apparently content with his newfound position of power as Emperor of the galaxy and hadn’t considered dealing with mob boss Maul even though he easily could. But Maul still had designs to target Palpatine, and I suspect that his (doomed to fail) plans will come into play in follow-up(s) to Solo, whether they be through direct sequels or other standalone spin-offs.
This leads us to assume Han Solo and Chewbacca will run into Darth Maul in a hypothetical sequel, though it’s not the only avenue that they could explore – perhaps Maul hires Boba Fett to handle some unfinished business back on Mandalore, or perhaps a new story with a new set of characters could happen with him as a focus of the story. (Heck, give us a Darth Maul movie set in the pre-original trilogy era, Lucasfilm!)
Suffice to say, Maul’s story does have a definitive end, and that comes with the second and third seasons of Rebels, both of which are set a few years before the events of A New Hope. Maul finds himself alone at the beginning of his role in that story, stripped of the resources he had as a crime lord, but ultimately finds new reason to live when he learns that someone who he thought was long dead after Order 66 is still alive and in hiding. It’s ultimately a satisfying conclusion to his overall arc, and his final episode gives him and his long time adversary Obi-Wan Kenobi several truly great character moments in the few minutes they share together, that ultimately ends with Maul dying in Kenobi’s arms after being cut down by the Jedi master, dying peacefully knowing that Luke Skywalker would avenge them both. This leads us to think about a potential missed opportunity in a future film.
One aspect of this that we can’t help but think about is the fact that Lucasfilm doesn’t like to re-tell canon events and stories across different media. With that in mind, and because Darth Maul was killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Rebels, if Lucasfilm holds firm on that creed then we won’t have the chance to see Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan face off against Ray Park’s Darth Maul again in a live action film. This is a bit of a missed opportunity and something that really could have brought us an epic final battle scene in a potential Obi-Wan film (or another film for that matter), seeing both actors face off decades later in one more final battle. Either way it was great to see Maul in a Star Wars movie again, but aside from Park, who brought him to life on screen?
In Solo: A Star Wars Story Darth Maul was played physically once again by Park, who portrayed him in The Phantom Menace. Perhaps that’s why Park made his return to Star Wars Celebration 2017. In addition to this, the movie takes a slight departure from the character’s portrayal in The Phantom Menace – instead of being voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, Maul’s voice was done by fan favorite voice of Maul in Rebels and The Clone Wars, Sam Witwer! One other final nugget of canon awesomeness, the saber Maul ignites via hologram appears to be the same one he wields in Rebels, which has an Inquisitor-like design.
What do you think of Maul’s surprise cameo? Do you want to see more of the character, or do you think he’s at risk of being overexposed? Either way it was a return that even those of us who knew he survived The Phantom Menace never expected, especially in a movie like Solo!