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Star Wars Age of Republic: Darth Maul Reveals Unwalked Paths

“Darth Maul – Gone too Soon.” This was a reaction of a good portion of Star Wars fandom back in 1999, when Phantom Menace saw the light of day and devil-looking Zabrak was bisected by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Since then, we’ve been privileged to get an insight into Maul’s more complete and complicated history. Across various media – from The Clone Wars and comics to Solo and Star Wars: Rebels – we witnessed Maul’s rise in the dark side, fall and survival, ascent in the galactic underworld, failure and new schemes, all the way to the fated second encounter with Kenobi many years later on Tatooine.

 

We now have a pretty good understanding of who Maul was, what was driving him and what was, eventually, his final downfall. And, yet, pieces of his story remain untold. The second issue of Star Wars: Age of Republic, written by Jodi Houser and drawn by Luke Ross, offers another piece of the puzzle, following the events of Cullen Bunn’s mini series Darth Maul. The excerpt from one-shot’s summary underlines the premise: “Could Maul have had another path in life, or was he always fated to follow a dark road?

 

 

The issue titled Ash opens on the lower levels of Coruscant. Masked Maul is supposedly sent as a backup to thief Zek Peiro by Kaitis Cartel to help him intercept the shipment of pre-spice (first mentioned in canon in Timothy Zahn’s novel Thrawn). We quickly learn that Kaitis Cartel doesn’t really exist; it is entirely Maul’s construct. He has a particular reason why he is interested in Peiro – he suspects that the thief is Force sensitive. He jumps into fray too soon for Peiro liking, but that too has a specific purpose.

 

 

Peiro’s fighting skills are impressive. The two men make a short work of the two groups. But because Maul started the fight too early, the exchange didn’t happen so Maul can observe his final test for the skilled thief. Unknowingly using the Force, Zek uncovers the hidden pre-spice.

 

Zek is equally impressed not just by Maul’s abilities, but also the advancement the fake cartel made in the underworld in such a short time. I found it interesting that Maul was attracted to the criminal scene this early in his career. Perhaps it was simply the fact he wasn’t allowed to hunt the Jedi yet, but his clear success as well as the future we know, show that the affinity might have always been there.

 

 

In his mind, the Sith declares Zek another failure of the Jedi: he remained undiscovered in spite of his talent and wastes it in the gutter below their capital. Zek has no time to react when Maul uses a piece of wreckage to impale him. His death does not satisfy Maul: his rage and bloodlust are unquenched.

 

He admits as much when he returns to his master Darth Sidious who is trying to teach him some patience because Maul is risking destroying all the plans they already have in motion. Maul believes he proved himself by killing the Jedi padawan, but Sidious has another lesson for him.

 

 

Sidious takes Maul back to Malachor where he first learned the history of the Sith and acquired his undying hatred of the Jedi. He instructs him to inhale the ashes of the fallen Sith. And when the vision hits, Maul finds himself back on Dathomir – and in the Jedi robes. A Zabrak child asks for his help because his family is in danger. While Maul resists the vision, the possibility of the fight fires him up anyway.

 

 

After Maul dispatches the giant creature, he finds himself at the table with the boy’s family. They are very grateful, praising the Jedi as the greatest warriors. They want to extend their hospitality to Maul, but the Sith ignites his lightsaber and slaughters the entire family. Before he kills the boy, he tells him that the Jedi are the lie told to a desperate galaxy, the lie he would end as the blue lightsaber becomes red once again. A large group of nameless, faceless Jedi surround and threaten to overtake Maul, before he is released from the vision.

 

 

Sidious asks him what he has learned. Maul answers that while rage fuels the Sith, it would not be enough to defeat the Jedi who have overwhelming numbers and support of the Republic. Sidious confirms that patience might run against passions of the Sith, without thinking and planning they will never rise. Maul’s combat skills are impressive, but insufficient to bring the Jedi Order down. Maul’s anger is just a tool, not his master. “No. You are,” says Maul.

 

 

Let me start the review of this issue by praising Luke Ross’ amazing art. Whether it’s lower levels of Coruscant or ash covered vistas of Malachor, rough, gritty style fits perfectly with Maul’s story, in the same way, Cory Smith’s clean art fit with Qui-Gon’s in the previous issue. The motion and action are impressive, helped by dynamic panels.

 

The story itself is told in two parts that mirror one another. Maul’s adventure in Coruscant underworld introduces us to Zek Peiro, a thief thought to be the best on the planet. He seems like an older, more capable (gasp!) brother of Han Solo. He knows his business, he is a good fighter and cool under pressure and his Force sensitivity just might have a lot to do with his success. Before he kills him, Maul thinks for himself: “He’ll never know what he could have been.”

 

The amazing thing of this issue is that the dark side of the Force which dominates Malachor shows Maul what he could have been: the protector of the weak, hailed as a savior. The ashes of the fallen Sith that have previously supposedly revealed the Jedi lies to Maul show him a different life, one with kindness in it. And Maul cannot accept this. He cannot accept that the shown path is even a possibility, otherwise his entire life up to this point would have been a lie. And he sees himself as a destroyer of the lies, so he lashes out at the vision and slaughters the boys family. His dark path is reaffirmed. The story also confirms Maul as a tragic figure: he was forced to kill his brother, he was twisted by Mother Talzin and eventually taken by Sidious to be trained as a Sith. You could say that he never had a chance. Even when another path is offered to him, he rejects it, he cannot accept it.

 

The issue also raises interesting questions about the Force. The first vision Maul had on Malachor was what you expected it to be from the former Sith home. It ignited the hatred and rage in Maul that never really stopped burning. But, the vision from this issue is different. It shows the possibility of light in a very dark place. We saw dark place visions before: Luke was shown his connection to Darth Vader; although she didn’t like it, Rey was shown what she needed to see. In both cases, the visions were true. Was this one true as well? Was the light path ever possible for Maul and only the hatred he brought with him turned him away? Is the Force always at work in its entirety, regardless of the dominant aspect? As always, Force works in mysterious ways and leaves us with more questions than answers.

 

But, one thing is certain: Age of Republic is off with a promising start. I liked both issues so far and I am looking forward Obi-Wan Kenobi issue that comes out in January. But, until then…

 

AGE OF REPUBLIC: DARTH MAUL GETS 8/10 STARS.

 

NEXT ISSUE:

 

THE EARLY DAYS OF OBI-WAN KENOBI, JEDI KNIGHT!

Following the wishes of his master, OBI-WAN has taken on ANAKIN SKYWALKER as an apprentice.
Will his mission alongside his young Padawan bring them closer together, or sow the seeds that will drive them apart? And who else is after the ancient holocron that they seek?

 

 

Staff member, comic and book reviewer. Cheers for the Light Side, but would drink with Grand Admirals.

 

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