The Biggest Surprise in 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'
[This story contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.]
The revelation of who was really running the evil show of Solo: A Star Wars Story might have confused as many fans as it thrilled.
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It certainly divides Star Wars fandom into those who only keep up with the movies and those paying attention to other avenues of storytelling, because while movie-only audiences saw Darth Maul fall to his death in the first of the Prequel Trilogy, those who kept up with the franchise's animated adventures know very well that he survived and remained a pointed-headed thorn in the side of the Jedi for years to come.
The final minutes of Solo reveal that Darth Maul is in charge of Crimson Dawn, the criminal organization Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra is loyal to. As in Phantom Menace, he's played by Ray Park. The voice work is provided by Star Wars Rebels' Sam Witwer.
Although movie audiences apparently saw Maul (Park) killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1999's Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, it turned out that being cut in half and then falling into a seemingly endless hole wasn't quite as lethal as it would be assumed; 13 years later, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars revealed that, as it happened, Maul had survived both events and was already looking for revenge.
The 2012 final episodes of The Clone Wars' fourth season reintroduced Darth Maul, driven insane and without his memory as the result of his injuries. Discovered after more than a decade by his brother, the wonderfully named Savage Opress, he was eventually restored to mental health and given a new cyborg upgrade to replace his missing legs, setting him up for a life of revenge and mischief-making in a galaxy already torn apart by seemingly endless warfare.
To this end, Maul found himself first joining a terrorist group called Death Watch, before using that as a basis for the creation of a crime syndicate with the Hutt family and other nefarious individuals known as the Shadow Collective. Led by Maul and Opress, the Shadow Collective set about overthrowing the government of Mandalore, with the intent of building a new power base for himself.
All this really does, however, is draw the attention of both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Sidious, his former Sith mentor. Maul confronts both separately, and although he defeats Kenobi, the fight with Sidious goes far worse, with Maul's brother murdered and Maul himself left broken and humiliated as Sidious tells him that he has been replaced as the Sith apprentice, but can still serve a purpose, which, at that point, is left unexplained.
All of the above runs through the fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Sidious' plan for Maul was revealed in a 2014 comic book miniseries, Star Wars: Darth Maul — Son of Dathomir, based on an unproduced storyline from the Clone Wars cartoon. Sidious used Maul as bait to draw out Maul's mother, who he believed was a threat to his plans, while also crippling the Shadow Collective for the same reason. Sidious' plans were successful, although Maul himself escaped. A 2016 novel, Star Wars: Ahsoka, revealed that Maul had fled to Mandalore, only for the planet to be freed by Republic forces; he fled, again.
Although Maul plays an important part in the Star Wars: Rebels animated series — and, in fact, is killed in that series by none other than Obi-Wan himself — his appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story predates those appearances. Instead, Solo falls directly into a 15-year gap in Maul's history that had, previously, been assumed to see him desperately seeking power and making bad choices in that pursuit. (His 2016 return in Star Wars: Rebels suggested that he had been trapped on a planet for some time, with the implication being that he had, perhaps, been there since he'd last been seen by audiences.)
As such, it raises questions about what, exactly, happened to Crimson Dawn between the events of Solo and Star Wars: Rebels — and what pushed Maul into, and then back out of, the role of crime lord, anyway? If nothing else, the surprise cameo at the end of Solo suggests that there's still much more to Maul than meets the eye. Not bad for a character most people assumed was dead 19 years ago.
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