Prior to The Clone Wars, Darth Maul was always more of a question than a character. But as The Clone Wars comes to a head with the famous Siege of Mandalore, Maul has become the greatest villain to grace Star Wars canon.
Face fixed in a permanent scowl, black-and-crimson head crowned with yellowing horns, the Sith apprentice emanated hatred but we never knew why. Luckily, we have The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and comics such as Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir to educate us. Too bad his video game was never released. That would have given us an even better idea of what motivates this guy.
Before we go more in-depth, let’s do a quick (but far from comprehensive) recap of his crimes: Maul murders Duchess Satine, slaughters innocents, and oppresses Mandalore. Oh, and then there’s the long-standing fact that he ran Qui-Gon Jinn through with his lightsaber.
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The bottom line?
Maul has never hesitated to inflict suffering both discriminately and indiscriminately. But when Obi-Wan Kenobi finally cuts him down in Star Wars Rebels, the prevailing tone isn’t celebratory or joyful. It’s profoundly sad. Why? It’s a dance the two have always known they’d have to take, a reckoning of good and evil.
Audiences also saw it coming, so why does it hit so hard?
The answer is simple: Maul’s life is a tragedy.
He plays a cruel game but there’s always a sting of sympathy on our end when he suffers or fails. All he knows is hatred, which is heartbreaking by itself. Maul definitely doesn’t want to do or be good but he isn’t without compassion (if that’s what you want to call it).
His rage at the death of Savage Opress proves this. Contrary to what his actions would indicate, he doesn’t see everyone as a means to an end. Reduced to a grotesque half-Sith screwed onto a mechanical abdomen and fitted with the thin, tapering legs of a spider, Maul falls further than he could have imagined.
Maul transforms himself from a whipped menace to a proactive leader by using his ambition, fighting skills, and intelligence to destroy his enemies both physically and psychologically. His meteoric rise and eventual fall result in a character arc that elevates him to an interesting (but not necessarily complex) yin to Obi-Wan’s well-meaning yang. It’s his evolution that makes him so terrifying and so fascinating. The best villains are so singularly driven, so relentlessly cruel that they leave you awestruck and enraged. “How could they do that?!!” is often swiftly followed by “Keep doing that!” Maul eats up his screen time, and we can’t get enough of his dastardly deeds.
Liberated from his master’s apprenticeship by his presumed death, Maul gets his first taste of freedom when Opress brings him to Mother Talzin. After the ritual is over and the green mist clears, Maul is reborn as an even greater warrior, this time one who carries deadly purpose.
Maul’s quick adjustment to his newfound freedom manifests as a cruelty that, oddly, makes sense. He hasn’t tasted autonomy in so long (if ever, really) so it’s great to see him adapting to his new identity as ruler of Mandalore and, later, as a crimelord.
Maul has bounced back in a way no one could have ever predicted, and he does so thanks to Dave Filoni’s (Supervising Director of The Clone Wars) phenomenal writing and faithfulness to what he knew Maul’s capabilities were.
But what do you think? Does Maul stand up well against other baddies such as Cad Bane, Asajj Ventress, Boba Fett, or Grand Admiral Thrawn? Sound off in the comments below!