How Maul became the best Star Wars villain

STAR WARS REBELS - "Visions and Voices" - Haunted by visions of Maul, Ezra must journey across the galaxy to engage in a strange ritual to sever his connection to Maul. (Lucasfilm)DARTH MAUL, EZRA BRIDGER
STAR WARS REBELS - "Visions and Voices" - Haunted by visions of Maul, Ezra must journey across the galaxy to engage in a strange ritual to sever his connection to Maul. (Lucasfilm)DARTH MAUL, EZRA BRIDGER /

When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999, moviegoers were instantly captivated by the mysterious, tattooed Sith known as Darth Maul. Fans didn’t know much about him beyond his game-changing double-bladed lightsaber, and many were left disappointed with his apparent defeat at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. It seemed Maul would be just another two-dimensional movie villain, with a cool aesthetic and no motives beyond hatred for the good guys.

However, a plethora of canon content has been released making Maul one of the most complex villains in the franchise. His resurrection in The Clone Wars season 3 kickstarted a character arc unlike any seen before, one that would span two television series and culminate in a shocking reappearance on the big screen in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Seeing Maul living amongst the junk on Lotho Minor years after that fateful showdown on Naboo, driven mad by his rage, immediately showed a different side of the character — the emptiness and pain the Dark Side leads to. As Grandmaster Yoda said, “hate leads to suffering,” and this will prove to be a common theme throughout Maul’s journey.

Tool of the Dark Side

From the beginning of his life, Maul never really had a choice. As is revealed in The Clone Wars, Maul was given to Darth Sidious by Mother Talzin at a young age, and from that point forward his path was set. Sidious molded Maul into a rage-filled killing machine. A key moment in Maul’s maturation comes when his master took him to Malachor, where he experienced a traumatic vision of the Jedi massacring the ancient Sith. Maul absorbed the suffering of his Sith forebears and was filled with hatred.

Throughout his training, Maul’s rage simmered to a boiling point. Looking to vent, he battled dangerous creatures, involved himself in Coruscant’s criminal underworld, and even hunted down and kills a Jedi Padawan. Despite these extracurricular excursions, Maul’s bloodlust was far from satiated.

Next in Maul’s story is the part everyone knows — his role in the Battle of Naboo, the murder of Qui-Gon Jinn, and his bisection at the hands of Kenobi. Though his appearance in The Phantom Menace is Maul’s most well-known, it fails to convey the most interesting aspects of the Zabrak Sith.

After his failure on Naboo, Maul was left for dead by Sidious. Maul realized that his Master never intended for him to see his plan through, and he was just a tool to be disposed of. Thus, Maul’s rage doubled — he hated the Sith now as much as he hated Kenobi and the Jedi who ruined his life.

Maul’s warpath against Kenobi

Years later, Maul’s brother Savage Opress found him and brought him home to Dathomir, where Mother Talzin and the Nightsisters restored his mind (and gave him a new set of legs to boot). Maul, adrift in the galaxy, found a new purpose in exacting revenge on the man he viewed as responsible for his downfall: Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Maul and Savage’s first attempt on Kenobi’s life ended in failure, thanks in part to Asajj Ventress‘ intervention. Once again (quite literally) adrift, his path crossed with the terrorist organization Death Watch. These Mandalorian partisans, led by Pre Vizsla, resented their home world’s departure from their militaristic past and sought to overthrow Duchess Satine Kryze‘s pacifist regime. Conveniently enough, Satine and the object of Maul’s hatred, Obi-Wan, had a history, but more on that later.

From Sith Lord to Crime Lord

Maul forged an alliance with the Mandalorian splinter group that would blossom into the Shadow Collective, a massive crime syndicate including the Hutts, Black Sun, the Pykes, and Dryden Vos‘ Crimson Dawn. With a loyal army of scum and villainy, Maul was ready to help Vizsla move on to the Mandalorian capital city of Sundari.

The insurrection was successful, ending in Kryze’s incarceration and Death Watch control of Mandalore. After a predictable betrayal by Vizsla, Maul bested him in single combat and claimed the Darksaber. With it, he became officially the ruler of Mandalore and was in a position to hit Obi-Wan where it hurt — his friend (and love interest?) Duchess Satine.

Maul lured Kenobi to Mandalore and proceeded to murder the former Duchess in front of Obi-Wan. Though Kenobi later escaped the planet with Satine’s sister Bo-Katan‘s help, the Jedi Master was devastated. And yet, all of this violence and cruelty still did not satisfy Maul.

A downward spiral of the Shadow Collective ensued — Maul was bested by his former master Darth Sidious, losing Savage in the process. He was imprisoned for a short time in a top-secret Separatist facility on Stygeon Prime, before escaping and waging a series of failed campaigns against the Separatists.

These actions, in turn, led to the death of Mauls’ “mother” Talzin and the near-collapse of his criminal empire. Having lost almost everything, Maul retreated to his headquarters on Mandalore. He was promptly assaulted by Mandalorian forces under Bo-Katan Kryze, as well as Republic troops led by former Jedi Ahsoka Tano. Maul eventually faced off with Ahsoka, though he had hoped Kenobi would arrive instead.

During his confrontation with Tano, Maul warned her about Sidious’ grand plan for Anakin Skywalker and the fall of the Jedi. After Ahsoka rejected his proposal for an alliance, Maul was captured by the Republic — though he would not remain in custody for long. One cannot help but wonder how galactic history would have been different had Ahsoka listened to Maul and joined forces with him to foil Sidious’ plans.

Maul’s escape during Order 66 in The Clone Wars season 7’s explosive finale once again placed him at the head of a criminal organization, though just a shadow of his once-great Collective. In one of the most surprising twists in Star Wars history, Maul was revealed to be the mysterious leader of former vassal syndicate Crimson Dawn in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This is a testament to Maul’s wiliness and will to survive despite all odds.

A new apprentice?

This final part of Maul’s story is less well-documented. He returned to Malachor at some point, where he crossed paths with Jedi-in-training Ezra Bridger. Seeing the young Padawan’s conflicting emotions, he sought to manipulate him and show him the ways of the Dark Side. Ironically, Maul was stepping into a role similar to Sidious’s in his own life, becoming the very thing he swore to destroy.

Ezra was not the only familiar face Maul ran into on Malachor. He faced down Imperial Inquisitors and Ahsoka Tano before escaping the melee on the Sith planet, though Ezra and the crew of the Ghost made off with a valuable Holocron.

It would not be long before Maul tracked down the rebels, forcing them to turn over the Sith Holocron from Malachor as well as a Jedi Holocron. The seeds he planted in young Bridger sprouted during this altercation; Ezra too wanted to use them to obtain forbidden knowledge, regardless of the risk. Maul and Bridger combined the Holocron’s power, and Maul learned that Obi-Wan Kenobi had been in hiding on Tatooine. His old nemesis was still alive, and Maul’s hatred had not abided at all.

Before facing Kenobi for the last time, Maul was not finished with Ezra. During the Holocron ritual, Maul became linked with Ezra through the Force, torturing him with visions. Ezra eventually found Maul in his homeworld of Dathomir, where Maul tried to take the final step and make Ezra his apprentice. When Ezra refused, ruining Maul’s plans once again, he set off on his final journey to Tatooine.

An end to the rage

Ezra knew that Maul’s target was Kenobi, and thus tried to find Kenobi first and warn him. Maul, however, anticipated this and used his Force connection to Ezra to find the wily Jedi Master.

At long last, Maul was face to face with the man who ruined everything he had once hoped for. Maul deduced that Kenobi was not simply in exile on Tatooine — that he had a higher mission. That mission, of course, was to protect Luke Skywalker, the galaxy’s last hope. Kenobi realized that Maul posed a danger to young Skywalker, and after a short duel, the Jedi Master prevailed yet again.

Maul lay dying, cradled in his enemy’s arms. In a final moment of clarity, he saw that the Sith may still be destroyed by Luke, and he died free of the hatred that had guided his life.

Victim or villain?

What makes Maul such a great antagonist is his internal struggle. He spends his entire life hating Kenobi, hating Sidious, hating both the Jedi and the Sith. And yet, he is never satisfied no matter how much pain he can inflict. He ends up losing everyone and everything he ever cared about — as he draws his last breath, all he has is the man he swore to kill. More importantly, he always fails to achieve his goals because he is so blinded by his bloodlust, so much so that he cannot even see the irony of manipulating a young Ezra Bridger as he was once controlled.

Counterintuitively, this hatred is why audiences are drawn to Maul. His pain is on full display, so much so that we almost feel bad for the man who was forced down such a dark path. Maul had no agency, no say in what happened to him. He was used and thrown away, twisted by the Dark Side.

Astute viewers will recognize that the true evil is not within Maul, but within Sidious. In this way, Maul even serves to make Sidious a better villain as well — Maul is a great example of how ruthless the evil Dark Lord is in his pursuit of unlimited power, unafraid to manipulate and ruin others’ lives in the process.

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