Let The Past Live: What That Solo Cameo Might Mean For The Future

Qira

Solo: A Star Wars Story is chock-full of deep cut references to all corners of Star Wars canon, the Expanded Universe and lore from all kinds of sources. None, though, is bigger, more shocking and more thrilling than the reveal (in true Star Wars hooded-in-a-hologram style) of the head of Crimson Dawn, boss of Dryden Vos and Qi’ra.

——Major spoilers beneath the cut——

Yes, Maul – the crime lord formerly known as Darth – is back. He has the metal legs given to him by Death Watch, the lightsaber he wields in Rebels, and even mentions Dathomir for the first time in a Star Wars film. The response I have seen on social media has been a mix of barely contained glee from hardcore fans, and bemusement among the casuals. There is also a sense that Lucasfilm are now following the Marvel model: introducing in cameo a character who will link several apparently-unrelated films into a cohesive whole, building to some kind of Avengers-style “coming together” event.

This isn’t quite the same, though. Maul’s appearance has other implications for the Star Wars storytelling universe, the extent to which the films are able to “stand alone” apart from additional material like animated series and novels, and Lucasfilm’s boldness in referring directly to that extra material.

It’s all connected

The two anthology films, far more than the sequel trilogy, have relished the opportunity to bring material from the animated series, canon books and comics, and the old Expanded Universe to the big screen. Rogue One gave us kyber crystals, the Whills and Saw Gerrera, while Solo brought to life Mimban, the Maw and the Pyke Syndicate. None of these would for a moment confuse a casual audience member who was only familiar with the films. Even Saw is a complete character within Rogue One, his backstory in The Clone Wars irrelevant to the telling of that story. They are nice easter eggs for fans, but to the casual viewer, just the usual kind of Star Wars world-building.

It was a reasonable assumption that the films would be made to stand alone, or at least to exist in a continuity that does not rely on extra material. That although TCW and all other works since 2014 are “canon,” the fact that the films have a far larger audience meant that they would need to be consistent within themselves, and not refer to important story points from material that the vast majority of the audience would be unfamiliar with.

DarthMaul

Maul’s appearance has torn that assumption to shreds. He is the iconic figure of The Phantom Menace – at least from a marketing perspective – and his death was particularly memorable, even for casual viewers. His resurrection in TCW, on the instructions of George Lucas himself, would have gone unnoticed by the vast majority of Star Wars’ potential audience. Yet here he is again in Solo, in an entirely different role and with all that visual continuity carried directly over from the animated series, and with no on-screen explanation for his survival.

This is not an appearance designed to raise mysteries about “how he survived,” to be answered later, because all the answers are already out there. This is a bold move: pointing an audience in the direction of an animated television series if they want the full explanation for a plot point. It goes against every assumption about the accessibility of these movies. The reaction I have seen on Twitter from the uninitiated has been less “how did Darth Maul survive?” and more “they’ve messed up the timeline, because this clearly means the film is set before TPM but the Empire is around/Han is too old.”

Clearly there is great risk to this approach. Each story needs to make sense and be accessible in and of itself, and getting tangled up in continuity and self-referencing has been the death of many a science fiction series. Yet it also shows ambition, and true dedication to live up to the statement that everything in the Star Wars canon is connected, and all part of one universe. And for us fans, it opens up some exciting avenues for the future.

So what now?

Perhaps this really is an attempt to follow the Marvel route, and link several spinoffs through the character of Maul in a loose “series.” A Boba Fett movie could easily feature him: perhaps Maul recruits Fett to go after Han and Chewie, or Jabba recruits Fett on a mission against Crimson Dawn. And there is nothing in “Twin Suns” that states that Obi-Wan and Maul hadn’t seen each other since the Siege of Mandalore: as long as they meet somewhere other than Tatooine, there would be no inconsistency. Someone, after all, needs to bring Maul’s criminal empire down and leave him scrounging around in the Sith temple on Malachor, and the most likely candidate is surely Obi-Wan, or possibly Sidious or Vader. “The Sith took everything from me.”

ObiMaul

It is certainly an opportunity to build on the excellent work the two animated series have done in developing Maul’s character. It is a common argument that Maul was poorly served by TPM and deserved another shot, though he serves his shadowy purpose in that film perfectly. It is also hard to imagine him playing the Dooku role of respected and charismatic galactic statesman in Lucas’s conception of the Clone Wars. Bringing Maul back in TCW has allowed for his development into a fascinating and complicated villain in his own right – indoctrinated since birth to submit to his rage, losing his destiny as the Emperor’s right-hand to a quirk of fate and seeking to carve out his own place in the galaxy. His ongoing animus with Obi-Wan – the light and dark apprentices whose fates took unexpected turns following that duel on Naboo – has been a means of shining light on both characters, contrasting Obi-Wan’s selfless enlightenment with Maul’s hate-filled stagnation.

It was particularly pleasing to hear Sam Witwer voicing Maul in Solo, following his extraordinary work in TCW and Rebels. He is the voice of Darth Maul, and though we might feel some sympathy for Peter Serafinowicz, when you’ve spent the best part of twenty years slamming your Star Wars movie, you’re probably not going to be asked to come back. Ray Park, on the other hand, has been an ongoing source of enthusiasm, and his convention appearances, particularly with children, make this a well-deserved reappearance. There is the opportunity here to make Maul not just a great villain in the wider material, but a great and iconic Star Wars villain on the big screen.

Taking a wider view, the doors are now open for even greater connectivity between the films and the animated series. A live-action appearance by Ahsoka Tano suddenly does not feel so outlandish. Need a Rebel agent for a film set between Episodes III and IV? Or a mysterious traveler in Jon Favreau’s post-Return of the Jedi series? Or even, following Carrie Fisher’s passing and Leia’s expected absence, a woman with a long history with a Rebellion and knowledge of the Force to help Rey along in Episode IX? Sounds unlikely, I know. But a few weeks ago, Darth Maul showing up in Solo would have seemed a bit absurd, too, wouldn’t it?

AhsokaTheWhite

13 comments

  1. I hope the next movie or rest of the Han/Lando trilogy is a gang war between Crimson Dawn and the Hutts. Maybe the Emperor is using his Clone Wars playbook to manufacture both sides of a war so he ends up controlling the underworld too. With the Empire supporting the Hutts we get a Darth Vader vs Maul fight (imagine the end of Rogue One times 1000)

    • Sannom says:

      My personal fangasm would be to have Maul’s presence and location revealed to all the people in the galaxy who “cares” about him and for all of them to show up in order to get rid of him : Sidious sends Vader and a fleet, Jabba sends an army of bounty hunters and enforcers and even Gar Saxon shows up.

  2. Hallie says:

    I would definitely love to see how Maul ended up in Malachor alone, and as it seems without his reign over a criminal organization. Remembering his words to Qi’Ra, he would be looking for revenge against Beckett and his accomplices (Han and Chewie) and if they are on their way to Tatooine a war between Crimson Dawn and the Hutts and the Empire benefitting from that – as well as Vader making an appearance – would be really cool.

  3. DilDev says:

    I agree that the doors have been swung wide open for the animated to make the jump into live action. The moment I saw Maul, I felt that this was it: there is no reason to not include Ahsoka Tano in one of the movies. Heck, Ahsoka actually DID make it to the theaters once before with The Clone Wars movie. I really hope they take this route!

    As for Maul getting knocked down from his current throne, I personally think it’s Vader that does it. For one, Maul does seem surprised that Obi-Wan is alive in the episode Holocrons of Fate, and Filoni has implied that (from an animation standpoint) Obi-Wan is pretty much camped out on Tatooine from ROTS to ANH, both to watch over Luke and to pay a sort of penance for his part in the Clone Wars. I’m not sure he’d take a vacation to Dathomir during that time; that would put him in too high a profile and could lead unwanted attention back to Tatooine.

    However, if Crimson Dawn got a bit too big for its britches, started crimping Sidious’ style a la the Shadow Collective in TCW, I could see Sidious sending Vader to wreck havoc, shatter Crimson Dawn, and send Maul scurrying off to Malachor. That would explain why 1) Dathomir is a barren husk again in Visions and Voices, unlike the base of operations Maul made it sound like in Solo and 2) Maul knows he’s no match for Vader.

    Which, honestly, loops back around to your point of this piece – that the movies could be starting to draw more from animation side. And honestly, no one deserves to have a “oh wait THEY’RE still alive???” moment more than Ahsoka in the Sequel Trilogy.

    • A Vader vs Maul “Duel of the Sith” movie would be quite something. A crowd-pleaser, too.

      They could easily have met in Twilight of the Apprentice but the story never went there – maybe they were saving it …

      • DilDev says:

        According to some interviews, the Rebels writers actually had it planned at one point that Vader would kill Maul, but then they had to rework the episode for time and focus on the Vader-Ahsoka duel. So Maul survived.

        This guy was just dodging death on EVERY level throughout his time in animation XD

  4. I would 100% endorse a Ahsoka Tano feature. That would so rad. Or while we’re at it, how about a Mace Windu or Qui-gon origin stories?

  5. John says:

    I was tremendously dismayed to see Maul in Solo. I disliked their bringing him back on The Clone Wars, and I have disliked his appearances ever since. With respect, I see no development of the character: in his first appearance in Episode I he was angry and bent on vengeance, and his character has done nothing different since. His presence throughout the new Star Wars timeline repeatedly crowds out the development of new characters in favor of revisiting a visually appealing but narratively bland villain. While I hope for Solo sequels, I *really* hope that Maul does not play a prominent role in them.

    • John says:

      P.S. While I may not like Maul, I agree with the more general point of building greater connections with other material. I would love to see greater presence by Ahsoka/Hera/Sloane/Casterfo/Versio/etc. in the films, even if it is only on the level of Hera’s “appearance” in Rogue One.

    • Sannom says:

      Maul has been a deconstruction of “The Dark Side Is Cool” ever since his return, what with his broken mind on Lotho Minor, his inability to build relationships when he obviously wants them (a direct result of his Dark Side education), his inability to get out of his cycle of rising to the top before falling down, etc. As I’ve read it somewhere, Vader and Kylo Ren express their humanity through their guilt for things they’ve done, whereas Maul doesn’t feel any sort of remorse but does get really attached to some people like Savage and Talzin, but express it in the most horrible of ways.

      • DilDev says:

        I read that meta too, about Maul and his utter lack of guilt combined with emotional attachments. The post is here: http://scribbleymark.tumblr.com/post/142824705462/attachment-over-guilt-or-why-maul-is-the-villain

        This meta was actually the first thing that made me sit up and start looking at Maul analytically as a character instead of just enjoying his over-the-top villainy, and that blogger has a few other points of good Maul/Dark-Side-deconstruction posts.

      • John says:

        Interesting. Different strokes, I suppose, but I see most of what this post describes as a bad thing. Maul is unsympathetic, but the narrative asks us to sympathize with him. I see this as a failure of characterization – I understood the narrative imperative to sympathize at least a bit with Maul during his stint as villain-protagonist on the Clone Wars, but I *didn’t* feel sympathy for him, because his character was the same two-dimensional villain he had always been, simply adding the Sith to the list of people he was going to get revenge on. Similarly, at no point on Rebels did I think that Maul would be redeemed by Ezra – we the audience know him too well as the guy who just hates people. I don’t see this juxtaposition as inspired, or even all that entertaining – if you want an antagonist who is relatable, or redeemable, Maul is simply a bad choice. He’s fine as a bland, hates everyone sort of guy, but as a tentpole villain he is a waste of time.

    • Sannom says:

      Ahsoka would probably be even easier to include in a movie, what with not being attached to the movie!verse at all so far.

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