Darth Vader is arguably the most iconic movie villain of all time. From his first appearance on screen, he’s dominating, imposing, and ruthless. He regularly dispatches any underlings that displease him, yet he’s still cold and calculating, both unpredictable and unflappable. Due to this status as one of the baddest of the bad, his journey to redemption through the original Star Wars trilogy is one that places his character arc among the most classic stories in movie history.

When Star Wars fans first glimpsed the design for Darth Maul before the release of The Phantom Menace, there were hopes that he could one day measure up to Vader. His menacing look and athletic portrayal by martial arts expert Ray Park set a high bar. Unfortunately, that’s not how things initially shook out. While Maul is still a fan-favorite element of Episode I, his apparent death at the end of the movie seemingly eliminated a character that many hoped would one day join the pantheon of cinema’s greatest villains.

Nevertheless, a decade after the release of The Phantom Menace, George Lucas revealed in The Clone Wars animated series that Maul was in fact still alive, starting him down a path that would one day result in him becoming a villain with a story even more tragic than Darth Vader’s.

From Antipodal Mothers

Anakin Shmi Maul Talzin How Darth Maul Became More Tragic Than Darth Vader


Looking at the lives of each character, there are actually a lot of parallels and subversions of similar arcs to be found in the stories of both Anakin Skywalker and Maul. Anakin is born without a father (possibly conceived by midi-chlorians). He’s a slave, but he has a kind and loving mother, the humble and powerless Shmi Skywalker,  that teaches him things like “the biggest problem in the universe is that nobody helps each other.”

Maul, on the other hand, is born to Mother Talzin. No father is mentioned in his case either, but it’s never suggested that he’s actually conceived by the Force, Talzin conceiving her own child with the use of Nightsister magick also isn’t likely as that’s something you’d think would have been mentioned, so he probably doesn’t have a supernatural origin. Odds are, Talzin held a tournament amongst the Nightbrothers to locate an acceptable breeding partner. Either way, it’s quite a bit different from the mother Anakin Skywalker grew up with.

We don’t know what Talzin taught Maul, but thanks to Asaaj Ventress’s story in the book Dark Disciple, we have an idea of the teachings of the Nightsisters, and they’re not all that different from the Sith. While the Nightsisters don’t give themselves over to the dark side, letting it consume them, as the Sith do their training still causes them to experience pain and dig into their rage and other dark emotions. It’s about as far from nurturing as you can get.

Chosen by Different Masters

Anakin and Qui Gon Maul and Palpatine How Darth Maul Became More Tragic Than Darth Vader


When Anakin was nine years old, Qui-Gon Jinn arrived on Tatooine and, seeing the boy’s potential, took him on as his padawan learner, believing him to be the prophesied Chosen One that would bring balance to the Force. Anakin was given the choice to leave his mother behind to begin his training.

Maul was not given a choice to leave his mother. Darth Sidious originally approached Mother Talzin hoping to expand his own Sith knowledge with an understanding of Nightsister magick, with plans to make Talzin his Sith apprentice. Those plans changed when he saw Maul. He kidnapped the young Zabrak, making him his new apprentice instead, raising him as a key piece of his plans to take over the galaxy.

Both were separated from their mother under similar promises of a grand destiny. Anakin was told he would bring balance, while Maul was told he would dominate. Maul received his training directly from Palpatine, but Anakin trained under Obi-Wan Kenobi as Palpatine merely whispered in his ear, planting seeds of fear and distrust.

More Machine Than Man

Anakin Oerating Table Maul Dathomir Magic Reborn How Darth Maul Became More Tragic Than Darth Vader


Anakin would eventually succumb to the Sith Lord’s seduction, betraying the Jedi and facing his former master, a battle he loses in a way that is eerily similar to Maul’s own duel with Kenobi from years earlier. When Maul possesses the high ground at the end of the duel on Naboo, Obi-Wan vaults over him, cutting him in half. The tables are turned against Anakin on Mustafar when Obi-Wan is the one that possesses the high ground. Anakin tries to vault over him, nearly getting cut in half like Maul, losing both legs and an arm instead.

Both of the Sith apprentices miraculously survive the near-fatal maiming at the hands of Obi-Wan, but while Palpatine leaves Maul to descend into insanity on the junk world of Lotho Minor where Maul goes with Naboo’s trash, the Sith Lord rushes to Anakin’s side, preserving his new apprentice’s life with cybernetic limbs, a respirator, and the iconic black armor.

Maul’s survival comes from his own rage, allowing him to dig deep into the dark side and preserve his life, at the loss of his mind. He also has his own cybernetic limbs, but the arachnid body he fashions for himself from the trash of Lothar is far less elegant than the body Palpatine gives Vader. He remains on the junk world for years until he’s discovered by his brother, Savage Opress, who returns him to his mother on Dathomir where he’s given a proper lower half, fashioned from battle droid scraps through the power of Nightsister magick.

While this could be considered the first act of kindness we’re aware of Maul experiencing, it wasn’t something Savage or Talzin did out of any sense of benevolence of nobility. In fact, Talzin though Maul was alive for over a decade and never went to find him until Savage had a bone to pick with her enemies. Maul has yet to experience true love or companionship in the way Anakin did from his mother, Padme, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, and others. Maul’s continued path down the dark side makes sense – he’s never known anything else. But Anakin should have known better. He was surrounded by compassionate people, whereas Maul was only ever what Palpatine made him, only now he lacked the grand destiny he was promised.

 The Return

Anakin Obi Wan Maul Savage How Darth Maul Became More Tragic Than Darth Vader


The resolution to the chiasmus that is Maul and Anakin comes with each character’s death. When Luke shows compassion to Vader, refusing to execute him a the Emperor’s behest, Vader remembers that love he once knew for Padme. While he had turned away from it, it was a feeling could still remember, a feeling he could return to.

In fact, it was his love for Padme that produced the children that later served as that very reminder, bringing him back to the light in his final moments. As Anakin dies, Luke tells him he thinks he can still save him, and Anakin says “you already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me… Tell your sister… you were right…”

On the flip side, we have Maul’s end. Maul never had the privilege of experiencing friendship or love that we know of, outside of his mother and brother, who are both dead , and weren’t exactly the best example of selfless compassion or mercy. He’s had everything taken from him several times and is now merely trying to find his place in the galaxy. Vader stands at the Emperor’s side as Maul thought he was meant to, his Shadow Collective was defeated at the end of the Clone Wars, and he was exiled into the galaxy. Alone. Again.

When Ezra Bridger discovers him on Malachor, he’s looking for vengeance. Initially, it’s vengeance against the Sith, because they “took everything” from him, but once he discovers that Kenobi – the person that he thinks originally derailed his destiny – was still alive, he becomes obsessed with finding him. At this point, while he’s clearly holding a grudge against his old rival, this quest is more of a search for purpose than a quest for vengeance. Fighting Kenobi gives him a reason to even exist, for the first time in decades.

Vader and Luke Maul and Obi Wan How Darth Maul Became More Tragic Than Darth Vader


When he finds Kenobi, he’s shocked to see the simple life his rival has taken, and even more surprised that Obi-Wan has no desire to fight him. When he tries to goad him into a confrontation, the Jedi Master simply states: “If you define yourself by your power to take life, your desire to dominate, to possess, then you have nothing” in what is one of the only examples of Maul experiencing compassion or mercy. Unfortunately, Maul didn’t have the privilege of experiencing this kind of selflessness earlier in his life as Anakin did.

Kenobi quickly defeats him. Vader died in the arms of his son, but Maul’s last words came as he’s held by his oldest nemesis hoping the Chosen One “will avenge us.” Still clinging to his thirst for violence and need for vengeance. Even though he was shown a similar compassion in his final moments as Vader did in his, he had no context for it, and thus had no capacity for redemption or a peaceful end.

Had Maul benefitted from the blessing of being born to Shmi, loved by Padme, experienced the bond of brotherhood with Obi-Wan, and had his own child risk life and limb to redeem him, could he have shared in that same peace Vader did at the end? It could obviously go both ways, but those are the components of Vader’s to the light. They could have done the same for Maul. Vader’s story is tragic, but his tragedy is in his fall, in the fact that he first had love and friendship, but he turned away. The tragedy of Maul, however, is that he never even had that chance.

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