Solo: A Star Wars Story has the worst scene in Star Wars since Disney bought the franchise in 2012: Darth Maul's cameo, a stunningly confounding creative choice that hurts the otherwise strong standalone. Solo isn't devoid of problems, sure, but it gets a lot right - often against the grain of expectation. Alden Ehrenreich is fantastic as a younger Han, evoking the character not imitating Harrison Ford, and for all the talk about the firing of Phil Lord & Chris Miller from the project, Ron Howard's reshoots and tonal alterations are hard to spot.
Almost mocking the fact that pre-release problems turned out to not have an impact, most of Solo: A Star Wars Story's most controversial elements actually come from the script that has been militantly protected during the film's tortured development. The entire project - which originated from George Lucas before he sold Lucasfilm - was greenlit by Disney CEO Bob Iger based on the highly controversial manner by which Han gets his surname (he has no people, so is "solo"), although that's nothing on the big surprise.
Near the end of the film, Han's childhood love Qi'ra betrays him for her inescapable life of crime, implicating the scoundrel for the murder of crime lord Dryden Vos and pledging herself to syndicate Crimson Dawn's true villain, Maul. Yes, Darth Maul, presumed dead by many after Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace but resurrected in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and given a tragic culmination to his arc in Star Wars Rebels is the Palpatine of the story, pulling the strings from afar. Per writer Jon Kasdan, while the scene was the last part of the film shot and the character no immediately set, it was part of his original idea for Solo.
We're reaching a point in blockbuster cinema where a "big spoiler" is now treated as a requirement: a shock cameo (Red Skull in Avengers: Infinity War), unpredictable death (Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi), earth-shattering villain twist (The Vulture is the father of Peter Parker's high school sweetheart in Spider-Man: Homecoming) or a franchise realigning twist (Deckard had a kid and it isn't K in Blade Runner 2049). This has provided plenty of excitable post-movie discussion and hype in our spoiler-obsessed culture, but is beginning to become more obligation. Maul is definitely Solo's shock ace, but while he is an undeniably cool design with a cultural impact that defies his previously minimal big-screen presence, in practice this is where things tip from fun reveal to story-damaging inclusion.
- This Page: Darth Maul Actively Hurts Solo
- Page 2: Maul Doesn't Fit In the Current Star Wars Franchise
- Page 3: Is Maul The Worst Disney Star Wars Moment?
Darth Maul's Cameo Hurts Han's Arc In Solo
Before going deep into the problems with bringing Darth Maul into a Han Solo movie, let's first put praise on the one undisputed success here: casting. Maul is played by Ray Park, the stuntman who portrayed the Sith Lord in The Phantom Menace and voiced by Sam Witwer, who's voiced the character in The Clone Wars and Rebels. The care put into accuracy is commendable. However, almost immediately we have a dissonance. Park's Maul found menace in how he stalked his prey, whereas the TV version was a much more maniacal presence, manipulating and concocting his own schemes. The Solo version is definitely the latter, something that feels strange: Witwer's words coming out of Park's live-action mouth creates a barrier - perhaps not as challengingly deep as CGI Leia and Tarkin, but definitely there.
Unfortunately, even accepting this compound take, the scene itself doesn't work. Maul is held back for an unmasking reveal, leading to a teasing buildup that comes suddenly, and once he's revealed there's a begging of importance that isn't reflected in its pedestrian style; he isn't part of this story and so has no bearing beyond the shock. Him Force pulling the lightsaber as some vague form of intimidation is the final nail, a moment of bait on top of bait that seems to exist only to maintain a saber ignition in every Star Wars film.
However, it's what Maul's appearance means to Han where the real problems arise. Solo: A Star Wars Story for the most part bucks concerns it was going to be box-ticking run through the character's origins - all of that stuff is there, sure, but the arc that Ehrenreich goes on is more one of finding a place. He starts out wanting to get of Corellia and after being parted from Qi'ra is obsessed with a reunion. It's only after betrayal from her and mentor Beckett that he realizes she was just an internal projection of what he really wanted, with him and Chewie flying off at Solo's end representing a seizing of his own destiny. It's a nuanced take on Han, one that makes him simultaneously rougher and more relatable than he's ever been, and it's testament to all involved that it's pulled off without much jolt.
Maul's cameo pops up slap bang in the middle of that. The scene comes right before Han's showdown with Beckett, so when the unspoken battle and first shot come, they're underwritten by the residual shock that a character even those aware of his survival is back on the theater screen. That our protagonist shoots one of the movie's main characters in a no-way-out showdown is robbed of its impact by a fan-baiting cameo. Worse, it overrides much of what Qi'ra's betrayal represents; it's the last straw for Han and something truly tragic for her, but an alliance with Maul puts focus on where she's going over what she's leaving behind.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019