This post contains SPOILERS for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Solo: A Star Wars Story features the surprising cinematic return of Darth Maul, and Lucasfilm recruited the two performers best associated with the role to pull it off. While several reviews for the spinoff have said it's a relatively safe and straightforward origin story for Han, Solo did do some unexpected things. In the months leading up to the film's release, there were plenty of rumors about Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt cameos, but few would have predicted prequel villain Maul would come back. In a short scene towards the end, it's revealed Darth Maul is the true leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate and who Qi'ra reports to.
Darth Maul, of course, was introduced in 1999's The Phantom Menace, where he seemingly died during the climactic lightsaber duel. However, Lucasfilm revived Maul for The Clone Wars animated series, giving the show one of its better arcs. But after Obi-Wan Kenobi definitively killed Maul in Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, it was assumed the character would be laid to rest. That couldn't be further from the truth, and Maul is still part of their plans (especially if there are Solo sequels, it seems like).
Ray Park, who played Maul back in Episode I, was once again the actor providing the physical presence. However, much like The Phantom Menace (when Park was overdubbed by Peter Serafinowicz), viewers didn't get to hear Park speak. Sam Witwer, who voiced Maul on The Clone Wars and Rebels, returned to record the dialogue. It makes Maul's appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story a fun nod to the character's shared history.
During their Disney era, Lucasfilm has earned a reputation for their highly-secretive productions, but the Maul twist is fairly impressive even for them. The ever-churning Star Wars rumor mill never pointed to a Maul cameo in Solo, and the involvement of both Park and Witwer was kept completely under wraps. The closest comparison in the crop of modern films is Yoda in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (since Frank Oz was never officially announced beforehand), but even then there were frequent rumblings the Jedi Master was going to be in Episode VIII. All was completely quiet on the Maul front until Solo started screening and audiences were left shocked in their seats.
Whether or not this surprise is truly earned is sure to be a great debate. In the immediate aftermath of the reveal, some fans found it to be a cool inclusion, while others were confused by it. Regardless, it feels like just the beginning of a supporting role for Maul in the spinoff films. If Solo was going to be a one-and-done standalone, odds are Lucasfilm wouldn't have used a major character for such a small part. Alden Ehrenreich has sequel options on his contract, and if Solo is as big a box office hit as it's shaping up to be, we could be seeing a lot more of this bunch.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019