If there’s one major element to emerge from Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a potential game-changer for the larger saga (well, besides Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan Learner), it's the return of Darth Maul. After being conceived of and introduced as a one-off villain (played by Ray Park) in Episode I: The Phantom Menace 18 years ago (essentially as a placeholder baddie until Darth Vader could take up the Sith mantle two whole films later), he was left for dead on the peaceful planet of Naboo, presumably never to be heard from again.
But then Star Wars creator George Lucas didn’t want to leave his mega-franchise alone even after he had completed all the movies he had intended to. Once The Clone Wars got off the ground a few years later, the TV show’s writers needed plenty of story material to keep churning out episode after episode. Halfway through the series’ production, it was decided that good ol’ Maul, who had become an instant fan favorite in the likes of Boba Fett a generation earlier, was more than primed for a comeback. No, it turns out that having half of your body sliced off by a lightsaber isn’t particularly fatal – and it’s nothing that a robotic scorpion-like replacement can’t fix.
The ex-Sith apprentice has been off to the races ever since. Clone Wars may have been cancelled by Disney in 2013, right after the company purchased Lucasfilm (the show aired on Cartoon Network, which is owned by rival studio Warner Bros.), but that didn’t prevent the character’s next intended storyline being adapted as a comic book in 2014, making it one of the very first entries of the newly-reset Expanded Universe. Just last year he was brought into the Star Wars: Rebels fold, and not only does he promise to be a much bigger player for the current season, he is also about to get a new, five-issue comic miniseries that will delve into his early life.
Given all this sudden momentum for a character who was long ago supposed to be dead and forgotten, what should Lucasfilm’s next step be with Maul? Put more bluntly, if there is increasing talk regarding a possible Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff movie, should the Zabrak be included – or, even better, get his very own anthology film?
The case against
This brave new world of an unified Star Wars Expanded Universe has just started to affect the cinematic side of the franchise last year in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; in addition to featuring a whole host of Easter eggs and cameo appearances for the various Rebels characters, it also took a figure originally introduced in The Clone Wars, Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker), and made him a small-but-major component of the very first spinoff.
But while Rogue One acts as a precedent, it doesn’t necessarily serve as justification. While it’s one thing to take a battered extremist and realize him in flesh-and-blood form, it’s quite another to take a character who is now half-robotic and have him depicted on the big screen just as realistically as everyone else is. Depending upon when in Maul’s lifespan the hypothetical filmmakers would decide to set the film, they might have to create a CGI version of that insectoid lower half (worst case scenario: a Scorpion King scenario).
It is the character’s ongoing storyline, however, that serves as the next biggest hurdle. Starting with Clone Wars, continuing on to the comics, and then ending with Rebels, Maul’s narrative has seen him come out of the psychosis that his post-Phantom Menace exile put him in, ally with the Nightsisters (a coven of, essentially, Force witches that double as his biological family) to create a massive criminal enterprise known as the Shadow Collective, and then be put on the run from his former master, Darth Sidious (Clive Revill), while attempting to get his vengeance against Master Kenobi (Stephen Stanton) and Vader (James Earl Jones), among others. No matter where in the timeline the film would be inserted, it’s a rather convoluted affair - one that is nowhere near as clean as, say, the Rebel mission to steal the Death Star’s blueprints, or even the adventures of a young Han Solo.
The case for
Let’s say that our imaginary director and writer of Star Wars: Darth Maul opt to depict the former Sith Lord’s final moments in movie theaters – a fitting premise for any character, but particularly one that has had so much screen time already in so many different media. There would be a number of challenges associated with this particular approach (such as preventing Maul from having a resolution to his story arc in Rebels), but it would promise a giant, deadly lightsaber duel, probably with an older Ben Kenobi. This is something that the animated series has only delivered quick flashes of, and something which audiences got robbed of seeing in Episode IV: A New Hope, when no training and no budget left the Jedi-versus-Sith fight there only a pale shadow of what we’ve gotten in nearly every sequence since.
Such images would guarantee a thrilling cinematic experience, and they could also pull double duty as a distraction to the audience; if placed at the very end of Maul’s life, all of the various chapters that happened in between Menace and the anthology release wouldn’t have to be addressed at all – it’s just Maul and his thirst for revenge against the Jedi Master who took his destiny away from him. In this way, in fact, a film written to the same standards as Episode VII: The Force Awakens and, more importantly, Rogue One could do much to dispel a lot of the narrative clutter that has come to litter Maul’s character, purifying – and, possibly, redeeming – it. And since the vast majority of viewers wouldn’t have experienced any of the rest of the Expanded Universe, they would have no idea that a Kenobi-Maul re-match has already happened a few times in both The Clone Wars and Rebels, preserving its novelty.
In a film franchise that has been so famous for constantly “echoing” itself, this would perhaps be one of the biggest – and most satisfying – resonances yet.