NOTE: This article contains spoilers. Don’t read unless you have already seen the movie!
I really liked Solo: A Star Wars Story. I pretty much word-for-word agree with my colleague Brett in his review here, which you should also go read.
But several of my friends asked me the same question. . . “What the heck? Darth Maul?”
His inclusion is brilliant. A theme of Solo is that everyone has a boss, everyone answers to someone. And so Han’s motivation almost the entire film is just to get a ship and fly away from it all — to be free. It’s a very interesting parallel to Maul, who continually flees from his would-be Sith masters/oppressors and trying to be his own man. However, Han Solo truly just wants freedom. Maul wants revenge.
It’s a masterful inclusion that not only works as perfect nerd candy, but also goes directly to the heart of the theme of the film.
A word on spoilers (looking sideways at you, Variety, and other mainstream outlets whose headlines scream DARTH MAUL!!!! without a thought of spoiling the movie. Of course, none of my friends are terrible enough to spoil the movie in the open– we’re asking in private messages, spoiler-devoted Facebook groups, and so on. Please be like them. Let people enjoy this, because, for me, it was one of the most beautiful reveals in the film. (The others were cameos by both Warwick Davis and Clint Howard and a mention of Teräs Käsi, a reference to the second worst Star Wars video game of all time.)
But back to Darth Maul. Most fans — even big fans — will go into this and say, “Wait. . . isn’t he dead?”
I will admit, this was my first thought as well, since Maul met his final end on Tatooine in a beautiful duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels.
But then you remember, Rebels is taking place only a few years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope (or, in uber-nerdy in-canon parlance, Before the Battle of Yavin [BBY] or After the Battle of Yavin [ABY]). Maul died approximately 2-3 years BBY, and the events of Solo take place anywhere from 10-13 years BBY.
But, wait, how is Maul still alive after getting chopped in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of The Phantom Menace?
To that, we need to go to to the Star Wars comics and The Clone Wars cartoon, which have a bunch of great Maul-centric episodes and arcs. Let me lay some of them out, and then you can use these handy links to watch them on Netflix. (Really, you should just watch all of Clone Wars. The first season is a bit uneven, but it gets REALLY good.)
Season 3, Episodes 12-14: Count Dooku has a secret apprentice, Asaaj Ventress (again, you should really watch the whole show!), and he is ordered to eliminate her and goes to replace her. His replacement is Savage Oppress, who bears a striking resemblance to Darth Maul (except he’s yellow instead of red).
Darth Maul Returns:
Season 4, Episodes 21-22: Brothers / Revenge: Savage Oppress goes on a quest to find his long-lost brother, who he feels is alive. He finds him — insane — on the junk planet of Lotho Minor, where he has built himself crazy spider legs out of junk and has somehow managed to stay alive. The one thing Maul clings to is revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he and Oppress leave on a mission to take it. They end up fighting Kenobi and Ventress, who only barely escape. This leads to. . .
Season 5, Episode 1: Revival: Maul and Oppress rampage across the Outer Rim, beginning to put together an underworld gang of pirates. This is the first time Maul refers to himself as a “Crime Lord.” When the face off against notorious pirate Hondo Onaka teamed up with Obi-Wan, they escape again, only barely alive.
Season 5, Episodes 14-16: Maul and Oppress put together a crime syndicate backed by Black Sun, the Hutts, the Pykes (who are also namechecked in Solo as a rival gang to Crimson Dawn), and rogue Mandalore clan Death Watch. (Of note: Pre Vizsla, the leader of Death Watch, is voiced by none other than Jon Favreau, who also voices Rio Durant in Solo)
Together, under the name of The Shadow Collective, they take over Mandalore, drawing in the Jedi and exacting a personal price on Kenobi. I maintain that the episode “The Lawless” is better than a lot of the prequel trilogy in its stakes, emotions, and cinematic achievement. Worth a watch, for this scene only:
At the end of “The Lawless,” we see Maul and Oppress defeated and in retreat and then facing off against a very angry Darth Sidious / Emperor Palpatine. At the end, he says, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to kill you. I have other uses for you.”
And then The Clone Wars was cancelled.
Luckily, some of the unproduced scripts outlined what Palpatine’s plans were for Maul, which were then published in the comic series Son of Dathomir. During this, we see Maul go to war against General Grevious and Dooku, and his Shadow Collective in ruins.
Apparently, from this, Maul has been working in the intervening years to form Crimson Dawn, the criminal group that Qi’ra and Dryden Vos work for.
Wait, but is all this canon, you might ask?
Yes. 100% it is.
Back when Lucasfilm hit the reset button on their Extended Universe and turned all of that content into “Legends,” they kept all six of the produced films as canon, along with The Clone Wars, and then all comics and books from thereafter would be officially canonized.
So, that’s how Darth Maul makes sense being included in Solo. One of the best things I can say about Solo is it makes me want a sequel. I’d love to see what happens next as the stories of Han Solo, the Hutts, Lando, Qi’ra, and Darth Maul all are destined to intertwine some more.
For more of my thoughts on Solo in podcast form, check out the Bored as Hell Podcast.