Compared to some other recent Star Wars films, new spin-off prequel Solo: A Star Wars story has very few surprises, with the shock deaths, big twists and archive cameos of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and Rogue One largely absent from the standalone narrative.
However, there is one moment in Solo towards the end that will be a MASSIVE shock for fans, hinting at an intriguing future for the franchise and some exciting storylines in future films.
Below, we’ll be discussing exactly how director Ron Howard and the Star Wars team pulled the scene off, what it means for future Star Wars film and how it all fits into the overall timeline, but be warned – after the jump we’ll be dealing with some serious spoilers for Solo, so if you haven’t had a chance to watch the movie yet please save this until you have.
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If you’re still here, then you’ll have been as surprised as us to see the return of Star Wars prequel villain Darth Maul towards the end of Solo, with the former Sith Lord now apparently running the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate that Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) and Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) both work for.
Following the death of Dryden, Qi’Ra lies to Maul about how it all went down, and he’s not entirely convinced – but he decides to continue his plans anyway.
“You and I will be working together much more closely from now on,” he tells Qi’Ra via hologram as he ignites a new version of his trademark double-sided lightsaber and namechecks his home planet of Dathomir while John Williams’ Duel of the Fates score (which soundtracked his iconic lightsaber duel in the character’s first appearance in 1999’s The Phantom Menace) plays softly in the background.
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It’s a shocking moment that raises many questions, the first of which is simple – how did the Star Wars team bring the character back?
How they brought back Darth Maul
Well, to start off with they brought original Maul actor and stuntman Ray Park back into the fold. In the Solo scene Park plays Maul’s body, as he did during the character’s first appearance in 1999’s The Phantom Menace (coincidentally, a Star Wars film Ron Howard once turned down directing).
But while Park performed all of the near-silent Maul’s iconic fight sequences, someone else performed the character’s voice – and that’s also the case here. The time, though, original Maul voice actor Peter Serafinowicz wasn’t brought back to reprise his role in Solo, with US actor Sam Witwer cast instead.
The reasoning for this? Well, Witwer’s actually been playing Maul for a few years now, lending his voice to the character in Star Wars spin-off TV series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, as well as playing many other characters across the two TV series and Star Wars video games.
While to mainstream audiences Witwer's probably best known for playing a version of Aidan Turner’s vampire Mitchell in the American remake of Being Human (a character actually called Aidan after the Irish actor), there are a lot of fans that now consider him the definitive Maul, making his silver screen debut as the character all the more appropriate.
And this is definitely the TV version of the character, from his robot legs (picked up after Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi cut him in half at the end of The Phantom Menace) right to the modified version of his double lightsaber, which seems identical to the version of the weapon (above) he’s wielding by the time of Star Wars Rebels (which takes place a few years after Solo).
So with that in mind, it’s probably worth diving into what been happening to him on the smaller screen…
What’s Maul been doing since we last saw him?
For most people, the last time they would have seen Darth Maul in action is in The Phantom Menace, where the Sith apprentice was cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi before falling down a reactor shaft on the planet Naboo. One might assume he was dead.
However, in canonical spin-off series The Clone Wars (set between Episodes II and III) it was revealed that Maul had actually survived, having used the Force to guide his broken body down the reactor shaft into a trash container before being dumped on the junkyard world of Lotho Minor. Driven only by thoughts of revenge against Kenobi, Maul kept himself alive and even managed to fashion himself some spider-like legs to help him move again.
Soon he was discovered by his brother Savage Opress and brought back to society, eventually becoming a recurring antagonist in The Clone Wars who re-encountered and fought Obi-Wan Kenobi on a number of occasions. At this stage he started just going by Maul, rather than Darth Maul, as he was no long a Sith Lord or Darth Sidious’ apprentice, and got some normal-looking cybernetic legs (which can be heard whirring slightly when Maul stands up in Solo).
With his brother he also formed the criminal organisation The Shadow Collective, which featured in several storylines during the Clone Wars and may prefigure his involvement in Crimson Dawn.
Over the years Maul conquered and took over the planet Mandalore, got revenge on Obi-Wan by killing one of his friends, fought and was captured by his former master Darth Sidious/Chancellor Palpatine, escaped again, lost control over his organisation and newly-conquered planet and disappeared once again, only resurfacing years later during the events of Star Wars Rebels, a series set between Episodes III and IV (but a few years after Solo) that follows a group of freedom fighters taking on the Empire.
In THAT series Maul is discovered to have accidentally trapped himself for years inside a Sith Temple while looking for a special weapon, and attempting to try and recruit young Jedi-in-training Ezra. After betraying Exra and his friends to get hold of a powerful artefact, however, Maul was forced to flee again, his plans in ruins.
His final appearances in the series saw him use a Sith holocron to discover that his old enemy Obi-Wan Kenobi lived, torment Ezra with Dark Side temptations, and then set off to find Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine. In their final duel, Kenobi quickly defeated and killed Maul, but found a new respect for his old enemy and even built him a Jedi funeral pyre.
So yeah – he’s been busy.
What does Maul’s cameo mean for future Star Wars films?
While we’ve obviously seen where Maul ends up – dead in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s arms – Solo takes place a few years before that, and is set at least seven years before Maul turns up in that abandoned Sith temple. In other words, there’s still a few years of his life between the Clone Wars and Rebels that remain unaccounted for, and it seems likely that any planned Solo sequels mean to include him as a significant villain.
After all, when we spoke to Emilia Clarke about Qi’Ra’s actions, she certainly hinted as much.
“I think that we've left it in a place that has got plenty of room to discover another part of her,” she told us, cryptically.
“And to maybe delve deeper into the mistakes she makes, when she makes them.”
Certainly, it seems unlikely that Solo would include Maul’s cameo if it didn’t mean it to lead to something – though we do wonder how the character would fit into Han Solo’s world given that the smuggler thought the Jedi, the Force and lightsabers were a silly myth by the time of the original 1977 Star Wars film. If he’d spent a whole adventure battling a former Sith Lord complete with deadly double lightsaber, wouldn’t he be a bit more open-minded?
Alternatively, it could be that Maul’s appearance here is intended to set up his appearance in another Star Wars film, most likely the long-awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off that many fans are still hoping for. But again, there’s some difficulty with that idea given that Maul’s Rebels storyline sees him discovering Obi-Wan’s survival and tracking him down for the first time in years. If a Kenobi film DID pit them against each other again, it'd be difficult to reconcile that with the way their meeting was portrayed in Rebels.
Plus, there’s also the fact that a Kenobi film would have to acknowledge the numerous canonical meetings the pair had had since they first met in Episode I, in a way that didn’t confuse or exclude the majority of fans who might not be au fait with every twist and turn of an animated children’s TV show.
So for now, it’s unclear exactly how Maul will fit into the weird and wonderful new world of Star Wars spin-offs – he could always be in a Lando film, or even his own spin-off, we suppose – but don’t be surprised if we see him in action again very soon.
Solo: A Star Wars story is in UK cinemas now