‘Star Wars’: How Darth Maul Became 1 of the Saga’s Greatest Villains

The Star Wars saga is filled with interesting villains. Oftentimes, they’re more than they appear to be, never simply existing in the mustache-twirling realm of cartoon bad guys. Even Emperor Palpatine, a man whose main goals revolve around galaxy-wide domination, is a complex, layered character. All that made the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace role for Darth Maul that much more out of place.

While Maul was a runaway hit for Star Wars merchandise, the Sith apprentice had all of two lines, before unceremoniously getting killed off at the end of the film. And while that may have ended Darth Maul’s role in the movies, it was only the beginning for his character, as he soon evolved into one of the greatest Star Wars villains ever created.

1. Darth Maul’s death in The Phantom Menace

Darth Maul reveals himself in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Darth Maul | Lucasfilm

Let’s start with Maul’s first Star Wars appearance in The Phantom Menace. Brandishing a double-bladed red lightsaber, he was a fan-favorite in the same way Boba Fett was in the original trilogy: A character with little to no lines that looks cool, and gets killed off well before should have.

Maul’s Phantom Menace fate seemed sealed when Obi-Wan Kenobi cut him in half. Thirteen years later though, the fearsome Sith was brought back into the fold, thanks to Cartoon Network’s animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series.

2. Maul’s long-awaited return

Maul and his mechanical spider-legs in The Clone Wars
Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars | Lucasfilm

The Clone Wars served a redemptive purpose for the prequels. The animated series fleshed out Anakin Skywalker’s character better than the three movies ever did, made Count Dooku into a full-fledged villain, and contextualized Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship within the greater scheme of the saga. Its greatest gift to fans though, was bringing back Darth Maul.

Late in Season 4, Maul is tracked down by his brother Savage, donning mechanical spider legs to replace the ones he lost to Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace. The version of Maul we see initially is half-crazed and barely keeping it together, having wallowed in the caves of a toxic junkyard planet for years. It’s not long before he’s restored to full health, and that’s where the real fun begins.

3. Insight into Darth Maul’s origin

Mother Talzin brings Maul back from the dead on The Clone Wars
Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars | Lucasfilm

The best villains are the ones with a compelling origin story, and we knew little of Darth Maul’s for far too long. Thankfully, The Clone Wars dives deep into the mythology of his home planet, Dathomir, and the mystical leader of its people, Mother Talzin.

Talzin’s powers are rooted in the dark side of the Force, although she demonstrates abilities that not even Palpatine possesses. After finding a crazed Maul, Savage takes him back to Dathomir, where Talzin brings him back from the brink using her unique brand of Force-based magic. The procedure returns him to his former self, putting Darth Maul on a path of vengeance.

4. Maul and Savage

Maul and his brother Savage fight Palpatine
Darth Maul and Savage Opress | Lucasfilm

Maul’s return to the land of the living later turns him into the primary villain for The Clone Wars, alongside his brother, Savage. The duo criss-cross the galaxy in search of Obi-Wan, all while leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, in an ever-present quest for vengeance and power.

It’s a character arc far more compelling than the one we saw in The Phantom Menacegiving Maul an origin, a clear motivation, and more screen-time than he ever got in the Star Wars movies. Thirteen years after his first appearance in the franchise, he finally received the storyline he so rightfully deserved.

5. The Mandalore plot

Maul fights Mandalorian Death Watch leader Pre Vizsla
Darth Maul and Pre Vizsla | Lucasfilm

Darth Maul’s Clone Wars arc comes to a close in Season 5, culminating in the hostile takeover of an entire god damn planet. Maul teams up with a terrorist organization known as Deathwatch to overthrow the Duchess of Mandalore. He not only manages to succeed, but also takes down Deathwatch’s leader in the process.

This puts him on the throne of Mandalore, ruling over both the planet’s people, and Deathwatch itself. News of this eventually gets back to Palpatine, who flies to the planet to take care of the problem himself. A climactic lightsaber duel pitting Palpatine against his former apprentice ends with the death of Savage, and the imprisonment of Maul, finally bringing things full circle.

6. Darth Maul returns for Star Wars Rebels

Darth Maul returns at the end of Rebels' second season
Darth Maul in Star Wars Rebels | Disney XD

There was a reason Clone Wars showrunner Dave Filoni didn’t have Palpatine kill Maul off. Clearly, the Star Wars saga wasn’t finished with Darth Maul yet, bringing him back in the finale of Rebels’ second season.

Here, his role had changed. Instead of being the main opposing force to our protagonists, Maul was instead working with them, albeit with his own agenda. In the process, he comes dangerously close to turning young Jedi-in-training Ezra Bridger to the dark side, after straight up murdering an Imperial Inquisitor and blinding Kanan.

Years after his Clone Wars heyday, Darth Maul is still a formidable villain, worthy of his considerable legacy.

7. Things come full circle with one, final duel

Darth Maul and Obi Wan square off one last time
Darth Maul and Obi-Wan square off one last time | Disney XD

Spoilers ahead for Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels

Maul first exited the Star Wars saga after being dispatched by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of The Phantom Menace, so it only made sense that the two would square off one last time in Rebels. 

Having finally tracked down his nemesis on Tatooine, Maul seeks the revenge he’s been waiting to exact for decades. Kenobi has a greater purpose though, having come to the planet to watch over a young Luke Skywalker from afar.

The climactic (albeit brief) battle is everything fans could have hoped for in terms of Maul’s final stand, officially closing the book on one of the greatest villains in the entire Star Wars universe.

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