Darth Maul Is One of the Best Star Wars Villains, From Dathomir to Tatooine
Don't ignore the animated shows.
This month (May 19) marks 20 years of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. This means we’ve had 20 years of one of Star Wars’ best villains, though arguably, he didn’t come into full iconic form until much later. Darth Maul became instantly recognizable with his double-bladed lightsaber and striking appearance, though he met an end at Obi-Wan’s lightsaber after killing Qui-Gon Jinn. That was, at the time, the end of it.
But it wasn’t. Maul was resurrected in Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a feral monster living in a pit, with eight mechanical legs in place of his missing lower half. His brother, Savage Oppress (yes, that is a real name), finds him and helps him come back to himself, and Maul becomes singularly focused on one thing: getting revenge on Obi-Wan Kenobi. That quest takes him from Mandalore to the ancient Sith world of Malachor to, finally, Tatooine, where his story comes to an end.
In between Mandalore and Malachor, he also runs Crimson Dawn, which is how he makes his cameo in Solo, but as Maz Kanata says, that’s a good question for another time.
Maul is one of Star Wars’ best villains, because the writing balances his tragic life with a healthy acknowledgement of the fact that he’s an evil person. Maul never gets a redemption arc, and yet, when his time comes, there’s a certain sadness for him. The mark of a well-crafted tragic villain is how much you empathize with them, and Maul’s characterization walks that fine line gracefully.
Maul does many heinous things, including murdering Obi-Wan’s love interest, Satine, when he and his brother take over Mandalore. None of that is ever excused. Instead, despite the fact that we’re missing fragments of his story, we see how tragic his life is. Every time he attempted to regain some form of agency, it was usually taken away by Darth Sidious. He was banished to a Sith temple to live there alone. Ultimately, his quest for revenge cost him his life.
There are some villains who make it look good to be bad, and have few redeeming qualities. Star Wars has those in the form of Palpatine, Hux, and Thrawn. There are villains who get tragic arcs and redemptions, like Vader and Ventress. Maul is the middle path between them, a villain who does terrible things unapologetically, but who we can’t help but pity. That’s why he’s one of the most memorable.
It also helps that, between Ray Park’s physicality in The Phantom Menace and Sam Witwer’s voice performance in The Clone Wars and Rebels, Maul is an immensely watchable villain. Villains are more enjoyable when the actors are having fun with their performance; just look at every superhero movie ever. Witwer especially gives Maul a tragic element, as well as a charmingly evil devil. It’s everything you could want from a former Sith apprentice turned lost soul.
The Phantom Menace might not be Maul’s best outing, but it established the character who would grow into one of the franchise’s most memorable villains. I’m grateful to the prequels for many things—Padmé Amidala, The Clone Wars, Ahsoka, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan, the soundtracks—but I love The Phantom Menace a great deal for Maul.
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