The news breaking yesterday was not subtle – Darth Maul Lives! No ambiguity there. While the exclusive video teaser clip at Entertainment Weekly didn’t directly confirm the Sith apprentice’s survival, the accompanying reports at EW.com and other sites made two things clear. One, Maul is definitely alive, not some Force vision or mystical spirit. Two, the decision to make this plot twist in The Clone Wars came from George Lucas himself.
The fan reaction online seems generally skeptical, maybe leaning toward negative. While I’ll admit Maul’s survival surprises me, I’m planning to wait and watch the episodes before I decide whether the decision was brilliant or brainless.
In the meantime, here are a few of my initial thoughts in reaction to the news:
- This plot twist is classic space opera – nobody’s really dead until we see the body. This isn’t like resurrecting Qui-Gon or Padmé, where we actually witnessed an onscreen last breath and a corpse at a funeral. Sure, Maul was sliced in half and fell down a bottomless pit, but movie villains (and heroes) have survived fates seemingly more definitive than that. And this miraculous survival creates some truly great possibilities for classic, campy space opera scenes: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Especially if Obi-wan – who’s already chased down and fought Savage Opress – comes face to face with Maul once more: “But… I killed you.” “Apparently not.”
- In the Star Wars galaxy, Maul’s physical survival isn’t really that implausible. Darth Vader had three limbs chopped off and was horribly burned, yet he survived. General Grievous had even less of his former organic body intact; he was basically a brain and a heart encased in robot parts. Keeping an otherwise unharmed entire top half of a human being alive should be a piece of cake compared to those. Not to mention, in Episode III Darth Sidious specifically explains that the Sith have long sought the power to use the Force to cheat death. And we all know who Darth Maul’s master was.
- There’s no small irony, I think, in the fan reaction now. Back in 1999, there was much consternation that a character as cool as Maul could be killed off in the first movie of the new trilogy. Fans openly speculated that Maul would in fact have survived and return in Episode II. When the new Sith apprentice in Attack of the Clones was revealed to be Count Dooku, there was plenty of commentary that Maul had been far more entertaining and exciting as a villain. Yet now that George Lucas has decided to bring back Maul after all, he’s criticized for doing so. Sometimes he just can’t win.
- It’s also appropriate, in that karmic kind of way, that this controversy with TCW involves the movies themselves rather than the Expanded Universe. Some fans have expressed consternation, even outrage, that TCW has told stories in ways that run up against prior EU material, such as planets like Ryloth or Mandalore and characters like Even Piell or Eeth Koth. Bringing back Darth Maul simply reaffirms that, just like Who Shot First or Hayden Force Ghost, George Lucas doesn’t put his own prior work on a pedestal above a little tinkering, either.
- In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-wan has a chance to stop Darth Vader once and for all, and can’t bring himself to do it – and the galaxy suffers twenty years of Dark Times under the Empire. During his exile on Tatooine, as told in the Legacy comics, Kenobi has the chance to stop the fallen Jedi A’Sharad Hett, who later rises to power as Darth Krayt and inflicts another decade of horrors on the galaxy. It’s interesting to see this theme potentially come full circle, with George Lucas revealing that Obi-wan’s apparent victory in The Phantom Menace may become yet another failure to stop a Sith Lord.
- Speaking of Episode I, the frenetic, vigorous lightsaber duel between Kenobi and Maul is one of the most visually stunning scenes anywhere in the six-movie saga. Can you just imagine how that fight would go down now, with both warriors a decade older, wiser, and more powerful?
- With the 3D release of The Phantom Menace sure to be all over the media in the spring, it’s the perfect cross-marketing for TCW. Advertising the Darth Maul episodes of TCW at the same time has the potential to bring in a lot of new viewers to see more Maul – and if the episodes are impressive enough, keep many of them around to watch more TCW in the current season and the previous ones.
Finally, this is by far not the first time that early news of a TCW story has provoked bursts of serious skepticism. It began, of course, with the first reveal of the character of Ahsoka Tano as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan for Season One, and has continued through instances like Duchess Satine and the Mandalorians in Season Two and Savage Opress and Ventress in the Nightsisters arc, the trio of Force Wielders in the Mortis arc, and the appearance of Chewbacca in Season Three. Yet when the episodes actually aired, many of them turned out to be some of the very best in the entire series.
Certainly, those fans who already have an ambivalent or negative view of TCW probably aren’t going to like the Darth Maul storyline, either. But for those fans, like me, who’ve found TCW to be a welcome surprise in its quality Star Wars storytelling, there’s every reason to think that this Maul arc will be just as well carried off as the previous tales. I have tremendous faith in Dave Filoni and the rest of the TCW team, and I expect this story will blow me away, too.
The theatrical trailer for The Phantom Menace in 3D will begin running in theaters on October 21, attached to The Three Musketeers in 3D.
The next episode of The Clone Wars, “Nomad Droids,” airs Friday at 8:00 p.m. on Cartoon Network.
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