The hyperspace romp that is Solo: A Star Wars Story has finally arrived in theaters, and it comes with a YT-1300 freighter full of Easter eggs. The movie is packed with Star Wars lore both new and old — some old canon is canon once again, and some tenuous connections have been solidified.
One of the greatest strengths of this new age of Star Wars is how interconnected all of their properties are — many franchises attempt it (and promise it), but it has never been done at this level. Solo is a shining example of how a company can integrate its various property parts into something cohesive.
Probably nothing in the new film illustrates it more than the big twist near the end, which features an appearance from a character that, frankly, I was flabbergasted to see onscreen. I could not believe that they did it, but they did. For a fanatic/completist like me, it was incredible. If you’re a fan who only goes in for the movies (nothing wrong with that, of course) then you may be confused. Let’s lay the sabacc cards on the table and get to the bottom of it.
**SPOILER WARNING: From this point on, there will be MAJOR SPOILERS for Solo: A Star Wars Story. If you have not seen the film and do not want to be spoiled, turn your ship around.**
Throughout Solo, we’re told that gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) is reporting to someone. Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) makes mention of this mysterious individual as well, and the way they talk about this person, they sound pretty bad. I was just assuming that it would turn out to be Jabba the Hutt, but Qi'Ra eventually gets her boss on the holo-channel and... it wasn't Jabba.
It was Darth kriffin' Maul.
More accurately, just "Maul" now because he has long ceased to be a Sith Lord. How is this possible? We saw this troubled Zabrak get cut in half and fall down a very large hole at the end of Star Wars: Episode I –The Phantom Menace, right? We did see that, but that was not the end of him.
The key to all of this lies in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where Maul returned in glorious fashion in Season 4. Found by his "brother" on a trash planet (literally), Maul is barely alive and only held together by the dark side, extreme hatred, and a whole new kind of crazy. Maul is taken to back to his home planet of Dathomir, where the Force-magicians known as the Nightsisters replace his trash-made spider legs (again, literally) with new ones, and take some of the crazy out of his head. He then goes on a killing rampage and tries to get revenge on a certain Mr. Obi-Wan Kenobi.
He fails to do so and he takes the logical next step — he forms a huge criminal syndicate called The Shadow Collective. If he can’t control things as a Sith, he’ll do so as a criminal. Makes sense! He enlists/forces Black Sun, some of the Hutts, and the Pykes (also seen in Solo) to join his club, and then uses all of their resources to conquer Mandalore. The Mandalorian splinter group Death Watch hooks Maul up with some fancier legs, too. Lieutenant Maul... magic legs!
Unfortunately, the attention of Maul's former master has been aroused at this point, and the not-yet-but-soon-to-be Emperor goes to Mandalore and beats down Maul and his brother like a couple of Meeber Gascons. Take a look at the Maul’s confrontation with his former master, Palpatine:
The Clone Wars series ended soon after, so we didn’t get to see what happened next— though the in-canon comic Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir takes unmade episodes from the show and tells the tale. The comic features a spiraling contest between Palpatine and the head of the Nightsisters, Mother Talzin, in which Maul mostly plays the role of the helpless pawn torn between them. Maul eventually ends up back on Mandalore, but the Republic lays siege to the plant and lays waste to whatever power he had left. We still haven’t seen the epic siege of Mandalore, but we do know that Maul escaped thanks to E.K. Johnson’s novel Star Wars: Ahsoka.
Where did he go next? Maul retreated to Dathomir where he turned the former Nightsister temple into the most disturbing man cave of all time. He must have continued some of his criminal activities because it is around this time (after Palpatine has taken power and the Empire reigns supreme) that Maul appears in Solo, appearing as the head of a criminal faction called Crimson Dawn. That's who Qi'Ra answers to, as she's seen going to join him at the end of the movie after betraying Han's trust.
Viewers of the canon animated series Star Wars Rebels know what ultimately happens to Maul after his appearance in Solo. Eventually, he finds his way to the Sith planet Malachor, gets involved with Ezra Bridger, and fights Obi-Wan Kenobi one last time. He dies in Kenobi’s arms. It’s hauntingly beautiful.
If you look closely at the hologram of Maul in Solo, you can clearly see the nice robotic legs that Death Watch hooked him up with. He mentions that his home base is still on Dathomir, and the lightsaber that he takes hold of toward the end of his cameo is the same one we see him use in Rebels. He is played by original Phantom Menace actor Ray Park, but voiced by the great Sam Witwer, who gave magnificent life to the character in both animated shows.
I love both Clone Wars and Rebels deeply. I never thought that the live action films would tie into them this strongly. Maul’s appearance in Solo is not just a fun Easter egg or great story moment — it plants a flag and screams to the galaxy that those shows are important.
Part of me still doesn’t believe that this happened, but he’s there, and he’s there for good. The Clone Wars/Rebels story of Maul is now firmly embedded in the Star Wars films. Perhaps it’s the power of the living Force or just good brand synergy… but in the galaxy far, far away, everything truly is connected.
For all you fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels, celebrate Maul’s return by screaming along with me. What shall we scream? What else: "KENOBI!!!!!!!"