In an entertainment franchise or fictional universe, it’s not easy being anyone but the hero. While their future and fan base is all but guaranteed, the surrounding cast faces their own added challenges. If you’re the villain, you’ve got to match the hero just to get the same attention, let alone be remembered separately. Sidekicks must be plucky and lovable, romantic interests must chart their own course, and so on. But for the villain’s henchman – the one best described as the ‘appetizer’ to the big bad – immortality is almost impossible to grasp. Except, of course, in Star Wars.
Boba Fett may be remembered as the faceless goon who became a pop culture icon against all odds, but when measuring characters whose obvious value was cast aside for the larger plot, Darth Maul takes the cake. His story is an epic journey in its own rite, and so packed with untapped potential that an animated Star Wars Rebels series needed to resurrect him just to do it justice. And thanks to the new era of Star Wars comics books from Marvel Comics, the Emperor’s first film apprentice will finally get a story worthy of his name beginning with Darth Maul #1.
It may only help his case for a standalone Star Wars movie of his own, but for now, the comic is tackling a story guaranteed to grab even casual fans of the Sith Apprentice. If you’ve ever wondered what Darth Maul was up to while Palpatine manipulated his way through Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, the comic gives a clear answer: in anticipation of his rise to Master of the Sith, Maul was looking to introduce himself to the Jedi in an… unforgettable way.
DARTH MAUL FEEDS HIS BLOODLUST
The most vivid memory of Maul is likely to be the impression that he was, at all times, restraining himself in both emotion and movement. In the film, that made his eventual reveal as an incredibly gifted, athletic, and acrobatic duelist all the more impactful. But in Darth Maul #1, the effort it takes to keep his incredible rage and lust for death in check is finally revealed (with some help from a beast introduced in The Force Awakens. As a team of men are ambushed and massacred by a single Rathtar – the tentacled creatures contained in Han Solo’s hold in Episode VII – Darth Maul emerges to battle it himself… and its friends.
The story, crafted by writer Cullen Bunn and artists Luke Ross and Nolan Woodard, begins in this murder-soaked setting – the planet Twon Ketee, for the fiction sticklers out there. It’s a sign of just how determined they are to do justice to the scale, the skill, and the terror Darth Maul conjures by his appearance – growing only more terrifying when he enters combat. Accompanied by his internal dialogue, Maul demonstrates that this act of slaughter is more than just surrendering to an urge, but honing the very skills that make him an accomplished Sith.
Fear. Hate. Anger. Maul channels these emotions that make the Sith strong in ways the Jedi can never contemplate in his attacks, savoring each second that he faces death’s snapping teeth in front of his face. But always reminded that Darth Maul is much, much more than the grimacing goon The Phantom Menace may have implied, he takes little joy or satisfaction in killing creatures that kill with ease. Because even as he bests them, he knows that their freedom to attack at will is not his own – and that his hunger can’t be satisfied by just any bloodshed.
It’s as chilling as it is, strangely, endearing. Not on the surface, since Maul remains a villain in every way by casual fans. But for those who know the beginnings of his story, and the ways of the Sith, a life spent training to defeat an enemy and never given a chance is a form of insanity. Darth Maul knows his purpose, knows he is capable, and thirsts for the blood of the Jedi he is destined to kill. But for now, the leash remains tight around his throat, leaving him to slaughter ignorant beasts in the wilderness.
DARTH MAUL FEEDS HIS HATRED
The opening hunt provides a sense of the training and physical activity Darth Maul relies on to keep his senses (and fighting skills) honed – and shows why poor Qui-Gon Jinn never stood a chance – but it doesn’t answer the question of what role he served beneath Darth Sidious/Sheev Palpatine while the latter was working his way through the politics of Naboo and the Senate. Once the story shifts to Coruscant, we’re given a fitting, if unsurprising answer: he was busy hating Jedi, same as always.
But seeing Darth Maul silently despising passing Jedi from the shadows, imagining what it would feel like to finally cut them down isn’t just the signs of a killer biding his time. Darth Maul sees the moral victory, or at least an ideological victory approaching. He notes, as have fans, that the Jedi awareness of growing darkness, complacency as protectors of the Senate, and hypocrisy have shaken their once-solid footing. To his eyes, the Jedi have strayed from their mission to keep the peace, becoming agents of the Senate who kill without a full picture, thereby enforcing the peace.
The language used by Darth Maul is a victory in itself in this scene, showing that his true motivation is not just anger, but righteous anger. In his eyes, the Jedi are failing, they are falling, and they will be the ones who make their descent into darkness possible in the first place. Once they hit bottom, he’ll be ready to end them forever… but it won’t be him who makes them fall.
THE MASTER AT THE END OF THE LEASH
Given how much Darth Maul envied the Rathtar for their freedom and lack of obedience to another’s will, it’s no surprise to see him less than pleased when conversing with his master, Darth Sidious. But to get the most out of this dynamic (as the diehard fans craving this story will no doubt catch), it has to be remembered that throughout the history of the true Sith, there have been only two at one time. The Master, who passes his knowledge on, and the Apprentice, who learns all they can – before slaying their mentor, and taking the role for themselves. Until Sidious.
So as much as Darth Maul may wish to make that cycle complete once again, cutting down his master and launching an assault on the Jedi, he also knows that Darth Sidious has an intricate plan (since his intelligence and cunning are hard to miss for even audience members, let alone his closest allies). So he bides his time, anticipating the moment when he will see that plan reach its climax, watch as the Jedi fall onto his blade, and pave the way for his own rise to the rank of Sith Master. In the process, becoming a lot more reminiscent of another Star Wars figure of great importance.
The comparisons between Darth Maul and Anakin Skywalker in his own path to adulthood may have always been there for those looking, but Bunn deftly draws the parallel out by granting insight into Darth Maul’s own internal monologue. As the red-eyed figure cloaked in shadow at Palpatine’s heel, fueled by impatience, a lust for violence, and a desire to see his own power achieved and recognized, the scene creates a string between himself and the future ‘Chosen One,’ knotted at both ends. We may know how Darth Maul’s story ends, but seeing this chapter finally told promises even richer thematic links, reflections, and divergences.
DARTH MAUL PREPARES TO KILL HIS FIRST JEDI
The first issue of Darth Maul spends much of its time, as mentioned above, submerging readers in the tense and strained psyche and emotions of Darth Maul (while also reminding them that he is absolutely the kind of character who deserves his own narrative in the canonical Star Wars saga). And while Darth Maul’s mission to cover up a Trade Federation hostage scenario before it can expose Palpatine’s dealings (the construction of the film’s ‘phantom menace’) seems like a common occurrence, it takes an unexpected and incredibly promising turn.
When one of his would-be victims offers to exchange valuable information – information that he, and not his master, would then hold – Maul can’t resist. The secret is worth it, too: a young Jedi Padawan is being held captive by a criminal cartel and awaiting sale to the highest bidder. Darth Maul responds by killing those who remain, and setting off for the auction… with little intention for paying, we can only assume. In his eyes, it is not a sale or tormenter that stands in this young Jedi’s future – it is liberation.
Unfortunately for the Padawan in question, that liberation likely means he intends to “free” them from the Jedi teaching at the same time he “frees” them from everything else – with his lightsaber. But picking his way through a cartel, ferreting out the young soon-to-be Jedi, and doing it all before the Jedi leadership can act will be harder said than done. But as Darth Maul travels across the galaxy in pursuit of his first Jedi to kill, fans will be guaranteed a front row seat… one they’ve likely been waiting years to occupy.
Star Wars: Darth Maul #1 is available now.