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Solo: How Is Darth Maul Alive for This Star Wars Movie?

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There has been some excited, low-level chatter among Star Wars fans ever since the latest anthology film, Solo, premiered a few weeks ago. Naturally, in-universe references and larger franchise connections abound in the film——but there was one moment that, at least at the Hollywood premiere, drew the biggest gasps from the crowd. A key cameo that has since been heavily hinted at in reviews and other coverage took most early moviegoers by surprise. Well get into the specifics of that cameo below, as well as the hidden implications it has for the future of the Star Wars franchise. But if youve not seen the movie yet and want to go in entirely fresh, now is the time to leave.

So, lets just get the super obvious out of the way. Yes, that was the character formerly known as Darth Maul you saw in hologram form at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The villainous character was first introduced in 1999s The Phantom Menace. Yes, hes apparently running a crime syndicate at this stage in the Star Wars timeline, and, yes, it would appear he will be working more closely with Emilia Clarkes Qira in future Solo films. (If, indeed, there are any future Solo films.) Heres a reminder of what he looks like in non-hologram form.

I say “the artist formerly known as Darth Maul” because the character is simply listed in the credits as “Maul.” (Well go into why in a second.) But he is still played by actor/stunt performer Ray Park, who originated the role in The Phantom Menace. He has a different voice, though. Original Maul voice Peter Serafinowicz is out, and frequent Star Wars animated series voice actor Samuel Witwer is in.

A lot of people who have seen Solo are confused by this appearance. It seems to muddy up the Star Wars timeline: did Qiras conference call take place before Maul popped up in The Phantom Menace to bedevil Ewan McGregors young Obi-Wan Kenobi, and kill Liam Neesons Qui-Gon Jinn? If so, that would make both Qira and Han somehow older than Anakin Skywalker.

Timelines can get baffling but, no, Solo: A Star Wars Story does, in fact, take place roughly two decades after The Phantom Meenace, and around 11-14 years before A New Hope.

O.K. But how can that be? The last time we saw Darth Maul in a Star Wars movie, Obi-Wan Kenobi was slicing him in half. You remember; it went something like this:

Perhaps you dont remember. Its been a long time since The Phantom Menace, and that film isnt exactly the most re-watched Star Wars movie. Still, gifs dont lie. The last time we saw Darth Maul in a film, he was in two pieces. So what gives? Well, eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed that when Maul stood up to address Qira at the end of Solo, the camera revealed some robotic limbs on his lower half. Thats because unbeknownst to Star Wars movie-only fans, Maul has been living out an entire post-Phantom chapter in two popular Lucasfilm animated series: The Clone Wars and Rebels. Heres a look at him voiced, as he is in Solo, by Samuel Witwer:

And heres a better look at his robotic lower half in action:

We dont need to go too far into Mauls survival story; just know that it involves a diet of rats, some robotic spider legs, and finally these more practical cybernetic limbs. If you want to know more about Mauls improbable second life—guess lightsaber slices cauterize those pesky bisection wounds?—you can check out the animated series, Star Wars novels, or comics. Suffice it to say that for people who are deeply absorbed in the non-film side of what Lucasfilm has to offer, Maul has been a big and ongoing presence. He no longer goes by Darth—thats a Sith title worn by bad guys like Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. Hes just simply Maul now, and as was the case in some of his animated and book adventures, he has re-branded himself as a crime lord running something called The Shadow Collective, which includes groups named Pyke Syndicate, Black Sun, Hutt Clan, and, apparently, Qiras crew: Red Dawn.

In other words, Maul is here; hes half-robot; get used to it. Fans of the animated series Rebels already know how things will end for Darth Maul—but it would seem Lucasfilm has some future plans for him.

Its possible that he might show up in the planned Obi-Wan spin-off, which also takes place before A New Hope. Those two characters have a lot of intertwined baggage. But if that happened, the timing wouldnt seem to line up with what happened between the duo in Rebels. Its more likely, then, that Maul will feature more prominently in any future Solo adventure; presumably, our favorite smuggler will at some point come face-to-face again with his first love, Qira, and be forced to make some tough decisions involving her ultimate survival.

Really, though, Mauls future appearances arent as important as his very presence in Solo in the first place. Though some prequel subjects seem off the table for the revived Star Wars galaxy—whens the last time you heard anybody talk about “Midi-Clorians”?)—this isnt the first time Lucasfilm has referenced the prequels in this new Kathleen Kennedy era. (Jimmy Smits Bail Organa, for example, made a fun appearance in Rogue One.) This is, however, the first time the movies have leaned quite so heavily on Star Wars Expanded Universe (abbreviated EU) content, such as books, comics, and animated shows. Sure, the company could rely on articles such as this one to explain to confused filmgoers exactly how and why Darth Maul went from presumed dead in The Phantom Menace to alive and scheming in Solo, but thats still a significant amount of backstory theyre opting not to fill in for the huge number of Star Wars fans who only go to see the movies. Whether this move is meant to drive new fans to EU content, or is representative of a Lucasfilm so assured in its popularity these kind of narrative gaps dont matter, is unclear. But it is indicative of a new (red) dawn for the huge, complicated, interconnected universe.

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.

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