Welcome to another installment of EUCantina’s opinion column, EU Action/Reaction! Twice per month, I tackle a specific Star Wars EU event that has garnered a significant reaction from Star Wars fans and offer my own view to further the discussion. Once you read the article, feel free to leave a comment and offer your own thoughts!
This week, I’ll discuss the resurrection of Darth Maul for The Clone Wars and why it was a cool idea.
There’s no doubt that Darth Maul was an extremely popular character in 1999, when The Phantom Menace was first released. Using a double-bladed lightsaber, having an impressive physical appearance (horns and facial tattoos!), and hardly ever speaking (the latter making him similar to the helmeted and mysterious Boba Fett), Darth Maul captured the imagination of fans young and old… and then he died. Darth Maul’s early death never stopped the fans, though. It wasn’t uncommon to see fake lightsaber battles on playgrounds, where kids used their imaginations to decide how Maul might have lived. He’s been resurrected multiple times in the comics, to answer the What If? questions of whether he could best Anakin Skywalker or Darth Vader (the obvious answer never stopping a good story from being told). When Attack of the Clones became the official title for Episode II, fans began to speculate that Darth Maul would return in the form of a clone, ready to have his revenge. As the saga was being completed, the idea of Darth Maul returning was one that never really had any negative vocalization.
But when The Clone Wars officially raised Darth Maul from the dead for the show’s fourth season, the negative backlash was much more extreme. Suddenly, Darth Maul’s return from the dead was (yet another) death knell for Star Wars and continuity as a whole. But why?
Returning From the Dead Has Been Done Before.
Star Wars has never been above bringing popular characters back from the dead, so Darth Maul’s resurrection has not set some kind of precedence for the saga. Boba Fett, perhaps the most well-loved minor character of the Original Trilogy, returned to the Expanded Universe after blasting his way out of the Sarlacc Pit. The helmeted bounty hunter has a huge fan base, and contributors to the Expanded Universe weren’t about to let that built-in audience go to waste. It’s a return from the dead that even George Lucas has agreed with, saying in the Return of the Jedi DVD commentary that he wanted to include an additional scene with Boba Fett rocketing out of the Sarlacc Pit, but couldn’t find the right place to put the scene in. Oddly enough, fans seem less tolerant of the inconsistency of Fett’s return to life than his actual returning to life. By some counts, Fett has had to escape the Sarlacc Pit three different times. It makes his return harder to swallow, but his continuing adventures in the Expanded Universe (particularly his post-”death” comic appearances) signify that there was a lot more story to tell in regards to Boba Fett.
Emperor Palpatine has also returned from certain death, having transferred his Force presence into a clone. The idea of the Palpatine body-hopping was ludicrous, and it certainly seemed to diminish Darth Vader’s sacrifice in Return of the Jedi, but fans have remained rather divided on whether having Palpatine return from the dead was a good idea. Whether or not it was, it certainly didn’t bring the Expanded Universe collapsing down around it. In fact, Palpatine’s return in Dark Empire paved the way for dead characters to return to life as clones. Nowhere is this more evident than Starkiller’s return to life in The Force Unleashed II. After being killed by the Emperor at the end of The Force Unleashed, it seemed as though Starkiller’s story was over. Instead, he returned to life as a clone and was able to regain his memories along the way. The Force Unleashed franchise plays heavily with cloning, and it is implied that Starkiller has returned from the dead many times. As convoluted as his return to life may be, there’s certainly no denying that it opens the door to interesting (and potentially powerful) storytelling techniques.
Of course, these are far from the only characters to return from certain death. K’Kruhk has been killed on more than one occasion, only to return later seemingly fine. The reason? Simple: he goes into a death-like healing state when grievously injured. Others may think that he’s dead (even Jedi colleagues that should know about his unique skills), but he always comes back. Asajj Ventress tricks everyone into thinking she’s dead when Anakin supposedly kills her by dropping her from a great height (not unlike Maul’s “death”) and again inObsession, before disappearing into the Unknown Regions. Heck, even the dead Force users come back in the form of Force ghosts. True, they are dead… but fans accept that their spirits live on to speak and guide the living. Star Wars has never been about realism, as its treatment of death, cloning, and the afterlife have shown.
The Clone Wars Effect.
There’s no use denying that there are fans out there that hate The Clone Wars. And hey, everyone’s entitled to their opinions – I’ve personally been on both sides of that argument, loving The Clone Wars when its great and loathing it when continuity is tossed aside for no real reason. In fact, the bulk of The Clone Wars negativity seems to stem from the show’s inability to adhere to previously established “facts” about the Expanded Universe. Whether it’s because Anakin has a padawan or the reveals of the Mortis arc, there are fans that bristle at the idea of introducing too much new stuff into an era that has been fairly extensively covered already – for fear that some excellent material (i.e. the Quinlan Vos Clone Wars comics) will eventually be phased out of existence. Say what you will about aspects of The Clone Wars that are detrimental to the Expanded Universe, but Darth Maul’s return from the dead isn’t one of them.
Maul’s return from the dead is an acknowledgement that fans want more of Darth Maul. Sure, he was cut in half and fell down a seemingly bottomless pit – but Maul is also a Zabrak. His alien physiology, along with his Sith teachings, could conceivably have kept him alive after the apparently fatal injury. Is it a stretch to say that Maul could survive such a fate? Sure, but no more of a stretch than comparing his survival to Palpatine’s or Boba Fett’s. The real reason for Maul’s survival story being glossed over is because The Clone Wars is a 22-minute television show. Dave Filoni and his crew are also well aware of the implications that Maul’s return have, and styled his robotic legs after “Old Wounds,” a non-canon story where Maul (with robotic legs) seeks out Obi-Wan Kenobi for revenge. It’s hard to say what impact that Maul’s return to life will have on the galaxy at large, but it will probably be minimal. Even running around with his brother, Savage, the two Zabraks are essentially Force-powered thugs. The real villains of The Clone Wars are still the Dooku-led Confederate forces with their vast armies. The overall collateral damage that Maul could inflict is minor, and with his mindset on revenge, it doesn’t seem likely that Maul will command an army to lead against the Jedi. Assuming his appearances stay minor in scale, there’s really no problem with the character returning from the dead. The Jedi aren’t going to talk about him or mention him constantly. In fact, the very notion that he is even alive might still be kept from the majority of the Jedi.
Don’t Worry. Be Happy.
Darth Maul has only appeared in two episodes of The Clone Wars so far, with more appearances guaranteed. He’s even got a comic book series coming out soon. There’s been nothing to suggest that his Maul’s return from the dead will utterly break the Expanded Universe. In fact, it’s still standing right now. Instead, the Expanded Universe has gained another villain – and a great one, at that. The villain that many hoped would one day return has finally, after too long an absence, returned to the spotlight again. His return is a testament to his popularity, and to Lucasfilm’s willingness to listen to the incessant clamoring of fans. Until Maul makes an appearance that causes irrecoverable damage to the Expanded Universe, we should give him the benefit of the doubt.
That, and start demanding that he swap lightsabers with Savage. You can’t have Darth Maul without a double-bladed lightsaber!