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[personal profile] matril
Here's a character that was largely well-received upon the release of Episode I. In fact, if there were any complaints about Darth Maul, it was that he was killed off too soon, wasting further opportunities to use such an awesome character.

In response I would answer: no, he wasn't. He didn't die too soon. He served his purpose perfectly and I wouldn't change a thing.

"At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge."

(I should probably note the existence of Darth Maul's reappearance in the Clone Wars series, but I only consider the show semi-canon, and that particular "plot twist" just makes me giggle uncontrollably. I remember people joking about the idea of Maul showing up with just his upper body attached to some kind of robo-legs. Joking. As in, wouldn't that be ridiculous? And I still think it's ridiculous. He's dead, guys.)

Now, let's consider one of the motives that drove Lucas to making the prequels in the first place. He was growing more and more concerned that people were idolizing Darth Vader, seeing him as cool and awe-inspiring. But he was meant to be a tragic figure, pitiable at best. So he set about telling Anakin's story, of how a young man with tremendous potential for good squandered it all out of fear and selfishness. And then lost everything he cared about. Villainy isn't cool. It's pathetic.

Darth Maul isn't the ultimate villain. He was never meant to be. He's a lot more imposing than the cowards leading the Trade Federation, but in the end he's just as much a pawn of Palpatine as they are. What is this revenge he's talking about? You can speculate about his backstory, but my sense is that most of his burning hatred toward the Jedi has been fostered and fed by Darth Sidious. He is a Sith Lord; therefore he hates the Jedi and must enact vengeance. But I doubt there's really anything truly personal in his drive for revenge. Certainly not toward Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan specifically. He attacks them because that's what he's been taught to do, and he obeys.

In the end, Maul's terrifying appearance -- the nightmarish swirls of red and black, the horns, the glowing eyes, the double-bladed saber he wields with deadly precision -- is nothing but a mask to distract us from the true danger, the phantom menace lurking behind it all. And when Maul is killed, it will ultimately prove a hollow victory as the master simply finds a new apprentice and proceeds with his plans for galactic domination. Maul, meanwhile, won't live to see the Sith destroy the Jedi order and take over the galaxy. He gets to be the face of the surprise reveal - "Whoops, guess the Sith weren't totally eradicated a thousand years ago after all!" but he reaps none of the rewards. He proved useful for a time, and was then easily discarded for someone with more political savvy, who will in turn be discarded for someone younger and far more powerful.

(Also of interest - each character who plays the role of primary villain in the three prequel episodes could be seen to represent one aspect of Vader's persona. Maul possesses his imposing physical presence and prowess, Dooku is a former Jedi turned Sith, and Grievous is a former organic being turned cyborg. Pretty intriguing when you think about it.)

Star Wars isn't about awesome villains doing awesome villainous things. It's about good and evil, and why good is good. The prequels in particular are about about the exploitation and/or corruption of well-meaning people, while episodes 4-6 explore how good can prevail once more. And Darth Maul's character fills exactly the little role he needs to fill; no more, no less.

Next time, some heartrending foreshadowing from Anakin...
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