Solo: A Star Wars Story has the worst scene in Star Wars since Disney bought the franchise in 2012: Darth Maul's cameo, a stunningly confounding creative choice that hurts the otherwise strong standalone. Solo isn't devoid of problems, sure, but it gets a lot right - often against the grain of expectation. Alden Ehrenreich is fantastic as a younger Han, evoking the character not imitating Harrison Ford, and for all the talk about the firing of Phil Lord & Chris Miller from the project, Ron Howard's reshoots and tonal alterations are hard to spot.
Almost mocking the fact that pre-release problems turned out to not have an impact, most of Solo: A Star Wars Story's most controversial elements actually come from the script that has been militantly protected during the film's tortured development. The entire project - which originated from George Lucas before he sold Lucasfilm - was greenlit by Disney CEO Bob Iger based on the highly controversial manner by which Han gets his surname (he has no people, so is "solo"), although that's nothing on the big surprise.
Near the end of the film, Han's childhood love Qi'ra betrays him for her inescapable life of crime, implicating the scoundrel for the murder of crime lord Dryden Vos and pledging herself to syndicate Crimson Dawn's true villain, Maul. Yes, Darth Maul, presumed dead by many after Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace but resurrected in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and given a tragic culmination to his arc in Star Wars Rebels is the Palpatine of the story, pulling the strings from afar. Per writer Jon Kasdan, while the scene was the last part of the film shot and the character no immediately set, it was part of his original idea for Solo.
We're reaching a point in blockbuster cinema where a "big spoiler" is now treated as a requirement: a shock cameo (Red Skull in Avengers: Infinity War), unpredictable death (Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi), earth-shattering villain twist (The Vulture is the father of Peter Parker's high school sweetheart in Spider-Man: Homecoming) or a franchise realigning twist (Deckard had a kid and it isn't K in Blade Runner 2049). This has provided plenty of excitable post-movie discussion and hype in our spoiler-obsessed culture, but is beginning to become more obligation. Maul is definitely Solo's shock ace, but while he is an undeniably cool design with a cultural impact that defies his previously minimal big-screen presence, in practice this is where things tip from fun reveal to story-damaging inclusion.
- This Page: Darth Maul Actively Hurts Solo
- Page 2: Maul Doesn't Fit In the Current Star Wars Franchise
- Page 3: Is Maul The Worst Disney Star Wars Moment?
Darth Maul's Cameo Hurts Han's Arc In Solo
Before going deep into the problems with bringing Darth Maul into a Han Solo movie, let's first put praise on the one undisputed success here: casting. Maul is played by Ray Park, the stuntman who portrayed the Sith Lord in The Phantom Menace and voiced by Sam Witwer, who's voiced the character in The Clone Wars and Rebels. The care put into accuracy is commendable. However, almost immediately we have a dissonance. Park's Maul found menace in how he stalked his prey, whereas the TV version was a much more maniacal presence, manipulating and concocting his own schemes. The Solo version is definitely the latter, something that feels strange: Witwer's words coming out of Park's live-action mouth creates a barrier - perhaps not as challengingly deep as CGI Leia and Tarkin, but definitely there.
Unfortunately, even accepting this compound take, the scene itself doesn't work. Maul is held back for an unmasking reveal, leading to a teasing buildup that comes suddenly, and once he's revealed there's a begging of importance that isn't reflected in its pedestrian style; he isn't part of this story and so has no bearing beyond the shock. Him Force pulling the lightsaber as some vague form of intimidation is the final nail, a moment of bait on top of bait that seems to exist only to maintain a saber ignition in every Star Wars film.
However, it's what Maul's appearance means to Han where the real problems arise. Solo: A Star Wars Story for the most part bucks concerns it was going to be box-ticking run through the character's origins - all of that stuff is there, sure, but the arc that Ehrenreich goes on is more one of finding a place. He starts out wanting to get of Corellia and after being parted from Qi'ra is obsessed with a reunion. It's only after betrayal from her and mentor Beckett that he realizes she was just an internal projection of what he really wanted, with him and Chewie flying off at Solo's end representing a seizing of his own destiny. It's a nuanced take on Han, one that makes him simultaneously rougher and more relatable than he's ever been, and it's testament to all involved that it's pulled off without much jolt.
Maul's cameo pops up slap bang in the middle of that. The scene comes right before Han's showdown with Beckett, so when the unspoken battle and first shot come, they're underwritten by the residual shock that a character even those aware of his survival is back on the theater screen. That our protagonist shoots one of the movie's main characters in a no-way-out showdown is robbed of its impact by a fan-baiting cameo. Worse, it overrides much of what Qi'ra's betrayal represents; it's the last straw for Han and something truly tragic for her, but an alliance with Maul puts focus on where she's going over what she's leaving behind.
Maul's Star Wars Story Is Over
The most common justification for Maul's presence in Solo: A Star Wars Story is the events of The Clone Wars and Rebels that saw the character resurrected and evolved. For all his menace in Episode I, Darth Maul was fundamentally some cool-looking acrobatics, whereas what he became is a figure so tragic he's even been positively compared to Darth Vader. And that's the problem with putting him in Solo: his arc is over.
The Clone Wars left Maul - as it did many aspects - unresolved, with his Shadow Collective disbanded and his hopes of defeating Kenobi and Palpatine unexplored thanks to greater story concerns. Rebels picked up with him almost two decades later, with Maul trying to manipulate Sith Holocrons into finding a way to defeat his former Master that led to him discovering Kenobi was still alive. This culminated in a final confrontation where the exiled Jedi effortlessly felled his foe, with Maul dying in Obi-Wan's words comforted by his life-long enemy's faith in Luke Skywalker being the Chosen One.
There is evidently a big gap between two shows where Maul hasn't been explored in any form, but what crucially powered the character has already been. The Solo appearance undoes some of those dangling threads from The Clone Wars and extends his criminal organizational connections overshadowing the Force focus, but fundamentally fills a gap that didn't need plugging. It establishes a continuing presence from a character whose purpose and end we already know, and so any subsequent appearance inevitably risks being as pointless as this one.
It's possible that, as Solo was originally written as coming straight off The Force Awakens in Rogue One's December 2016 release slot, that this would have fit better: Maul returned to Rebels in early 2016, so his Solo cameo would have been right in the middle of his last goodbye, making for some degree of synergized storytelling. Although, even then there's an important gulf.
Maul's Cameo Is Teasing Nothing
The future of this is what makes Darth Maul's cameo so perplexing. When Marvel teases a character like Black Panther in Iron Man 2 or Thanos in The Avengers, there's a sense that, even if something isn't explicitly in the works now, it will be paid off. That does not exist with Maul, despite his scene's nature being very much like an MCU post-credits scene.
The immediate suggestion is that he's there to set up the long-mooted Obi-Wan Kenobi film, something that Ray Park has allegedly commented on. However, due to the tightness of Star Wars canon, that would require essentially remaking Rebels, thus giving Maul a small role in a much bigger story. And while it would certainly be thematically strong having an aging Obi-Wan facing down his equivalent of the Jedi trials, it would still be a bit part and - crucially - not all that connected to Solo. The timeline just doesn't allow it: y the time of that fight, Crimson Dawn is in Maul's past, meaning all the Qi'ra teasing would be for nothing.
So is it for Solo 2? The Boba Fett movie? A Jabba the Hutt solo film? Maul: A Star Wars Story where the entire context is reliant on TV show (or subsequent explainer knowledge)? It could be any or none. The future of Star Wars in generalmay not be as in question following Solo's mixed reception as some critics would suggest, but the future of the anthology series and specifically the original trilogy character spinoffs possibly is. There's no sign of where the Maul moment, built to tease, is going to go, or if it will ever be resolved at all. As neat as it can be to have a multi-media canon, a major motion picture having one of its biggest dangling threads resolved in a book years after the fact is invariably confused storytelling.
Maul Is Fan-Bait...
Maul brings nothing but a distraction to what Solo is trying to do and there's little future to him in the Star Wars franchise beyond. There is, quite simply, no purpose to having that character appear in this movie. It's not that Maul can't reappear alive in the movies per se, but it's that it needs to have a reason to exist.
Had it been Darth Vader or the Emperor, for example, there'd be just as much justification - Crimson Dawn's name can link to Sith color's as much as a Dathormir's skies, and Imperial interference better explains the repeated links between the galactic underworld and the Empire - and something to build on easily within the current canon direction. Even someone like Prince Xizor, a key Expanded Universe kingpin made famous by Shadows of the Empire, would have been a neat addition that upsets the flow of Solo less. Of course, he wouldn't carry the required mainstream weight, and that's where the core of the issue is.
What Darth Maul in Solo appears to be is Lucasfilm attempting to replicate the fan-pleasing nature of Darth Vader's hallway scene from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; a beloved, iconic legacy character making an unpredictable appearance. With that viewpoint, there's some logic to the choice: Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt may be more obvious for Solo, but that's exactly the reason not to include either, and with them removed the simplest, vaguely canonically sound pick is actually Maul. But that seeming requirement of including such a scene is the problem: not every movie needs a shock twist, and by making this one so reliant on pure and baseless fan service it doesn't really offer up much.
...But Fan-Bait That Doesn't Offer Fans Anything
Indeed, no matter what creed of Star Wars fan you may associate with, the purpose of the tease feels off. If you're a general audience member who's never watched The Clone Wars, it's a confounding challenge to the accepted timeline (assuming you recognize it as Maul): the immediate suggestion is that the film is actually pre-The Phantom Menace, not that the villain survived. If you're vaguely aware of his return, then this feels like a tease with far-reaching ramifications yet ultimately cannot thanks to the Rebels resolution. And if you're fully up to speed with the current state of the canon, you recognize that while it makes some sense if you squint, it doesn't really mean much.
The only real positive this offers is a show that Lucasfilm doesn't just count the TV shows as canon but is OK with major aspects of them coming into the movies unannounced. The opportunity for such multimedia storytelling is definitely exciting, but the pointed nature of Maul's cameo and its lack of any synergizing of narrative means at the moment it's only going as far as distant bow shots.
And so we've reached Disney's nadir. Leia in space, Maz's hologram, Broom Boy and more decisions in The Last Jedi may have garnered the ire of many Star Wars fans, but at least there is a clear, defensible reason for them that can be understood if not appreciated. That doesn't exist for Maul. For most of its run, the Mouse House-owned Lucasfilm has avoided such blatantly obvious fan-bait, or when it has there's been an earnest effort to make it more within the story. Here they're going directly against that for no clear short- or long-term gain, highjacking an unrelated story as they do so.
The hope will be that Maul's appearance is given some greater purpose down the line that justifies him coming back (again), but it's unclear what that is at present. And, so, we're left with Solo: A Star Wars Story in desperate need of a fan-edit.