“Call me … Old Master.”
These were the words spoken by a mysterious figure in the second-season teaser for Star Wars: Rebels, and in the shadows beneath those luminous yellow eyes it was possible to see just the faint trace of jagged tattoos.
Now as the season finale draws near for the Disney XD animated series, we can finally pull back the cloak on that ominous individual with an exclusive first look.
He is none other than Darth Maul – who stands as proof that in the Star Wars universe, you can’t keep a bad guy down. Even if you cut him in half.
Most fans will remember seeing him tumble into a fathomless reactor shaft at the end of The Phantom Menace after being separated from his lower half by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber.
The Clone Wars animated series and a Dark Horse comic book later showed Maul survived, sustaining his wounded body through the dark side of the Force and rebuilding his lower half with a set of mechanical spider legs. But the experience – not to mention his rage at being forsaken by the Emperor, who was once his master – also drove Maul to madness.
As those stories reveal, the demonic pseudo-Sith was not done unleashing mayhem on the galaxy that discarded him. Decades later, at the dawn of the Rebellion, he’s still got some damage to do. Only now he’s got to share space (literally and figuratively) with Darth Vader.
The above clip from the hour-long March 30 episode of Rebels, shows what happens when Maul encounters the young Jedi hopeful Ezra Bridger as they both explore the ruins of a Sith temple deep beneath the surface of a world known as Malachor.
It’s enough to make you feel for the guy. Almost.
Rebels executive producer Dave Filoni and voice actor Sam Witwer (best known for Being Human and Battlestar Galactica) spoke with EW about bringing back the villain who’s red, black, and angry all over.
Entertainment Weekly: Dave, this is the second time you’ve resurrected Maul after The Clone Wars. What made you decide it was time to introduce him to the Rebels storyline?
Dave Filoni: The genesis of this idea is actually kind of an interesting one. I had pointed out several times in story meetings that we have an opportunity – if we wanted to – to actually have Darth Vader fight Darth Maul. That was something that [co-producer] Simon Kinberg and I were like, ‘Oooh…’ Then there was the opponent in the story meetings who would say, ‘Well, that’s fan service,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah – exactly.’ [Laughs] I don’t see the problem with that, but you know we were very careful that we don’t just do things because they’re cool. We want to do things that are story driven.
So we can expect those two to lock lightsabers?
Filoni: I have to say that by the end of it, the story was completely different than where we had started. I don’t want to necessarily promise something that doesn’t happen – the Vader/Maul thing is interesting at a fandom level. [But] the more compelling personal story becomes about Ahsoka and Vader.
You’ve been building up his encounter with his former Jedi apprentice for a while
Filoni: We’ve taken all season long to educate viewers that maybe haven’t seen Ahsoka before about what her relationship to Vader is. But then we had this other thing where we all liked Maul… Maul could be a fantastic foil for Ezra, a counterpointed dark-side mentor. He’s not necessarily the dark-side Emperor Sith.
Is there, maybe, some good in him?
Filoni: He’s this person who has been on the dark-side, that has been thrown out repeatedly from the Emperor’s hierarchy but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot of the same tendencies as the Emperor and have the same desire for power. It became a really interesting story to tell, and a challenge, because at face value, Maul isn’t a guy you look at and go, ‘I trust you, devil-looking guy with horns on your head.’ So we had to paint an interesting picture here to get this kid to perhaps believe in him.
Sam, you voiced Darth Maul in The Clone Wars too, so I wondered what your thoughts were about reprising him as a much older and… I don’t know, would you say “wiser” being?
Sam Witwer: I don’t know if I would say wiser. [Laughs] It’s fun to wonder how much of what we’re seeing from Darth Maul in this episode is him becoming more eccentric and older and wiser but also a little more frayed, versus what’s play-acting. You know what I mean?
So he’s putting up a front even after all these years?
Witwer: What is just a lie in terms of his behavior and what is actually the truth? People were commenting when we were recording the episode that they’d never seen a sincere, sweet Darth Maul [Laughs]. You know kind of a sweet, old man. To lie that convincingly, he has to understand the emotions he’s hitting. And in order to understand them, he must possess them in some degree. So in order to portray that level of sincerity, there’s got be some piece of him that is actually sincere.
Dave, when we meet Maul again in Rebels he’s still on the run from the Empire. Has he just been wandering all these years?
Filoni: I think wandering is exactly correct. To tell the story we had to create several backstories for it. One of the big backstories was what has Maul been doing and how did he get to this planet, Malachor? The other story was what the heck happened on Malachor? So I actually wrote a history of it and what goes on there a thousand years ago - which explains the stone figures, and the temple, and all the mechanism you see there.
Maul has a history there, too, right?
Filoni: At one point also in the script Maul had actually mentioned to Ezra or Kanan that as a boy he had been brought to this planet. And so what you were to understand was that Darth Sidious was aware of this planet and that Maul had been brought there as a small child and they together had attempted to get into the temple and get to the holocron.
That’s a sacred object that contains ancient Force-sensitive knowledge. The temple Maul and Ezra infiltrate together is set up with a lot of traps… they seem to be specifically tailored to keeping out other Sith.
Filoni: The traps that preventing the Siths from getting to the holocron are very simple – you have to have teamwork to get to it, and a certain strength and conviction. These are things they can easily lack, because Sith are all backstabbers. They would all fail the “Throw me the whip!”/”Throw me the idol!” challenge in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They couldn’t get out of it together because they would betray each other. It’s a unique thing for Maul when he has this boy who is showing the light-side because he knows he can probably trust him if he can get Ezra to help him.
Sam, you’ve voiced Maul at some very different points in his life. At this stage, is he kind of a lost person? Is this his final chance?
Witwer: That’s a very accurate description. Life kind of passed him by. At one point he had this incredible potential and it looked like success was a given. And then the whole thing happened in Phantom Menace where he became, um, a lot shorter. [Laughs.] And then he lived a very miserable existence until it looked he began to put this life back together. Right as he was about to achieve a measure of success, his old master Palpatine took that from him. And then later if you read some of the comics, no sooner does he discover who his mother is but she’s killed.
But he’s not ready to change his ways yet …
Witwer: He has this ambition that still exists inside him and that ambition is eating him up –especially now that he’s past his prime and his glory years. Yeah, he’s a sadder character than we perhaps remember in Clone Wars.
Dave, you’ve had Ezra pulled between both the light and the dark side of the Force. Is Maul a cautionary tale for him? An example of what not to do?
Filoni: This whole season has been about getting Ezra to kind of explore the dark side of the Force and be aware of its existence on a powerful level that maybe he didn’t understand before. It’s really kind of an Empire Strikes Back movement for the series, where we bring the dark side out more to our heroes and challenge them with it. It’s going to get pretty crazy before the end here.
The season two finale of Star Wars: Rebels airs March 30 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD.
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