2020 has become a year where most of us have a lot more free time and a lot fewer ways of filling that time. The Essentials is a new feature where we take a deep dive into an iconic pop culture property or character and tell you exactly what you need to read, watch or otherwise consume in order to get the full story. Because it’s not like there’s anything better to do…This time we’re taking a closer look at Star Wars villain Darth Maul. While Maul immediately won a fan following in The Phantom Menace thanks to his cool look and nifty, double-bladed lightsaber, he’s not a character who plays a heavy role in the Skywalker Saga. At least, not if you’re only watching the movies. But Maul has taken on a brand new life over the years thanks to animated series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and various spinoff novels and comics. Not only did he survive what seemed like his certain death in Episode I, but that was really just the beginning of a long and tragic story.
If you need to brush up on all things Darth Maul, especially with the character making a return appearance in the final season of The Clone Wars, we can help. Read on for a more or less chronological breakdown of the essential Darth Maul stories. Not all of these tales are still part of official Star Wars continuity, but each of them will help you better appreciate his surprisingly complex character arc.
Warning: some basic plot spoilers for Darth Maul’s story ahead!
How Darth Maul Went From Supporting Villain to Star Wars Icon
Star Wars: The Wrath of Darth Maul (2014)
We might as well start with the one book every Darth Maul fan should read if they want a fuller understanding of his origins and place in the larger Star Wars saga. The Wrath of Darth Maul is one of a series of YA novels recounting the history of various Star Wars icons. Fortunately, Lucasfilm has a strong track record when it comes to publishing YA books that can still appeal to adult readers.
This book provides a cohesive look at Maul’s story, from his Sith training to his relationships with pivotal characters like Mother Talzin and Savage Opress. It also fills in some crucial gaps in the Maul timeline and shows us more of what unfolded in-between Maul’s apparent death in The Phantom Menace and his return in The Clone Wars.
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis (2012)
Technically, this novel is no longer part of the official Star Wars canon. But because it was published shortly before Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd. and well into the original run of The Clone Wars, it still works as an exploration of the history of the titular Sith Lord and the rise of Emperor Palpatine. Until Disney gives us the definitive Darth Plagueis story, this novel is the best resource we’ve got.
Despite its name, Darth Plagueis is really Palpatine’s story more so than Plagueis’. We learn how a simple politician from Naboo was recruited to the Dark Side and see the genesis of Palpatine’s decades-long plot to destroy the Jedi and rule the galaxy. Maul himself plays a pretty small role in this story, but it’s still worth reading to get a better understanding of how the infant Nightbrother came to be in Palpatine’s care and the early role Maul played in his master’s plans.
Star Wars: Maul – Lockdown (2014)
One of the last Star Wars novels published before Disney eliminated the old Expanded Universe, Lockdown can also be viewed as a spinoff of the Darth Plagueis novel. Lockdown is set about a year before the start of Episode I, a time when Palpatine is beginning to set his grand plan in motion while also plotting his master’s demise. Palpatine and Plagueis dispatch Maul to a remote prison colony in order to acquire a deadly weapon. And once there, Maul finds himself unleashing his skills and fighting in a gladiatorial arena.
If not the most important Darth Maul story in terms of his overall character arc, Lockdown is nonetheless a showcase for his ferocity and tenacity. In its own way, it also reminds us that Maul is a very tragic figure, one who was only ever treated as a useful but disposable tool by Palpatine.
Star Wars: Darth Maul – Shadow Hunter (2001)
Shadow Hunter was among the first Star Wars novels to attempt to flesh out Maul’s mysterious background and relationship to Darth Sidious. A prequel to Episode I, Shadow Hunter sees Maul dispatched by his master to hunt down a Trade Federation defector, a Jedi Padawan and others who have evidence of Palpatine’s secret plans. Picture a Star Wars version of a Terminator movie and you have some idea of what to expect.
Again, the fact that this story was published well before the Disney era renders it non-canon, but it’s still an enjoyable look at Maul’s activities prior to Episode I. Newer versions of the book also include a short story called “Restraint,” which chronicles Maul’s first mission and attempts to draw in new story elements introduced in The Clone Wars.
“Old Wounds” (2005) & “Resurrection” (2001)
Long before The Clone Wars took the idea of Darth Maul surviving the events of Episode I and made it official canon, Dark Horse Comics toyed with that plot twist in a pair of fascinating, albeit hypothetical stories. It’s worth hunting down both, if only to see the origins of this surprising Star Wars plot twist.
“Old Wounds” (from 2005’s Star Wars: Visionaries) features Maul tracking Obi-Wan Kenobi to Tatooine, threatening the life of an infant Luke Skywalker and perishing in a rematch with his old nemesis. While not in-continuity even in the pre-Disney era, this story did wind up directly influencing Maul’s return on The Clone Wars, right down to his distinctive, raptor-like cyborg legs.
“Resurrection” (originally printed in 2001’s Star Wars Tales #9) settles a popular fan debate – who would win in a fight between Darth Maul and Darth Vader? Set shortly before Episode IV, this story features Vader hunting the Rebels who stole the Death Star plans and encountering a resurrected Maul. In true Highlander fashion, there can be only one Dark Lord of the Sith.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Seasons 3-5 (2011-2013)
This animated series is where Maul’s story really took on new life. The Clone Wars bridges the three-year gap between Episodes II and III and chronicles the full scope of the destructive conflict between the Republic’s clone army and the Separatists’ droid armada. The series focuses on both iconic heroes and villains from the prequel movies as well as characters we never even knew about before, like Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano.
The Clone Wars took the fanciful notion of Maul having survived his battle with Obi-Wan and made it an official part of Star Wars canon. Maul’s story begins in Season 3, which introduces his brother Savage Opress and a brand new mythology involving the Nightsisters of Dathomir and a Dark Side witch named Mother Talzin. Talzin dispatches Savage to find his long-lost brother. After returning home and being restored to some semblance of full health, Maul and his brother begin an ongoing campaign to build an army of criminal cartels and claim vengeance on both Obi-Wan and Darth Sidious. Sidious may have orchestrated the Clone Wars conflict, but Maul and Mother Talzin wind up posing a serious threat to his control of the Dark Side.
Maul is a recurring character throughout Seasons 3, 4 and 5. Here’s a list of all the relevant Maul/Savage Opress episodes if you’d prefer not to binge the entire series (all of which can be streamed on Disney+):
- S3E12 – “Nightsisters”
- S3E13 – “Monster”
- S3E14 – “Witches of the Mist”
- S3E21 – “Brothers”
- S3E22 – “Revenge”
- S4E1 – “Revival”
- S5E14 – “Eminence”
- S5E15 – “Shades of Reason”
- S5E16 – “The Lawless”
Star Wars: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir (2014)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars was abruptly canceled after its fifth season in 2013, leaving a great many plot threads unresolved. While some of the in-progress episodes were eventually finished and released as part of the truncated Season 6, other unused scripts were adapted into comics or novels instead. That’s where Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir was born.
Son of Dathomir picks up where “The Lawless” left off in Season 5, as a defeated Maul has been imprisoned by his former master. But after being liberated by his Death Watch commandos, Maul unleashes the full power of his Shadow Collective and declares war on Darth Sidious and Count Dooku. This story serves as an essential bridge between Maul’s previous Clone Wars appearances and his return in the climactic Siege of Mandalore conflict. It explains how Maul escaped Sidious’ clutches and gives fans far more closure regarding Mother Talzin’s role in the war than Season 6 was able to deliver.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 7 (2020)
A major gap in Maul’s post-Episode I story is finally filled thanks to the long-awaited seventh and final season of The Clone Wars. Season 7 is divided into three, four-episode story arcs. It’s the last of these which features Maul as a major villain. The final Clone Wars arc focuses on the Siege of Mandalore, as the titular world becomes the site of one of the last and most destructive conflicts in the war. As that battle plays out, Ahsoka Tano leads her own battalion of Clonetroopers and confronts Maul on Mandalore. At least some of this arc takes place during the events of Episode III, and fans finally learn how both Maul and Ahsoka survived the devastation of Order 66.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Star Wars fans who only follow the movies got a big surprise when Maul showed up alive and well (albeit missing two legs) near the end of Solo. Maul has very little screen time in this movie, but it still helps flesh out his role as a major criminal kingpin in the murky years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. His cameo shows us how his previous role as leader of the Shadow Collective evolved into Maul reigning over a vast organization known as Crimson Dawn. Plus, it’s pretty neat seeing original actor Ray Park and Clone Wars voice actor Sam Witwer come together to reinvent this iconic villain.
Maul’s role in Solo was clearly intended to set up a future Star Wars story where he’d play a bigger part. While no direct Solo sequel is currently in the works, a The Clone Wars: Season 7 episode does include a mention of Crimson Dawn. That seems to be a subtle clue that fans will see that story told in some form down the line.
Star Wars Rebels: Seasons 2 & 3 (2016-2017)
While the final season of The Clone Wars wraps up Maul’s Prequel-era story, we’ve already seen where his journey takes him closer to the Original Trilogy era. Maul appears in several episodes of Star Wars Rebels, a series which focuses on a plucky band of Rebels lighting the way in a time before Luke Skywalker and Han Solo started hogging all the glory. Ahsoka also plays a big role in the series, making it a true successor to The Clone Wars.
Maul first appears in the two-part Season 2 finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” where he becomes an unlikely, if temporary, ally to Ahsoka and friends as they travel to the Sith world of Malachor and battle Darth Vader himself. Maul later resurfaces several times during Season 3. The episodes “The Holocrons of Fate” and “Visions and Voices” deal with Maul’s growing interest in budding Jedi Ezra Bridger.
And finally, Maul’s story comes full circle in “Twin Suns,” as he tracks down Obi-Wan Kenobi and sets about finally claiming his long-awaited vengeance. The resulting confrontation is easily one of the greatest Star Wars moments of all time. Full stop.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.