Throughout the prequels, we saw Darth Sidious discard multiple disposable apprentices. He treated Darth Maul as more of a weapon than a person, discarded Count Dooku once he didn’t need him as a patsy and General Grievous was essentially a distraction to keep the Jedi busy as he prepared to execute Order 66. During all these events, he was grooming Anakin, likely planning to eventually inhabit his body and rule the galaxy.
That plan hit the skids though after Mustafar when Anakin’s body was almost destroyed, resulting in him being transformed into Darth Vader. His new physical limitations meant that Palpatine gave up on plans to use him as a vessel, so why did he go to such great lengths to keep him alive? Let’s face it, it’s not because of his charitable nature.
Well, Darth Maul voice actor Sam Witwer has a theory, explaining in an interview with Hollywood.com that Darth Maul’s survival may have caused Palpatine to realize that a damaged tool isn’t necessarily a useless one.
“What’s really fun to note is that Darth Maul, having survived his grievous injuries, plants the seed in Palpatine’s head that maybe you don’t give up on these guys so quickly. If they’re dead, or you think they’ve been killed, maybe they’re not. Maybe they can survive, maybe they can amount to something. That’s something we get to see coming up, Sidious realizing that. That ultimately leads to Darth Vader.”
As we saw in the original trilogy, Darth Vader was an incredibly effective tool for the Empire. He’s feared across the galaxy and able to physically carry out the Emperor’s will, though unable to survive without Imperial maintenance of his cybernetic systems. Palpatine probably also thought Vader’s condition made it unlikely he’d ever challenge him, as Force Lightning would wreak havoc on his life support. Fortunately for the galaxy, he miscalculated on that last point.
It’s looking likely that Darth Maul will return in some form in a future Star Wars project. We’ve heard whispers that he may pop up in The Mandalorian, though there are still vague rumblings about a direct sequel to Solo. And as for Darth Vader? Well, as one of the most iconic figures in the history of cinema, I’m betting that he’ll be back on the big screen sooner or later.