The main reaction to the unexpected return of Darth Maul in the closing scenes of Solo: A Star Wars Story was one of befuddlement. “Hang on a minute,” audiences thought, “didn’t that guy get chopped in half and fall down a big pit back in 1999?” They were right, he did. But it turns out that being bisected and plummeting a few hundred stories isn’t enough to stop Darth Maul. Those who watched The Clone Wars and Rebels knew that Maul had survived, that he’d gotten hold of some robot legs and that he was busy building his crime empire (they also knew his eventual fate, too).
Ron Howard had previously explained that they had a number of contenders for who might be in charge of the Crimson Dawn. According to him, the script merely described the character as ‘Boss,’ so Howard, having always liked Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, decided to lobby for him as the surprise. But that’s not quite the story that voice actor Sam Witwer is telling. In an interview with CinemaBlend, he said the following:
I will tell you that [Jon or Lawrence] Kasdan told me that this was always the plan. That’s what he told me. So I don’t mean to be putting out any information that isn’t consistent with anything else, but I was told, ‘Hey, there’s red Mandalorian armor on that set for a reason.’ Crimson Dawn! Crimson Dawn for a reason. You know, like all of these little hints. There’s I believe an old, Sith-looking hologram among Dryden Vos’ collection, and all manner of little, nod-of-the-head [things] just nudging you towards who’s in control of this criminal empire.
And the way that he explained it to me was, ‘Look, we were telling a story about a criminal empire. You don’t necessarily have a lot of screen time to do that in a movie, you could only give sort of a thumbnail, so why not use the criminal empire that had already been established in many, many episodes of The Clone Wars that Maul established? Why not use that? That makes sense.’
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I guess it does make sense that a guy who’s known for his bright red skin would be running an organization called Crimson Dawn, and I wrote around the time of the film’s release that eagle-eyed fans had spotted props in Dryden Vos’ lair that hinted at ancient and powerful Sith Lords from the Legends continuity. But while I guess it makes sense that Maul would be running the show, I think bringing a character that everyone saw graphically die on screen back to life felt a bit cheap.
I know he’s appeared in the TV series, and know that according to Lucasfilm they’re canon, but only a minority in the Solo audience are familiar with them, so the revelation was less “Cool!” and more “That doesn’t make much sense.” Which I doubt is what they were going for.
If Solo: A Star Wars Story had done well, we might be looking forward to a trilogy about Han tangling with the Crimson Dawn, but as it didn’t, I suspect Darth Maul will be consigned back to TV shows, novels and comics to finish up his tales there. And what a damn shame that is.