Darth Maul has to be one of the best-designed creations in the whole Star Wars franchise. The character’s unique look is a large part of why he made such an impact on fans, despite being killed off in The Phantom Menace, with his popularity such that he later played a major role in The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series as well as having a surprise cameo in Solo. Who knows what would have happened if the original design for the villain had been used, though.
StarWars.com has shared an extensive oral history of the franchise, which includes comments from concept artist Iain McCaig. He recalled that Maul was described in the script for Episode I as “a vision from your worst nightmare” and McCaig drew from his own fears as he came up with how Maul should look. The result was something so disturbing that George Lucas was horror-stricken upon seeing it.
“I drew my worst nightmare, which was that face that’s peering in the window at you late at night, and it’s barely alive. Like a cross between a ghost and a serial killer staring in at you, and it’s raining, and the rain is distorting the face,” McCaig said. “So I drew that, a stylized version of it, red ribbons instead of rain, and put it in a folder, and at the meeting passed it over to George. George opened it up and went, ‘Oh, my God,’ slammed it shut, handed it back, and said, ‘Give me your second worst nightmare.’”
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You can check out the first attempt at Maul’s look in the gallery above, alongside the second piece of concept art which got much closer to how the Sith apprentice would actually appear on-screen. Apparently, McCaig came up with the ultimate design for the character by thinking about what else scared him, as he explains:
“I tried to figure out what I’d done wrong in my thinking because you don’t want less, ever. I started thinking, ‘Star Wars is not real life. It’s mythology.’ So I looked for my first best mythological nightmare, and that’s easy because that’s clowns. I was scared to death of Bozo the Clown as a kid. So I made my big scary clown, and I’d run out of faces to draw, so I used mine. I drew myself into a clown. The patterns became very stylized patterns of the muscles underneath the skin that give expression to the face.”
Maul could have returned to something similar to McCaig’s early artwork in Solo, as unused concept designs depict the villain with long hair. It was probably the right decision though to stick with the instantly recognizable silhouette of the character for his cameo.
Said cameo was clearly meant to set up Maul having a bigger role in the sequel, too, but this likely won’t happen now due to the box office failure of Solo. We have heard that Lucasfilm plans to shift its future spinoff projects into TV shows for Disney Plus instead, however, so hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Maul in the Star Wars saga just yet.