Darth Maul had the potential to be the Star Wars’ ultimate villain. In The Phantom Menace, actor Ray Park brought an unrivalled edge to the role with his martial arts skills, imbuing the character with a deathly seriousness. The horror and expertise held in Darth Maul’s grasp could’ve placed him alongside the likes of Palpatine as one of the franchise’s predominant, prepotent bad guys. But it wasn’t to be.
The makeup, God, the makeup… Darth Maul’s famous black and red face paint and jagged horns protruding from his skull transcended Star Wars’ often humorous or gimmicky SFX to become iconic.
There’s not a single fan in the world who couldn’t describe the look, which afforded the character a deep-rooted sense of menace.
It’s the sinister makeup and prosthetics, combined with the brooding physical presence Park brought to the role, which cut through The Phantom Menace and Darth Maul’s indefensible lack of screen time to cement his place in the Star Wars Villain Hall of Fame.
Park played the character with two distinct postures: one a poised, stalking bearing and the other upright and rigid.
Star Wars: Darth Maul is let down by the franchise
Star Wars: Darth Maul is one of the franchise’s greatest villain
The former made him powerfully threatening — one of the most intimidating characters the galaxy has ever seen — and the latter added to the fearsome presence, showing his militant position as a soldier and right hand man to his master, Darth Sidious.
Darth Maul’s imposing stance is integral to the sense of foreboding which made him so memorable — the ever-present threat of a switch from being at-attention to attack mode, ready to whip out that double-bladed lightsaber at any moment.
But, despite the clear genius of the character, Star Wars boss George Lucas chose to cut the role to a mere two lines.
The decision, which caused the original actor, Benicio Del Toro, to ditch the part, leaving it open for Park, means he spoke a grand total of just 31 words in the whole of Episode I.
Nonetheless, across his measly handful of scenes, the silence only served to increase the effect of his evil.
Star Wars: Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s duel is the best scene in The Phantom Menace
Over the course of a matter of minutes (which is all he got on screen), fans fell under the seductive spell of Darth Maul’s villainy.
While withholding dialogue might not have managed to take away from the character’s dominance, cutting him in half and writing him out sure did.
Darth Maul is best remembered for his spectacular duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) at the end of The Phantom Menace.
The scene, in which he took on both master and padawan, made the absolute most of Park’s stunt skills and saw him showcase a fighting style never seen before in Star Wars.
It was stunt coordinator Nick Gillard who brought Park in to work on the choreography for the lightsaber fight, which wasn’t described in the script, with instructions simply stating: “A vicious lightsaber fight ensues.”
But such was Park’s talent that he landed the role itself, with Peter Serafinowicz voicing, and went on to work with Gillard to develop Maul’s signature fighting style.
The scene is famous for good reason, having gone down in Star Wars history thanks to the grace and beauty demonstrated by the actors (and stunt doubles for McGregor and Neeson) and the realism the trio brought to the acting in the moment.
It rises so far above the rest of The Phantom Menace’s largely ludicrous and frivolous content, it actually drags the whole movie up with it.
This is Darth Maul’s legacy: the only scene which uncriticised by the masses of detractors of Star Wars’ most hated film.
Star Wars: Darth Maul’s potential as a character died when he was killed off
The emotional wallop came when Darth Maul stabbed Qui-Gon and cast him aside, moving on to face Obi-Wan.
But, alas, Lucas saw more merit in putting an end to one of his best characters right there and then, and the young Jedi apprentice sliced his foe in two, causing him to tumble in halves down a shaft, ostensibly to his demise, on Naboo.
Cue two painfully Darth Maul-free follow-up movies to wrap up the prequel trilogy.
While Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith have Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku, the eventual revelation Palpatine’s role as the Sith Lord and Anakin’s (Hayden Christensen) transformation into Darth Vader, there’s a gaping hole left by what could have been the series’ greatest ever villain.
Fast-forward almost 20 years and there’s a comeback for Maul, who, by this point, has ditched his Sith-affiliated epithet.
Fans of Star Wars’ animated series and books will know he didn’t die at the the hands of Obi-Wan and, rather, kept himself alive on a diet of rats in the trash on the junk planet Lotho Minor, fuelling himself with rage and the desire for vengeance.
Solo: A Star Wars Story saw Maul return, sporting new cybernetic legs to make up for the ones he lost in the duel against Obi-Wan.
Even Lucas’ own daughter conceded the fact Maul was destined for greater things than his untimely demise on Naboo.
In animated series The Clone Wars, written by Katie Lucas, Maul explains to his brother, Savage Opress, how he survived, saying: “My hatred kept my spirit intact even though my body was not.
“I was apprentice to the most powerful being in the galaxy once. I was destined to become so much more, but I was robbed of that destiny by the Jedi, by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
While the series and books treat Maul with more respect than the movies, giving him an intriguing comeback story and seeing him hunt Obi-Wan in a bid to have his revenge, for a wider audience, the films are all they know.
Nothing can make up for lost time and the potential (much needed) improvements he could have brought to Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but here’s hoping Maul’s return in Solo heralds a new dawn for one of the best villains Star Wars has ever seen.