"Solo: A Star Wars Story" has finally hit theaters, giving fans a chance to see the adventures of a young Han Solo years before he became the smuggler turned reluctant hero of the Rebel Alliance.
From Han's first encounter with Chewbacca to their maiden voyage aboard the Millennium Falcon, the standalone movie features many moments that plenty of "Star Wars" fans have long wanted to see play out on the big screen. But it also features a surprise appearance that may have thrown some people for a loop.
[Warning: Spoilers for "Solo: A Star Wars Story" below]
One of the film's new characters, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), serves as both a love interest for young Solo and an enigma in her own right. In one of the film's final scenes, viewers discover that a familiar character has been influencing events in secret when Qi'ra reaches out to contact the higher-ups of the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.
While some of the shock is the reveal that Qi'ra has been hiding her true mission from Han, the biggest surprise is that the higher-up she calls is none other than Darth Maul.
Fans of the "Star Wars" films will remember Maul from his appearance in "The Phantom Menace" as the double-bladed-lightsaber wielding Sith who was an apprentice to Darth Sidious (a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine).
In "Phantom Menace," Maul was tasked with tracking down Queen Amidala, which pits him against the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Though Maul manages to defeat Jinn, Kenobi avenges his master by slicing Maul in half.
Since this bisection is the last time Maul is seen in any of the "Star Wars" films, some viewers may be wondering how he is still a player of power in the galaxy far, far away.
But Maul's story didn't end with what seemed to be his on-screen death in "Phantom Menace." What those who have only delved into the "Star Wars" universe through the films don't know is that Maul was resurrected in the animated series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Star Wars Rebels."
Even "Solo" writer Lawrence Kasdan was initially unaware that Maul survived the events in "The Phantom Menace."
"I was, like, 'What? I thought he got cut in half! That usually does you in,'" Kasdan told The Times in part of a wide-ranging interview about "Solo."
Kasdan's son and fellow writer, Jonathan Kasdan, elaborated a bit on the significance of Maul and his appearance in "Solo."
"He's a character that, like Darth Vader, worked on a primal level for people," said Jonathan. "He touches on something fundamental in our psyche, and in those three [prequel] movies he, to me, was the most powerful bit of psychological imagery.
"I think that's why fans were drawn to him and why the canon was eager to tell more stories about him," Jonathan continued. "In a galaxy populated with very dangerous people, he's always been in the top group of dangerous people. So the opportunity to put him in the movie and give him the element of these mechanical legs, which rhyme with Luke's mechanical hand – it seemed like it could work."
Maul returned to the "Star Wars" canon in "The Clone Wars," the animated series that aired on Cartoon Network for five seasons from 2008-13 before moving to Netflix for its sixth and final season in 2014. The series is set in the few years between "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith."
In the show's fourth-season episode "Brothers," Savage Opress, another dual lightsaber wielding Dathomirian Zabrak, is sent to locate his brother Maul. His search leads him to the junk planet Lotho Minor, where he discovers that Maul — who has somehow acquired cybernetic spider-like legs — has been surviving with no real memory of his past other than his desire for revenge on the Jedi.
"Of course I survived," Maul tells his brother once his memories are restored in the following episode. "My hatred kept my spirit intact even though my body was not."
This hatred drives Maul's story line in "The Clone Wars," where in addition to revenge, he seeks the power and prestige he believes he lost after being defeated by Kenobi. Among the moves Maul makes during the series is to take over a criminal syndicate and get other crime families (such as the Hutts) to pledge their allegiance to his group, which eventually is named the Shadow Collective.
Maul's story is further explored in "Rebels," the animated series initially set just five years before the events of "A New Hope." This means that the character is very much alive and a power player in the criminal underworld during the time that "Solo" — which chronologically comes between "Revenge of the Sith" and "Rogue One" in the film series — is set. And the Maul in "Rebels" is still very much motivated by his desire for revenge.
While fans can only theorize for now about what Maul's appearance in "Solo" might mean for any future "Star Wars" films, such as in any "Solo" follow-ups or the rumored Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff, it seems likely that viewers have not seen the last of him just yet.
Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this story.