I feel like I’ve done my ‘geek cred’ something of a disservice by failing to write about Star Wars in the three and a half years that I’ve been running this blog…
That largely stems from the fact that I simply don’t feel that I have much in the way of unique or interesting things to say about Star Wars that a billion other people haven’t articulated in a billion different ways. Discourse and analysis about Star Wars is as ‘lived-in’ as its setting, so I don’t really think that I have a whole lot to add to that unending cacophony.
However… every once in a while there’s a landmark moment in Star Wars that nags at me to do some sort of write-up because it really hammers home why I love this series.
Twin Suns, the latest episode of Star Wars: Rebels, was one of those moments.Oft have I argued that killing a character off is one of the least interesting things you can do. All too often, I find that it’s a quick and easy ‘go to’ narrative function to spark off a couple of short-term events in order to try to retain an audience’s interest by gauging some sort of emotional response from them – it’s more about being shocking than it is about actually serving the progression of the narrative or the needs of the character.
For me, killing off a character is something that requires a great deal of thought centred around six key questions.
– Who does it (and why them)?
– When is an appropriate time to do it (and why then)?
– Where do you do it (and why there)?
– What kills them (and why that)?
– How do you kill them (and why that particular way)?
– And, of course, the most important question: Why?
If you can’t answer all six of those very simple questions, then I feel you should reevaluate the decision to kill off a character. If you’re writing someone out for good, you have to justify in the narrative why that is something that will enhance the work and meaningfully serve the story and character(s).
With Maul, who dies at Obi-Wan’s hand during the climax of Twin Suns, there’s no end of things to talk about for each of these questions. I’m not going to necessarily address each of them separately, but I’d like to lend some of my own perspective on the matter and how this culmination of his arc has consolidated his position as one of my favourite characters in all of Star Wars.This all revolves around me basically drawing a bit of an arbitrary semantic difference between the contextual meaning of “revenge” and “avenge”.
Revenge has been one of the definitive aspects of Maul’s character from the first moment he spoke in The Phantom Menace.
“At last, we shall reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last, we shall have revenge.”
Maul’s journey as a character is not only bookended by this pursuit, but constantly driven by it. That’s what he’s in pursuit of in practically every appearance he’s made – be it as apprentice, conqueror, or the fallen warrior trying to bounce back into a setting that has moved on from and long forgotten him.
The semantic difference that I want to talk about comes from Maul’s dying words.
Maul: “Tell me, is it the Chosen One?”
Obi-Wan: “He is.”
Maul: “He will avenge us.”
Maul doesn’t die asking a question, that’s not how Sam Witwer’s (amazing) delivery comes across to me. He’s making a statement: the Chosen One will avenge us.
Firstly, ‘Us’… it’s a fascinating word to use because he’s referring to Obi-Wan as well. This gets at the heart of what made me want to write this post because of how beautifully it deconstructs Maul’s revenge arc.
Neither Maul nor Obi-Wan can be the ones to fix this problem that the galaxy is facing, to right the wrongs that they have suffered in the past when they were being moved on the galactic chessboard by Palpatine. The two of them are (right up to the moment of their deaths) carrying the baggage of their past – even with Obi-Wan’s newfound enlightenment with the Force that he’s developed since he’s been on Tatooine and the things he’s had to let go in that time.I’d like to segway for a moment into bringing up something that I’ve previously discussed about Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.
Inigo Montoya is a Spaniard who dedicates his entire life to the pursuit of revenge – to hunting down and killing the Six-Fingered Man (Count Rugen) who murdered his father. Revenge becomes the sole purpose of his life for over twenty years, his arc in the film is all leading up to the moment where he fulfils his quest and then realises that it’s a hollow victory that leaves him with no idea of what to do next.
It serves to highlight how, outside of the thrill of the hunt (and even that had been waning for Inigo after over two decades) there’s nothing else to be gained from vengeance.
This is something that Mandy Patinkin, the gentleman who portrayed Inigo in the film, has spoken about:
“The purpose of revenge is, in my personal opinion, completely worthless and pointless. And the purpose of existence is to embrace our fellow human being, not be revengeful. And turn our darkness into light.” [Mandy Patinkin, CBS interview]
Revenge also tends to become a mimetic kind of violence. To bring over what I said in the linked article:
When Inigo finally confronts Count Rugen, despite the fact that we’re rooting for Inigo there’s an underlying sense of discomfort at how Inigo’s attacks mirror those of Rugen’s – he stabs him in the shoulders, just as Rugen did to him moments ago, and then cuts him across both sides of his face, just as Rugen did when Inigo was eleven years old just after losing his father.
When you strip away the layer of awe that is felt at seeing Inigo finally look his father’s murderer in the eye, what you’re left with is a very clear indication of the seductive danger of revenge when you let it control you.
It is fascinating to see how easy it is to apply this to Twin Suns, to the way in which Maul and Obi-Wan match their blades. As everyone is probably aware, Maul attempts to kill Obi-Wan by using the same move he used on Qui-Gon where he bashes him in the face with the hilt of his lightsaber and then impales him through the abdomen.
Obi-Wan identifies this intention through Maul’s stance and adjusts his own to counter it.
“When you’ve fought someone many times, or face off you kind of know each other’s moves. So if you think about it, the build up to this confrontation and the actual lightsabers hitting each other is actually longer, because they’re basically playing it out in their heads and the amazing thing is the move that Maul tries, after the initial exchange, he actually attempts the move that killed Qui-Gon Jinn. He tried to basically bash him with the hilt.” [Henry Gilroy, Rebels Recon #3:20]
It’s brilliant because that mimetic form of attack is exactly why the fight lasted about five seconds. This is visually conveying to us why the pursuit of revenge in such a manner means you have failed from the start.
These two warriors (Ezra and Maul) brave the heat of Tatooine’s twin suns and its harsh desert, with very different motivations for going where they’re going, but with the same purpose: meeting the wizard. Maul is a fallen warrior, he no longer carries the ‘Darth’ title and therefore isn’t even equipped to meet Obi-Wan as a spiritual equal (where Obi-Wan has spent almost two decades immersing himself in the Force and is at his peak in that regard).
Desperate, lost, and dehydrated, he tries to lure Obi-Wan out by falling back on the same old plan – trying to “tempt his noble heart” by placing somebody else (in this case, Ezra) in danger.
The active pursuit of revenge can’t solve this problem.
That is why Maul has to die.
He can avenge them because he doesn’t carry the weight of their past with him, he’s a blank slate in a sense. Despite suffering his own losses to the Empire, he’s not fighting for revenge. The end result of him fighting against the Empire and redeeming his father (who then kills Palpatine) is that Obi-Wan and Maul will be avenged – the word here implying more of a passive result.
This ultimately serves to highlight the difference between the light side and dark side of the Force. Now, this is admittedly an area that is going to come down to individual interpretation because that’s just the nature of talking about the Force. The Force is something that’s changed rather a lot over the years, but this is the way in which I like to think about the dichotomy of the dark and light side:
The dark side is about making things happen, it’s actively trying to enforce order on chaos.
The light side is about allowing things to happen, trying to find order within chaos.
In The Holocrons of Fate (episode 3 of Rebels‘ third season), Maul said to Ezra that he is seeking “hope”. When Maul dies in Obi-Wan’s arms, there’s an underlying complexity to that moment that encapsulates why he’s such a great character. Maul doesn’t, in that moment, turn his darkness into light, as Mandy Patinkin spoke about – that’s just not in Maul’s nature and there’s some sadness on Obi-Wan’s part in seeing that Maul never really grew.
But Maul dies with the certainty that ‘he’ will face the person who killed his brother, Savage, and brought about the deaths of Obi-Wan’s own brothers and sisters in the Jedi Order.
For the first time, Maul is able to let go and recognise that this story will go on without him in a way that will bring some justice to what he and Obi-Wan suffered as equals – as pawns in Palpatine’s game. Likewise, amidst constantly offering Obi-Wan his help and support, Ezra just ends up being sent home to the Ghost crew – to his family.As I said, Maul doesn’t necessarily grow here. But both Ezra and Maul come to accept that they must depart a story that they don’t really have any place being in, at least, not in the way they want to be in it. It’s not Ezra’s responsibility to deal with Maul and make things right.
Ezra has a family to return to and his own part to play in the Rebellion, but the tragedy for Maul is that he has to die in order to finally be at peace. But he dies with a real, tangible hope that there will, one day, be a galaxy that has been rid of Palpatine.
Some day, he will be defeated.
In his final moments, I believe that this was the “hope” Maul was searching for, and that all who have suffered (as he did) at Palpatine’s hands will find the same peace.
Maul won’t be around for that galaxy, he’ll never get to see it or feel it, but he knows it’s real. For once, that is enough for him.
Obi-Wan cradles Maul as he dies, just as he cradled Qui-Gon and Satine – both of whom were killed by Maul. It seems odd on the surface, but it speaks so beautifully to the history that these two characters have had over the last eighteen years, ever since The Phantom Menace.
Maul was one of the last ties that Obi-Wan has to his past – arguably, his greatest adversary…
And now he’s had to let even that go. But, in doing so, he has mended this old wound.That’s all I really have to say. I’m honestly quite bewildered by the disappointment some people have expressed that they didn’t just do another Duel of the Fates, as if anything of value could’ve been gained from trying to one-up another such landmark moment in Star Wars – a fight scene that even the most ardent prequel haters will tell newcomers to watch.
I have no end of respect for the approach that the Rebels cast and crew took in delivering something that didn’t cater to the expectations of the audience, but did what was most appropriate for the Star Wars saga.
“Going into this, I know we had a really rigorous conversation around the idea of whether or not it’s something we should be doing. And, especially knowing the journeys of both those characters, really making sure that that moment was being constructed from a place of what the story demanded. Not from a place of what we all personally wanted to see.” [Carrie Beck, Rebels Recon #3:20]
Twin Suns was a poignant, emotional, and cathartic end to one of the longest-running conflicts in Star Wars. For me, there couldn’t have been a better resolution.
This is what a revenge arc culminating in a major character’s death looks like when it’s done so utterly right.