Entertainment Weekly recently posted an exclusive video that announced the return of Darth Maul to the Star Wars universe. For those who either missed or refused to watch the prequels, Maul was a Sith Lord—the same kind of baddie as Darth Vader—who used a double-bladed lightsaber. His first on-screen appearance was in The Phantom Menace in 1999.
In that film, a three-way lightsaber duel ended with Qui-Gon Jinn impaled through the chest and Darth Maul toppling into a deep shaft, deftly cleft in twain by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Last January, viewers of the cartoon series Star Wars: The Clone Wars were introduced to Maul’s brother Savage Oppress (pronounced in typical Star Wars style as sah-VAHJ OH-press), who was a proposed apprentice to help Count Dooku overthrow his master and take control of the Dark Side of the Force. At the end of that trilogy of episodes, viewers were told that Darth Maul was out there in the incredibly vague somewhere in the galaxy, and Oppress had to go find him.
So, apparently this means that Darth Maul does indeed live and, by some miracle, survived being cut in half by a lightsaber and falling several stories. Insert exasperated sigh here.
Supervising director Dave Filoni told Entertainment Weekly that it makes sense in terms of Star Wars lore:
Fans will note that there is precedent for this kind of resurrection. “The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural,” Darth Sidious says in Revenge of the Sith. Sidious and his master found a way to use the Force to cheat death—that’s how he was able to keep Vader alive after that little swan dive into a lava field. Couldn’t Maul have picked up on some of that too? Says Filoni, “He’s suffered through a lot to keep himself alive and implemented the training of his master to do so.”
There’s also significant financial interest for Lucasfilm in this move. The episode(s) pertaining to Darth Maul will be aired in early 2012, and, by a cosmic coincidence I’m sure, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3-D is premiering February 10, 2012. It goes without saying that I’m annoyed by publicity stunts written into entertainment to drive interest in a related property. Anyone else remember the martial arts episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Tsunkatse”? WWE Wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a guest star, and both WWE and Voyager were on UPN.
This entire mess—and yes, I’m calling it a mess—brings Star Wars into the realm of pointless character resurrections to drive sales. It also revives the eternal frustrations I have with Star Wars fandom. Since Maul was by far one of the coolest and most bad-ass characters in the prequel trilogy, the news that he would return to the franchise was understandably received with fan praise. At the same time, others started to look at how this affects the overall quality of the franchise and aired their opinions. In response to critical fans, some blogs, including Star Wars Underworld, questioned the “fandom” of people with differing opinions. While I appreciate a discussion on how they plan to resurrect a character and do it well, it’s certainly not the first time that the Star Wars social media sphere has played the card of questioning how someone can be a fan of something while being critical: the hosts of The ForceCast did it numerous times before I stopped listening to the podcast back in May.
While other subsets of science-fiction and fantasy fandom can somewhat easily accept both positive and negative criticism toward the franchise of their choice, some Star Wars fans tend to follow the line of reasoning that if “you’re not with with us, you’re against us.” It’s all fun and games until you disagree with Uncle George and refuse to drink the blue milk, and I’ve already seen backlash from refusing to buy the Star Wars Blu-Rays and my decision not to support the 3-D re-releases. Having intelligent discussions about the positives and negatives of a franchise is one thing, but I cannot support attacking each other for having differing opinions.
The bigger problem I have with this is an issue that has plagued comic book franchises for decades, and that is in the pointless death and resurrection of characters. In real life, religious beliefs aside, death is pretty permanent. In storytelling, death is a result of failure, the completion of a heroic journey, or the motivation to start that journey. In a smaller subset, that death results in a significant change of character dynamics—such as regenerations in Doctor Who, or the evolution of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—but those deaths still carry the impact of the end of a journey and how it affects the characters around them.
Simply put, to reverse a death negates that impact and cheapens the victory for the winners.
In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul’s death marked two important character changes: First, it displayed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s maturity and readiness to be promoted from apprentice to Jedi Knight; second, it marked the beginnings of Anakin’s destined path. The death of Darth Maul was a very important turning point for the Jedi themselves, as they discover that the Sith had indeed returned.
While I look forward to finding out how Filoni and company accomplish this feat, I am very skeptical about the Star Wars franchise as a whole at this point. If Filoni proves me wrong and does this well, I will be quite amazed. On the other hand, if this turns into yet another cheap comic book return—Superman wasn’t dead, after all, he was just resting—to sell tickets to yet another release of the Star Wars movies, then I’m done with The Clone Wars. I have supported the show since it was announced, but for me, it would be that damaging, and since George Lucas has final approval on the show, the blame would lie solely with him.
Come 2012, we shall see.