Retrospective for Darth Maul
The more I get into Clone Wars/Rebels the more sadness I feel for Maul. Yes he’s a vicious character who’s done terrible things I’m not trying to deny that, but he really epitomised the result of the Dark Side path alongside Vader.
Spoilers for Clone Wars, Rebels and a bit of Solo and the Mandalorian.
I always loved him as this Evil Badass in Ep 1 and in some ways I wish they hadn’t made him quite so pitiable esp in Rebels, yet his journey and character development is so rich and Sam Witwer plays him so well.
What I find so sad and intriguing is that despite being so shaped and ultimately brought down by the Sith Code, he still at core driven by a need for loyalty and love. He craves a special bond with someone - his brother, his mother, Ahsoka, Ezra, even in some twisted way Sidious at least until half way though CW. But because he was kidnapped and raised by Sidious the only way he can conceive of such a bond is via the Sith Rule of Two. You can see how perplexed Savage Oppress is when Maul insists on it in their relationship. And how affected he is by being replaced by Dooku and later Anakin. He uses the Sith Code to survive for years after being cut in half by Obi Wan.
Ahsoka is interesting because they truly are equals in a way, he still at times tries to assert dominance (”follow my lead”, “the Padawan needs one more lesson...”) but he reaches out to her in a vulnerable manner the way he never does with others. Now people forget how cunning he is, he’s had info from Jesse and he was trained by master manipulator - the effete Sidious - so he’s presenting himself in the way that would most appeal to her ex-Jedi sensibilities, but his need is palpable. Why reach out his hand like that? Does he seriously expect her to take it? And what - hold hands with him? Shake his hand? I know it’s a visual motif from Vader and Kylo Ren, but Vader makes sense - Luke is hanging off a bridge and needs to be pulled up, Kylo has touched hands with Rey before, they have a Force Bond and there’s definite romantic undertones to their previous interactions. Maul and Ahsoka have been enemies up til now, but it’s like he needs that physical connection with her. Yes he’s manipulating her and not to be trusted, but the underlying truth is that they are both outcasts, opposites on the same spectrum; they are in a unique position and as such it’s a real shame the creators didn’t take that forward in some way, because it would have been really interesting and a unique opportunity to explore both their characters and the use of the Force unrestricted by Jedi and Sith ideologies.
Ezra is the saddest though. Maul is much older now and has clearly been on his own or more cloistered away from others, despite his criminal empire, for a long time. His home on Dathomir is testament to that. He literally only has the vengeful spirits of the dead to keep him company ffs! I appreciated the Darkside Yoga impression and the tension this creates when Ezra meets him on Malachor (again another lonely hellscape to get marooned on - Maul do you want to go to Korriban/Moraband to make it a hat-trick? Maybe kick Darth Bane’s arse for his sh*tty ideology while you are there?). But after a while you realise just how desperate Maul is for some kind of companionship that is relatable to him in any way. It’s creepy but also weirdly understandable? Ezra in Maul’s twisted logic is tailor-made for such a bond - he’s an emotional Force sensitive orphan who hates the Sith/Empire and is looking for training, family and purpose - all the things Maul can relate to and can provide. But because Maul has been raised by the Nightsisters and Sidious and twisted by the Dark Side, his only way of relating to the kid is to take him as an apprentice which means the Rule of Two. Ezra’s friends and current Master are a threat, not more potential allies and companions. So Maul attacks them multiple times and loses Ezra’s trust and potential friendship.
He says when Ezra confronts him about his betrayal of them on Malachor - “I betrayed your friends, I would have remained loyal to you.” And I think he would have. Now would that have been a terrible relationship if Maul’s character hadn’t changed - yes, completely. Maul only knows the Dark Side way of doing things but he does retain this core of attachment that both the Jedi and the Sith would deplore.
His outburst to Ezra on Dathomir is so revealing (paraphrased) - “Forget your memories! Forget your attachments! Our destinies converge on a planet with twin suns. We can walk that path together...as friends! As brothers...”
*Cries* He’s not even trying to hide it now, there’s no big bad Sith, no Master and Apprentice - one to embody the power, the other to crave it, Maul at his heart needs a friend, needs a brother. He might have been shouting to himself to let go of his memories and attachments and because he can’t we know it leads to his end on Tatooine which is heartbreaking. Obi Wan sees this and I’m glad he’s able to give his old foe rest at last. It speaks to Obi Wan’s character that despite what Maul has done to him he can ‘rise above’ the Dark Side and not hate Maul. But also I just wish it hadn’t ended that way? It doesn’t help that I thought Maul was still alive in the OT because of Solo and I was so hoping for a Maul/Ashoka reunion in the Mandalorian and her new show. I just wanted him to be this cool anti-villain that explores the spectrum of Light and Dark, maybe get some form of peace or balance...a Grey Sith? The fact he *still* calls Ezra his apprentice the last time he sees him just makes it worse.
I wanted more for him...
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Introductions (AU; the government are introduced to the Emperor’s right hand man)
Emperor Palpatine sat at the helm of the table, his expensive ornate satin cloak pulled up to cover his deformed features. He had made a rare exception to the never appearing in public rule, if only to summon his little group of closely affiliated followers for a less than chummy supper. The Coruscant sun had already begun to set, its pinkish rays disappearing behind the skyscrapers visible from the large single viewport of the Emperor’s dining hall. Two months had passed since the fall of the Republic. Two months since the war came to an end, two months since the Jedi were declared traitors and executed en masse. Two months since Palpatine declared himself dictator, since his regulations had begun being pushed onto all known systems. Two months, and Governor Tarkin had thought himself to be lucky with his role.
A few faces, he recognized. Former admiral Wullf Yularen was a welcome addition despite being a bit below the required rank, fighting the just fight against outliers and naysayers. Orn Free Taa was a more unfortunate case (he had likely invited himself by flattery and empty promises), while Vizier Mas Amedda was an obvious presence. Sate Pestage, Janus Greejatus, Ars Dangor, Kren Blista-Vanee and Verge’s smug faces had Tarkin fighting the urge to roll his eyes at their insipid subservience. Artist Eveli Charis was, Tarkin figured, the most surprising member of the meeting - serving as the only female face of the small crowd. Her aside, and finance minister Gagh rounded off the gathering.
These people were - each in different ways - the most influential people of the new Empire.
“I have not gathered you simply for the sake of sharing a dinner in the wake of our victory. Indeed, I have been wishing to relay to you my plans for the grand future of our Galaxy,” said Palpatine suddenly, his voice gravelly and his gnarly hands reminiscent of claws where they rested against the table cloth.
Tarkin thought he could see a pair of golden eyes gleaming beneath the shrouded darkness of Palpatine’s hood, but chalked it up to a trick of the light. Instead, he focused on the hand stitched embroidery of the Emperor’s burgundy robes. The man had always had an affinity for fancy dress.
“It is clear that you shall provide eyes and ears for me, and I trust you to fulfill your duties towards the Empire, and subsequently to me. However, I’m afraid I must offer you a small surprise.”
“Another, Your Highness?” Tarkin said with an amused smile, and he couldn’t help but feel triumphant when Palpatine let out a pleased cackle in response.
“I’m afraid so, Governor. Surely, you shall all take this little revelation in stride. Are we not in dire need of powerful allies?” he responded, gesturing with one clawed hand towards the Vizier who stood poised by the doorway.
On each side of the hydraulic sliding doors themselves, a royal guard clad in crimson stood at a patient salute. The Emperor’s personal bodyguards, their faces cloaked and hidden from view much like Palpatine himself. Their presence was an odd mixture of reassuring and oppressive, Tarkin had decided. But he saw no reason to fear them, given his own standing with the Emperor. If anything, he benefited from their presence as protectors.
“Will you reveal to us this secret, Your Highness?” asked Charis, her expression curious and incredulous at once.
“My child, have you not been taught the virtue of patience?” was Palpatine’s response; a thinly veiled insult that put her in her place, as she shrank back in shame and lowered her head in an obedient bow.
“Forgive me my insolence, Your Highness,” she offered, apologetic and the Emperor simply shrugged her words off.
“Think nothing of it. You are correct, it appears to me that I have unfairly omitted mentioning this to either of you. Alas, it is time I remedy this arrogance.”
Tarkin noted how the Emperor turned his head briefly, giving the Vizier a barely perceptible nod and the man stepped back. On cue, the guards uncrossed their electro-staffs and parted to the sides. Confusion seemed to overtake most of the party’s faces, as the doorway slid open with ease - only to reveal a man. Clad in black armour with red and silver accents; broad shouldered, tall and visibly disdainful towards his company. He stalked wordlessly up to Palpatine’s right hand side, where he lingered - gloved hands folded in front of his hips, legs wide apart. His eyes were glowing, an amber shade to their irises, a bloodshot sclera. The man’s face was scarred, rugged; and the only visible emotions seemed to be anger and resentment. One single dark blonde curl fell over his creased forehead.
But that wasn’t the oddity. Someone in the company - Tarkin suspected it to be Yularen, judging by the tone - gasped.
Indeed, it was difficult not to recognize the young man by the Emperor's side - the Emperor, whose features had twisted into a toothy grin. The man said nothing, taller than Tarkin remembered him. Something warped and cruel and twisted distorting his rather handsome features into something unrecognizable, all charm vanquished. He was pale, peering in distaste down at the dining party as if they were beneath him. It didn’t sit right with Tarkin, given that they all knew who he was and what his past profession up until about two months ago would have been.
Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker had joined them for supper.
“May I introduce to you Lord Vader,” said Palpatine, breaking the eerie silence. “Some of you may believe you are familiar with this man. I assure you, you are mistaken. The man whom you may recall is long gone. Lord Vader has seen the error of his ways, and accepted the Jedi traitors for what they are. He came to my aid during the assassination attempt ordered by master Windu.”
Tarkin listened closely, but he was not the only one who seemed unable to tear his gaze from Skywalk-- Vader’s stern features. He looked so much older than his age, as if he had seen a million lifetimes of suffering pass him by. His hollow eyes seemed haunted, but their inherent glow was more reminiscent of a predator locked in a cage. Simply biding his time, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce. Still, he made no move and did not utter a single word.
“Lord Vader has turned out to be, much like you, one of my most trusted advisors. He is my right hand man, and while I have neglected to provide him with an official rank - he outranks every single one of you. It is my belief that only he has the means to do what needs to be done,” the Emperor continued.
Yularen seemed to shift uneasily in his seat, his eyes wide and a blunt disbelief etched into his aging features.
“You wish to speak, Colonel?”
Tarkin heard himself say; wondering if they were the only ones present - apart from the Emperor himself - who had maintained some sort of personal relationship to the man Palpatine had renamed and retooled so viciously.
“No, Governor. I--” he began, but was immediately cut off by Palpatine.
“You are wondering how the man you knew as a Jedi could turn on his own kind, is that not so? You are surprised to see that his loyalty towards the Empire could outweigh his loyalty towards his kin. Am I correct, Colonel?”
Yularen seemed to pause a bit longer than required, but gave a curt nod as he found the voice to speak up.
“Yes, Your Highness. I am merely… surprised, as you put it,” he said as a manner of surrender.
“It is understandable that you would be shocked. Should you like to speak of your own decision, Lord Vader?” the Emperor drawled, his voice menacing and sing-songy at once as he gestured to offer Vader the opportunity to speak.
“No,” the young man simply said, standing so still that his lips barely even seemed to be moving; his gleaming eyes scanning each and every person present before it landed on Tarkin - the only man who’s amusement outweighed the concerns. “I believe my actions will speak for themselves, as will your evident trust in me, my master.”
The voice was a bit deeper and gruffer than Tarkin recalled it - but that could be maturity - but its monotone quality was new. Vader spoke as if the words held no meaning to him, as if whatever he said was pointless and a waste of breath. As if his words were unbefitting of anyone but the Emperor. Yet, at the same time, he was matter of fact and to the point. A quality Tarkin had enjoyed in the past, and one he presumed Yularen had as well.
“Oh, I implore you to amuse this unspoken inquiry, Lord Vader,” Palpatine pressed, and as much as it came off as if being in good faith, it was an obvious demand no loyal servant could ignore.
“As you wish, my master,” Vader simply obeyed, his burning eyes still holding Tarkin’s in a cold, disgruntled stare. “I was the single man to commandeer the troops as they marched on the Jedi temple. I surveyed the situation, and I made sure not a single soul present escaped their fate. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to serve my Emperor, and I will not be frowned upon by the likes of you.”
The last word was delivered with such pure, unbridled loathing that it seemed to lower the temperature of the room by several degrees by proxy of mere intent. Vader nonchalantly folded his arms over his chest, lips drawn into a thin line and the perpetual scowl of his forehead had already begun to carve out fine lines in their wake. Palpatine was still sneering, grimy teeth bared in a ferocious grin.
“As you can see, Lord Vader’s conviction is admirable and undeniable. He has proved himself worthy of my trust, and so, I expect you to follow my example accordingly. I expect you to show him the reverence he requires,” the Emperor concluded, that odd glow to Vader’s eyes mirrored by his as he briefly peered up from beneath his hood - this time, it could be no trick of the light.
“I trust your infallible judgment, Your Highness,” Tarkin finally said, being the first to accept the new norm. “I may not be completely assured of Lord Vader’s motives as of yet, but he shall gain my respect when he has proved himself worthy of it.”
“My friend, you need not fear. However, I understand your concerns, and I have no doubt that you will come around quite soon,” said Palpatine, and while there was malice to the tone, he was also unusually honest and benevolent.
Tarkin suspected that was entirely on him, and their long history as colleagues and friends. He nodded, glancing over at Vader whose eyes regarded him still. Their gaze was arduous, and heavy, and vile - but that seemed to be their natural state, rather than any personal vendetta.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” was Tarkin’s only reply, and he shot a defiant glare back at Vader. “You are much too gracious.”
“Will you cease your repulsive display?” Vader snapped, and while Tarkin at first almost expected Palpatine to defend him; he found that the Emperor seemed humored enough by the obvious insult to allow the man to finish his trail of thought. “The Emperor will offer you no favours based on your fawning. You embarrass yourself, Governor.”
“Now, now, Lord Vader. I believe such childish bickering belongs elsewhere,” he finally shushed, as Vader relented like an obedient school boy fearing punishment. “However, I must agree. It would serve you well to evolve your attempts at flattery into a less… tacky matter.”
That triggered a reaction from Vader, as one corner of his lips twitched briefly upwards in a mocking, superior half smirk. He said nothing, but the triumph in those golden eyes spoke for itself.
“Now, with this out of the way, I wish to return to the matters at hand - but there is one more thing I wish to clarify. Lord Vader will not tolerate any mentions of the man you might recall him to be. He is no longer the naive child of yesterday. There will be a penalty for such insolence - no matter whom it may derive from. Lord Vader is a reinvented man. You shall address him only as such, and by no other name. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” was the singular response - and a brief hint of delight, and perhaps relief, crossed Vader’s scornful face.
“Very good,” said the Emperor with a cackle.
I am not generally a fan of suitless Vader, but this idea came to me and it kinda required that so I went with it for once. Enjoy!
Ao3 link below:
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