Contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story
A prequel origin story for one of the best-loved characters in a galaxy far, far away might not seem like the first place you’d look for surprises, but Han Solo is known for breaking the rules. Solo: A Star Wars Story shocked viewers by including a head-turning cameo appearance by Darth Maul, credited simply as “Maul” in the film.
Emperor Palpatine’s former apprentice pops up in hologram form toward the end of Solo, marking his first appearance in a live-action Star Wars film since 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Actor and stunt performer Ray Park, who brought Darth Maul to life in The Phantom Menace, reprises the role for Solo, but original Maul voice actor Peter Serafinowicz passes the torch to Star Wars animated series star Samuel Witwer.
So, how does Darth Maul fit into Solo? The flick reveals that Han Solo’s (Alden Ehrenreich) lover and childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is in cahoots with Darth Maul, the real mastermind behind space gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and his not-so-merry band of criminals known as the Crimson Dawn. Qi’ra double-crosses Han and Dryden to claw her way to the top of the crime syndicate. She then gives ol’ Maul a call.
Understandably, a lot of people who have already caught Solo in theaters were left scratching their heads after witnessing Maul’s appearance, since the red-faced, horn-headed baddie’s inclusion in the film seems to jumble up the Star Wars timeline. If Qi’ra’s call with Darth Maul happened before the latter showed up in The Phantom Menace to torment the young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and murder Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), that would mean Qi’ra and Han are older than Anakin Skywalker. However, as Vanity Fair details, Solo truly does take place about 20 years after The Phantom Menace and roughly 11 to 14 years before A New Hope.
The timeline’s clear, but what about Obi-Wan slicing Darth Maul in half in The Phantom Menace? How can he be alive, and not in two pieces, two decades later? Well, it’s because Maul actually survived his apparent death. When Solo shows Maul standing up to speak to Qi’ra, attentive viewers might be able to tell that he has mechanical legs, and many Star Wars fans who follow the franchise’s TV series know that the villain has been alive in the animated shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Additionally, remember the mention of Witwer voicing the nefarious character for Solo? That was a smart move by the film’s creatives to preserve continuity, since Witwer lent his pipes to Darth Maul for both Clone Wars and Rebels.
As for why the character doesn’t go by Darth Maul in Solo, he dropped the Sith title “Darth” from his name following the events of The Phantom Menace. Some of the character’s non-movie adventures saw him rebrand himself as a crime lord operating an alliance called the Shadow Collective — comprised of organizations like Black Sun, the Pyke Syndicate, the Hutt Clan, and apparently Solo‘s Crimson Dawn, too.
Maul having a part in Solo: A Star Wars Story will undoubtedly leave fans wondering if he’ll appear in future Star Wars movies, including ones beyond just the two sequels Alden Ehrenreich is reportedly confirmed for. It’s anyone’s guess for the time being, but one thing stands crystal clear: the former Sith Lord isn’t done stirring up trouble just yet.