Photo: Jonathan Olley (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Note: As suggested by the headline, this article will disclose a major plot point in Solo.


There is a surprise near the end of Solo, an unexpected twist to a film that (while very fun!) otherwise avoids anything too new, following the very deliberate, so-that’s-where-that-came-from puzzle-piece-plonking that has so far defined these Star Wars spinoffs. Solo opens tonight, May 25, and ordinarily I would never dream of suggesting that you might want to know about this thing before you even have the chance to see it. And yet, I can honestly say that I wished I’d known what I have written below before my own screening. Not knowing it, in fact, all but ruined the final 10 minutes for me, because I just spent it mentally trying to make sense of what I’d just seen. From talking to many of my confused coworkers afterward, it turns out, I was not alone in feeling that way. This surprise and the confusion it caused was all we could think about.

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So I’ll preface this by saying: Of course you should go into Solo knowing nothing! Why spoil even one moment for yourself? But then... On the other hand… Maybe this one specific time, knowing this one specific thing happens in advance—and more importantly, the reason why—will save you some similar consternation, and simply allow you to enjoy the rest of movie.

I don’t even have to tell you anything about the plot! I’m just offering you some pertinent background info on this one particular moment, so that it is—well, if no longer a surprise, then at least not vexing or distracting. (At the very least, perhaps you could just mentally bookmark this article to visit after your own screening, when you are, like me, immediately scouring the internet for some explanation for what the hell you just saw.)

Are you ready? Last chance to bow out.

Okay, then.

...

...

Darth Maul is in Solo. Yes, that Darth Maul—the villainous Sith lord known for his double-bladed lightsaber and totally twisted facepaint, who was last seen being sliced in half by a young Obi-Wan in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Maul pops up briefly, with a body, and he is, in fact, Darth Maul. His name is never spoken aloud, but he is once more played by Ray Park and voiced by Sam Witwer, and he is clearly meant to be Darth Maul. The film offers no explanation or hint of explanation as to how or why that might be. He’s simply there.

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Or actually, there is an explanation. However, it requires you to be up on the events of the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels, two quality shows that are certainly acclaimed, and dearly beloved by a devoted fan base. Cartoons that most people who are going to see Solo, I will hazard a guess, have probably never watched. So if you are one of them, here’s some background info you might want to know.

In The Clone Wars, it’s revealed that Maul actually survived being cut in half through, uh, being really angry—focusing on his hatred, then using the strength it gave him to stop his bisected body from hurtling down the reactor shaft by grabbing a vent. He then stowed away in a trashcan, so he could escape to a dumpster planet called Lotho Minor. There he ate rats and brooded about being a half-man and listened to nu-metal, maybe, while his rodents and his rage kept him alive, until he could finally get some spider legs to scuttle around on while his mind understandably splintered.

Eventually, Maul’s brother, Savage Opress, found him, got him some fancy new, bipedal legs, and restored Darth Maul to his old self again. The two then cut a terrible swath across the galaxy, a story that plays out in The Clone Wars and Rebels, which share the same, pre-A New Hope timeline as Solo, Rogue One, et al. And now, Darth Maul is back in the movies, no longer just a torso and ready for action!

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It certainly makes sense why Lucasfilm would want to bring back Darth Maul. Squandering the most interesting new Star Wars character right off the bat was widely viewed as a mistake, one emblematic of everything ill-considered about the prequel trilogy. Bringing Darth Maul back for some of these “lost years” spinoff stories feels like an overdue rectification of that. Not to mention, it sets him up to be a much-needed, Darth Vader-like sinister presence throughout any future Solo sequels—and maybe even that rumored Obi-Wan movie. It’s a bold and potentially very smart idea, and one that brings some exciting cohesion to the franchise.

I’m guessing that, if and when we get a Solo sequel, we may even see a little explanation of how Darth Maul survived, recounted up there on the big screen, if not in just a growled aside to his “spider-leg years.” That is, if these movies don’t decide they need to invent their own version, which somehow seems even crazier. We better not learn that this is actually just Darth Maul’s clone or some shit. You brought back a long-dead character you sliced in half! You better own it, spider legs and all.

But in the meantime, the way the Darth Maul reveal happens in Solo, specifically, plays less like an “I am your father”-style cliffhanger than a “What the fuck was that?” moment, especially with an audience who prides itself on knowing these stories inside and out. Even among them, it used to be that all those stories out in the Expanded Universe—while sure, still nominally considered “canon”—were regarded as supplemental to the movies. They were there for your enrichment and your enjoyment, but not crucial to your understanding. And if you’re a Star Wars fan (but not a good enough one, apparently!), it may even wound your pride a little you that you had to seek out these kinds of explainer articles, maybe while standing there with your friends and/or coworkers trying to work out where Solo fits in the timeline, exactly, or whether this means Lando was, like, 70 in The Empire Strikes Back.

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On the other hand, hey, if you bit the bullet and read this before seeing the film, you’re all set! Enjoy the rest the movie, and enjoy mocking your friends afterward for their not knowing that, duh, Darth Maul’s torso actually just escaped to a trash world and grew spider legs! Are they even Star Wars fans?