Star Wars: The Clone Wars recap: Darth Maul returns?
Well…possibly. Maybe the tantalizing glimpse we got from Mother Talzin’s crystal ball of a very much alive Darth Maul is just a red herring. A red-and-black tattooed herring. But I know I speak for legions—not just the 501st legion, but legions—of Star Wars fans who’d love to see a Round Two between Obi-Wan and the Sith Lord who slew his master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Even though we know so little about him, even though he had so few lines of dialogue in The Phantom Menace, even though his screen time in Episode I is relatively brief, Maul remains a source of fascination for many Star Wars fans. If he’s alive, does he have prosthetic legs? Was he kept alive by the same Sith sorcery that ensured General Grievous’ and Darth Vader’s survival? Did he hire lawyer Bob Goldstein to sue the Jedi Order for damages? (“At last we shall have our revenge!”) Okay, that last one comes only from the mind of Seth Green.
The moral of “Witches of the Mist,” the last episode of the three-part arc about the Nightsisters that’s all but reinvented Star Wars: The Clone Wars, was “The path to evil may bring great power, but not loyalty.” Over the course of these episodes we’ve seen former Sith-wannabe Asajj Ventress select and train a male Zabrak, a Nightbrother of Dathomir if you will, Savage Opress, to carry out her vendetta against Count Dooku. The plan was that the Nightsisters would serve up Savage to Count Dooku as his new apprentice. With the help of their sorcery, he’d have Force powers and could fill the spot left vacant by Ventress. Then, when Dooku would least expect it, Savage would kill him. But Ventress and the Nightsisters stripped Savage of his humanity (er…Zabrak-ity) in the process, even forcing him to kill his brother Feral.
There’s an important lesson to be learned here—that when we let our hate consume us, we can become the very thing we supposedly most revile. The way Ventress, betrayed and abandoned, uses Savage is no different from the way Dooku used her. And she doesn’t even see it. So when Savage, in confronting both Dooku and Ventress, Force-chokes them both at the end, it’s a powerful moment of rebellion.
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“Witches of the Mist” began with Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin learning of Savage’s raid on the Jedi temple on Devaron. The shuttle carrying the bodies of the Jedi Savage killed returned to Coruscant in the midst of an ominous rainstorm. It reminded me of when Darth Vader, burned and dismembered, was carried out into a similar downpour. Also, rain is incredibly difficult to animate. As is any depiction of water, for that matter. It brought to mind Brad Bird saying that the sewer sequence of Ratatouille, involving water as waves, droplets, foam, bubbles, etc. was the most difficult part of the film to animate.
Anyway, enough with my gushing…ooh, sorry. The Dark Side can burn either hot or cold, with practitioners either drawing strength from their passion and hatred or, on the other hand, their indifference and lack of compassion. Asajj Ventress and Savage Opress are hot like Mustafar while Dooku is cold as Hoth. Unlike Asajj, Dooku is not ruled by fear. He uses fear as a weapon, inspires it in his enemies. Palpatine goes even further. In his brilliant novelization of Revenge of the Sith, Matthew Stover refers to the Emperor as merely “the shadow,” someone so disconnected with—and indifferent to—the human experience as to be nearly spectral. The cold Dark Siders are more powerful because their passions cannot be so easily manipulated by others. Hence, in their first training session, Dooku easily defeated an unfocused Savage, placing twin blades around his head in the scissor-position that Anakin would ultimately use to decapitate him.
When Dooku began to train Savage to open himself to the Force, it paralleled nicely Yoda’s training of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. When Savage found it difficult to levitate stone pillars in the air—a “size matters not” scenario—Dooku almost quoted his former master: “Impossible? The task is only impossible because you have deemed it so.” Of course, then he departed from the wisdom of the Muppet with “You must connect with your hatred. Focus on your power building. Do not think of anyone or anything else.” To elicit Savage’s hatred, he scalded him with Force Lightning shot from his finger tips. Finally, that was what got Savage to lift the pillars, and we saw later in the episode that it’s the cold, blue lightning that would be his Achilles’ heel.
Actually, this seems to be a common Sith training method. In the Star Wars: Legacy comics series, Darth Krayt realizes his apprentice Darth Talon’s training is complete when she doesn’t flinch upon having Force Lightning fired at her. In the case of Savage, I honestly don’t know why he didn’t just block the lightning with his lightsaber like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu have been known to do, but there you go…
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Yoda told Anakin and Obi-Wan that they should travel to Dathomir to find this new Jedi killer, prompting a whole bunch of retcon-motivated, expository dialogue about how Darth Maul had really come from Dathomir when they really thought he had come from Iridonia, an obvious attempt to make these new revelations fit into existing canon. It was interesting to see how Anakin acted almost like Obi-Wan’s own Savage when they visited the Nightbrother village, dispatching their attackers and holding a lightsaber to the throat of the clan leader.
What a beautifully rendered world Dathomir has turned out to be! The Nightsisters’ jungle domain is humid and dense with foliage, while the Nightbrothers’ village on the far side of the planet is arid and barren, proving that there are planets in that Galaxy Far, Far Away that have more than one climate! You have to give credit to Katie Lucas, who wrote these episodes. (Yes, she’s the daughter of that Lucas.) She’s injected more genuine humor into the show than we’ve seen since the Paul Dini episodes. My favorite moment? When Anakin’s getting ready to meet the Nightsisters and says, “I tend to be popular with the ladies,” prompting Obi-Wan to say off-screen, “Too popular.”
I know some fans thought that Ewan McGregor mostly turned in an Alec Guinness impersonation in the prequels, but I strongly disagree. Guinness’s Obi-Wan is wise and fatherly, but distant. McGregor’s Obi-Wan is dry and witty, possessing more than a touch of irony, with charmingly stilted delivery of stuffy quips. Both have their merits. But I find myself more and more thinking of Obi-Wan in terms of McGregor’s take on the character, and it seems that the Clone Wars animation team—and vocal performer James Arnold Taylor—feel the same.
Take the way Obi-Wan responds to Mother Talzin’s claim that she has no power over Savage Opress: “Don’t play innocent with me, Mother.” Just a slight pause too before he says “Mother” the way McGregor uttered the similar “You won’t get away this time… (pause)…Dooku.” And I love Mother Talzin’s catty reply, “To think that the Jedi collect their facts by mere rumors.” Hey is this The Clone Wars or The Real Housewives of Dathomir? (Asajj Ventress is totally Camille.)
Next: The name’s Maul. Darth Maul.
Well, Savage was off to the planet Toydaria to kidnap King Katuunko for Dooku. (Say that five times fast!) Remember, this is the planet of the Gonzo-nosed flying creatures of whom Anakin’s former slave master, Watto, is a member. Seeing the monarch’s guards flap their wings and fly to battle against Savage was pretty breathtaking. This was a truly 3D battle, with Savage fighting off adversaries from all directions. But when Obi-Wan and Anakin showed up, he got sloppy and Force choked Katuunko to death.
Dooku was not pleased, going so far as to call Savage an “ignorant beast” when he returned to the Separatist dreadnought. When Savage begged for mercy, Dooku coldly replied, “That is not the way of the dark side.” But just at that moment, Asajj showed up—with vocal performer Nika Futterman in top form playing vengeful and seductive at the same time—to defend her protégé and rally him against her former master. It was a clash of two against one, all brandishing crimson blades. But just at the moment Asajj egged Savage on to endure Dooku’s Force Lightning, something snapped in him. He ended up turning on both Dooku and Ventress, Force choking them both. Then it became a three-way fight, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-style. The arrival of Obi-Wan and Anakin barely mattered. Asajj quickly realized that she couldn’t defeat Dooku after all, so she hopped into an escape pod and blasted off, with the soundtrack dialed down to a melancholy quiet as she reflected on her latest, greatest—and perhaps—final failure. Asajj will live to fight another day, or maybe not. Maybe she’ll abandon the war entirely like she did in the Clone Wars comics series.
As spectacular a fight as this was, it proved completely inconclusive, with Savage escaping, as well, limping back home,
lightsaber tail between his legs, to Mother Talzin.
Then, it happened.
She revealed that he has an older brother who still lives in exile out in the Outer Rim. And who should come staring out of the amber-tinged orb that served as Mother Talzin’s magic mirror: a red-and-black tattooed Darth Maul! Or is it? With a tease like that, I believe it would have to be. What a letdown if it isn’t, right? Talzin concluded with, “You have an important destiny to fulfill, Savage Opress. You and your brother.” It’s on.
What think you, Padawans? Is Darth Maul still alive? Will he make an appearance on The Clone Wars? Would that undermine the ending of The Phantom Menace for you? And what about Ventress? In what capacity might we see her again in the future? And, most of all, are you excited for Liam Neeson’s return to that Galaxy Far, Far Away next week?
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Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…