Darth Maul lives! Getting cut in half isn't nearly as fatal as it used to be, though he's far creepier post-vivisection than you'd ever have imagined.
“Peace is a lie. There is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.”
-The Sith Code, as taught by Darth Bane ca. 990 BBY
Only from the deepest, darkest mastery of the Force would this have been possible: the survival of Darth Maul. I know, I know. He was cut in half and should be dead, right? Wrong! If General Grievous can survive his entire body being annihilated in a shuttle crash and have his vital organs suspended in an aqueous sac inside a droid body, if Darth Vader can fall into a river of lava and be rebuilt, then surely anyone, let alone a Sith Lord, can survive a little matter of being cut in half, right? As we all know, the Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural.
The only thing that was really unnatural about the storytelling behind “Brothers,” last night’s canon-redefining installment of The Clone Wars, was the fact that it wasn’t paired with its follow-up, next week’s “Revenge.” You mean after waiting 13 years since The Phantom Menace, 14 months since Savage Opress took off for the Outer Rim to find his brother, and five months since it was announced Darth Maul was returning, we now have to wait another week to see him in action rather than just muttering like a crazy person? Yes, I’m afraid. But for a return this anticipated, that actually does seem to represent a willingness by Lucasfilm to re-do an element of The Phantom Menace, I suppose the wait is justified. And, Sithspawn, if we don’t have a lot to cover just from last night’s episode as it is!
I don’t know about you but I usually get a kick out of The Clone Wars’ fortune cookie morals that open each episode. And of late I think they’ve been getting better and better, especially during that one-two punch of “Massacre” and “Bounty” that saw Ventress’ transformation from last-Nightsister-standing to badass bounty hunter. But, oh, last night how far they fell: “A fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished.” Huh? Can anyone please translate that for me? If you’re “reconciled” to your fate, doesn’t that mean that you’re in sympathetic alignment with the will of the Force? Shouldn’t that be a good thing, rather than a sign that you’re vanquished? I’m almost thinking a Sith Lord got ahold of The Clone Wars’ morality Pez dispenser and is now inserting some of his Dark Side propaganda.
Actually, maybe that is what we’re supposed to think! How else to explain how the very Clone Wars logo itself changed color from its typical auric glow to a bright Darth Maul red? My mind hasn’t been this blown by a logo change since the season 5 finale of Lost when Juliet’s detonation of the island’s nuclear bomb changed the LOST symbol from white text on a black background to black text on a white background. Wow, that really seemed to indicate we were in for a game change. Which I guess we were. But instead of some island-history-altering reset-button twist, Lost gave us the decidedly non-Alexander Payne-written “Sideways Universe.” Surely, the Clone Wars’ own logo change can only anticipate a more exciting creative future, right? Right?
NEXT: Savage lays waste to an Outer Rim diner. And Derrown makes an appearance?
Well, again we’ll have to wait until next week to find out, because “Brothers” was mostly a set-up episode. With the Nightsisters vanquished and Dathomir largely turned to molten slag, Dooku could now turn his attention to finding the other being who betrayed him—Savage Opress, Nightbrother of Dathomir, who Asajj Ventress trained to take her place at Dooku’s side…and turn on him when he least expected it. “He’s a threat to all of us…even the Jedi,” Dooku told General Grievous. Now, with the Nightsisters destroyed, Dooku lamented that there was no one left to control him. Well, maybe you should have thought about that before, you know, launching a genocidal campaign against them?
Dooku might not be right about a lot of things, but he was right that the galaxy wasn’t ready for Savage Opress to be unleashed. Cue diner brawl. At a brightly lit Outer Rim eatery—like McDonald’s they keep the light as bright as possible so you won’t tarry over your meal—Savage choked one bleached-blonde customer. What started this altercation exactly? To quote Werner Herzog, “We shall never know.” The whole bleach-blonde look gave off vaguely hipsterish vibes, though, and I suspect she made fun of Savage’s overly developed muscles and underdeveloped sense of irony. Me Savage. Must find brother. Kill all who stand in way!
The diner owner ran after Savage with a frying pan, while a pack of Parwans patronizing the joint skittered away from the commotion. I could swear one of those floating, tentacled beings was Derrown, replete with ammo belts. But if so, why wasn’t he living up to his reputation as “The Exterminator” and giving pursuit to Savage?
As Savage bolted out of the diner, he discovered that some strange dust was making the talisman Mother Talzin gave him glow. That meant that dust had been in the proximity of Darth Maul, his brother, and bore some of his residual Force signature. Cut to Mother Talzin back on Dathomir. Yes, she survived, even if her whole clan was wiped out. Clearly that idea of welcoming Ventress into the fold didn’t work out, so she cut her loose to prepare instead for the return of Savage. And hopefully this time Savage would have company.
NEXT: Savage tracks down Maul to Lotho Minor, the garbage world to end all garbage worlds. Sorry, Ord Mantell and Raxus Prime!
Ventress, meanwhile, was back in Chalmun’s Cantina in Mos Eisley. She must have sensed Savage’s volcanic rage ripple across the Outer Rim, because she almost thought for a moment that her fellow Dathomiri had walked into the cantina. And somehow I don’t think he’d be a fan of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes. Latts Razzi asked Ventress who she thought it was she sensed. “A monster,” Ventress said. Ah, but who is worse: the monster or the one who created the monster? Think on that, Ventress. Think on that.
Savage followed the dust back to a ship captained by a Sakiyan, the same race as the bounty hunter Sixtat, the notorious Outlands Butcher who met his fate in The Box. The Sakiyan dude told him the dust he was following came from a recent shipment run from the junkyards on Lotho Minor. Relying on pure intimidation—not even a Jedi Mind Trick!—Savage ordered the captain to take him there.
Back at the diner, Anakin and Ahsoka showed up to grab a bantha burger and blue milk, but got an angry skillet-wielding chef instead. The police droids insisted they had everything under control, so the Jedi took their seats in a booth. Who had caused all this commotion? Does having a lightsaber get you better service? Anakin sensed a familiar threat brewing nearby but couldn’t place it. Well, he was ten-years-old when he last encountered Darth Maul, so I think he can be forgiven.
After a short hyperspace jump, Savage and his Sakiyan pilot arrived at Lotho Minor. I’ve seen a lot of garbage planets in my travels across that galaxy far, far away. Ord Mantell, with it’s hovertrains full of trash. Raxus Prime, with its toxic waste, deadly Sith artifacts, and, worst of all, Separatist Parliament. Even Kessel, which some forget has its heaps of junk in addition to those highly lucrative spice-mines, prisons, and slave camps. But none, for sheer metonymic hellishness can compare to Lotho Minor: burning piles of garbage as far as the human eye can see; noxious smoke emitted everywhere; acid rain that can sear your flesh; odd, mechanical scavengers living off the garbage. This was like the garbage heaps in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, if they covered a whole planet. And yes this is exactly where we would imagine Darth Maul to be living more than a decade after being bisected by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
NEXT: Savage lets himself be guided by a talking snake. Whether in the Garden of Eden or that Galaxy Far, Far Away, that usually isn’t a good idea.
Savage’s talisman began throbbing more and more, letting him know that he was close. So he ejected his pilot, who had only just said, “Well, it could be worse.” That’s one of those phrases like “Over my dead body” that no one should ever say. I mean, yes, it really could be worse, Sakiyan! And so it was.
But just as soon as he landed in a soft pile of scrapped duranium fuel cores, Savage’s talisman winked out. Noooooo! Where to go? What to do? Luckily, an Anacondan, one of the more awesome if admittedly less inventive recent additions to the Star Wars galaxy’s menagerie—it’s basically just a talking snake, think Kah from The Jungle Book—popped out and offered his expert counsel. “You tracking somebody?” he asked, sniffing out Savage’s intent with his forked tongue. He offered to help. For the right price of course. Savage immediately grabbed him and threatened to choke the life out of him, the only attitude that scum and/or villainy can really appreciate. “It’ll be my payment-free pleasure, of course!” the snake changed his tune. We first saw an Anacondan in “Deception,” where one was tending bar at the low-rent cantina Rako Hardeen was hiding out in following his “hit” on Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This Anacondan became Savage’s de facto guide—the Nightbrother would need one to avoid the “firebreathers,” giant trash compactors, and the Junkers, strange folk who seem partly, or entirely, mechanical. With their glowing eyes and makeshift gaffi-type sticks the Junkers seem like some unholy combination of Jawas and Sand People. When a horde of Junkers descended upon Savage and the snake, Savage gleefully whipped out his lightsaber and plunged his crimson blade into one after another. The snake was impressed as he gazed upon the carnage he left in his wake, mixing admiration with a laugh: “Wha-ha-ha-ha-ow!”
NEXT: Who is this spider creature and what has he done with Darth Maul? Oh, wait…
The Anacondan started telling Savage about a legend on Lotho Minor: a mysterious presence that “drags things down beneath, and they never come back up.” He thought it was just an old legend. Emphasis on old. But Savage’s presence here indicated it might be very real. Enough storytelling! Take shelter from the acid rain! It’ll melt your skin if you stay out in it for too long. The snake led Savage inside. Now the talisman was really throbbing, until—wink!—it crapped out on him again. Had Mother Talzin betrayed him the way Ventress had? Well, if she had, the snake made it clear she wasn’t the only one. He hit the button for a trap door and Savage tumbled down deep into a pit beneath the surface. Once he got his bearings, he saw that there was some kind of skittering, arachnid-being stalking back and forth. Could this…this thing be the Lotho Minor Shelob to Savage’s Frodo? That’d make the snake Gollum, right? Definitely. “You’ll make a good offering, and when my master’s finished with you, I’ll get the leftovers!” the snake said. Savage used his lightsaber to illuminate his way. Like the light of Earendil, may it be a light in dark places for Savage, when all other lights have gone out.
The Lord of the Rings comparison would especially hold fast if Shelob were Frodo’s brother. Because that spider-creature stalking Savage from the shadows? It was Maul! Yes, what remained of Maul after he was cut in half must have gathered the Dark Side to fuse together arthropod legs from the various junk he’d been able to collect in his travels. That certainly doesn’t explain at all how he got from Naboo to this scrap heap. Did he stow away aboard a freighter? Had he already fused together his new legs before he even left Naboo? Are these crab legs maybe even new biological limbs—some kind of legit Sithspawn—that Maul was able to conjure in his rage?
Among the triumvirate that ruled Darth Revan’s Sith Empire after his and Malak’s defeat were a Sith Lord named Nihilus, whose physical body had been killed but who maintained his life essence within the confines of his armor. And Darth Sion, whose body was a rotted corpse, which he held together via his hatred and mastery of the Dark Side. I think Darth Maul has done something very similar here to not only stay alive but create new limbs to give him mobility. Souls like those of Nihilus, Sion, and Maul are far too chaotic to ever become One with the Force. They seek mastery over death, as they seek mastery over life. They seek to impose their will on the Force, rather than follow the will of the Force. Unlike the Jedi, they don’t “reconcile” themselves to their fate. But does that mean that the Jedi, who do, are by default “vanquished,” per the episode’s opening moral?
NEXT: Sam Witwer acts the hell out of Maul, and that snake creature will make a tasty fricassee.
At first, Savage didn’t understand that this spider creature was, in fact, his brother. He thought it had consumed him or something. “What have you done with my brother?” he screamed and attacked the beast. But when they locked hands, the talisman reached its brightest luminosity…this was his brother. At that moment, Maul screamed “No! No!” among other wails and scurried away, almost barking like a dog. “You don’t know anything!” Maul yelled as Savage kept insisting they were kinfolk. “Years and years and years,” the former Sith Lord muttered, quickly forgetting someone else was there and listening, before launching into the Sith Code. “Through victory my chains are broken…the chains, the chains are the easy part. It’s what goes on in here, that’s hard,” he said while pointing at his head. He’s clearly been obsessing over his teachings—and where they may have led him wrong, or how they may lead him back to power—ever since his calamity on Naboo.
While Savage struggled with the realization that his brother, who he had counted on to be his teacher, his guide, his ally, was in fact incredibly vulnerable, a broken shell of his former self, in sashayed our Anacondan friend. “I’m ready for my leftovers!” he squealed. Apparently he had delivered captives to Maul for him to cannibalize. Savage was appalled, snapped the snake’s neck, and threw him on the fire with a sizzle.
NEXT: At last Maul will reveal himself to the Jedi. At last, he will have revenge. He just needs to get his sanity back first. Oh, and a pair of legs would help.
“Always remember I am fear, always remember I am hunger, always remember I am filth…always remember…I am…NOTHING!!!” Maul flagellated himself. “All those who hold power are afraid to lose it,” Darth Sidious once said (or will say, as it were). And Maul’s worst fears had become very, very real. What he was feeling was rage at the Jedi who put him in this state (“He took them from me! He took them! JEDI!!!”), anguish over losing his position with the most powerful being in the galaxy, Darth Sidious, and, above all, self-loathing that he had allowed this to happen to him. The Sith way is for the apprentice to one day become powerful enough to strike down the master. But his master had not only survived him, he’d prospered without him, and forgotten all about him. Of course, if only Savage knew that Sidious had rejected the natural succession of Bane’s Rule of Two and never intended for any apprentice to replace him. He intended to rule forever, therefore reducing someone like Maul to more the role of an Asajj Ventress or Savage Opress: just a pawn. But Maul doesn’t realize that he never had anything to begin with. He thinks he had it all. And the only way to process what happened is to chant the Sith dogma over and over: “Mercy is a lie, a delusion the weak tell themselves to make themselves strong! Revenge. I must have revenge.”
Though nothing had really changed for Maul here—he’s still in his fiery cavern, still muttering incoherently, still wallowing in self-pity—the mere fact that he’d come into contact with his brother Savage Opress must have sent shockwaves through the Force. How else to explain how Yoda could have sensed, thousands of light years away, that Qui-Gon’s murderer had been recalled to life? On a beautifully moody, rainy day on Coruscant, the Jedi Grand Master called Obi-Wan into his chambers to tell him that he now knew that Maul had returned.
The board is set. The pieces are moving. And that leaves us hurtling toward next week’s finale, “Revenge.” Also known as “Obi-Wan Vs. Maul: The Rematch.” What did you think of “Brothers”? Did you think that Lucasfilm handled the return of Darth Maul with appropriately mythic heft? Were you disappointed that we didn’t get to see him do much more than mutter like a crazy person? And yet are you amazed that Sam Witwer has already had more dialogue as Maul than Episode I’s Peter Serafinowicz? And are you ready to place bets on who will emerge victorious when Maul and Obi-Wan lock lightsabers once again?