Solo: A Star Wars Story is mostly lighthearted adventure fare, an escape into all that’s fun and villain-y about the Galaxy Far, Far Away without the greater mysteries of the Force and all the existential drama of the Jedi. Republic? Empire? Doesn’t matter here — that’s basically all above these guys’ pay grade.
It’s also a smorgasbord of callbacks — references to everything from the much-maligned prequel movies, the acclaimed animated series Clone Wars and Rebels, as well as to the vast ream of “Expanded Universe” materials that are now mostly murky in their offical status, with a few exceptions.
Some would call this fan service — connecting the dots to make it all a cohesive universe and justifying all that spending on books, comics, RPGs and video games as part of a larger world. (Teras Kasi, anyone?)
And that’s OK. But perhaps Solo’s biggest Easter egg helps to make things right after nearly two decades by clearing up one of the prequel’s most tragic, non-Jar Jar-related missteps — and, along the way, it could bring a new appreciation for some outstanding content that has long been assumed to be the domain of super-fans alone.
Spoilers, obviously, from here on out.
The Solo movie’s climax drops one hell of a cameo reveal: The leader of Crimson Dawn, the criminal organization that Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) serve, is none other than the former Sith Lord, Darth Maul.
The same Darth Maul who seemingly perished in the final moments of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi during the Battle of Naboo.
Brandishing his crimson lightsaber, the horned, halved original apprentice to Darth Sidious (who would go on to become Emperor Palpatine) christens Qi’ra, the late Vos’ lieutenant, as his new underling, and she takes Vos’ towering ship back to meet Maul on Dathomir.
For the brief, hologram-and-hood-obscured appearance, Ray Park returned to be the body of this older Maul (at least the top…) while Sam Witwer, the voice of Maul in Lucasfilm’s TV series, performed his lines. (Peter Serafinowicz was the voice-over artist behind the Sith apprentice’s very few words in Phantom Menace.)
Diving back into the Star Wars material that is considered official canon, The Clone Wars TV series depicted Dathomir as the homeworld of Darth Maul. It is to this domain of the Nightsisters that Count Dooku’s disgraced apprentice, Asajj Ventress, retreated when betrayed by her master, and there recruited Maul’s brother, Savage (sigh) Opress, in a quest for vengeance. This brute, himself, is betrayed, and follows a twisted trail of tragedy to the “Junk World,” Lotho Minor, where Maul secretly ended up after being cut in half by Kenobi, wallowing in madness and misery with droid legs replacing his lost limbs.
With his wits restored, and with better legs, Maul and Savage cut a swath of terror across the galaxy to gain Kenobi’s attention — but the Jedi are swept up in the Clone War, and Maul also has his eyes set on bigger goals. He and his brother forge a pact with Mandalore’s renegade Death Watch, and form a “Shadow Collective” of underworld criminal organizations like Black Sun and the Pykes (a bit more charismatic than Hutts, and appearing in live action for the first time in Solo as the cruel masters of Kessel’s spice mines).
Maul achieves a measure of revenge when he kill’s Obi-Wan’s old friend, Mandalorian Duchess Satine Kryze, in front of the Jedi, but his greater ambitions are cut short when his old Master Sidious catches on, kills Savage and brings the pain down upon his former apprentice. Maul shows up again (“Call me Old Master…) halfway through Star Wars Rebels, enticing Ezra Bridger perilously down the dark path and using him to track down Kenobi in his Tatooine hermitage (a plot borrowed from Dark Horse Comics tales) — but the events in Solo take place between those two series.
As you can see, there’s a lot of storytelling packed into Clone Wars’ six seasons — and that’s not including the four seasons of Rebels, which just ended this year. If a galaxy of Star Wars fans who only cleave to the movies have their interest piqued by Solo’s big shocker moment and it drives them to begin exploring the rich larger world of these shows, that’s more than fan service — it’s fan cultivation. And it’s a good thing.
Cutting Darth Maul down in his prime, and in the first act of a trilogy, is widely seen as one of the prequel’s greatest weaknesses. Clone Wars (overseen at the time still by Star Wars’ creator, George Lucas, before selling the franchise to Disney) took steps to address this, and Solo has cemented that as big-screen canon once and for all. (It’s no “Han shoots first” redemption, although Solo gives that 1997 “Special Edition” travesty a nod and a wink in its final act, too.)
Lucasfilm’s story group is playing the long game, reaping the fruit of seeds planted long ago in the TV universe and possibly re-planting them for future use, whether it’s in another stand-alone film like Rogue One or Solo, or in Episode IX and beyond. Expect to see more scum and villainy like Maul and his underworld minions, in other words. With persistent rumors of Kenobi and Boba Fett spinoff films in the works, all of these galactic underworld and Jedi-in-exile threads could easily intersect on the big screen; Solo could be just the beginning (and Young Han actor Alden Ehrenreich appears to be on board for at least two more installments). And, of course, there’s a live-action TV series in the works in addition to more animation with the upcoming Resistance series set before Episode VII — The Force Awakens.
Of course, you’re still a Star Wars fan if you just see the movies — just as you’re still a “true” Star Wars fan if you don’t like The Last Jedi, or the prequels, or Ewoks, or even if you’ve only seen the Original Trilogy. But more Star Wars is what we all want in the end, whether it all gets consumed right away or it sits on the shelf a little bit to be discovered later — as it did for years before the prequels came along and even after they faded away.