When Darth Maul fell from on high into a pit on Naboo, he cemented his status as the likes of Lucifer, fallen from power into agony and disgrace. But even though this intentional comparison was all part of George Lucas’ masterplan to make Maul the epitome of evil, it’s only one of many archetypes he represents.
Following Maul’s journey through to his chronological end in the penultimate series of Rebels reveals many more mythic references that make up his character. And each deeper look into these archetypes sheds light on Maul’s tragic nature, no lesser than that of Darth Sidious’ later apprentice, Vader. Toyed with by dark lords and cast down into despair, he rises, but never casts off the scars of being the puppet of titans and monsters.
Like the horned demi-god Dionysus from Greek mythology, brutalised as a boy for his semi-mortality, Maul could be seen as a mere child even in his strength when we first meet him in The Phantom Menace. As Dionysus was torn apart by Titans, so Maul was manipulated and eventually ravaged by beings of greater power. Any innocence is torn from his soul somewhere between becoming a servant to a Sith Lord, and being left for dead. So Maul becomes obsessed with the longing to take true power for himself, and a reflection of the dying and rising god archetype, reborn like Osiris who was dismembered and traversed the underworld.
Dionysus was also said to have been driven insane by Hera, who was jealous of his birth by her husband Zeus and a human mother. The god’s own status as a lord of madness foresees Maul’s torment in The Clone Wars, forced by his descent from power to become the lowly trickster. Crazed by pain and lost in self-loathing, only the hunger for vengeance breaks through his madness. He uses the snakelike Morly, so much like the serpent of Satan, as his tool for survival, subsisting off any victim his servant lures to his den. He then uses his brother Savage Opress to escape the trash planet Lotho Minor, soon to dominate him as master over apprentice. So begins his rise from death, of the mind rather than the body, to become something other and greater.
Both Dionysus and Maul were destined for triumph beyond the arrogance of the gods. The former was healed by his grandmother Cybele, a mother goddess who healed his mind and remade his body from his heart, just as Maul was given his robotic lower body and cured of his madness by Dathomir witch Mother Talzin. Dionysus and Maul are both half-formed things, each reconstructed from the broken bits of their former selves. It is here they take on new potential, becoming something more than man or beast, but less than godly. Such liminal beings as the centaur or cyborg are potentially dangerous in their detachment from humanity, while also having the otherworldly knowledge to make great mentors. It’s fitting, then, that this is how Maul finds Ezra in Rebels.
Reclaiming his previous shame as the trickster, using the scraps of his former self to pull through, Maul becomes a figure of malformed wisdom. Ezra, traumatised by the loss of his parents like so many fairytale characters, is frustrated with his new father figure Kanan, feeling that his capability as a Jedi isn’t being respected. Without the full trust of his master, he feels abandoned. Wandering alone in the Sith temple on Malachor with his frustrations, he is susceptible to Maul’s temptation. That haunted yet charismatic crone figure is the same called upon by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, whom the destined one meets at their time of need for a mentor:
“The child of destiny has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment, or disgrace. He is thrown inward to his own depths or outward to the unknown; either way, what he touches is a darkness unexplored. And this is a zone of unsuspected presences, benign as well as malignant: an angel appears, a helpful animal, a fisherman, a hunter, crone, or peasant.”
– The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
Meeting Maul in his time of self-doubt makes Ezra the dark reflection of Luke Skywalker. Rather than finding the kindly wizard, Ezra encounters the fallen Sith on his road to vengeance. His meeting Ezra lifts Maul up to become the equal of his nemesis Obi-Wan Kenobi. But in part of the origins of ‘crone’ rests the eternal humiliation of his impotence. Crone from the Old North French ‘charogne’ or ‘caroigne’, the insult meaning a disagreeable woman, but literally translating as ‘carrion’, the dead, or the creature who feeds upon death.
It’s curious that this grey area of Maul’s power, between his rule as a crime lord and his final clash with Obi-Wan, should see him aligning with a feminine archetype. The crone as a symbol of empowerment and status is achieved at the height of a woman’s wisdom, a mark of the knowledge gained with age and experience. The terms ‘witch’ and ‘crone’ have been tarred by misogyny, but before the witch hunts of the 16th century they were revered titles, these women often leaders and healers in their communities. As though acknowledging his reascension from imposed madness within the burning wastes of Lotho Minor, Maul’s croning also honours that he owes his life twice to Talzin, the witch who was his blood mother, and sent Savage to find his ruined brother.
Presiding over each phase of Maul’s fall and rise is the image of Lucifer; that idol of mankind’s self-fulfilling doom in the lust for power. Prometheus, who is often paralleled with Lucifer as a bearer of forbidden knowledge, brought fire to mankind to the ire of the gods. Through the incitement of war, Maul restored Mandalore to its glorious warrior heritage, but at the cost of an era of darkness, split factions welcoming the eventual infiltration of the Empire. A figure of the anti-war morals Lucas instilled in Star Wars from the beginning, Maul sees the evils of power but, like Satan, never claims it for himself as punishment. Still, we all lust for power in some sense, and so Maul becomes a fictional expression of mankind’s evil.
When we admire Maul’s fierce dance with a red lightsaber, we root for him in part as a disambiguation of our own ego. When we see him destroyed, it excises our greed and arrogance. This therapeutic aspect of Maul as an archetypal figure defines and dooms him to his tragedy; coming close to his desires, but never claiming them for his own.