“What was that?”
“I don’t know.”
The Jedi did not see him coming.
Sith Lords had been perceived extinct for almost 1000 years; power struggles and subsequent infighting had dwindled their numbers significantly.
In the time period of the Old Republic, a rule was established in which only two Sith Lords, a master and an apprentice, could exist at a given time period so the Sith could operate more effectively against the Jedi Order.
Since this Rule of Two was implemented, and the Sith was indeed operating in secret, it was thought that they simply were wiped out.
Enter Darth Maul, 1000 years later when the Star Wars prequels begin, in a surprise attack against Jedi Master and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were definitely taken aback by Darth Maul’s appearance. When they brought the idea of Maul being a Sith Lord to the Jedi Council, the council members were taken aback. Even Yoda disputed that there could be Sith Lords in existence.
Nonetheless, it was true. The Sith Lords made a comeback.
There are a few things that make Darth Maul great:
1. The double-sided lightsaber.
Lightsabers work with the use of the Force, but their power source is a crystal contained in a chamber within the lightsaber’s handle. Darth Maul’s saber has an extended handle with two crystal chambers, thus allowing him to have a double-sided saber.
This saber allows him to more easily battle Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon simultaneously, but it also is an indicator of his power. As lightsabers need the use of the force to work, the fact that Maul is able to functionally use both sides of his lightsaber in battle shows that he is very much in touch with the dark side of the Force that is characteristic of the Sith.
2. The skill set.
Look at him go.
Darth Maul is portrayed in The Phantom Menace by Ray Park, a skilled stuntman and martial artist, so the fighting techniques that are inherent among users of the Force is well exhibited.
Additionally, to put in a frame of reference, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are very skilled Jedi, although Obi-Wan is still an apprentice at this time. For Darth Maul to be able to take on both of them at once and hold his own proves him to be a formidable foe.
3. The anonymity.
In The Phantom Menace, there isn’t any real background on who Darth Maul is as a person. He hardly speaks, and his sole function is to antagonize the main characters of whom we do learn throughout the first movie.
So as an audience, we are able to see him as a true villain, despite his awesomeness, primarily because we cannot empathize with him. He’s just…menacing.
Our inability to empathize with Maul is very important. This trait in villains is slowly beginning to shift. We see in film and television today villains’ backstories. Villains get more screen time in which their own moralities and issues come to light. This conveys a sense of realistic moral ambiguity. In reality, morals aren’t so clean cut, and this is a valuable lesson to learn as you go through life.
However, this softens the image of villainy. It makes it seem as though maybe being bad isn’t so bad after all. and it can comprise the true meaning of a story.
A good example of this is Star Wars. In the original saga, the Sith Lords were intensely and clearly malicious. But with the reign of the new saga, the image of the dark side of the Force and the Galactic Empire is becoming weaker than Lucas’s original intentions. Disney has introduced that moral ambiguity and the idea that the bad guys aren’t so bad, but at what cost?