A while back there was an analysis on Maul from Tumblr user scribbleymark, about how Maul is a sympathetic villain because he genuinely cares about certain individuals. This analysis has stayed with me throughout my watch of Star Wars: Rebels and influenced my understanding of the duel between Obi-Wan and Maul in the latest episode “Twin Suns.”
Spoilers beneath the cut.
IGN has posted a great breakdown of the final duel between Obi-Wan and Maul, which has a lot of great storytelling in just those fours poses and three strikes. Storytelling which, due to its symmetry with Qui-Gon’s death, cuts right to the heart of my childhood.
My focus, however, is moreso on the words said before and after, and how they reflect a fitting conclusion to the emotionally-attached Maul.
To begin with, I believe that Obi-Wan is one of the characters to which Maul is emotionally attached. I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch, considering the lengths to which Maul goes to get his revenge and the fact that his hatred for Obi-Wan is what kept him alive all those years. It’s a negative attachment sure, but Obi-Wan still ends up a staple of Maul’s life. And unlike Ezra (who ends up rejecting Maul) and Sidious (who didn’t think twice about replacing Maul), Obi-Wan is emotionally attached in return.
It’s still a negative attachment, as Maul’s crossing into Obi-Wan’s path has always resulted in death – Qui-Gon, the bystanders Maul used as bait, Adi Gallia, Satine – but at least Maul knows Obi-Wan feels something about him. It’s like that old saying: sometimes indifference is worse than hatred.
And so to come all the way to Tatooine, to finally meet Kenobi again, only to find the Jedi serenely discussing his presence, no hint of the rage he had carried during The Clones Wars, Maul seems to take it as a rejection. It’s why he starts trying to rile Obi-Wan up once more. It’s why he doesn’t even make a move to attack until Obi-Wan gives him an emotional response.
Within Obi-Wan’s dialogue, there were multiple parallels to The Clone Wars, the first of which ties into Maul taking Obi-Wan’s response as a rejection.
“Look what you’ve become,” Maul says, as dramatic as Kylo Ren on his best days. Obi-Wan replies, “Look what I’ve risen above.”
Consider again The Clone Wars, when Maul got the best of Obi-Wan after mentioning Qui-Gon’s death: “Your rage has unbalanced you. That is not the Jedi way, is it?” When Obi-Wan fought down his hatred as Maul strangled Satine in front of him: “It takes strength to resist the Dark Side; only the weak embrace it.” This response in Rebels is the conclusion to Obi-Wan’s character growth. He’s not reacting out of his emotions, nor is he fighting to keep them down. He simply is calm.
“Look what I’ve risen above. …It was not I who crawled across the galaxy to conclude an old grudge. I have found peace. You have not.”
Obi-Wan has moved past Maul. He no longer bears hatred towards the ex-Sith, and thus Maul believes he has lost yet another emotional attachment. Obi-Wan’s following statement appears to aggravate that, sending Maul flying into a rage.
“If you define yourself by your power to take life, a desire to dominate, to possess, then you have nothing.” These words specifically target the methods which Maul has used to form emotional attachments. His connection to Obi-Wan was entirely through killing others. With Savage, Maul made it clear that it was not a partnership; Maul was the dominant brother. As for Ezra, it has almost always been about possession; how often does he stress the phrase “my apprentice,” especially around Kanan?
Within two sentences, Obi-Wan has rejected both the connection he and Maul once shared and all the other emotional attachments that were significant in Maul’s life. And does so calmly, which again, is a rejection in and of itself.
However, as we see post-duel, Obi-Wan hasn’t actually rejected Maul himself, just the attachment that they had mutually formed over grief and hatred. This too echoes their interactions in The Clone Wars.
Consider again the scene of Satine’s death. Before that final blow, Obi-Wan actually attempts to make a gesture of peace, even of reconciliation. As he blatantly shuts down all of Maul’s arguments for the powers of the Dark Side, he also dares to show sympathy towards his enemy:
“I know where you’re from. I’ve been to your village. I know the decision to join the Dark Side wasn’t yours.”
Maul interrupts him, consumed by his hatred, and Obi-Wan’s gesture appears to go to waste.
But in this light, Obi-Wan’s takedown of Maul’s methods of attachments here in “Twin Suns” seems also to be an offer, a suggestion to seek a better way. To actually have attachments that mean something. This isn’t out of character for Obi-Wan either. The novelization of Revenge of the Sith states that Kenobi is a fearsome warrior who would rather negotiate. In The Clone Wars, we see Obi-Wan pull this with another of his nemeses, General Grievous:
“I hear a lot of talking, General, but in the final accounting, what does all the talk get you? A futile quest for power? A mutilated body? Your place as Dooku’s errand boy? …An army with no loyalty, no spirit, just programming. What have you to show for all your power? What have you to gain?”
Unfortunately, Maul doesn’t comprehend that there can be other attachments made. His response to Obi-Wan on Mandalore makes this clear. Obi-Wan’s display of sympathy is seen as paltry, nothing compared to the hatred Maul feels:
“You think you know me? It was I who languished for years thinking of nothing but you!”
Here on Tatooine, he again rejects Obi-Wan in turn and pushes until the Jedi chooses to draw against him. While powerful for us, the viewer, as we know who Obi-Wan is protecting, I can’t help but think Maul finds it a pale comparison to their other meetings. That rage and passion from Obi-Wan is gone, replaced only by purpose.
But as we see, Obi-Wan is anything but indifferent. After the fatal blow, he catches Maul, cradling him in much the same way he cradled Qui-Gon and Satine.
In writing, there is the “Rule of Three,” where things that come in threes is more narratively satisfying. In the arc of Obi-Wan and Maul, we already saw this with the progression of Obi-Wan’s serenity – “Your rage has unbalanced you.” to “Look what I’ve risen above.” – and it comes again here as Obi-Wan comforts a dying Maul.
Mandalore was the first time Obi-Wan had extended an offer of peace towards Maul. An offer to make an emotional connection apart from hatred and with sympathy instead. It ended with Satine’s death. Beside the campfire, Obi-Wan offers it again. Maul responds by drawing his lightsaber. And then, after the duel Maul so desperately wanted, Obi-Wan offers it for a third time, this time through action. And Maul responds.
The ex-Sith all but clings to this final emotional attachment that Obi-Wan is offering him, his hand reaching up to grasp for Obi-Wan’s shoulder. His final sentiment about vengeance is still true to his nature, having cleaved to the Dark Side for so long, but ultimately his very last word is one that denotes attachment.
“He will avenge us.”
Out of all the emotional attachments in his life, all the ones he chased, he finally found one that meant something, while dying in the arms of his enemy.
Reposted from my Tumblr.