When Maul kicks out the fire… you all of a sudden feel the vastness of where they are. (Joel Aron, CG Supervisor – Lighting & FX, “Apprentices to Outcasts”)
Kicking out the fire leaves Ben and Maul lit by only their sabers and the stars, and when the battle is complete, and their sabers go out, they are left in a field of stars.
[The Star Wars movies and shows are] all a connected thing. …They’re not disparate from each other. …They are inclusive of each other. I believe that Star Wars has this grandeur to it; I believe the Force has this infinite space to it.
So I started seeding… this idea of a place where there are stars.
(Dave Filoni – Rebels Recon 4.7)
The final image of Ben holding Maul is an extreme long shot. This is frequently used to emphasize the scale of a location, especially in contrast to the size of subject of the shot (Mercado, Gustavo, The Filmmaker’s Eye, 2010, p 65). Extreme long shots can also be ideal as emblematic shots:
Emblematic shots have the power to communicate abstract, complex, and associative ideas with compositions that reveal special connections between visual elements in the frame. Emblematic shots can “tell a story” with a single image, conveying ideas that are generally greater than the sum of their parts. Audiences watching Luke Skywalker looking at the twin suns of Tatooine in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) get more out of that shot than the literal content of the image (young man watches suns setting). Instead, the audience is encouraged to identify larger meaning from the connections and associations contain in the visual elements, specifically by their placement in the composition and the symbolism associated with them. These connections transform the concrete meaning “young man watches sun setting” into the symbolic “he feels his future is out of reach” in the minds of the audience. (Mercado, p 107)
These emblematic shots are generally placed at the beginning or end of a sequence. At the end, they are used to comment on or to contextualize the events preceding it.
Here there are a number of elements in this single shot that aim for the symbolic. The recreation of multiple different deaths associated with Maul and Obi-Wan, which we have already discussed, “alert[s] the audience that [the] story has come full circle” (Mercado, p 107). The moons above the two men are also placed in the same configuration as Maul and Ben in the sands below, a reminder of the symbolism associated with the twin suns.
Did you think I forgot about this image? Oh no. We’ve just been trapped on the same 3 minutes for now four entire installments
The larger of the moons – Ben’s moon – even has a greater glow than the smaller, a bit like the sheen one might find on a Force Ghost. Ben has achieved the next life, while Maul has faded away.
Another element in this shot is the scale of the characters. “We really wanted to show the desolation, and how empty it is,” said Henry Gilroy in Rebels Recon #3.20, and “desolation” seems to be a good word here, because previous extreme long shots in this episode indicate the death of hope.
Maul falls into despair, thinking himself utterly lost and on the verge of death. Ezra falls into despair, realizing how deep he’s caught in Maul’s trap and what it cost. And here with Ben and Maul, there is another hope killed. Had Maul not forced Ben’s hand into a battle, had Maul repented, both men could have found hope.
By pursuing the answers that the Force gave him like a Sith, Maul ends up missing out on the one thing that would have truly brought him that hope he sought: not vengeance but redemption. And in witnessing Maul’s refusal to change, Ben loses a hope that he may not have known he had: that Anakin could be brought back as well.
Maul’s redemption would have had a massive ripple effect on the galaxy moving outward. Not just in another powerful warrior truly joining the Rebellion, but the hope it might have instilled in Ben. Imagine how Ben’s confrontation with Vader on the Death Star might have been different. Imagine how Luke’s training might have been different, with that hope instilled in him from the start. Maul could have hastened the hope and actuality of Anakin’s redemption and the fulfillment of the Chosen One prophecy (in which he did place his final hope) had he simply repented.
And that is yet another element in this emblematic, extreme long shot. The emphasis on the scale of their location is also an emphasis on the scale of the story surrounding them.
We have had our personal battle, our personal war, but this [is a] bigger story.
(Urban Acolyte, on the line “He will avenge us” from Maul’s perspective)
For the first time, Maul is able to let go and recognise that this story will go on without him.
(Haruspis, “Star Wars: Rebels, Twin Suns – A Narrative Appraisal”)
And oh boy, did that line ever spark up a thousand discussions after the episode aired.
Who is the “Chosen One?”
Is it Luke, contrary to George’s statements on the matter? Is it still Anakin? If so, then why would Ben Kenobi tell Maul that Luke was? General consensus among both fans and creators is this: Anakin is still the Chosen One, but Ben personally no longer believes that.
While I agree with that consensus, I think there’s one more factor involved in this line:
It’s similar to saying that Anakin Skywalker was the best starfighter pilot in the galaxy. I’m like, “Well, yeah, in your opinion, man.” [Laughs] What else are you going to tell this guy’s son, who’s alone and has no hope? He’s not mediocre; he was “the best.” That’s just good parenting by Obi-Wan Kenobi at that point. (Filoni, IGN)
Just like telling Luke that Anakin was the “best star pilot in the galaxy,” Ben is also telling Maul what he needs to hear in this moment: that reminder of a greater story and of the coming redemption.
IT’S LIKE POETRY
I would hardly be the first to point out that “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” is another way of saying “Once upon a time…” but it’s still our first indicator that Star Wars is a story about stories. In my essay for Eleven-ThirtyEight – “What Kenobi can learn from Kenobi” – I wrote:
All of the films since the original trilogy was released, have been, in some way, a commentary on previous Star Wars media. The prequels were meant to mirror and rhyme with the originals. The sequels have taken an even harder turn into the meta by deconstructing and reconstructing mainstays of the franchise. The anthology films are focused on providing new context to events or characters with which we already are familiar.
However, I was thinking too small, as even the original trilogy was about reflecting, deconstructing, and rebuilding the stories of yore. Even without the context of the prequels, Luke’s story still reflects Anakin’s. And Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi Knight, is introduced to Luke and the audience primarily through stories from Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the Force itself. And then we see these stories play out in Luke: an incredible pilot, strong in the Force, who Owen Lars believes should have stayed home and not followed Obi-Wan off on some damn idealistic crusade. In Empire Strikes Back, the cave shows Vader literally as a reflection of Luke, someone who he might become, a threat hammered home in the throne room of Return of the Jedi. By knowing this story of his father and changing its ending, Luke redeems Anakin by reflecting, deconstructing, and rebuilding his story.
In a similar manner, Anakin becomes the redemption for multiple characters from the prequel era. This era is full of “proto-Vaders” as numerous essays have already pointed out. There’s the mentor murderer and Obi-Wan rival (Maul), the cyborg with respiratory issues (Grievous), the fallen Jedi (Dooku), and the man who simply wanted to save someone he loved but ended up killing them instead (Savage). Even Darth Plagueis finds himself among this crowd: the Sith who sought to prevent death.
Unlike Luke, Anakin’s reflection, deconstruction, and rebuilding of their stories were not deliberate. Most of these characters were individuals he only met in passing. All save Plagueis were individuals Anakin only ever considered as enemies, as people to be stopped. Yet he still ended up reflecting their hateful desires in his fall:
The heartbreak and death of Obi-Wan. A galaxy with no Jedi. The Republic’s fall. The fulfillment of his Master’s bidding.
Then, in his redemption, he deconstructs their desires and finds the deferred heart that birthed that hate. And then he fulfills that heart’s desire, the conclusion that they truly sought.
A family member was saved, which is all Savage ever wanted to do. The corrupt government against which Dooku railed, the government which became the Empire, fell. True power, which is what Grievous sought in upgrading his body, was found. Palpatine faced the consequences of the all torment he had brought on the galaxy, including the abuse he had heaped upon Maul. And that ever elusive dream of Plagueis, immortality, was achieved.
This is the promised story that allows Maul to pass away in peace. Yet I would still argue that the full redemption of Maul’s story is not found in Anakin. Justice is given to Maul’s story in the conclusion of Anakin’s, but even in his defeat of Palpatine, the heart of Maul’s story is not quite achieved. Not until another thirty years pass and another character arrives on-screen. A character whose themes and backstory echo’s Maul’s, who even faces the shadows of Maul’s arc and overcomes them. This character? He’s a pretty big deal.
Granted, Maul and Finn never meet in canon, and I doubt that Finn ever heard of Maul. Even if the First Order knew of him, the Tragedy of Darth Maul the Lost is not a story they would tell their troops. A failure of a Sith at best, a chaotic crime lord at medium, and evidence of the Dark Side’s true nature at worst. Nevertheless, I don’t think this disconnect discounts the idea that Finn redeems Maul’s story.
Consider the field of stars.
The Ring Theory by Mike Klimo speaks to the meta craftsmanship of the Star Wars universe, how George Lucas worked to have the elements of the Star Wars saga rhyme with each other as a means to provide context and catharsis to the audience. However, I think the Ring Theory applies in-universe as well. The World Between Worlds is indicative of that.
In this place, we hear voices from all across the timeline of Star Wars. Every moment in the series is “not disparate from each other… they are inclusive of each other.” It’s through this World, which is the Jedi Temple, that Yoda uses Kanan’s knighthood as a redemption of the Grand Inquisitor’s story.
The vision of the Grand Inquisitor is entirely motivated by Yoda, who’s basically letting Kanan know that he is a Jedi Knight. (Henry Gilroy – Co-Executive Producer, Rebels Recon 2.17)
You are what I once was. A Jedi Knight. (Grand Inquisitor, “Shroud of Darkness.”)
It’s no coincidence that the World Between Worlds is associated with the Mortis Gods, an arc of The Clone Wars that deliberately repeated elements of the Star Wars saga. It was in this place that the actions of a few individuals, each representing larger concept at work, were caught up in a morality play that reflected, deconstructed, and rebuilt the galaxy’s story (Jedi Archives Podcast Episode 19 – MORTIS).
Even in the repetition of simple trends in the galaxy, such as the Test of Compassion I wrote about for Eleven-ThirtyEight, finds itself deliberately repeated across stories, often times motivated by the Force:
By the time Revenge of the Sith rolls around, Jar Jar is as forgotten as the lesson he helped teach Qui-Gon. But during the dark times, what voice is left with Yoda to understand the failures of the Jedi? Qui-Gon.
This is why Yoda acts like Jar Jar when Luke first meets him. He’s the same sort of obnoxious clown whose power Luke doesn’t realize at all. (Young, Bryan. “Jar Jar Binks is Secretly One of Star Wars’ Most Important Characters.” SyFy Wire, emphasis mine)
It’s as if the Force itself is playing and replaying certain events and scenarios, as if trying to redeem the past or maybe even the future. Therefore, it’s not too far a stretch to consider the notion that one of two individuals, without knowledge of each other, can end up walking out redemptive patterns of the other’s story.
Adam Kranz discussed this idea of the Force being the manifestation of authorial intent in Star Wars canon in his essay “The Force and I Have Different Priorities: The Last Jedi and Life as a Star Wars Character” on Eleven-ThirtyEight. While I don’t entirely agree with his conclusions, it’s still a well-written essay on the topic and worth a look if you’re interested in exploring this topic further.
But for now, let’s explore how Maul’s story is reflected, deconstructed, and rebuilt by the bravest character in Star Wars.
THE ONLY NAME THEY EVER GAVE ME
Real name? Yes… I once had a real name. So long ago, I… don’t remember.
It almost seems too easy, this comparison. After all, I get to start with these quotes:
The Sith… the Sith took everything from me. Murdered my brother, ripped me from my mother’s arms, used me as a weapon… (“Twilight of the Apprentice”)
I’m a stormtrooper. Like all of them, I was taken from a family I’ll never know. And raised to do one thing. (The Force Awakens)
Two children appropriated from their families at a young age to be disposable weapons, they are taught to conceal their true identities for the purposes of their masters. Maul is not supposed to reveal the presence of the Sith, and Finn is supposed to be another faceless cog in the First Order’s machine. Both are individuals who were denied emotional attachments throughout their childhood, and as a result, attach fast and strong to those they befriend.
They are both confronted by a significant death and feel empty as a result (though for vastly different reasons).
Darth Maul (2017)
All images from The Force Awakens courtesy of StarWarsScreencaps.com
They both survive what should have been a lethal blow and “wake up” from the results of that injury with a name on their lips and issues getting out of bed.
All images from The Last Jedi courtesy of StarWarsScreencaps.com
They both act as the Shapeshifter archetype to a Jedi hopeful…
The Shapeshifter is a character whose nature is confounding to the Hero, often because the Hero is unsure who the Shapeshifter really is or whether they can be trusted. In Rey’s path as a Hero in The Force Awakens, Finn is a Shapeshifter. First she believes he is a Resistance fighter, then learns he is not who she thought he was – in identity or in courage. Ultimately, though, she finds their friendship validated upon learning it was his idea to undertake great risk to come to rescue her at Starkiller Base. (Barr, Tricia & BJ Priester, “Finn and the Hero’s Journey in The Force Awakens,” Fangirl Blog)
We also start to see more clearly how Maul has cast himself in almost every archetypal role in the Journey. We already know that he wore Obi-Wan’s face to play the Herald. We already know that he’s cast himself as Ezra’s Mentor since Malachor, but once again he also fakes Obi-Wan’s Force signature through the Holocrons to guide Ezra to the Tuskens’ territory. As the Shadow, he knows he is a reflection of the Dark Side’s draw on Ezra, and he reveals himself as an enemy to lure Ezra deeper into the desert. And of course, he sees himself not only as Ezra’s true Mentor but also his true Ally. In “Twin Suns,” Maul is the ultimate Shapeshifter, projecting whatever masks he requires to draw out the right reaction from Ezra. (Part 3)
…and have a tendency to fall into cyclical patterns:
Although he readily offers up the information he knows about Starkiller Base, he is not doing it because he already is fully committed to the Resistance cause. Instead, he still retains some of his earlier pattern: deceiving his new allies about his true selfish motivation, in this case his desire to ensure he is sent on the mission so that he can rescue Rey. (Barr & Priester, emphasis mine)
They both start out passively opposing their former masters – Finn by fleeing, Maul by working the underworld. When someone they love is attacked and a statement is made about their current allegiances, they are both compelled them to take up open arms against their former masters.
When Finn and Maul choose to leave their respective orders…
FN-2187… // Not anymore. The name’s Finn, and I’m in charge.
So, the rumors are true: Darth Maul lives. // Formerly Darth, now just Maul.
…they find themselves in a trek across a desert, looking for a way out of their old lives. This journey ends up wearing them down. We talked in Part 1 about how we see the physical wear-and-tear of Tatooine on Maul, and we see a similar toll taken on Finn crossing Jakku. On his journey, Maul refused to be transformed by the experience. Finn, however, literally sheds his stormtrooper outfit in the desert, akin to how Tatooine shed the Dark Side influence from both Ezra and Obi-Wan.
Finn’s metamorphosis into heroism manifests visually in his Belly of the Whale as he staggers through the sand, tossing off pieces of his stormtrooper armor one by one before finally donning the jacket instead. (Barr & Priester)
For all the ways Finn reflects Maul, the critical difference between them is clear from the outset.
I know where you’re from. I’ve been to your village. I know the decision to join the Dark Side wasn’t yours. The Nightsisters made it for you. (“The Lawless”)
But my first battle, I made a choice. I wasn’t gonna kill for them. So I ran. …I’m done with the First Order. I’m never going back. (The Force Awakens)
Finn chooses for himself. And he chooses compassion.
When Maul’s internal state is laid bare on Lotho Minor, he recites a four-piece mantra supposedly taught to him by Sidious. Through examining how Maul and Finn play off the elements of this mantra, we can see the ways that Finn deconstructs Maul’s path and overcomes that which Maul never did.
Always remember, I am fear…
While this is an extension of the TV spot monologue “Fear is my ally” for The Phantom Menace, in which Maul declares himself to be a fearsome being, I think there is another interpretation of this line. Maul isn’t just fearsome; he is fearful. And more than that, he is driven by fear. Anger and hate, yes, he is driven by those as well, but recall the famous path to the Dark Side:
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
His fears, created and exploited by Sidious, including the fear of Sidious himself, is the birthplace of all Maul’s anger and hate.
Finn is likewise a character who is afraid, and like Maul, his fear also stems from his former masters. He’s seen the First Order from the inside and once he gets out, all he wants to do is run. But unlike Maul, Finn turns back around to face his fear time and time again. He chooses to stand against the First Order out of compassion.
Maul projects an image of power and confidence and may even convince himself that its true, but when he’s confronted by his fear, the mask falls away. Finn is openly afraid, but willingly chooses to stand his ground and tell a powerful Force user to “Come get it,” resulting in the bravest character in the entire franchise.
Always remember, I am hunter…
Maul and Finn were both trained to hate the enemies of their masters but were held in reserve because Sidious and the First Order didn’t want to show their hands too soon. Maul bucks this and actively seeks out not only the Jedi Eldra Katis to sate his bloodlust, but also picks fights with animals, criminals, and civilians. Finn on the other hand, one of the top students of the First Order’s training, finds that he cannot bring himself to kill civilians, even in a simulation (Rucka, Greg. Before the Awakening).
Always remember, I am filth…
The Dark Side of the Force has a twisted metric of determining the value of people and of things, assigning worth to vices like greed.
Maul is always looking to define himself by this metric. He is looking to find value in a rise to fortune and power. That is why, when the role of the Sith Apprentice is denied to him, he turns to the underworld and crime syndicates, a fertile place for him to flourish. It’s a place for him to acquire the power that he thinks he is due. The wealth that he thinks will define him as something more than filth.
In the same vein as Maul’s apprentice days, Finn was also a promising student who was assigned worth by the metrics of the First Order.
…the only mother (figure) he’s ever known, right, Because he was her star pupil. And that’s Captain Phasma. (Urban Acolyte, Finn’s Journey in The Force Awakens | A Hero’s Journey in Star Wars)
In Before the Awakening, we see Finn as the top strategist and combatant of his team: officer material.
Then, when he breaks from the First Order, he is tempted by the world Maul used to define his own worth.
When they get [to Canto Bight], at first Finn sees the glitz and glamor and wants to partake in a world that seems so alluring… (Film Crit Hulk, “The Beautiful Ugly, and Possessive Hearts of Star Wars,” Observer)
Compare the yacht of Crimson Dawn – Maul’s syndicate in Solo: A Star Wars Story – to Canto Bight. It’s a glamorous scene in which our drably-dressed protagonists stand out like a sore thumb. It’s a place run by those who profit off the pain in the galaxy. The two locales even share the same color schemes of black and gold. And for a moment, Finn imagines himself among these rich and powerful people…
…but then he sees the way the rich treat those below him. The way they profit off murder. The way they treat children and slaves and animals. Suddenly, he sees the larger world and the way they are affected by the oppressive First Order (the very place he came from). It’s not mere sympathy, suddenly he taps into his own anger, built from all the years of his own abuse… (Film Crit Hulk)
Instead of looking at the top and saying “that will be me!” Finn sees the oppressed and thinks “that is me,” a display of empathy Maul never considered. And then Finn proceeds to tear up the exact sort of place that Maul would have sat in power.
Moreover, by the end of The Last Jedi, Finn doesn’t just reject the value metric of the First Order but flips it on its head. He takes an intended insult and turns it into a badge of honor.
Always remember, I am nothing!
We have already talked extensively about what this word means to Maul, so what about Finn? Surely his claiming “Rebel scum” as a badge of honor means he’s overcome this element of “nothing.” Not quite yet. He rejected the First Order’s external declaration of his worthlessness – “You’re just a bug in the system” – and but it could be that he was still internalizing parts of that message. Because he still sees himself as someone who fights, not someone to save.
When they get [to Canto Bight] … he sees the larger world and the way they are affected by the oppressive First Order (the very place he came from). It’s not mere sympathy, suddenly he taps into his own anger, built from all the years of his own abuse, seeing himself in the animals who were prodded and caged. He wrestles with this, but when they’re both duped by a turncoat who doesn’t believe in anything, one who even tempts them with some “both sides” nonsense (a brilliant, telling little detail), Finn finally is ready to flip…
Now, fully believing in the cause, he has so much anger to unleash. He’s so angry at all the injustice and abuse that he wants to be a brave hero the way he sees Poe, the man who will fly into a dreadnought. (Film Crit Hulk, emphasis mine)
Like the anger Maul has pent up from his years of abuse and from things he counted as wrongs against him, Finn’s anger is destructive in a way that becomes self-destructive.
[T]earing things down isn’t enough. True resistance includes the preservation of what is good and the desire to build up from what is saved, not just the destruction of what is old. The latter isn’t only what Finn has to move beyond (as Rose does in Canto Bight and Poe on Crait), it’s quite literally the mentality of the primary villain, Kylo Ren.
All this to say, Finn’s arc in TLJ wasn’t ‘retreading’ his arc from TFA. In TFA, he progresses from a self-oriented desire to flee to saving someone he cares about. In TLJ, he builds upon this foundation in order to understand not just that there is a cause worth fighting for, but also things worth saving. (Ellis, Gretchen, “In Defense of Finn’s Character Arc,” The Fandomentals, emphasis mine)
Maul’s hatred of Sidious, of Obi-Wan, of himself never leads him towards a path of creation. For him, it’s about tearing things down until his bitter end. And the one time he does allow himself to start thinking about building something better…
…he reverts almost immediately to a Sith mindset and thus brings destruction on himself and others once more.
Finn – yet again – overcomes that. Even in his reckless attempt to destroy the cannon and his urging to join Luke Skywalker in the fight, even with his cry of “I won’t let them win!”, it’s all about protecting others from the same people he suffered under. All he needed was a slight course correction, if you will, from Rose.
This is why Rose saving him has meaning. It’s not about his sacrifice not being worthy or important compared to Holdo’s or Luke’s … It’s about the fact that he would have been throwing his life away for little gain, and just when he had a lot to live for. In a way, he’d tapped into his Stormtrooper mindset once again, only in a new context; he was just a cog in a machine again. He didn’t matter, only the destruction of the enemy. Only, now his target was the First Order rather than whomever they had ordered him to kill, as in the beginning of TFA. (Ellis)
I’m ecstatic that my boy Finn lived to see another day, but seeing people upset that he didn’t die is a reminder of how expendable they think we are. You’d think after all of the deaths in the movie, they’d be happy to see some alive characters on the side of the Rebellion. Though I suppose movie viewers aren’t the only ones who felt Finn’s death was necessary: Finn himself jumped in, rusted ship ablazin’. It was tragically symbolic to me, after all, how many times does a person of color willingly walk through the flames, putting their own well-being on hold, to attempt to make things better? …Rose was making a clear point: you don’t have to be the sacrifice. …In one single moment, I learned an important lesson from a galaxy far, far away: stop being the sacrifice and start living. (Lawrence, Briana. “The Last Jedi’s Message to People of Color: You Don’t Have to Be the Sacrifice,” SyFy Wire, emphasis mine)
Then, almost to put a perfectly fine point on how Finn overcomes everything that plagued Maul, Finn actually takes the stance that beat Maul. And despite receiving a wound similar to that which ultimately killed the former Sith, Finn survives.
And outside of the “always remember” mantra of Maul, let us consider Rey. Oh, consider Rey.
Rey reflects two separate things in Maul’s life. First is abandonment. Rey was abandoned. Maul was abandoned. They’re both incredibly lonely individuals who want to be someone, but in fact believe that they are nothing. They’re both stuck in deserted places, waiting for family to find them. For Maul, I speak both of Lotho Minor and of Malachor; what he wanted from Ezra was brotherhood. Moreover, their parents sold them off for a fleeting promise that eventually left the parents dead.
Finn is the one who overcomes that for Rey. He comes back for her. He tells her she is someone by his actions. In The Force Awakens, Finn defeats the same type of abandonment that had plagued Maul for his entire life.
If Rey first reflects a wound of Maul’s, her second reflection is that of a flaw. Rey does not represent a flaw in and of herself, but who she is to Finn reflects who Ezra was to Maul. Maul’s painful flaw is a weakness shared by Finn; that desire to belong.
The stormtrooper fixed FN-2187 with a stare. “No nickname. You’re one of those.”
“One of those what?” FN-2187 asked.
The stormtrooper laughed. He looked to be in his late twenties, perhaps, but there was something hard in his eyes, and the laugh wasn’t amused. “An outside, cadet. You’re on the outside, and you’ll always be looking in and wondering why you don’t belong.” (Before the Awakening)
That desire to have someone look at you in a way that no one ever had before.
That desire for family.
Just as Maul seemed caught off by Ezra’s genuine trust, Finn is also caught off-guard by Rey’s appraisal of him. Both Maul and Finn hold up some degree of deception to hold onto that emotional attachment. But unlike Maul, Finn doesn’t try to override Rey’s agency and tries to tell her the bare truth multiple times over. Not as a means of manipulation, but as a way to set Rey free from any obligation to him.
When Finn follows up his confession of who he is, he asks Rey to come with him. When she refuses, for the sake of a larger purpose, his reply is of compassion and support.
Maul’s response to finding someone he cares about is to control, dominate, and possess. Finn’s response is to protect and let go. Finn encounters this shared flaw of Maul’s and overcomes it, multiple times in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
In The Last Jedi, we can see shades of Maul’s actions from “Twin Suns.” Finn takes the beacon that would lead Rey back to the Resistance and tries to run with it. Granted, the intent behind this action is leagues apart from Maul’s use of the Holocron: Maul lured Ezra into danger for his own ends; Finn tried to run for Rey’s sake. Nevertheless, had Finn succeeded, the outcome would have been similar to the outcome had Maul succeeded on Tatooine.
It would have removed someone with inside knowledge (Ezra on Lothal, Finn on the First Order) from the cause. Had Finn been captured with the beacon, it would have all but assured that Dark Siders (Maul, Snoke and Kylo) would have gotten their hands on a young Jedi and learned about Luke Skywalker. It would have been an action that undermined Rey’s decision to aid a cause and separated her from those she had chosen to fight alongside, which was exactly Maul’s strategy with Ezra on Dathomir and Tatooine alike.
But again, Finn overcomes where Maul fell.
He willingly gives up what control he had over Rey (the beacon to bring her to him), and through his mission, he learns to look beyond his immediate emotional attachments (something that Maul barely grasped in his last moments). And see the reward for Finn, that which could have been Maul’s.
It is a triumph of a promise for Ezra when he returns to his family to say:
“We won’t be seeing Maul again.”
It is a promise of hope from Rey when she leaves Finn after saying:
“We will see each other again. I believe that.”
Through compassion, Finn has gained what Maul had denied himself time and again. Family.
Coming from nearly the exact same circumstances, Finn broke free of the cycle that defined Maul’s entire life. And in doing so, he began breaking that cycle in others. Recall how Maul clung to vengeance and thus destroyed any hope Ben may still have had for Anakin’s redemption. Recall how Maul’s repentance might have changed the galaxy, a ripple effect that would spread out from this single choice.
That’s exactly what Finn does.
In light of recent events, Finn’s and M’gann’s [from Supergirl] stories are even more powerful. They’re a beacon of hope and light, a reminder that we have the power to break ranks with the traumas and brainwashing of our pasts. We can choose to be better than the violence of our upbringing and society. Like them, we can redeem ourselves with the choices we make to be better than what we were trained to be. We can transcend racial, ideological, religious, and cultural divides and find a home with those we once called ‘enemy.’ (Ellis, Gretchen, “Breaking Ranks and the Cycle of Violence,” The Fandomentals)
Finn’s compassion makes him a far more active player in his own fate and in the fates of those around him than Maul ever was. It ends up breaking through multiple variations of Maul’s cycle in multiple characters. The child weapon in Finn himself. His own fear. The ever-abandoned Rey. That desire for a sense of belonging. The oppressed and downtrodden on Canto Bight. In the alternate scene of Phasma’s death, we even see Finn reaching out to try to break Phasma’s hold on the other stormtroopers.
And maybe – only Episode IX will tell – Finn’s choice might ripple out to break Kylo Ren’s cycle, who has embraced the dark side as eagerly as Maul had in Mandalore’s throne room. Compassion is what takes the power of the Dark Side away, and I could not think of a better triumph than this. The Dark undone by the compassion of a man that it thought it once owned.
Has a nice rhyme to it, don’t you think?
But what does that mean for Maul, here in “Twin Suns”?
Finn achieves Apotheosis when he accomplishes his personal goal, embracing Rey upon their reunion. But his transformation into a hero of the Resistance requires the Ultimate Boon. Together with Rey, he aids Han and Chewie in infiltrating the oscillator facility so that Poe and the Resistance pilots can destroy it. Then in the forest, Finn wields the lightsaber for a second time to defend unconscious Rey from the murderous Kylo Ren. … the Hero wielding the weapon the Shadow covets. (Barr & Priester, emphasis mine)
The Apotheosis Maul wanted and that Finn achieves is that family we discussed earlier. Then, like Anakin did for the stories he deconstructed and rebuilt, Finn gets to the heart of what Maul coveted: the Ultimate Boon of legacy and hope.
Now, I have done a great disservice to this episode by not discussing Kevin Kiner’s score until this moment. Sadly, I am sadly not going to do it justice here either, as I wish to focus in on only one particular use of theme and variation:
The first 23 seconds you hear is a track from Kevin Kiner’s score for Star Wars Rebels Season 2 titled “Maul.” Throughout Rebels, you will occasionally hear the hissed notes that accompanied him in The Phantom Menace, but this is the first time Maul truly has his own theme. The next 40 seconds is a sound clip from “Holocrons of Fate,” where Maul’s theme pitches upwards to invoke a sense of longing while still retaining a sinister edge. In the final seconds of this video, a clip from “Twin Suns,” Maul’s theme loses all of its sinister edge and takes on a somber tone and pace as he dies in Ben Kenobi’s arms. Then, as Maul makes peace in the way that the larger story will go on without him, we hear the same section of the theme as when Maul tells Ezra he’s looking for “hope.”
Overlapped audio from “Holocrons of Fate” and “Twin Suns,” demonstrating how the last few notes match up.
“Isn’t that interesting that Ezra is seeking something that is honestly more of a Sith motivation. Maul is showing his more Jedi motivation. Jedi are all about hope. Jedi are about living a life that is worth remembering after you’re dead, right?” Witwer posited. (ComicBook.com, emphasis mine)
I think Maul is obsessed with legacy. Y’know, he’s come to the realization that he’s the last of his particular kind. Mother Talzin is gone. His brother is gone. (Pablo Hidalgo – Lucasfilm, Rebels Recon 2.20, emphasis mine)
Legacy is an ongoing theme in Star Wars, everyone is either the source or the bearer of one, and frequently we find redemption of the past within its legacy. Finn is both who Maul was and who he could have become. Finn’s story ends up reflecting, deconstructing, and rebuilding Maul’s in the same way Luke’s rebuilt Anakin’s.
Finn is the redemption of Maul’s legacy. Because of who he is and who he chose to be, Finn is Maul’s hope realized.
IF I MAY FILE A COMPLAINT
Now I come to the one major criticism I have with “Twin Suns” as a story: this is the first time that the “Chosen One” has been uttered in Rebels.
In the broader context of Star Wars, we know that the Chosen One is both the embodiment of the hope Maul was looking for and the key to destroying the Sith. We know what both Luke and Anakin do that bring these results about, but if someone only watched Rebels, only followed Ezra’s story, they wouldn’t know that.
Why is the Chosen One important to Ezra’s story? Because destroying the Sith is not his responsibility or destiny, that belongs to Anakin and Luke. And that’s what Ben’s line and Luke’s cameo contribute to Ezra’s story: the acknowledgement that in leaving the false Hero’s Journey set out for him by Maul and his own hyper-responsibility, he trusts someone else to fulfill their purpose. A lesson he learned on a smaller scale with Sabine’s mission in “The Antilles Extraction.” A lesson he employs on an even larger scale when he trusts his family in the finale to protect Lothal in his absence.
I don’t think there should have been an additional line in “Twin Suns” about the Chosen One; the episode is already packed to the gills and there is no natural place for it in the final cut. However, I do think that a mention of it could have been slipped into Season 2’s “Shroud of Darkness” as Anakin does appear in that episode. Even so, I cannot begrudge “Twin Suns” or Rebels too much. Not only is hindsight 20/20, but according to an interview with Stephen Stanton, there was a time that Filoni and co. didn’t even know whether or not they had the greenlight to make “Twin Suns” until they were already recording Season 3.
Even in terms of its development, it seems that “Twin Suns” has an ongoing theme of “there’s always a bigger story at work.”
Ezra’s trek through the desert is a recap of Maul and Obi-Wan’s stories. The context of Ezra’s story in Rebels itself in turn gives weight to the close of Maul and Obi-Wan’s tale. The false Hero’s Journey that Maul constructs deliberately blinds Ezra to the importance of Lothal’s fate. Ben’s guarded responses to Ezra and Maul’s digging at Ben around the campfire echoes the rivals’ history. And of course, that galactic legacy of the Chosen One.
Maul also leaves behind another legacy besides one the one that Finn will redeem. He leaves behind a warning to the one surviving Jedi. To the boy with a strong survival instinct and fear of abandonment, who lost his family to Palpatine’s machinations, who attaches strongly to others. A warning that says:
“This is what could have become of you. Someone bitter and alone, and if you had not found the ability to forgive, this may have been your downfall.
Also, don’t trust old men who want you to open Force temples for them.”