Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 7 has animated Maul a little differently for his return to the hit animated series. Now available on Disney+, Clone Wars season 7 is the final installment in the fan-favorite cartoon, bridging the gap between its previous seasons and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Darth Maul made his Star Wars debut in Episode I – The Phantom Menace as the apprentice to the Sith lord, Darth Sidious (aka Emperor Palpatine). In that film he is presumably killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi during the climactic “Duel of the Fates” fight scene, cut in half and sent plummeting down a near-bottomless shaft.
Come Star Wars: The Clone Wars, however, it’s revealed Maul has remarkably survived not only the fall but the bisection, first returning with a set of spider legs before gaining a more suitable bi-pedal pair of humanoid robot legs. Throughout Clone Wars, Maul is driven by anger and revenge, wanting nothing more than to kill Kenobi. In season 7, it’s been revealed that he still rules over Mandalore, having taken control of the planet by killing its rightful ruler and co-opting much of the terrorist group, Death Watch, earlier in the show. Now, Ahsoka is leading a siege on Mandalore in the hope they’ll capture Maul and free the planet, but Ahsoka’s in for one heck of fight because Maul is definitely not going to come quietly.
For his appearance in The Phantom Menace, Maul is played by actor and stunt performer Ray Park (his voice is performed by Peter Serafinowicz). Given Park’s martial arts training, he brings an incredible physicality and acrobatic fighting style to Maul, and it’s a style the animators on The Clone Wars have been trying to mimic for years. For season 7, though, they’ve done something new in order to infuse their animation with Park’s style. In an interview with Looper, The Clone Wars‘ animation supervisor Keith Kellogg explained that they did test a straight mo-capped version of Park performing Maul’s movements, but the final result didn’t mesh well with Clone Wars‘ more exaggerated animation. Ultimately, the settled on using the footage of Park as a reference, allowing the animators a much better understanding of how Maul moves. Kellog explained the value in having Park’s movement available to study, saying:
Certain ways he’ll lift his leg, or he’ll do a double jump, or the foot plant that he’ll do… little things like that I certainly wouldn’t have thought of in terms of what we would do in animation. Even the way he stalks people when he’s Maul — he’d sort of become this kind of predator — to be able to take that and add it to what we already have was really a pretty epic pairing.
Darth Maul is only on screen in The Phantom Menace for about seven minutes total, but the character made an immediate impression thanks in part to his striking design, but largely because of his fighting prowess. Park’s performance as Maul was key to the character’s popularity, and that eventually led to his return to the Star Wars universe on The Clone Wars. In animation, Maul’s voice is provided by Sam Witwer, and the actor has proven an excellent choice now that Maul is speaking more than a handful of lines. Still, Park’s skills are crucial part of Maul’s DNA and it’s great to learn he’s still involved in bringing the character to life.
Maul is set to next duel Ahsoka in a lightsaber fight during the “Siege of Mandalore” that according to Kellog is one of the greats. “The Maul-Ahsoka fight in Mandalore…. It’s up there. It’s really great,” Kellog teased. “Hopefully that goes down as one of the best lightsaber fights that we’ve done.” Fans can check it out when Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 7 continues Friday on Disney+.