There is a jaw-dropping 'Solo' cameo by [SPOILER]. Here's what it means.

·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
<em>Solo: A Star Wars Story</em> features several classic characters, including one big surprise return. (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Solo: A Star Wars Story features several classic characters, including one big surprise return. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

Warning: This post contains big spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

After Ron Howard replaced Phil Lord and Chris Miller at the helm of the Han Solo prequel feature, Solo: A Star Wars Story, last summer, rumors swirled that the Willow director might be taking a page from the previous Star Wars standalone feature, Rogue One, by making room for another crowd-pleasing Darth Vader cameo. As it turns out, the closing moments of Solo do feature the return of a certain Sith Lord … but not the one with the raspy voice and rebellious children.

Instead, we’re reunited with Darth Maul — embodied, once again, by martial artist Ray Park — the breakout scene-stealer from The Phantom Menace whom moviegoers last saw plunging to his death after his battle royal with Jedi knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). That two-against-one bout left the apprentice of Darth Sidious (aka the future Emperor Palpatine) divided in two. In Solo, though, Maul is whole again courtesy of robot limbs. More important, he has embarked on a whole new career as the phantom mastermind behind the criminal syndicate Crimson Dawn, which also employs Han’s past (and maybe future?) girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).

Ray Park as Darth Maul in <em>Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menac</em>e (Photo: Mary Evans/Lucasfilm/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)
Ray Park as Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (Photo: Mary Evans/Lucasfilm/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)

Maul’s reappearance is guaranteed to inspire both cheers and confusion among opening-weekend Solo audiences. Which camp you fall into depends entirely on how closely you follow Star Wars outside of the movie theater. If your only exposure to the far, far away galaxy is via the nine-episode cinematic “Skywalker Saga,” plus these standalone Star Wars Story offshoots, you probably assumed that the Dathomirian Zabrak warrior turned Emperor Palpatine’s fearsome apprentice was still lying in pieces beneath Naboo, next to his signature double-bladed lightsaber.

Those Star Wars acolytes who watched every episode of the animated series Clone Wars and Rebels won’t be surprised by his resurrection at all. That’s because Maul officially rejoined Star Wars continuity in the penultimate episode of Clone Wars‘ fourth season — set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith — turning up on Lotho Minor, a literal landfill of a planet located in the galaxy’s Outer Rim. His cameo in Solo marks the most significant attempt yet to tie the TV shows and feature films together and establishes Maul as a potential foe for Han should Alden Ehrenreich get to pilot the Millennium Falcon again in a sequel. (It’s worth noting that Marvel’s ongoing line of in-canon Star Wars comics also included a Maul-centric miniseries that took place pre-Phantom Menace.)

Darth Maul was sliced in two by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of <i>The Phantom Menace</i>. (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Darth Maul was sliced in two by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of The Phantom Menace. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

But first, a bit of history for those who didn’t watch Clone Wars, which aired on Cartoon Network from 2008 to 2013, with a final season premiering on Netflix the following year. As we eventually learned on the series, Maul survived his fall via a desperate Force grab that landed him inside an air vent (shades of Luke Skywalker’s survival technique in The Empire Strikes Back), where he dragged the upper part of his body, which had been cauterized by Obi-Wan’s lightsaber, to a trash barge bound for Lotho Minor. He’s later found there by his brother and fellow Sith apprentice, Savage Opress, nursing a serious case of amnesia and skittering around on a six-legged cybernetic lower half.

Once he remembers his identity — and swaps those six legs out for two — Maul becomes a significant player in the latter days of the Clone Wars, building the villainous Shadow Collective and seeking vengeance on both his would-be executioner, Obi-Wan, and his former master, Sidious. By the end of the series, Maul does exact his pound of flesh from the Jedi Master by killing Obi-Wan’s devoted ally Satine Krysze. But Sidious remains a more powerful foe, battling Opress and Maul in another two-on-one duel that leaves the former dead and the latter soundly defeated.

Darth Maul returned from his <em>Phantom Menace</em> death in <em>Star Wars: The Clone Wars</em>. (Photo: YouTube)
Darth Maul returned from his Phantom Menace death in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (Photo: YouTube)

Maul’s next animated appearance came in the second season of Star Wars: Rebels, the recently concluded Disney XD series that unfolds between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. At that point, Maul’s in exile on the Sith world of Malachor and collaborates with the titular rebels to strike back once again at Sidious and Maul’s replacement, Darth Vader. Maul also has unfinished business with old Ben Kenobi; in the third-season episode “Twin Suns,” Maul locates his longtime foe on Tatooine for one more battle. And this time, it really is Maul’s last stand; the elderly Obi-Wan strikes down his opponent in only a few moves and stays by his side as he draws his final breaths. Maul’s last words? “He will avenge us,” a reference to the “Chosen One” — whose name rhymes with “Duke Pietalker” — Obi-Wan has tasked himself with protecting.

Darth Maul draws his blade against his old foe Obi-Wan Kenobi in <em>Star Wars: Rebels.</em> (Photo: YouTube)
Darth Maul draws his blade against his old foe Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Rebels. (Photo: YouTube)

In terms of its place on the Star Wars timeline, Solo takes place well before Maul’s final fight in Rebels. The opening credits of the Ron Howard-directed film set the story down during the “lawless time” that follows the Imperial Army’s rise and just before the birth of what becomes the Rebel Alliance. So we’re catching Maul at a point where he has recovered from his Clone Wars-era Sidious shellacking and has turned his attention back to his career as a galactic gangster. In the closing moments of Solo, Qi’ra kills Crimson Dawn’s original boss, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), as part of an elaborate double-cross orchestrated by the hyperfuel-smuggling team of herself, Han, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Rather than flee with them, Qi’ra opts to step into her dead boss’s old job, which puts her into direct contact with Maul. And while he may have dropped the “Darth” from his name since parting ways with the Sith, he has still got his lightsaber at the ready — activating the red blades one at a time in vintage Phantom Menace-fashion.

There’s another subtle way that Solo reinforces its connection to the animated Star Wars series. While that’s Park we see onscreen, the voice that comes out of Maul’s mouth belongs to Sam Witwer, who portrayed the character on both Clone Wars and Rebels. Witwer wasn’t the original voice of Maul, though. That honor falls to British actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz, who described the exciting process of recording Maul’s dialogue for The Phantom Menace — and the disappointing experience of watching the finished film — in a 2015 podcast. Here’s to a Witwer vs. Serafinowicz showdown in Maul: A Star Wars Story.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is playing in theaters now.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: