Religion

Talkerverse: Vader Kills Maul

I have always held the opinion that Darth Maul should have survived his confrontation with Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, and that his story-arc should have reached its finale in Episode III. Disregarding entirely that Darth Maul DOES survive, that he was resurrected from the dead in The Clone Wars animated series and has since made appearances in a number of post-Prequel stories, my belief that Maul should have been a menacing presence in every Prequel film is built upon a rather simple premise. In short, Anakin/Darth Vader should have been the one to kill Darth Maul.

Allow me to paint you a picture with my imagination brush. Darth Maul is still alive and in Revenge of the Sith, and takes full-command of the Separatist cause after the death of Count Dooku and General Grievous. Safeguarding the leaders of the Confederacy on Mustafar, a small Jedi fighter arrives on the volcanic world and Maul goes out to meet this foe. The Sith Lord instantly recognizes the individual: it is the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. We know the truth – Anakin Skywalker is no more, the man before Maul is the newly minted Sith named Vader and he has been ordered by Darth Sidious, his new Master, to kill the Separatist leaders as well as Maul. It is a test for Vader: kill your rival and take his place, or perish. Vader is up for the challenge.

Darth Maul leaps into action, his double-bladed saber viciously slashing and hacking at Vader. Deflecting the violent blows with his blue lightsaber, Vader is at first caught off-guard by the rage-filled attack. Gathering himself, anger swelling within him, the new Sith Lord goes on the offensive. Now Darth Maul staggers backwards. He has fought and killed Jedi before – Padawans, Knights, and Masters – but Maul has grown complacent throughout the Clone War. He has been such a menacing presence to Jedi that he has left his flank unguarded against a Dark Side for. Darth Sidious knew this, could see that Darth Maul was in need of a true challenger. If he survives this fight, if he kills Vader, then Maul will be a newly sharpened weapon which Sidious can use.

The battle of blades comes to a momentary pause, Maul and Vader alike unable to land a killing stroke. Starring each other down, it is Maul who  speaks first:

“I sense the darkness within you, Jedi. Tell me, has my Master chosen you to test me?”

“I am no Jedi…” Vader responds with scorn “…and he is my Master now.”

Amused and laughing, Maul replies with obvious derision: “You are naïve, young Jedi, if you believe you will replace me.”

Turning his back to Vader, Maul pauses to looks out at the hellish landscape before he speaks again. 

“Do you remember what I did to your first Master? To that fool Qui-Gon Jinn?”

Anger obviously swelling within Vader, rage contorting his face, Maul confidently continues his mocking tone:

“I should have slaughtered him sooner…on Tatooine. I should have slaughtered him…and his Padawan…and you, Ani. And then…”

Reigniting his blue blade, the rage within Vader ready to spill out, Maul speaks one last time:

“….and then I should have slaughtered Amidala.”

Both hands on the hilt of his saber, Vader launches into a vicious assault and Maul greets it head-on. The clash is unlike the choreographed acrobatics of their fight from moments before. There is no twisting of bodies or twirling of sabers. Now, their battle is purely driven by a desire to destroy the other, their blades being used not as elegant weapons but as bludgeons. Hacking and chopping, deflecting and countering, the two raged-infested Sith give no ground, take no footsteps backward. They are locked in a stalemate, unwilling to give an inch, frozen in a battle of wills against the backdrop of a volcanic, smoked-filled landscape.

Frozen, that is, until Vader finally lands a blow, slicing downward across Maul’s face and chest. Staggering backwards, scars glowing from the heat of Vader’s saber, the demonic-looking Zabrak attemps to recover but Vader moves in. Sidestepping and moving past Maul’s desperate strike, Vader reverses the direction of his saber and drives it upwards into Maul’s back, the tip coming out of the Dark Lord’s chest. Lingering for a moment, Vader yanks the blade from his foe, allowing Maul – agony and the recognition of death on his face – to sink to his knees. Turning as his blade is extinguished, Vader kneels behind Darth Maul, leans in, and softly speaks:

“You have been replaced.”

Rising, Darth Vader walks around the dying Sith Lord and, we can assume, towards the facility beyond, on his way to kill the Separatist leaders within. But the camera lingers on Maul – the landscape of Mustafar behind him – and we watch as the Sith Lord slumps forward and dies.

Killing the Devil, Replacing the Devil

There is obvious religious symbolism in Star Wars and perhaps one of the most obvious forms of symbolism is in the form of Mustafar. Essentially, Mustafar is meant to symbolize Hell. When Vader travels to the volcanic world in Revenge of the Sith, he is descending to Hell, a descent which visually captures his internal descent into darkness. While his conversion to the Sith Order took place in the ecumenopolis of Coruscant, he is baptized in this Mustafarian Hell, transformed by eternal fire and subsequently reborn in his iconic suit of armor. And yet, I have always felt one element was missing on Mustafar: the Devil.

Lava on Mustafar
Mustafar = Hell
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

There is obvious religious symbolism in Star Wars and perhaps one of the OTHER obvious forms of symbolism is Darth Maul. Darth Maul looks the way he does – horned head, red and black face, intense yellow-eyes, black robe – because he is a visual representation of evil. He looks like the Devil because he IS the Devil. And, as such, I have always believed Vader should have descended into Hell with the distinct intention of killing the Devil. While his massacre of the Separatist leaders is violent and shows that he is continuing down his dark path, the added layer of Vader killing the Devil in the Devil’s own lair would have added incredible weight to Anakin Skywalker’s descent into Darkness. 

But this added weight is not solely based on Vader’s killing a character serving as an archetype and personification of evil. Killing the Devil is certainly profound in and of itself but Vader would have also been replacing the Devil, becoming the new archetype and personification of evil. It would not have been out of goodness of heart, or a willingness to safeguard the galaxy, that he traveled into Hell to vanquish the Devil. No, he would have killed the Devil precisely because he wanted to become the Devil. Only by descending into the darkness could he make his ascension, earning his title, position, and power as Dark Lord (of the Sith) by violently ripping it away from his adversary.

That is, after all, the nature of the Sith and the Dark Side of the Force.

Epilogue

Darth Sidious steps out of the shuttle, surveying the Mustafarian landscape. He can sense Darth Vader, feel the pain and agony bleeding off of the badly injured Sith. As he moves down towards the end of the large landing platform, he passes the Jedi Starfighter which Vader had taken tot he world, and the body of Maul comes into view beyond it. Sidious walks up to the body, pauses, and looks down. Reaching out with his right hand, he uses the Force to call the double-bladed saber to him. Now in his hand, he crushes it, the broken pieces falling onto the broken body of Maul. Opening his hand and a red crystal sits on his palm. Laughing to himself, Sidious closes his fist and moves on to find his new Apprentice. 

Later, after Darth Vader has recovered, and is entombed in his suit, Sidious will hand him the crystal and give him a single order: “Construct a new lightsaber.”

The Prayer of Kylo Ren

“Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light. Supreme  Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.” – The Prayer of Kylo Ren

It is a scene in The Force Awakens in which the audience is invited to witness a small, sacred act – the prayer of an individual seeking forgiveness from, and offering continued devotion to, the object of his worship. Sitting before an altar, an altar which bears a cherished relic – the burnt helmet of Darth Vader – Kylo Ren, the film’s primary antagonist, invokes the strength and guidance of the deceased Sith Lord, his grandfather. The words spoken by the young Knight of Ren, brief as they are, offer a glimpse into the soul of a young and clearly tormented man, a man seeking respite and aid from his divine ancestor.

One can certainly imagine that this is not the first time Kylo Ren has offered a prayer to his grandfather, nor will it be his last. In turn, there are any number of things – thoughts and questions – that this scene, and this prayer, leaves open to the imagination. For example, while his prayer is offered to the burnt shell of Vader’s helmet, a narrative indication that he self-identifies with the Sith Lord, I have often wondered what Ren knows or understands about the man Vader once was – Anakin Skywalker. In turn, as Ren states “I will finish what you started” it is left open-ended as to what he means by this phrase. Is Kylo Ren referring to the destruction of the Jedi Order? The conquest of the galaxy? The continuation of the Sith Order? Or, perhaps, if he is thinking of his grandfather as the “Chosen One” who, according to prophecy, would bring balance to the Force, does Kylo Ren believe it is his responsibility to “finish” the balancing act? And if so, does Kylo view the “balance to the Force” as being not about equal sides, Light and Dark, but rather about completely extinguishing the Light altogether?

These and other thoughts/questions percolate in my mind each time I watch this scene (and even when I am not watching, like right now), and to be entirely frank I do not find any easy or quick answers. Which actually begs an entirely different question altogether:

Is it even necessary to interpret Kylo Ren’s prayer beyond what it is – a prayer?

Asking this hardly means we Star Wars fans need not, or even should not, consider what Kylo Ren says, using his words to further our conceptual understanding of the Force, the Jedi, the Sith, the Prophecy, etc. Rather, it is simply a question, nay a suggestion, that Kylo Ren’s prayer serves as a very direct reminder that within the Star Wars galaxy matters of the Force are matters of religious belief for many characters. It is easy to forget this, to become so focused on piecing together every last detail of Star Wars, obsessing over how “A connects to B” and “B connects to C” that we (myself included) can at times lose sight of the reality that Star Wars serves as a mirror which reflects our own concepts of the Sacred and religion. And, in the case of this particular scene, it is a reflection of devotion and supplication. Instead of contemplating the near infinite “meanings” of the words Kylo Ren directs towards his grandfather we should instead sit back and ponder, with open hearts and minds, how this scene serves another important purpose: as a reminder that prayer is a powerful tool/act which religious persons engage in as they seek connection and guidance from the Sacred.

Beyond that, we really do not have to dig any deeper.