Though Solo: A Star Wars Story tells the origin of the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy, and in doing so fills in a lot of the blanks in Han Solo's past, the movie is also loaded with other connections to the larger Star Wars universe. If you've yet to see Solo, consider this a spoiler warning. You should stop reading now.
Whether it's references to other characters and planets, or the cameo by Warwick Davis reprising his role from Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, there's so much for Star Wars fans of all ages to enjoy about Solo. However, there is one particular character appearance that might have really caught audiences by surprise.
After the death of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) makes contact with his superior to inform the mysterious figure that she will be taking Vos's place in the Crimson Dawn criminal syndicate. That superior is none other than Darth Maul, making his first big screen appearance since The Phantom Menace in 1999.
If you're a Star Wars fan who sticks to watching only the movies, Maul's presence might be a bit confusing. During the climax of Episode 1, the Sith was cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi's blade and fell down a shaft, presumably leaving him dead. In the end, though, it's simple. Rumors of Darth Maul's death have been greatly exaggerated. While being cut in half would kill most, that just doesn't seem to be the case for Maul.
For fans of the Star Wars animated series, this isn't news. Maul has played a major role in both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, which expand on his story, taking it all the way to his actual death before A New Hope. What's more, while Ray Park reprises his role as the physical premise of Maul, he's voiced by Sam Witwer, the voice actor behind Maul in the animated series and Star Wars: Battlefront II.
The Clone Wars and Rebels have become integral pieces of Star Wars canon thanks to the standalone movies thus far. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Forest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrerra, a character first introduced in The Clone Wars. What's more, he then went on to voice Saw in Rebels. Additionally, Chopper, a droid from Rebels, made a brief appearance in the background of a scene in Rogue One, as did the Ghost ship that the Rebels crew inhabits. Interestingly enough, Han references the VCX-100 ship model while gambling with Lando, which is the line the Ghost belongs to.
The inclusion of Maul in Solo, however, is the next evolution of Star Wars incorporating its animated universe into the movies, and it's the perfect example of a bridge between the two. With a galaxy full of stories to tell and only so many movies each year, using other mediums to populate the franchise with character backgrounds to enrich plots is exciting.
While introducing a secondary character from The Clone Wars, like Saw, is a welcome addition, Maul is a well-known piece of the Star Wars universe that is immediately recognizable to practically any fan. Revealing that he's not only alive but has mechanical legs immediately places him within the animated continuity for fans of the shows. However, it also invites fans unfamiliar with that side of the franchise to explore his story arcs on both The Clone Wars and Rebels--including his continued battles with Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi. From there, Maul has even more of his story told in canonical comic books.
This idea of expanding continuity across multiple mediums seems simple enough, especially when you have an audience constantly craving more. Still, there is another franchise that includes both movies and TV that just can't seem to get the hang of it--even though they're owned by the same parent company as Star Wars. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, when it first launched Agents of SHIELD, left fans believing the two sides would interact with each other fairly regularly. That's never been the case, though. While SHIELD reacts to things that happen in the films now and then, the movies never acknowledge the show. What's more, the TV side of the universe has become too fragmented between ABC, Netflix, and Hulu, where the shows don't even manage to reference each other.
Meanwhile, Star Wars is only continuing to make that bond stronger by showing what happens on the small screen is important to the rest of the story. Speaking to GameSpot, even Solo co-writer Jonathan Kasdan recognized the importance of The Clone Wars and Rebels when it came to featuring Maul in the film. "I did my homework to know that, because of Rebels, because of Clone Wars, we were in a position where this part of his life was grey enough that we could fill it in with this thing," he explained. "And it worked nicely with Rebels and Clone Wars in that he did survive that incident with Qui-Gon, and he did go into the world of crime and self-interest and was separated from the Empire and the Sith and that whole thing, to go pursue his own life."
Now, as the Star Wars franchise continues, the links between the two sides of this galaxy will only grow stronger. With Rebels finished, its co-creator is already at work on his next project. The animated Star Wars: Resistance is set before The Force Awakens and will focus on a new Resistance pilot named Kazuda Xiono. It will also feature appearances by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and BB-8. Beyond that, Jon Favreau is developing a live-action TV series set seven years after the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and introducing yet more new characters to the franchise.
The force is clearly strong with the Star Wars franchise. Hopefully, that's a trend that continues as Lucasfilm continues to make movies and TV shows that further expand upon this unique universe. Now if only they were easier to stream. While The Clone Wars is waiting for you to binge on Netflix right now, the same cannot be said for Rebels. However, you can purchase it digitally or on Blu-ray.