Sam Witwer on Darth Maul’s ‘Clone Wars’ Fate: ‘He’s Playing a Long Game’ — Q&A

Sam Witwer Talks Darth Maul's Fate on The Clone Wars

Trust me, you’re gonna want to talk about “The Lawless,” the last episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ Season 5 to feature Darth Maul and his apprentice Savage Opress. In fact, Lucasfilm and knew you would have so much to say, that we’ve set up a live chat on Google Hangouts Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET/10:30 a.m. PT with actors Sam Witwer (Maul), Matt Lanter (Anakin), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), and supervising director Dave Filoni, to discuss the episode’s unbelievable revelations.

Tomorrow you yourself will have a chance to ask a question you’ve been dying to have answered. Today, though, we’ve pre-gamed the chat with an in-depth interview with Witwer, who’s majorly creeped out — and entertained — everyone in our galaxy and that Galaxy Far, Far Away with his virtuoso vocal performance as Maul.

He takes us through the two episodes we’ve already seen, “Eminence” and “Shades of Reason,” talks about that little matter with Jon Favreau‘s Pre Vizsla that happened last week, and teases arc-capper, “The Lawless,” in which Maul has a Sith reunion with his old master, Darth Sidious. He also sheds hints about Maul’s ultimate fate and long-term impact on the show. Warning: There be epicness ahead. Let’s start with the first episode of the Maul/Mandalorian arc, “Eminence.” It’s also possibly the first Clone Wars episode ever to be seen entirely through the perspective of the villains.

Sam Witwer: Yes, indeed. I loved that aspect of it, and it was a strangely challenging episode to do because it was so talky. It’s the first episode with Maul that’s just a character episode, just a bunch of guys talking to each other. So if those guys aren’t interesting, we lose.

HW: With what we now know from the follow-up, “Shades of Reason,” it’s pretty much a given that Maul and Pre Vizsla were playing each other the whole time, right?

SW: Oh, from the beginning for sure. Look at Pre Vizsla’s face when Maul starts choking Katee Sackhoff’s character Bo Katan. He has this look on his face like he was hoping something like this would happen. And when Maul leaves the room, Vizsla and Katan exchange a look like, “Yeah, this is our guy.” The way I read that is that they’re realizing that if they want to retake Mandalore they have to have the Force on their side, because Satine is supported by her old boyfriend, Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. So how the hell do they counter that?

HW: By the end of “Eminence,” however, the Mandalorians already seem ready to get rid of Maul.

SW: Well, the fact that Maul started out as a little bit of a team player and as time went on he became more arrogant and really ended up showing his cards as far as the disrespect he has, or the lack of respect, he has for the Mandalorians, that was a fun thing to see. When you look at the early conversations between Vizsla and Maul, there was a mutual respect there and it takes no time for that to become simmering animosity beneath the surface.

HW: It’s hard to believe that when “The Lawless” airs, wrapping up this arc, it’ll only be the fifth episode in which we’ve seen Maul. What do you make of his transformation so far?

SW: Dave and I from the very beginning talked about this storyline way back when we were doing the “Maul in a cave” episodes.

We knew how he would evolve, and it would require Maul to be different every time you saw him, to be evolving all the time. From madness, to gaining some of his humanity back but really being full of rage, to simmering down on that a bit, to now evolving to this strategic and diplomatic place.

So when we first aired the insane Maul stuff some people loved it, but others said, “Hey, that’s not Darth Maul!” To which I can now say to them, “Hey, it’s not good storytelling if we just give you Darth Maul right away, if we don’t deal with the consequences of him being cut in half and left behind.” There’s gotta be a major cost involved. So when people made those comments, what we wanted to say was, “Hey guys, give it a chance. You don’t judge a movie by the first five minutes.”

Now he’s resembling the Darth Maul we know from The Phantom Menace. He cuts down Pre Vizsla as ruthlessly as he does Qui-Gon Jinn. And yet there’s even so much more to him now. We know now that there is this madness underneath. We know he has this incredible mind that no one has previously seen. We’re into the good part of the story now.

HW: In “Eminence” and “Shades of Reason” we saw a degree of leadership in Maul that we never got to glimpse in Phantom Menace.

SW: On The Clone Wars, we had to show that Maul was capable of being a general. Darth Sidious chose him to be his apprentice and trained him well. Maul wasn’t just a mindless hitman. And this was the version of the character that I’d been waiting to do for a long time.

I mean, it started with Filoni telling me he needed Maul to be like Gollum, and when I read the script I said we’ve also got a little Apocalypse Now here. He’s also Col. Kurtz. Dave agreed. So Maul became the combination of Gollum and Col. Kurtz, with a little bit of Peter Serafinowicz as Maul from Phantom Menace. Now, though, we’ve seen a change.

NEXT: How Darth Maul has become an intellectual character. And also, how he may have inspired Darth Sidious to keep in faith in Vader even after that little swan-dive into a volcano.HW: Now we get to see that Maul’s actually an intellectual character. He’s not just a blunt instrument, an assassin, like it seemed in the movie.

SW: He had to be. The Sith as a culture realized, “Hey, we’re all bad guys, we don’t work well together, so let’s keep it to two. Otherwise we’ll be killing each other left and right.” So if you follow the Rule of Two, you have to pick your apprentice very carefully.

You don’t just pick a guy because he can do cool flips and swing a sword good. You choose a guy who is brilliant and gifted in so many ways, physically and mentally, and can carry on the Sith tradition proudly. A thuggish hitman would be a hindrance when trying to take over the galaxy. You need someone who can work with you and to whom you can pass the baton when the time comes.

And that’s a theme in the Star Wars saga as a whole. It’s so very much about Sidious trying to find that successor. He thinks he’s found that person in Darth Maul, but then Maul is cut down. And then he thinks, “Well, I’ll pick a guy who’s already trained really well,” but it doesn’t work out with Count Dooku because he quickly has his eye on this Anakin Skywalker guy.

But sadly Darth Vader never becomes as good as he could have been because he’s disabled. And finally he sets his sights on Luke Skywalker, and that’s the guy who does him in.

HW: It’s a continual streak of disappointment for Darth Sidious, in a way.

SW: Well, it’s professionalism, man! There are things he could do to assist these people and help them along, but that’s not really the Sith way. Palpatine is looking for someone who could ideally defeat him and take the Sith mantle from him, and he does find that guy. The only thing is that guy has no interest in becoming a Sith. And that’s Luke Skywalker.

So, it’s the perfectionist streak that Palpatine has. And what’s really fun to note is that Darth Maul, having survived his grievous injuries, plants the seed in Palpatine’s head that maybe you don’t give up on these guys so quickly. If they’re dead, or you think they’ve been killed, maybe they’re not. Maybe they can survive, maybe they can amount to something. That’s something we get to see coming up, Sidious realizing that. That ultimately leads to Darth Vader.

HW: Yeah, I mean why did Palpatine still think Vader could be a worthwhile apprentice after his little brush with molten lava?

SW: Common wisdom would be, you find this guy lying by a volcano, his flesh smoking and burned up, with no limbs, and you’d say, “Hey stormtrooper, put a blaster bolt in this guy. Put him out of his misery.” You don’t rebuild that guy. That’s ridiculous. Unless maybe you’ve already seen a guy getting cut in half and crawling through garbage for ten years, clinging to life with every ounce of determination he has. That’s the nature of the Sith, they don’t see anything beyond their corporeal existence.

They live completely in the moment, but in the most unhealthy way. They’re self-obsessed, selfish, narcissistic, so much so that they can’t see that there’s any significance beyond their own lives. That’s not like a Jedi who’s wounded in battle but realizes that his death could mean something or inspire others, and thus can let go. If a Sith lies near death, they look at it like, “I can’t! I can’t! There’s still so much to gain. There’s still so much I want. Because if I die I lose everything.” So they continue to push themselves well past the point of logic.

You have Darth Vader, who lives a terrible life, he lives a pathetic, tortured existence but it’s still preferable to having nothing, which is how he views death. Same thing with Darth Sidious, you look at him in Return of the Jedi. He’s over 100 years old and is a bent old man. But that’s better than the alternative, which is nothing. I mean, the fact that we’re learning more about the core morality of Star Wars is really fun. We’re learning things from The Clone Wars that informs how we even watch the original movies from over thirty years ago.

HW: So, in “The Lawless” Darth Maul is going to have a little Sith reunion with Darth Sidious. How do you think he views his old master these days?

SW: When you’re a liar, a person of low moral fortitude, really any explanation you need to be true can be true. Especially if you’re smart enough. You can figure out a way to justify anything. Part of Maul thinks, “Yes, I would like to reclaim my spot as the apprentice and I want to prove why I deserve that.” And then there’s another side that’s like, “Screw Palpatine. I’m the master now. Savage is the apprentice, and I’m going to show him how it’s done, and if he has a problem with that, I’m going to take him out.”

The Sith training is nothing short of torture, so there’s always a great deal of hatred built-in to the master-apprentice relationship, an intense animosity. We see that between Vader and the Emperor in the original trilogy. So he may want both things, depending on what he needs to desire at any given point.

HW: Is there a developing rivalry between Maul and Savage? Maul doesn’t quite treat his brother like a brother.

SW: Maul keeps calling Savage “apprentice,” and will never call him “brother,” absolutely. But they do need each other, and there’s an element of, “Together we’ll talk on all of them!” And I love that they threw in a moment of them being comrades when Maul tells Savage how he’s going to screw over the Mandalorians, and even rests his hand on Savage’s new robot hand. The Sith are dicks. What can I tell you man, they’re trouble. They don’t have the “working together” thing down, but they do know how to have people work for them.

HW: I realize you probably know Maul’s ultimate fate on the show. But what would you, as the person who’s given vocal life to Maul, like to see his fate be? What do you want for him?

SW: (laughs) Oh, boy. What can I tell you? What would I like to see happen to Maul? Yeah…I can say this. What I’d like to see happen to Maul is what Dave Filoni has told me is what happens to Maul. None of this is taken lightly at Lucasfilm. This is George Lucas’ doing, all of this stuff. He’s the one engineering these stories that me, Dave, the other voice actors, and the animators are implementing.

So there is a long game here. Look, the effect of Darth Maul on the show is a pronounced one. Maybe he dies after these episodes. Maybe he doesn’t. But either way, his effect on the show will be a lasting one. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt

[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]


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