The Journey of Kenobi and Maul


In recent memory, it seems like much of the Star Wars story-telling is done in a way that will please the fans. The Force Awakens was a safe echo of A New Hope. Rebels has brought back fan favorites from The Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe. Rogue One gave us the Vader moment that we've always dreamed of.

That didn't happen today. It is impossible to accuse the final duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Maul as anything even closely resembling "fan-service". What the fans wanted was an epic, lengthy battle, dredging up decades of conflict between these two rivals and showing the rematch that we've been waiting for in all of its beautifully choreographed glory. What we got instead was a battle that consisted of a lot of staring and about two seconds of fighting. At least, that's what it looked like on the surface. I'll admit, my initial reaction was basically: "That's it?" But after thinking about it, I feel that this was the best way to end this story.

I applaud Lucasfilm. This was a bold move. They aren't oblivious to the expectations. They knew what the fans would anticipate seeing. Instead, they told the story that they wanted to tell. And this is it:

In The Clone Wars, Darth Maul seeks revenge on Obi-Wan for the years of suffering that Kenobi caused him. In addition, he has a goal to make his own place in the galaxy and to contend with Darth Sidious. Across several episodes, we see Maul's plan for Kenobi. They battle on a stolen freighter, and Obi-Wan is outmatched. When they fight again, Obi-Wan is able to injure both Maul and his brother, Savage. It seems like he could have beaten Maul one-on-one at this moment. In their final meeting in The Clone Wars, there is not a physical confrontation. Obi-Wan is captured and forced to watch as Maul kills Satine. During that scene, this is what Maul tells Obi-Wan:

"I never planned on killing you. But I will make you share my pain."

And he does. He murders Satine and has his vengeance. So why does Maul take up an interest in Obi-Wan, deciding that his death is now necessary, almost 20 years later?

Maul is lost and broken. He has nothing, as Obi-Wan says. He continues to be driven only by revenge, but now, he seeks it against his former master. But Maul can't touch Palpatine. When they fought in The Clone Wars, Maul was no match. He has no possible means to reach Palpatine and knows he can't defeat him. But he is still nothing but rage and hatred. He has to turn those fueling desires somewhere; somewhere that he can release and fulfill them. So he returns to his original obsession and the reason for his loss of power. He'll go back to Kenobi. But this isn't really what he wants. We see it in his final words. He wants to be avenged for what Palpatine did to him.

Don't underestimate the impact of Savage. The ghost of his brother is still with him. On Dathomir, Maul laments that Ezra could have been like a brother to him. Palpatine took everything from Maul, including the only family that he had. His heart isn't in killing Kenobi, but that's the only thing he can find for his rage that he believes he could actually defeat.

Now, look at where Obi-Wan is at this time. He's lost everything, much like Maul. Satine is dead. The Jedi Order is gone and everyone he knew has been killed. His apprentice is the cause of the current state of the galaxy and he put the weight on his own shoulders for that ("I have failed you Anakin. I have failed you"). Yet, could we see a more calm, at peace, serene Obi-Wan than we do here?

He's fought multiple Sith since his duel with Maul in The Phantom Menace. He went head-to-head with the Chosen One and he won. He's approximately two years from facing Vader and becoming one with the Force. It's highly possible that he's already reached that point of enlightenment in his training with Qui-Gon. He is a true master. He is at peace with his place in the galaxy and understands his purpose in protecting Luke. Obi-Wan doesn't ignite his saber until Maul threatens that purpose.

I think that it's safe to say that Maul - broken, tired, living for decades on nothing but hatred and a desire for revenge - is no match for a master of the Force. We know that the dark side isn't stronger. A fully-realized master of the light, as Obi-Wan has become, will always win this battle. It made perfect sense that this would be easy for him, and it was.

Because it was so quick, I think people are also missing the symbolic beauty of the brief choreography. Obi-Wan begins the battle in his classic stance - the one we all remember from battles with General Grievous and numerous fights in The Clone Wars. But then Kenobi shifts forms... and now mimics the stance that Qui-Gon takes in his fight with Maul, mere seconds before his death. When Maul strikes, he makes the same moves that he used to kill Qui-Gon. The thrust of the middle of his hilt at Obi-Wan's head is clearly useless as a blocking maneuver. He's attempting to hit Obi-Wan with the hilt like he did Qui-Gon. But Obi-Wan has baited him with Qui-Gon's stance. He does not use Qui-Gon's form, but his own, and easily anticipates Maul's move.

How beautiful that in finally ending the threat of Maul, Obi-Wan utilizes his master's fatal mistake. I imagine Maul recognizing Kenobi's stance and remembering his victory against Jinn. Obi-Wan uses the flaw of the Sith - overconfidence - against Maul to bring about his downfall.  This isn't vengeful - that is not the Jedi way. This is an act of justice, and it is quite poetic.

Maul's death is an echo of Qui-Gon's - he is in Obi-Wan's arms, and asks, "Is he the Chosen One?" Qui-Gon's final words in Obi-Wan's embrace: "He is the Chosen One."

The final battle isn't what we expected. Maybe it's not what we wanted. But consider, perhaps, that we didn't know best. The important thing to me was justice for Obi-Wan - if anyone was going to take Maul down, it needed to be him - not Palpatine or Vader and certainly not Ezra and Kanan. That's exactly what happened.

They did it in a way that imitates the great Samurai movies, or Sergio Leone's fantastically artistic spaghetti westerns. Look at the extreme close-ups, the build up as the opponents stare one another down, and then the very quick ending. Go watch the final showdowns from Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I have a feeling that if this show wasn't limited to a 22-minute format, the stare-down before the action would have lasted even longer. It's a lost and unappreciated style.

If there is any fault to be had, it is in the promotional material for hyping the battle and the imagination of fans with a very different expectation. But there was no fan-service here. This was a battle about poetic parallels, the hopeless nature of the dark side, and the unlimited power offered by the light.