Star Wars Rebels: A Farewell to Maul

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you couldn’t already tell, this entire piece, from the title on down is a massive spoiler. If you’re not looking for major plot details about Star Wars Rebels to be revealed to you now, best to turn away. If not, enjoy!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t know animation, a major event in Star Wars history happened on March 18th, 2017- the death of Maul, one-time apprentice to Palpatine. The story came full circle at last as Maul, searching to regain lost power and a sense of self, found the end of his destiny at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Indeed, his demise came on Tatooine, the place where it all started- and represented a complete narrative arc for the one-time Sith Lord.

Well, you might be asking why AniB would write about Darth Maul. Isn’t he a movie character? Not exactly. To start with, Maul’s death takes place in Star Wars Rebels (and if you haven’t checked it out, it’s well worth the watch); after he falls down the shaft in Naboo in The Phantom Menace, it is Star Wars: The Clone Wars where he reappears, and of all the major characters from the prequel era (and perhaps the franchise overall), none owe more to continued story progression via animation than Maul. While the most casual fans of Star Wars and even those who know little recognize Maul as the acrobatic, devil-horned, growling Sith Lord from 1999, there is a whole legion of people out there who also know Maul now through the voice acting of Sam Witwer and the  two animated shows he appeared in, as well as The Son of Dathomir comics. There is a far more developed tale now to Maul: of Dathomir and Nightbrothers, a Dark side cult; of the time Maul became ruler of Mandalore and Death Watch, only to be personally stopped by Darth Sidious, his old master, and now of the middle-aged man with no real identity, neither Sith nor with any allegiance owed or given. As we see Maul in Rebels, he might have been physically reconstructed, but he was as broken as the day Kenobi sliced him in half decades earlier.

 

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When Maul reappeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, he was alive, but grotesque, driven to the point of insanity. With the help of Talzin, leader of the Nightsisters, Maul was revived and given real prosthetic legs (he had some kind of spider-like prosthetic prior to made of a mangled mess of metal.) Furthermore, for the first time Maul was given a sort of family- his apprentice, Savage Oppress (in the picture, on the left) was his brother, and Dathomir was a sort of dark home from which Maul could be supported. But one thing remained constant that clouded all this from Maul’s mind: Selfish vengeance against Kenobi. Indeed, as Maul leveraged power, eventually all the way up to the leader of Mandalore, his thirst for revenge proved to a quest doomed in failure: While he beat Obi-Wan at a duel and even killed Satine Kryze, a woman he loved, Kenobi was not broken. He continued to grow over the course of tragic events, following the path of the Jedi, eventually in time becoming the enlightened mentor of Luke Skywalker. However, Maul continued to wallow in the past and self-pity- the final insulting blow dealt when Sidious stripped him of his empire and his brother- and leaving Maul more empty than before, now defeated by both Jedi and Sith.

 

Maul reappeared in Rebels as a older man, trying to cling desperately onto past shreds of glory and delusional dreams of defeating both Jedi and Sith. To that end, he pressed his advantage in Twilight of the Apprentice when Ezra Bridger, a young Jedi Padawan (and main protagonist of the show in question) came with Ahsoka Tano and Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus came to the planet Malachor in search “of answers”; he used Bridger as a pawn to gain a powerful Sith holocron- an ancient artifact containing knowledge and secrets- and fed Dark Side ideologies to him in an attempt to start swaying him to be his apprentice. However, after several incidents that led Maul to fall further in the bad graces of the Ghost’s crew (which usually involved tricking Ezra through the Force to come to him), he was able to, with Bridger’s help, combine the Sith holocron with a Jedi one, revealing the prophecy of the Chosen One- and while both Bridger and Maul had different interpretations of what they saw, neither knew about Luke Skywalker. Maul believed it to be Kenobi, colored by his past experiences- and set out to once and for all destroy the Jedi Master.

The rest of the details do not need to recounted here, but symbolism went a long way in characterizing Maul in his dying days. On Tatooine, he is literally walking through a barren desert- symbolic of what is left for him in his life. In a revisit to Dathomir, he has a shrine to his Death Watch days, but in turn is clinging to two dead families- his Mandalore one and Nightsisters/brothers. And with Ezra he may have been thinking of Savage the whole time- the one person who Maul truly cared about, though “love” might not be the accurate term. And so when Kenobi slices him down, symbolically baiting him into the same move he used to finish Qui-Gon Ginn on Naboo, there is finally relief for him. Kenobi reveals the Chosen One exists and the decades-long rivalry is settled. Even in death though, Maul seeks the path of revenge in Kenobi’s arms (“[The Chosen One] will avenge us!”) and thus, dies.

 

While this is but a brief summation of Maul’s journey since his debut in Phantom Menace, it is a journey best experienced watching. Witwer gives a voice and personality to the Dark Sider beyond just the acrobatic kick and signature dual-bladed saberstaff that Maul is known for; the culture and people that Maul originated from, the Zabrak is explored, and overall, the continuation of his life in animated form comes off brilliantly as a tale of what the medium can do in taking a well-known character to a new level and breath fresh life into the tale of one of the prequels’ most interesting additions to Star Wars lore. For all the terrible things he’s done, I’m not sure “rest in peace” is entirely appropriate, but it goes without saying Darth Maul will be missed.


Like what you see? Check out Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars if you haven’t! Leave a comment!

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”- a discussion about reboots done badly

They might look the same, but poke under the hood and you’ll find something rotten.

In some recent posts, I’ve touched on the idea of shows that haven’t aged well, but there’s also another type of show that needs to be put out to pasture, and that’s the badly done cash-grab type of reboot. In my breakdown of Disney X.D. for this decade so far,I talked about the upcoming DuckTales reboot that frankly, looks very promising. That’s one example of a re-imagining trying to do it right. Another is Hunter x Hunter, perhaps the best anime example around; it had a 1999 adaptation from Nippon Animation, which was very good, but the 2011 version is better in about every conceivable way and might just be the best anime of this decade, along with Steins;Gate. (Here’s the review.)

As you can see, I do have an admiration for well done shows that fall under the definition of “reboot,” but my ire was recently drawn towards not so illustrious examples, chiefly the Powerpuff Girls ’16, which despite recapturing much of the  original series’ visual style, lacks any of the humor, charm, originality…and to boot, has a very politically driven agenda which in my book, is a cardinal sin in animation unless your show is specifically designed for political commentary (and yes, I’m talking about South Park.) If it wasn’t any clearer about the shallow motivations for bringing back a beloved IP and shoving it into the ground, there was a conscious decision not to bring back the original voice acting cast, a decision that left VA talent giant Tara Strong rather sad, and despite reports, the original creator Craig McCracken never “gave his blessing” for Cartoon Network to go ahead with it, citing that he had “understood the business reality that I had no power to stop it from being made.” McCracken’s statement actually lends credence to the thought that except in certain circumstances, any rehashing of a story years later is usually best handled by the creator who had the vision to create the show, the characters, and the world as they saw fit….or letting them truly find someone who understands what they were trying to do. As another example, I personally would be very unhappy if I wind up writing for years about animation, and one day, maybe I can’t do it anymore and a potential successor doesn’t respect the vision and goals of what was laid out initially. That would be very sad. Reboots, like anything else are a re-interpretation of a story created by someone else most of the time, and while The Powerpuff Girls is an example that’s badly done, it’s evident that if a show gets a person or a team of people who fundamentally understand that specific universe inside and out, instead of creating a hollowed out version of a beloved flick, they can take a universe to a whole new level.

It’s not that I want to keep pointing the finger at Cartoon Network, but another example of a re-imagined show gone wrong is Teen Titans Go! The show is not meant to be the in depth effort that the original beloved Teen Titans was, but it fails miserably at its stated purpose with brain-dead humor, tasteless satires of the Titans themselves, making them shallow parody characters at best to their original inspirations, and not helping its cause is the network’s continued insistence to air the show at an alarmingly high rate despite most viewers unanimously loathing  it. The reason the show continues to air- and be renewed has nothing to do with the quality, which is a shame. It has everything to do with the merchandising and toy empire that exists- which makes loads of money.

I’ve always believed that networks could have quality shows and still make tons of cash, because people love investing themselves in gripping narratives, enthralling worlds, and compelling characters. It’s also my belief that just because a show has a specific target audience, it is a great thing if it find new niches and has an unexpected group of viewers. Bad reboots and re-imaginings, therefore really upset that beautiful idea. It emphasizes a sellout to the almighty dollar over the actual audience that gives the money and the views, forgetting to understand what made a show popular and beloved in the first place, and kills off the potential of new watchers because the shows in question have earned bad reputations, and rightfully so. This isn’t to say I think The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titans IP’s are bad- they are still phenomenal properties, but their current incarnations are more disrespectful than anything else- to the fans, to the writers forced to go through with contrived plots, and to the universes and characters themselves- who imagined offing Ms. Bellum as “offensive” in the PPG back in the day, or that the Titans would have an episode devoted to waffles of all things, complete with a hyper-annoying song? Animation is an absolutely wonderful medium to tell stories in, but I’m sad when cringe-worthy pieces exist solely for turning a profit, which is entirely different from bad shows that were greenlit and simply flopped.

I’ll end by saying that I do like reboots or different takes on a franchise when they are done well. As I mentioned already, DuckTales 2017 looks amazing, and Hunter x Hunter is perhaps the best example anywhere of a marked improvement, further preserving the vision of the creator. It’s also my belief that there is no need for a retelling of a tale if the original product was already a memorable, well loved piece on its own, but it’s also true from movies to shows, people in entertainment can’t resist going back to the well, so to speak, in order to revisit successful ideas. If they really feel the need to do so, I’m always hopefully that the retelling brings a new dimension and exciting aspects to a franchise. Animation is no different in this regard. As a note to studios… please stop expecting to cash in on old classics without any effort, and understand that if you make a great product instead, the people will come.


Like what you see? Have any reboots in animation or movies you like or dislike? Leave a comment!

On Animation Channels and Decision-Making, Pt. 3: Disney Channel/XD

The House of Mouse’s TV animation has had some big successes.

Welcome to the 3rd part in a mini-series about  networks and their decision-making when it comes to animated shows! In part 2, Nickelodeon was discussed; the network’s unwillingness to part with its past and lack of quality depth has translated to a 2010’s with few major successes. Now it’s time to turn to another archrival who’s arguably coming on stronger than either Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network: Disney.

Just what is in the water at the house that Walt built these days for the animation units? Walt Disney Animation just won their 3rd Oscar in 4 years, and Disney Television animation (which are the people behind the network(s) in question today) are doing incredibly well with their fare on Disney X.D. Gravity Falls was a boon, setting rating records for its finale just over a year ago; Twilight of the Apprentice, the season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels one-upped that, and another show that I just reviewed after its season finale- Star vs. The Forces of Evil– is renewed for a 3rd and 4th season. If all this is news to you, hopefully this look behind the scenes will illustrate the sort of path Disney X.D.’s charting at the moment.

A quick look back at the move into the decade for Disney reveals a network that had done modestly well in animation through the 2000’s, with shows like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long. At this time, the network still split its animated series between flagship station Disney Channel and the smaller Toon Disney; in 2009 the latter was shut down and re-branded as Disney X.D., a decision that would have some major impacts on the animated shows being produced. Speaking of shows, the story for the decade in question begins in 2008, when the network debuted what would both prove to be an anchor show and a transitional one as well- Phineas and Ferb. With the Great Recession hammering the industry- a common thread for all the networks discussed, the show’s strong-creator driven style, consistent quality, and universally strong appeal that performed well in spite of the financial climate meant it would not only be a majorly influential show for the company, but the industry on the whole. What Phineas and Ferb did was start laying the groundwork for a period of animation on TV not seen from the House of Mouse since the early 90’s- and with the potential to surpass it, if it hasn’t already. (Check out my review of Phineas and Ferb for more thoughts!)

The start of the decade saw Disney with an established anchor show (Phineas and Ferb), and one of the earliest offerings was the mediocre Fish Hooks, which despite having a great deal of established and future talent on the staff, such as Tom Warburton (KND/Pepper Ann) and Maxwell Atoms (Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) didn’t ever quite take off. However, the creative director of that show just so happened to jump up to his first show-running job in 2012…Alex Hirsch. And with him came Gravity Falls, the first and biggest in the wave of creator-driven series that have come to define Disney’s television animation in this decade. Interestingly, Gravity Falls started as a Disney Channel original series, but after the debut of its second season (Scary-oke), the series moved its home permanently to Disney X.D., a move that in turn has ignited the growth of what had been (and still is, relatively speaking) a niche network. And the hits kept coming: Dave Filoni, who headed up Star Wars: The Clone Wars launched the successful Star Wars Rebels after the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, where it has become a key show; while 2015 finally said goodbye to Phineas and Ferb, another rose in its place- Daron Nefcy’s Star vs. The Forces of Evil, which apparently the friends of Mickey Mouse love, as it’s already been greenlit for another 2 seasons; and more recently Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh who were behind P&F have started another successful endeavor with Milo Murphy’s Law. Creator driven shows, with strong levels of engagement with their audiences, which in turn are quality shows, has been a winning formula.

Of course, there has been misses, like any studio. The bizzare Pickle and Peanut, headed up by Noah Z. Jones (the same guy behind Fish Hooks) might be chief among these in recent memory, and there’s been quite a few other shows that have been lost to the public eye, if they were ever there to begin with (Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja? Kick Buttowski?) Somehow, I doubt outside of their target audience and hardcore animation nerds that anyone really knows what these shows are, and while Disney has been doing a good job this decade, they’ll need to continue to build depth in order to sustain success. It’s a different problem, but a good one as opposed to some of their competition, and I’d argue one of Disney’s best attributes about their shows (which has been historically true) is that they never run too long. Phineas and Ferb was an exception; 2-3 years tends to be the historical trend, and the animation unit has never gotten too low as a result of consistently overturning their shows for each generation while maintaining a connection to past hits of yesteryear.

2017 continues to look intriguing. The rebooted DuckTales trailer (at the time of this writing) looks incredible, preserving the heart and feeling of the original while giving it a refreshing update and new flair, and the animation is gorgeously unique. Star vs. The Forces of Evili finished its promising second season at the end of February, and Star Wars Rebels continues its 3rd season with a very familiar face to fans of the old Expanded Universe serving as antagonist. The aforementioned Milo’s Murphy Law is off to a good start (and actually stars Weird Al Yankovic as the main character- go figure)  and Disney X.D. specifically has built a bigger viewership base the past few years and more than one show to rely on (and hey, they still do Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb re-runs!) There’s a strong path forward that has been forged; and if this era is looked back on as a golden age of animation in the West, Disney might have a lot to do with that.


Like what you see? Do you know I wrote a Gravity Falls review as well? Leave a comment!