Five years ago today, one of the coolest moments in Star Wars history happened, and there’s a chance you don’t know about it. It featured Obi-Wan Kenobi having one final lightsaber duel with his longtime rival Darth Maul, and Kenobi killing Maul in the process. However, the moment didn’t feature actors Ewan McGregor and Ray Park, it was Stephen Stanton and Sam Witwer. And it didn’t happen in a movie, it was on animated TV show.
Co-written and directed by Dave Filoni, “Twin Suns,” the 20th episode of the third season of Star Wars Rebels, first aired March 18, 2017 on Disney XD. Finally, audiences saw the rivalry that began way back in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace come to a conclusion. Oh, sure. Most people probably thought that Episode I was the conclusion, since Obi-Wan Kenobi sliced Darth Maul in half, but when Star Wars: The Clone Wars executive producer Dave Filoni decided to bring Maul back in that series, he knew that he had a responsibility to close that loop.
“If there’s a character like Maul running around during one of the old films, he’s such a big-time player you think there would have been an echo of that somewhere,” Filoni told Gizmodo back in 2017. “So it was just the right time to tell the story and bring that thread to an end.”
In the episode — which is currently streaming on Disney+, and you absolutely do not need to be a Star Wars Rebels fan to enjoy it (we have plenty of recommendations if you want to become one though) — we see that Maul has been hunting Kenobi. He’s tracked him to Tatooine but can’t find him, so Maul uses the Dark Side to lure the star of Rebels, Jedi apprentice Ezra Bridger, to Tatooine in the hopes of drawing Kenobi out. The plan works, Maul arrives, and Obi-Wan sends Ezra off before readying himself for a fateful clash. This is no duel of the fates, however — no grand, kinetic lightsaber battle of the ages that you might have expected from the final showdown between these figures. Instead, in a handful of strikes, Obi-Wan turns Maul’s hubris against him, winning in mere seconds. Once more, a Sith is felled at the hands of a Jedi, and Maul and Kenobi share one last goodbye.
“Maul tries to get Obi-Wan with a very similar move as he gets Qui-Gon [in The Phantom Menace],” Filoni told us. “Which is he blocks and uses the blunt of his hilt to smack Qui-Gon in the face. So I had Maul try to do the same thing to Obi-Wan but again, to show growth, Obi-Wan is ready for that and slices it right in half.”
But it’s better than that — this is a clash that isn’t about the theatricality of an extended action sequence, but generations of trauma and grief that shadow over Maul and Obi-Wan alike at this point in their lives. Maul hates Obi-Wan, for obvious reasons. When he cut him in half on Naboo, he basically ruined his life. Maul’s master Darth Sidious, presuming him dead, discarded him and moved onto the next apprentice. As a result, a life that could have led to ultimate power instead became a struggle to survive. The sheer determined will of Maul’s fury led to a long and strangely tragic history involving robot spider legs, evil family members, and eventually his taking over a crime syndicate, among other things. Before their showdown, Maul and Obi-Wan — who have not seen each other at this point since The Clone Wars, when Maul cruelly killed Mandalore’s Duchess, Satine Kryze, who was once the object of Obi-Wan’s affections, right in front of him — have a fascinating conversation. Maul says that while he really, really wants to kill the Jedi, he thinks leaving him to rot on this awful planet might be a worse fate. Which quickly leads Maul to a realisation: Obi-Wan is there for a reason. He’s protecting… someone. And once Maul figures it out, Obi-Wan knows he must be stopped. His mission, and the galaxy, depends on it.
Obi-Wan does indeed stop him in an instant, but just as quickly grabs his defeated foe in his arms as he struck him down. As his life drains out of him, Maul asks Obi-Wan if the person he’s protecting is the Chosen One who’ll defeat the Sith. Obi-Wan says it is. “Then he will avenge us,” Maul says, finally, painfully linking all his rage and anger to Obi-Wan — because he, much like all the Jedi, had been betrayed and ruined by Darth Sidious. It’s an incredibly powerful, poignant moment, humanising a villain we all love to hate.
Everything about the episode is just stunning. The music, the cinematography, Maul’s tortured rants, his manipulation of Ezra, Obi-Wan’s grasp on the entire situation, and more. In 22 minutes, Filoni packs in more stakes, tension, story, and mythology than a few of the more recent Star Wars feature films.
Of course, many of the new Star Wars Disney+ shows have a similar feel, largely because Filoni is still part of their development as a producer as well as director, and that makes the timing of this anniversary even more interesting. You see, earlier this week, rumours began to spread that Maul was considered as part of the upcoming Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi show, only for Filoni himself to nix the idea in favour of bringing back Darth Vader. And though Lucasfilm reportedly denied the rumour, the idea of it even being tangentially discussed is a slap in the face to “Twin Suns,” which so elegantly shows not just Maul and Kenobi showing down for the last time, but, chronologically, one of our first glimpses of a young Luke Skywalker as well.
Oh. Right. Speaking of elegantly doing things that will happen on the Obi-Wan Kenobi show, “Twin Suns” goes one step further, beating the upcoming show to being the first to show a young Luke Skywalker running around on Tatooine. (He’s just a small blip on the screen here, barely recognisable, while the new show will have him more prominently.) Filoni told us about the decision in our interview five years ago.
“We have to look at every episode of Rebels as if you’ve never seen Star Wars before,” he said. “So if you think of it that way whenever Maul and Obi-Wan are talking about ‘The Chosen One’ or ‘Who are you protecting?’ If you never see or we don’t give the context of that, there are a lot of people who won’t know what’s going on there. The Star Wars fan will but the average person will not. So at the very least the scene establishes, in its simplest form, there’s Obi-Wan, he was protecting someone, and there’s a woman yelling ‘Luke,’ and we see what we think of as a young boy running. ‘Oh, so Obi-Wan is protecting a boy named Luke.’ It’s designed to give you that specific bit of information that you need in the story.”
“Now, if you’re a fan and you go ‘OH MY GOD that’s Luke Skywalker!’ that’s even better,” he continued. “Now you’re getting the whole thing… But from a sensible story point you have to have that scene at the end to give some idea of what this old man is doing in the desert. You can’t rely on the Star Wars films as if they’ve been universally watched even though we know they’re pretty popular.”
Sounds familiar, does it not? Something being popular, but not so popular that you can assume everyone has seen it. Yes, the Star Wars films are very popular. The Star Wars animated shows, however? Less so, in spite of their very warm reputation. But at the very, very least, “Twin Suns,” which debuted five years ago today, should be recognised right alongside those films — especially since it so perfectly and succinctly did things many will be gushing over in a few months when the new Obi-Wan Kenobi show is released.
“Twin Suns” is currently streaming on Disney+ as part of Star Wars Rebels season three. Read more of our Filoni interview from the episode’s premiere at this link.