Whether you love or hate Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, I think we can all agree on the fact that Darth Maul is goddamn awesome. The character is one of the most consistently popular aspects of the often lambasted Star Wars prequels, so it's no wonder he's been brought back in TV series like Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and that he is also the subject of several fan films. One of the most popular to come out recently is Darth Maul: Apprentice which sees our villain prior to his appearance in The Phantom Menace.

It's no wonder that Darth Maul has become as popular a character as he is. He looks cool, he's got a cool weapon... and... that's it. Yeah, that's about it. Watch The Phantom Menace and if I'm not mistaken, Maul has a total of three lines in the movie. Darth Maul has basically become popular just for looking cool without any substance to his character. Heck, Darth Maul: Apprentice isn't really an exception to the rule. His sole line "Yes, master" in the short is one we've already heard from him in The Phantom Menace.

In Darth Maul: Apprentice we see our titular villain on an unnamed planet where a group of Jedi confront him and he has to fight them all head-on unassisted. What follows is a fifteen-minute lightsaber fight, and that's about it. And hey, I'm not complaining - it's a really cool fight sequence, and the short is definitely well executed and entertaining. And it makes sense to give people more of what has already made Maul popular. Maul may not be much of a character, but he is still a big reason why the climactic lightsaber fight at the end of The Phantom Menace is still by far my favorite part of the movie, and one of my favorite Star Wars moments period. People love Maul because he is a cool, badass villain, and the character lends himself to some fantastic action sequences.

But maybe part of Maul's popularity is not just what was cool about him before. Maybe the reason people want more of Maul is because there hasn't been much to the character before, and we wanna know more about him and see new things related to him - especially considering what we've already seen has been so goddamn awesome. There's a lot of unused potential in Darth Maul that The Phantom Menace didn't properly tap into. This becomes all the more apparent when you compare his character to two other villains in the Star Wars saga - Darth Vader and Kylo Ren.

Much like Darth Maul, Kylo Ren is a new villain introduced in the first film of a new trilogy of Star Wars films. The difference is that in terms of character, Kylo Ren is everything Darth Maul is not. While Maul was nothing more than a cool exterior to sell merchandise - which admittedly worked, as the Darth Maul thermos I still own will show - Kylo Ren is a fleshed-out character with a motivation and a personality. He's been brainwashed by Supreme Leader Snoke to believe what he's doing is right, but he feels conflicted and still drawn to the light. He's full of rage but doesn't know how to control or focus it yet due to his conflicted feelings of whether he should embrace the darkness or not, which leads him to being impulsive and having unexpected fits of rage. And he models himself after Darth Vader, whom he looks to as an idol of sorts.

We have only just begun to scratch the surface of who Kylo Ren is, why he has become the way he is, and what his fate will ultimately be when the new trilogy of films is over. But already he is one of the most interesting new characters introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I would even go as far as to claim that Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens is superior to Darth Vader in A New Hope. Really when you get down to it, Darth Vader doesn't have much of a character in Episode IV. We get a bit of his backstory from Obi-Wan who says Vader helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi, but aside from that Vader is pretty much nothing more than a cool-looking lackey to Governor Tarkin (played in the film by the ever wonderful Peter Cushing), much like Darth Maul is the cool-looking lackey to Darth Sidious in The Phantom Menace. Vader didn't really become the character we know today until The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi. And this brings up a question that many people have asked - what if Darth Maul had been a villain throughout all three Star Wars prequels?

Looking at how Darth Vader was handled in the original Star Wars trilogy, Darth Maul could've been handled the same way. He could've been introduced as a cool villain in the first movie, and then have the next two films deepen his character and make him even more compelling. It's damn near impossible to beat Darth Vader in terms of iconic Star Wars villains, but Darth Maul had everything going for him. His look is completely different from Vader which means he can stand on his own as a new character, unlike Kylo Ren whose character both in terms of look and personality is defined by his relationship to Darth Vader, meaning he will always be compared to said character no matter what. And not only does Darth Maul look different from Vader, he looks as cool, if not cooler, than Vader. If his character was as compelling as Vader's, Maul could've genuinely given Vader a run for his money. Just imagine the possibilities. Just imagine all that potential left unused by George Lucas! Granted, Maul's exclusion from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith meant we got Christopher Lee as a villain, but it's not like we couldn't have introduced new characters while still keeping Maul around.

Despite being mainly a fifteen-minute action sequence, Darth Maul: Apprentice does attempt to add the slightest bit of nuance to Maul's character. Before Maul's last kill in the short, we see him hesitate for a moment - a look of pity, maybe even compassion, on his face. However, when he notices a drone which indicates that his master is watching him, he harnesses all his rage and delivers the final blow. Now, I don't really feel Darth Maul's character needs to be humanized in the way that Darth Maul: Apprentice attempts to do. While Darth Maul doesn't have a personality to speak of in The Phantom Menace, it's not necessary to make him a conflicted villain like Kylo Ren or Darth Vader. What could set Maul apart from these two is his lack of empathy and compassion - that he is brutal, vicious and shows no mercy.

While I'm not overly fond of the way Darth Maul: Apprentice lets Maul show a bit of empathy, I am however very fond of the way it portrays the relationship between Maul and his master Darth Sidious. Sidious has trained Maul to become the ultimate warrior - a killer without compassion and mercy. He watches and controls Maul, which implies Maul has no free will. What he does and what he feels is all a result of Sidious' teachings. And this theme of manipulation and control is one that could've been explored in the Star Wars prequels partially through Darth Maul's character.

While a common criticism of the Star Wars prequels is that the politics in the films are boring, I am actually of the complete opposite opinion. Out of all the plot lines in the prequels, the way Darth Sidious, aka Palpatine, manipulates the political system to gain more influence and power until he can reform the Republic into an Empire where he rules as Emperor, is a sinister reflection of how dictators in our real world rise to power. Themes of manipulation and control are prominent in Star Wars, and are what define the true main villains, such as Emperor Palpatine and Supreme Leader Snoke, in the series. Characters like Darth Vader and Kylo Ren are targets of this manipulation through whom we see that often evil deeds are not done by inherently evil people, but by those who are convinced through ideologies and values given to them by others that what they're doing is right. Darth Maul would've been a perfect addition to this theme of Star Wars villains as symbolic of the destructive power of unquestioning belief and faith in dogma.

Darth Maul could've been portrayed as someone who Sidious has groomed ever since he was young to become a weapon. Giving Darth Maul a character and personality doesn't mean making him empathetic like is hinted in Darth Maul: Apprentice or making him conflicted like Kylo Ren or Darth Vader. Maul being cruel and unfeeling could've not only made him stand out against these two villains, but also accentuated the way Sidious manipulates people as he later does with Darth Vader. Maybe Maul could've sensed that his master was becoming interested in another as the films went on which would've led him to slowly harbor feelings of jealous rage which would've made him even more determined to prove his worthiness. There's an interesting dynamic there where Maul feels his purpose in life which is serving his master is threatened, this jealousy making him even more dangerous. A dynamic like this could've made Darth Maul a far more interesting character without taking anything away from his badassery.

Ah well, for what it's worth we can still enjoy Darth Maul as a badass looking character with a cool weapon engaging in well-choreographed fight scenes. If that's what you're looking for and The Phantom Menace wasn't enough to satisfy you then Darth Maul: Apprentice has got you covered.