When the final season of The Clone Wars arrived on Disney+ last year, I was hoping to enjoy a Star Wars story that wouldn’t disappoint. The Rise of Skywalker, which was released only a few months prior, left me wanting for something different. To be completely frank with y’all, that final season blew me out the water. It was everything I wanted in a Star Wars story and more. So having an experience like season 7 of The Clone Wars follow TROS left me feeling a certain way about the sequel trilogy.
Now, I’m not here to shit on the sequel trilogy. That’s what 2020 was for.
But watching and rewatching the last four episodes of The Clone Wars made something really apparent for me. As much as JJ Abrams, Chris Terrio and Rian Johnson tried to make Kylo Ren’s character arc mirror that of Darth Vader, Ren is more like a Maul 2.0.
Ok, let me explain.
Throughout the sequel trilogy, we the audience see visual cues that are supposed to remind us of a Vader/Luke dynamic or an Anakin/Padme relationship. There’s the scene where Kylo Ren offers his hand to Rey in The Last Jedi just like Darth Vader offers his hand to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
And the Reylo/Anidala visual parallels are undeniable.
Adam Driver even talks about how JJ Abrams planned for Kylo Ren’s arc to mirror that of Darth Vader in an interview for TROS.
Yet, despite the visual cues, despite Ren being the grandson of Anakin, and despite Ren’s obsession with becoming Vader 2.0, I can’t help but think that Ben Solo’s storyline is actually more similar to Maul’s.
As we find out at the beginning of TROS, every voice inside Kylo’s head was fabricated by Palpatine. The dark side has been calling for Ben since he was very young. What we initially thought was manipulation by Snoke is revealed to be a small part in the Emperor’s grand plot.
This is somewhat similar to Maul. In the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comic, we learn that Maul was taken as a child by Palpatine to be trained in the ways of the Sith. He, too, was groomed from a young age to do the bidding of Darth Sidious.
We can make the argument that Anakin was also groomed by Palpatine, because it’s true — that happened. But this manipulative relationship didn’t start until he was a young man. Maul and Ben were approached as children.
The second big difference between Anakin and his grandson: Ben is not the chosen one.
This is murky territory at this point. We all have ideas about what Anakin being the chosen one means, and TROS complicates that. All that gray area aside, Ben Solo was never meant to be the one to bring balance to the force. Him being a dyad in the force with Rey doesn’t change that fact.
Ben Solo was never meant to be “special”, which leads me to my final point: Kylo Ren and Maul both served as place holders for Palpatine’s more desired apprentices when working towards galactic domination.
In the final four episodes of The Clone Wars, there is a lot of character development for Maul. In episode 10, he relays to Ahsoka Tano that he was a tool for a greater power — a placeholder for Anakin to rule at the side of Darth Sidious. Not only does he understand his role in Palpatine’s larger scheme, he expresses his feelings about it.
In that same episode, we see his fear of Palpatine, his paranoia about the fate of the galaxy as it relates to him, and the pity he feels for himself which then manifests into anger. He feels he has been wronged, and it comes across clearly (shout outs to Sam Witwer for killing it this season). We see Maul actively work out his feelings on this topic then try to work his way through his particular predicament.
This isn’t true for Ben Solo. And while I think the film has many shortcomings, I would argue that this is one of the bigger ones. When Kylo Ren reaches Exegol and confronts Darth Sidious, he doesn’t express anger over the fact that his role as Snoke’s apprentice or as the Supreme Leader of the First Order was only the beginning of some grand plot that he was never made aware of. So, when Palpatine offers him the position of emperor in exchange for killing Rey and defeating the Jedi, Kylo just runs with it.
Kylo Ren never really confronts the fact that his actions and ideas were never fully of his own mind. Rather than expressing anger over his prolonged manipulation like Maul, he doesn’t really think about it. I’m not saying that acknowledging his abuse would inspire positive change in him, but Kylo Ren as a character never processes what it means to be a tool for greater powers. He never processes that he was never really in control of his fate.
The fact that this part of Ben Solo wasn’t further explored in the film is unfortunate. He is one of the most developed characters to come out of the sequel trilogy, and Driver did a fantastic job capturing the character’s essence.
So, where do we go from here?
Spoiler alert: Maul and Ben are both dead. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop wanting to see more content about these two characters. There is just so much more story to be told. And while I don’t think Maul can come back to life a third time, there’s always hope for Ben.
I mean, if Palpatine could come back anything is possible. Right?