When Darth Maul was introduced in Episode I-The Phantom Menace, he was an amalgamation of two performances: Ray Park's onscreen actions and Peter Serafinowicz's voice providing the dialogue. After that film, when Darth Maul turned out to be very much alive, Sam Witwer provided the voice for the character in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated series, as well as various video games. When it came time for Darth Maul to return to the big screen for Solo: A Star Wars Story's shocking cameo, the character again became a synthesis of two performances, this time Ray Park and Sam Witwer. The two actors came together to create Darth Maul in a collaborative, back and forth process, as Sam Witwer explained:
I recorded my dialogue, then Ray shot it lip-syncing the dialogue, and then I recorded again to accommodate what Ray did that was, say, different than what I did because, frankly, I think that [director] Ron Howard and them were absolutely right. The way to bring this character to life on the screen is to have both me and Ray have our input and our ability just to have our chance to do what we think should be done.
This is fascinating because you might have expected one performance to entirely dictate the other, but as Sam Witwer told ComicBook.com, both actors were allowed to have their input on Darth Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Ray Park followed Sam Witwer's dialogue, took that and then added some of his own original performance, putting his own spin on things. Then Sam Witwer was able to come back in and see what Ray Park did, and perhaps inspired by that, add some more of his own touch, and ultimately the two performances were fused together.
Ray Park may have originated the character and is the face of him onscreen, but Sam Witwer has played him more than anyone else, so in this way Ron Howard made sure that both actors had their say on what this Darth Maul should be, making him a true synthesis of their performances and uniting Darth Maul's history into one portrayal.
This approach is not only cool on a filmmaking level, it also feels very respectful of Darth Maul's history and the actors who have portrayed him. Darth Maul's very presence in the film acknowledges the in-canon series The Clone Wars and Rebels, where he went on to cause all kinds of problems long after being chopped in half. Having Sam Witwer make the jump to voicing the character in live action is another way to acknowledge that and the fans that followed it. Given that history though, Sam Witwer was actually quite surprised when he was asked to play Darth Maul again, as he recently told CinemaBlend:
I sure wasn't expecting it. It was a little bit of a surprise. Look, it was shock and disbelief. I didn't believe what I was being told, and furthermore, I didn't know the story at the time, so it had to be explained to me what the significance of this whole plot was. And then getting on the phone with Ray Park and sharing our giddiness over the fact that we had the opportunity to do this. But yeah, look, I've publicly said goodbye to the Maul character I think twice. When Clone Wars was over, I think I did a few interviews where I said, 'Ah, it was a wonderful time and I'm saying goodbye to the character.' And then he was back for Rebels. And then after Rebels, he gets killed and I go, 'Well, it was a wonderful run and I'm saying goodbye to the character.' And then Solo...
It sounds like Darth Maul's return to the big screen and the opportunity to work with Ray Park was a welcome one for Sam Witwer, and he was as excited about it as the fans were. Despite his premature exit in The Phantom Menace, fan enthusiasm for Darth Maul has never waned. Sam Witwer may have thought his time as the former Sith was done, given that Obi-Wan finished what he started, but that's the beauty of the Star Wars spinoff films: they can fill in gaps and tell different stories. In turn, the in-canon content that's already out there on the small screen and in comics and books can inform what's on the big screen. That's sort of what happened with Darth Maul's return as a leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate in Solo, as Sam Witwer told CinemaBlend:
I was told, 'Hey, there's red Mandalorian armor on that set for a reason.' Crimson Dawn! Crimson Dawn for a reason. You know, like all of these little hints. There's I believe an old, Sith-looking hologram among Dryden Vos' collection, and all manner of little, nod-of-the-head [things] just nudging you towards who's in control of this criminal empire. And the way that he explained it to me was, 'Look, we were telling a story about a criminal empire. You don't necessarily have a lot of screen time to do that in a movie, you could only give sort of a thumbnail, so why not use the criminal empire that had already been established in many, many episodes of The Clone Wars that Maul established? Why not use that? That makes sense.'
That does make sense and it makes the universe feel more cohesive. It is also a reward for fans who follow the Star Wars universe beyond the films by making it feel like the events in those stories actually matter and have an impact. This only makes it all the more disappointing that Solo's underperformance likely means we won't get a chance to explore more of Darth Maul, Qi'ra and the compelling crime story that relationship seemed to be building towards. But hey, Darth Maul has been dead before, so perhaps, given enough time, we'll see him again.