Header image: Annie Liebovitz, Vanity Fair
Far too long ago smarsupial sent me an ask on Tumblr:
Oh please please talk about what Darth Maul wears to Tattooine for that first fight with Qui Gon. I really want to hear someone analyze this seriously.
I didn’t really have any thoughts about this at first beyond ‘duh, he’s the opposite of Obi-Wan,’ but I then thought a bit further and realised there was a bit more to Darth Maul. A single thought became a stream and thoughts and I ran with it. Is this not the way with Maul? (Cue the cacophony of wails at caring about Maul.) Thanks to his on-going, complex evolution from The Phantom Menace, through TCW and landing, currently, in Rebels, what no-doubt started as a direct visual has evolved into an interesting revelation of character.
The dichotomy between light and dark, Sith and Jedi is, of course, at the heart of much of the conflict of Star Wars, and is consciously addressed and challenged in the costumes of the various Dark Side antagonists throughout the saga.
The Sith are the antithesis of the Jedi Knights, the dark side of the Force. There are only ever two them, a Master and an apprentice…. As the Sith began with a renegade Jedi, we adopted the idea of a subtle similarity in their clothing allude to their common past.
Trisha Biggar, p. 3, Dressing a Galaxy
Today: live action in The Phantom Menace.
Darth Maul was, of course, the active hand of the Sith in The Phantom Menace, and initially was presented as a challenge to the Jedi proper, if not Qui-Gonn Jinn specifically as they had the most encounters throughout the film (a whole two!) However, once we get to the climactic duel it is clear that he is truly Obi-Wan’s opposite – apprentice vs. apprentice, Obi-Wan’s mirror darkly – and this is evident through his entire presentation: costume, (limited) dialogue, dedication to his master and order, and so on. Of course I’ll be looking at this via the medium of costume!
Starting with Tatooine as per smarsupial’s question, Maul is first introduced in the flesh as a knife against the landscape, covered from head to toe in black and completely silent, in direct contrast with the earthy tones of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn (and Anakin, Shmi, and effectively every other being on Tatooine.) In opposition with the landscape itself, with the natural order itself, one could argue (the Jedi would potentially argue.) (This also puts him at odds with the Stormtroopers marching through Mos Eisley in A New Hope in their stark white, an interesting antithesis to that ordered force.) When Obi-Wan is actually seen outside the Naboo ship on Tatooine he wears his cloak, Qui-Gonn his trademarked Jedi Disguise!Poncho. Both of these garments are relatively soft and worn wools, full of natural movement, covering but not necessarily concealing (and when they are mean to conceal, they do so badly – looking at you, Qui-Gonn.) But Maul is stillness, he is like a black vacuum of nothingness. He, utterly concealed with in this veil of darkness, and utterly still until he suddenly isn’t, flying out in a sudden flurry of kineticism and fabric.
The silhouette shift from knife to throwing blade.
This weapon-like appearance was intentional – a weapon sheathed, a weapon unleashed:
The black, layered, kimono-style underrobes of Darth Maul, with varying lengths of split and hanging skirts, allowed for a great deal of movement during his extensive, complex fight sequences. His cloak, inspired by a photograph of a Tibetan lama taken about 1940, was made of hand-dyed, coarsely wove silk-and-linen fabric. Its many shoulder-to-ankle length circular pieces were sunray pleated, creating a narrow silhouette when motionless – but in combat swirling out into a fully circular shape, like a fabric Shuriken (Ninja throwing blade) cutting through the air.
Trisha Bigger, p. 35, Dressing a Galaxy.
This dynamic shift in silhouette is one of the best examples of costume serving both character and performance. The citation of a key influence of his cloak being from a Tibetan monk actually surprises me – my assumption has always been that it Maul’s cloak was derived from a fifteenth century clerical robe. Iain McCaig, who ultimately developed Maul’s concepts and look for TPM, cites a Samurai’s kamishimo as a key influence, the pleated hakama in particular. (This is also a direct reference for Sabe’s battledress.) This was part of a conscious decision to move away from the original concept of a ‘muscle suit’ like costume towards something that was more sympathetic to movement and fighting, and so pushing Maul towards a closer parallel to the Jedi and Obi-Wan.
Left, Tibetan monks clear the way for their king 1940-1950 [x]; I wonder if a garment like the black one worn to the right was a reference. Right, a Samurai in the traditonal kamishimo of the Edo period, late C19th [x]; note the pleated hakama.
Maul’s cloak is much more structured than the Jedi cloaks, having defined shoulder points, open sleeves, and the beautiful pleating in this back. This allows movement, performance. He has the freedom to whirl and move whilst remaining concealed, and potentially allow an element of distraction and misdirection whilst in combat. As we all know, Jedi are prone to dropping their cloaks at a blaster bolt, their cloaks looser and far less formed. More garments of appearance than performance.
The fabric itself is a point of opposition between Maul and the two Jedi: their cloaks are made of a vintage wool, Qui-Gon’s poncho no doubt made from a coarser wool or mix, but Maul is wearing a silk-linen mix which in itself is sleeker, crisper, responds differently under different lighting, different conditions, such as the way he seems to suck in the light of Tatooine, but in hologram form he is suddenly textured, reflective. He is what his master needs him to be, a tool to Sidious’ cause.
This mirroring appeared in both Obi-Wan and Darth Maul’s respective introductions – mysteriously cloaked and intimidating. But in Maul’s (and Sidious’ case) he remained shrouded and shadowed, whereas Obi-Wan and Qui-gonn literally stepped into the light and revealed themselves. The lighting in both of these scenes highlights the difference in fabric choice.
That original ‘muscle suit’ sensibility was carried over, in a way, into Maul’s main robes, whilst still directly mirroring Obi-Wan’s tabbarded robes. The silhouette is effectively Jedi but more; he is swathed in layers and layers, dividing his body into sections, muscles, components. With his collar high and multiple skirts long, he is again a knife when stationary and a flurry of motion in combat. His entire comportment is of waiting violence. The Jedi robes at this point – consider the changes in Jedi dress during the violence of the Clone Wars, especially Obi-Wan – are not for fighting. They are highly skilled warriors, but ultimately they are peacekeepers. The apprentice Obi-Wan, who is encouraged to be aware, to learn, whose neck is vulnerable and open, his wide sleeves and bare hands against Maul’s shaped sleeves tucked into steady, sturdy gauntlet gloves.
The waiting knife; silhouettes that are the same but different.
Next time I’ll look at Maul through The Clone Wars, Son of Dathomir and Star Wars Rebels, where those layers were stripped away and Maul became an entirely different sort of enemy. But still and always pointed at Obi-Wan Kenobi.