For me, the best thing about Darth Maul was the name. Not just because it's evocative of brutal destruction -- always good for a villain -- but because it's nakedly so.
The other Sith Lords chose names that, translated into English from Galactic Basic, bore gossamer-thin disguises over their evil intent, as transparent as Superman's glasses. Sith names often seem pointlessly coy about their malevolence, either through the simple expedient of lopping off a syllable, as in Darth (in)Vader, Darth (in)Sidious, or obscuring via translation into Greek, as in Darth Tyranus, or what have you. Darth Maul, on the other hand, chose a Sith name that just says, "I'm gonna mess you up."
A Ruthless Villain's Appeal
His dervishlike fighting style and striking appearance -- nasty horns and wild red and black facial tattoos -- are what really earned him a contingent of fans when he appeared in The Phantom Menace. The energy and power of Maul's performance was the work of the awesome Scottish stunt god Ray Park (recently seen, in case you were wondering what he's been up to, as Snake-Eyes in the G.I. Joe movies).
And this villain's wide appreciation in Star Wars fandom is no doubt why he's being brought back as the latest canon character to surface this spring in season 4 of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in which he's sought out by his brother, the equally bluntly named Savage Opress.
Introducing Chewbacca into The Clone Wars was last season's stunt along similar lines, and that created relatively few canonicity ripples for the much-traveled Wookiee, whose life story still has a lot of gaps.
A Small Problem
For the character of Darth Maul, however, there remains the little problem of his being sliced in half by the padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi in Phantom Menace -- which naturally poses the question: How can he be fighting in the Clone Wars?
According to Lucasfilm, the decision to bring back Darth Maul, bodily bifurcation aside, came straight from the top. "The decision to continue Darth Maul's story was something that came directly from George," says Dave Filoni, Supervising Director of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. "We all agreed that his return needed to be unique, unexpected and revenge-filled. We don't know what his outcome will be, and as a fan -- that's exciting." So Lucasfilm's answer to how he survived is, watch the show, kid.
Though Maul's return is certainly going to be a fascinating extension of a compelling character, it doesn't take a genious to figure out where George Lucas's inspiration came from for generating publicity for this particular villain: The Phantom Menace is being rereleased to theaters in 3D this coming February.