The reputation of the Star Wars prequels has improved over the last few years as the kids who grew up watching these science fiction movies have grown up. While we can debate until we’re blue in the face about the quality of these particular Star Wars movies, we can all agree the prequels gave us one of the coolest-looking Star Wars characters ever.
Darth Maul, with his striking red and black face, devilish horns, and wicked double-bladed lightsaber, looked like nothing we’d seen in a galaxy far, far away before. Unfortunately, the script let Maul down badly, and he was despatched pretty quickly, only to be brought back through the power of popularity in the animated series Clone Wars.
Still, Maul nearly had a different design entirely that, to be honest, looks more like a Cenobite from the Hellraiser movies than a Star Wars alien. Iain McCaig, who helped design Maul, explained the genesis of Maul’s terrifying look on StarWars.com, admitting that he struggled at first to design the new Sith apprentice.
“Darth Maul was really, really hard because all I had as a precedent was Darth Vader,” he explained. “I think, maybe for two years, I was trying to out-helmet Darth Vader, and I almost had a nervous breakdown doing that because you can’t. You absolutely cannot! It’s a perfect design — you know, skull and a Nazi helmet, it does not get better than that.”
Eventually, McCaig turned to the script for inspiration. On the page, MAul was described as looking like “your worst nightmare”, so that’s what McCaig drew, but it was too much for George Lucas.
“I drew my worst nightmare, which was that face that’s peering in the window at you late at night, and it’s barely alive,” McCaig explained. “Like a cross between a ghost and a serial killer staring in at you, and it’s raining, and the rain is distorting the face.”
“So I drew that, a stylized version of it,” he continued. “Red ribbons instead of rain, and put it in a folder, and at the meeting passed it over to George. George opened it up and went, ‘Oh, my God,’ slammed it shut, handed it back, and said, ‘Give me your second worst nightmare.'”
So, where did the red and black faces come from? The second scariest thing ever, clowns. Yeah, McCaig apparently based Maul’s facial tattoos on old clowns like Bozo. That explains why he’s so scary, then.