WARNING: Spoilers. Lots of them.
If you have not seen Solo: A Star Wars Story yet (and judging by its mediocre box office numbers, you are far from alone), this is your last chance to turn back.
OK, now that all the moof milkers are gone, let's talk about that shocking cameo near the end of the movie.
After killing her boss Dryden Vos, Han Solo's lover Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) contacts the guy who was really in charge all along, and who appears to control much of the galaxy's criminal underworld.
That guy turns out to be a familiar face — Darth Maul.
"Wait, what? Darth Maul? That's preposterous," I hear many of you say.
Meanwhile, the uncultured swine among you are wondering who the hell I'm talking about.
We haven't seen Maul on the big screen since George Lucas's critically acclaimed documentary on galactic trade laws, The Phantom Menace, in 1999.
There is a very good reason for that, because at the end of the film Maul got cut in half — imagine a Lego man whose torso has been separated from his legs — and then fell down an extremely deep pit to his certain, splatty end.
He was dead. You knew it. I knew it. Even Jar Jar knew it, and as we all remember far too vividly, his ability to speak did not make him intelligent.
So how could Maul possibly be alive in Solo, and what is he doing bossing around a bunch of criminals?
BACK FROM THE DEAD
For answers we must turn to a pair of animated Star Wars TV shows where, unbeknown to the vast majority of fans (who only watch the movies), much of Maul's story has already been told.
After thoroughly researching the episode synopses and Wookieepedia pages, all I can say is buckle up, because things get weird.
In The Clone Wars (2008-15), it was revealed that Maul — the top half of him at least — survived his fall and dismemberment through the strength of his hatred, by which logic my feelings towards the South Sydney Rabbitohs should save me from any injury I suffer.
Insane and suffering from amnesia, he ended up living in a junkyard and feasting on rats until his brother, a guy called Savage Opress (yes, I swear that is his real name) discovered him.
Maul regained his sanity, got himself a pair of sweet robot legs, built a criminal empire called the Shadow Collective and made it his life's mission to wreak vengeance on the man who chopped him in half — Obi-Wan Kenobi.
It didn't end well. The soon-to-be Emperor Palpatine decided his former apprentice was becoming a rival and showed up at Maul's hide-out. Palpatine killed Opress, but refused to finish off Maul himself, revealing he had "other uses" for him.
That was the last we saw of Maul until his surprising appearance
in Rebels (2014-18), a show set just a few years before A New Hope — and importantly, almost a decade after Solo.
At that point, Maul was trapped inside an ancient, abandoned Sith temple. Through his interactions with the main cast of the show — the "rebels" in its title — he made it off planet and eventually tracked down Kenobi for one final confrontation on Tatooine.
Kenobi killed him (for good this time), but not before Maul figured out he was guarding "the chosen one". With his last words, Maul claimed Luke Skywalker would "avenge us," presumably referring to Kenobi as well as himself.
MAUL'S MISSING YEARS
Thanks to those TV shows, we know what Maul was doing between The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith, and we know he died about two years before A New Hope.
But that still leaves a yawning gap of almost 17 years in which we have no idea what happened to him.
His appearance in Solo is smack bang in the middle of that gap — and should radically change our expectations of what Disney will do with its next Star Wars films.
Maul is far too popular and interesting a character to be wasted on a 90-second cameo. Now that he has been reintroduced to the big screen, you should expect to see a lot more of him.
Outside the main sequel trilogy, Disney is reportedly planning standalone movies featuring Kenobi and the bounty hunter Boba Fett. On top of that, Alden Ehrenreich is supposedly signed on to reprise his role as young Han Solo in a couple more films.
Before Solo, it was assumed each of those projects would be completely isolated stories. Now they could all be linked, with Maul lurking in the shadows as the central villain in something resembling the interconnected films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As an underworld boss, Maul could easily interact with Boba Fett. He obviously has a long and bitter history with Kenobi. And through Qi'ra, who will be "working much more closely" with him now, he is linked to Han.
There are other tantalising possibilities as well. Maul is fuelled by a lust for revenge, not only against Kenobi it seems, but against Palpatine, the master who betrayed him. Is that why he has rebuilt his criminal organisation — to take on the Empire?
Maul versus Darth Vader. My my, think of the box office money.
It's easy to imagine a series of films like this:
• Boba Fett: A Star Wars Story. Maul hires Boba Fett to track down the man who betrayed Crimson Dawn — Han Solo. This could conclude the arc between Han and Qi'ra, and establish a bitter relationship between Han and Fett, adding depth to the original trilogy;
• Kenobi: A Star Wars Story. Something leads to a direct confrontation between Maul and Kenobi. In Rebels Maul does not initially know whether Kenobi is alive, so if this did happen it would need to end ambiguously;
• Maul. Marshalling his criminal empire, Maul seeks vengeance against Palpatine. This could culminate in a confrontation with Vader, Palpatine himself or even both of them. Maul ends up marooned in the Sith temple, where he eventually shows up in Rebels.
Shut up and take my cash.
Solo's disappointing performance so far suggests Star Wars needs to be revitalised. Maul's shock re-emergence might be just what Disney needed.