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The truth about Darth Maul's Clone Wars return - Exclusive

He's back.

Yes, that's right: Not only has Maul returned to Star Wars: The Clone Wars in order to kick off the series' final arc, the Siege of Mandalore, but he's also brought a friend along with him. In order to make The Clone Wars' impending finale as epic as possible, the folks at Lucasfilm enlisted none other than Ray Park, the actor and stunt phenom who played the former Darth in The Phantom Menace and Solo, to bring the animated Maul to life.

Actor Sam Witwer will still provide Maul's voice, but Park's physicality is a big part of why Maul became a fan-favorite in the first place, and Lucasfilm is excited to have him back. "He is Darth Maul," The Clone Wars' animation supervisor Keith Kellogg tells Looper in an exclusive interview. "That was so cool."

As fans know, Maul has been a big part of Star Wars' animated series for a while. "Maul lives as sort of this really great character with a really nice arc," Kellogg says, "going through Clone Wars up through Rebels, when you see him fight Obi-Wan."

However, before now, Park hasn't been involved, forcing Kellogg and his team to improvise: "We really study the movies and what came before us, but we've had to create a lot of Maul, because he's in, I think, eight minutes of the movie."

With Park back in his Sith robes — digitally, at least — that's no longer a concern. "Certain ways he'll lift his leg, or he'll do a double jump, or the foot plant that he'll do... little things like that I certainly wouldn't have thought of in terms of what we would do in animation," explains Kellogg. "Even the way he stalks people when he's Maul — he'd sort of become this kind of predator — to be able to take that and add it to what we already have was really a pretty epic pairing."

Bringing back Ray Park as Darth Maul was an adventure all of its own

Not that bringing Park's performance into The Clone Wars was easy, of course. The team at Lucasfilm had only tried integrating motion-capture data with their regular workflow once, and Kellogg says it produced mixed results. "It was when the Wookiees were fighting the Trandoshans," Kellogg says, referring to the episode "Wookiee Hunt" from season 3. "We did use motion-capture for that, because we wanted to try it out at the time."

Before he joined Lucasfilm, Kellogg worked with Robert Zemeckis on films like Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, so he has plenty of experience with mo-cap. Still, the technology wasn't necessarily the right fit for The Clone Wars. "We ended up using some of it, we ended up throwing some of it out, because it kind of locked us in a little bit more than we wanted," he says.

The same goes for Park's performance as Maul. "Motion capture, for us, is not necessarily the easiest thing for us to incorporate into our pipeline," Kellogg admits. "We don't really have the ability right now to do that with our rigs."

In addition, animation taken directly from a motion-capture performance doesn't mesh perfectly with The Clone Wars' animation, which is exaggerated and moves faster than normal human movement. "We actually did a little test, where we saw what it looked like with straight mo-cap, and it felt very odd to see that compared to everything else," Kellogg says.

As such, instead of implementing the data directly, Kellogg and his team mostly used Park's performance as a reference while animating The Clone Wars' final season: "We really ended up using it as a guideline. We had video reference of it, and we were able to take it into our story package and use it."

In a way, that gives fans the best of both worlds. Park gets to play Maul again, while the animators who've kept the character alive on TV all these years get to put their stamp on what could be his final appearance. According to Kellogg, it worked, too: "The Maul-Ahsoka fight in Mandalore.... It's up there. It's really great. Hopefully that goes down as one of the best lightsaber fights that we've done."

Only a couple of weeks left until we can find out for ourselves.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars' final season currently airs every Friday on Disney+.