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Darth Sidious vs Darth Maul & Savage Opress: What really happened?

Been years since I wrote one of these, but I have plenty of material to work with for several entries in this blog series. The topic today is on the duel between Darth Sidious and Darth Maul and Savage Opress in The Clone Wars episode "The Lawless."

In my experience, this fight is not nearly as misconstrued as the two previous blogs I wrote of this kind, but I do often see some users present this fight as depicting Maul, or even occasionally Savage, being in Sidious' power and skill tier, which the events themselves fail to support. This fight is so clearly and so unfairly played in Palpatine's favor, I honestly can't fathom how it could be misunderstood to highlight Maul's formidability. But since that interpretation is often what we find ourselves dealing with, let's dissect it point by point.

To begin, here is a clip of the duel as it occurred on-screen in TCW. Having sensed Maul's exploits on Mandalore, Sidious arrives on the planet in order to cement his own position in the Sith ranks to the exclusion of Maul and Savage who claimed the Sith title apart from Sidious' authorization. He tells Maul that his newly formed organization on Mandalore over the Mandalorian armies and the criminal cartels, as well as his assuming the title of Sith Lord in spite of Sidious and Tyranus, is an affront to Sidious' own plans for galactic conquest and calls him a "rival." He then fights Maul and Savage, killing Opress, and defeating and capturing Maul alive.

There are several reasons why certain scenes in this duel are, to be perfectly blunt, doctored to portray Maul and Savage as posing a serious threat to Sidious in the course of this encounter. Among them are the fact that both Savage and Maul each landed one unarmed strike on Sidious. Savage rammed him, and Maul later kicked him in mid-air. This does absolutely nothing to gain them any advantage though, especially in Savage's case. Where Maul and Savage only each hit Sidious once, Sidious connected no less than four unarmed strikes on Savage before killing him and two unarmed strikes on Maul, as well as a Force Push mid-duel, and on top of that, the hits Sidious connected inflicted more lasting harm. His second blow to Savage sent him flying backward and lying face-down on the ground until he struggled to regain his composure some seconds later, and the last roundhouse that Sidious threw at Savage stunned him and left him open to a stab with both lightsabers that Sidious immediately ended the contest with. On Maul's side, Sidious succeeded in temporarily knocking Maul unconscious with a telekinetic blast until he had mortally wounded and discarded Savage. On that note, I could also mention the telekinetic control Sidious exhibited at the beginning and end of this battle, where he pins Maul and Savage to a wall against their will and lets them down of his own volition and later bashes Maul into a wall and the floor, both of which show just how easily he could have beaten both with the Force alone had he not elected to duel them for his own entertainment.

By contrast, Maul and Savage's attacks were hollow attempts to injure or incapacitate Sidious. Even the horn-ram that Savage launched Sidious off the balcony with dealt absolutely no visible or implicit injury to him; this is significant because that same horn-ram was crippling against Adi Gallia in the duel between her and Savage on Florrum in the episode "Revival." For that matter, Sidious even saw Savage charging toward him and neglected to evade him, and all this attack served to accomplish was allow Sidious to Force pull both the Zabrak brothers off the balcony against their will down into a lower arena. In short, Sidious capitalized on being rammed by Savage by changing the location of battle into a different chamber, and it benefited the brothers not at all.

Concerning the kick Maul connected on Sidious in the last phase of the duel, that also knocked Sidious away but caused him little if any real damage. I give Maul credit for succeeding to hit Sidious at all and consider it a good display of fighting skill on his part to maneuver Sidious into the air so that he could deliver his subsequent kick (although Sidious was toying with Maul as I'll be covering shortly), but once again, this resulted with Maul and Sidious just closing the gap formed between them by Maul's kick and ending the duel with a saberlock. On account of this, the fact that Maul and Savage hit Sidious in no way reduces the overwhelming advantage he enjoyed over them throughout the duration of the entire duel. Their blows failed to procure them an edge during the fight, they were shrugged off by an unharmed Sidious, and they were returned with more than twice as many attacks that Sidious managed to batter them with, to say nothing of the fact that Sidious' blows were more forceful and harmful.

To address another point championed to attribute an advantage to Maul and Savage, there is this behind-the-scenes clip "Wrath of the Sith" in which Dave Filoni, the supervising director of TCW, remarks that Savage's performance against Sidious was better than the Jedi Council members that Sidious killed in Revenge of the Sith. "You know, getting taken out by Sidious is pretty good, ranks up there. He puts up a better fight than the Jedi Council did, I'll say that much for him" (1:24-1:33). To that, I agree; Savage did put up a better fight than the Jedi Council did. Not very hard to do considering that the official, on which "Wrath of the Sith" is posted, also said that Palpatine slew Saesee Tiin, Agen Kolar, and Kit Fisto before any of them could react.

No Caption Provided

Before the Jedi could react, Palpatine sprang into action and killed all of them except Mace Windu.

--Taken from, Palpatine Biography Gallery, Image 26 of 29

The reality is, Savage fought for a longer period of time with fewer allies against Sidious; therefore, he put up a better fight than the Jedi Council did. Filoni is absolutely right. Problem is, the fact that Sidious dispatched Savage with relative ease and the fact that Savage fared better than the three Council members did are not incompatible with one another. In the clip I posted of the duel itself, after Sidious pushes Maul away, he then leaps around Savage and dodges his lightsaber strokes with his own two blades withdrawn, then proceeds to outfight Savage and kill him. During this brief fight, Savage evinces noticeable strain to keep up as he repeatedly grunts and vainly flails his blades but never comes close to slashing Sidious. So not only did Palpatine tool Savage, which was conveyed very plainly, but Filoni's statement that Savage "put up a better fight than the Jedi Council did" is not tantamount to Savage actually putting up a good fight.

The key to interpreting this quote properly is in understanding that this a statement of comparison between Savage and the Jedi Council members, not Savage and Sidious. Had Filoni stated that Savage "put up a good fight against Sidious," that would mean what it clearly says, but instead he stated that Savage "puts up a better fight than the Jedi Council did." Savage performed better than the Council members, but the Council members themselves performed terribly. Concluding from Filoni's statement, "Savage did better than the Jedi Council," that "Savage put up a good fight against Sidious" is both non-sequitur and fails to listen to/read Filoni's statement for what it is. To summarize in one sentence: Filoni never said that Savage put up a good fight against Sidious, only that he fought better than the Jedi Council members.

Not to mention, if we want to judge the succession of events in this fight based on Filoni's commentary, then I offer the following citations as more accurate descriptions of the play by play.

Dave Filoni: Well, that was definitely one of our biggest challenges, Maul and Savage versus Sidious, because we wanted to have an epic lightsaber fight. We hadn’t really had a big one in awhile, and I really thought this is our chance to show everyone why Sidious is the Sith Lord. Why no one can compete with this guy.

At the end of the day, with Sidious, nobody was really going to be able to touch him. He had to be the strongest, most dangerous guy. And you could see at a certain point, he just puts his lightsabers away at the end of the fight and says, “I’m done with this,” and goes in and mauls Maul, so to speak.

Sidious can’t show up and have people walk out of the room. It’s just not gonna happen. As soon as he shows up, people are going to die, bad things are going to happen. Yoda barely escapes [when he fights Sidious in Revenge of the Sith]. So, Savage had to pay the price, and I felt bad for Clancy [Brown] because he did such a great job as Savage. But yeah, he had to go.

--Taken from, Interview: Dave Filoni on Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season Five, Part 2

It’s nice to see the villain of Star Wars really kick the butt of other villains you think are powerful, which helps establish Sidious as “Oh, yeah. This is why he is the Sith Lord.”

IGN: He really always does have the upper hand in that fight.

Filoni:And he’s enjoying himself while he does it.

IGN: And there are some other notable beats there at the end, besides, obviously, the death of Savage. There’s the fact that Maul begged for his life. I'm curious, should we take that at face value or was it a ruse?

Filoni: Yeah, I think that’s pretty literal at that point. I think that what you understand about Maul is that he is still not nearly as powerful as Sidious. Perhaps in his time away and his own ambition, like a villain, he got carried away with himself. He’s not offering proper respect to his master, Sidious, and he’s going to pay the price for that.

It’s one of those things where you sit around the table and everybody just agrees that if Sidious shows up and confronts these two guys, people aren’t leaving the room. That just doesn’t happen. You don’t have the main villain from the series show up and people just run away and escape.

--Taken from, Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Dave Filoni Talks about the Death Watch/Darth Maul Arc and the Casualties Along the Way Page 2 of 3

Isolating one comment from Filoni and holding that as the rule of the fight when there is a wealth of other comments from him pointing to a different conclusion is an obscurantist's argument. According to Filoni during his interviews, "no one can compete with [Sidious]," "nobody was to touch him," "[Sidious] really always does have the upper hand," "he's enjoying himself while he does it," and " still not nearly as powerful as Sidious." The sheer superfluity of Filoni's commentary on this fight should suffice to drive the point home. His statement that Savage "puts up a better fight than the Jedi Council did" in no way relegates his redundancy in saying that Sidious was dominating the fight from start to finish, because all he suggested in that comment is that Savage fought better than the Jedi Council, not that he fought well against Sidious. All available interviews with Filoni, and even the "Wrath of the Sith" commentary itself, punctuates Sidious' supremacy in this fight. Therefore, the theory that according to Filoni, Maul and/or Savage pressed Sidious during this fight is wrong.

The next point is cut content from the scene. During an unfinished deleted scene from the duel, which was posted on, Sidious fires Lightning at Maul and Savage, which they parry with their lightsabers, and then Maul pushes Sidious against a wall. In response, Sidious retrieves his footing by collapsing a chandelier over him, which Maul rolls away from; then they resume the duel. Of course, to anyone with some grasp of SW canonicity, the flaw here is both self-evident and hilarious; cut content is non-canon. No further refutation is really required than that, but if I wanted to thoroughly dispense with that clip being used in Maul and Savage's defense, I would point out that it flies in the face of Filoni's various statements that no one could compete with or touch Sidious and that Maul is nowhere near as powerful as Sidious is, even disregarding the fact that this deleted scene contradicts the opening salvo in the fight where Sidious subdues Maul and Savage simultaneously by holding them against a wall with the two of them being incapable of escaping. Regardless, non-canon content is not an acceptable form of proof. In canon, we see the exact opposite, where Sidious overpowers the brothers by pushing them against a wall before the duel began.

Finally, to solidify my general point, here are two pages from that finalize Sidious' ease of victory. The first is this statement, which stresses that Sidious "never waver[s] from his position of superiority."

No Caption Provided

Meanwhile, Sidious duels the Sith brothers, never wavering from his position of superiority.

--Taken from, The Lawless Episode Gallery, Image 21 of 23

Then, we have been provided with this event summary that clarifies in the simplest terms just how much Sidious surpasses Maul and Savage.

No Caption Provided

Upon arrival, Sidious declared the Sith brothers to be his rivals. In an intense duel, he killed Savage and toyed with Maul, ultimately deciding not to kill his former apprentice.

--Taken from, Darth Maul Biography Gallery, Image 33 of 33

According to this review of what transpired, Sidious first killed Savage and then afterward "toyed with Maul." To any dissenting views that Sidious had done anything on Mandalore besides toy with Maul and Savage, this one line precludes any other possibility. What's most important about this caption of the image is the order of description; first, it says that Sidious killed Savage, then says he toyed with Maul. In other words, even when Maul was enraged at Savage's death and drew the darksaber in addition to his standard lightsaber, and he and Sidious fought one another, Sidious was still toying with him.

And with that, this whole debate has been settled. Sidious stands comfortably above both Maul and Savage combined.

Now, to further elucidate on this duel, I will post the sequence as described in the novelization Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy, which to my understanding is no longer part of current SW Canon. However, for the purpose of Legends/EU information, this book also reinforces how minimal an effort it was on Sidious' part to thrash the brothers.

The unmarked shuttle landed on the royal palace’s platform, reserved for Mandalore’s rulers and their most important advisers. The ramp lowered and a hooded figure in dark robes descended. The commandos rushing to intercept him reached for their throats, gagging, and the cloaked figure swept past them without a sideways glance, gaze fixed straight ahead.

The feeling had begun as a faint stirring in the Force, like the tiniest ripple of something moving slowly through deep water, far away but drawing steadily closer. It intensified, until it felt like the Force itself was roiling, heaving like the sea in the grip of an enormous storm.

“I sense a presence,” Maul warned Savage. “A presence I haven’t felt since...”

And then Maul knew.

“Master,” he said, leaning forward on the throne.

The commandos guarding the royal chamber reached for their throats. As Maul watched, an unseen forced lifted them high in the air, then slammed them to the floor, where they lay motionless in their red-and-black armor. The doors opened, then closed behind a figure in dark robes. A deep cowl hid most of the face, leaving only a pale chin and a downturned mouth visible. To most eyes the man in those simple robes of rough cloth was unremarkable, just another being making his way in the universe. But to those who could feel the Force he was anything but ordinary. To them, he was a dark sun blazing with power that was simultaneously hypnotizing and terrifying to behold.

Darth Sidious, the reigning Dark Lord of the Sith, had come to Mandalore.

Savage stared at the new arrival in astonishment, transfixed by the sight. Maul felt himself leap from the throne, mechanical legs clacking down the steps and toward his old Master. The motion was almost automatic, involuntary. Maul’s earliest memories were of that hooded figure—his tests, his teachings, and also his torments. He had been Maul’s father, his protector, his torturer. He had been everything.

Maul halted before Sidious and kneeled, bowing his head.

“Master,” he said simply.

Sidious stopped. For a moment all was silent.

“I am most impressed to see you have survived your injuries,” he said, the voice as rough and cracked as Maul remembered.

“I used your training, Master,” Maul said. “And I have built all of this in hopes of returning to your side.”

Sidious lifted his head slightly, and Maul saw his yellow eyes beneath the hood. They were as cold as space.

“How unfortunate that you are attempting to deceive me,” Sidious said.

“Master?” Maul asked.

“You have become a rival,” Sidious declared.

He raised his arms and both Maul and Savage flew through the air, smashing into the elegantly patterned walls of the royal chamber and crashing to the floor. Maul sprang to his feet and ignited his lightsaber. Savage did the same. The two Zabraks stared grimly at the hooded figure. Sidious retrieved a pair of elegant-looking lightsabers from within the depths of his robes and ignited them. The blades turned his pale face a hellish red.

Maul and Savage didn’t waste time seeking an advantageous position. They simply charged, blades shimmering, trying to overpower Sidious with the animal ferocity of their attack. Sidious caught their sabers on his, the weapons howling and crackling where they touched. Maul saw that Savage was startled by the seemingly frail man’s enormous strength. Maul stared at his Master’s face. He saw the strain as Sidious called upon the Force to keep the brothers at bay. But there was something else there, too—a terrible pleasure. Sidious began to grin.

The three-pronged duel between Sidious, and Maul and Savage had moved, like some deadly ballet, from the throne room to the steps of the palace. Sidious’s lightsabers twirled swiftly and elegantly, turning aside the furious blows Maul and Savage rained down upon him as the three Sith leapt and spun.

Maul had fought his Master many times, starting when he was little more than a child and continuing through his apprenticeship. His body bore innumerable scars from those duels—lessons in the peril of being too slow or two quick, too weak or too distracted. During Maul’s apprenticeship he had always known that Sidious had been willing to kill him. The Sith had not survived their centuries of exile by being sentimental, and a student who couldn’t stand against his Master in a mere training exercise was worse than useless—he was a waste of valuable resources better used elsewhere. But Maul had never faced his Master when he was actually trying to kill him.

Maul had grown more powerful since the last time he’d been in Sidious’s presence, before the Neimoidian invasion of Naboo had turned disastrous and Obi-Wan had bested him inside the Theed power core. His hermitage on Lotho Minor, his lessons on Unbara, his restoration by Mother Talzin, and his training of Savage had all strengthened him, made him a more worthy vessel for the dark side to fill with its power.

But strong as he had become, Maul found himself in awe of Sidious. The Sith Lord was astonishingly fast and efficient, and the Force flowed through him effortlessly. His sabers stabbed and slashed through the smallest hole in an opponent’s guard, his movements never carried him a millimeter out of position, and he could sense every attack Maul and Savage made before it developed.

Maul tried to slash past Sidious’s guard, only to find his Master had given ground, causing Maul to extend his arms too far and leave himself slightly unbalanced. It was the smallest stumble, easily corrected, but Sidious saw it—and pounced before Maul could draw himself back. Snarling, he reached out with the Force and slammed Maul against the wall, leaving him lying stunned in a heap.

Savage knew the dangers of facing the Sith Lord alone, and pressed his attack before Sidious draw his hand back from Force-shoving Maul into the wall. Teeth bared, Savage windmilled his double saber, hoping to disarm Sidious or force him to give ground. If he did, that would allow the yellow-and-black Zabrak to follow his initial attack with a lightning-quick thrust that would penetrate Sidious’s defenses and wound or even kill him.

Maul tried to shake off his attack, rocketing up from the floor. Sidious neatly side-stepped Savage’s assault, drawing back as the massive Zabrak raised his double-bladed saber high to try to pummel him with it. Savage didn’t think Sidious was fast enough to take advantage of the brief opening in his defenses, but he was wrong.

Sidious rammed one of his blades through Savage’s black armor, the glowing crimson tip of the saber appearing between his shoulder blades. Savage gasped, his saber tumbling from his grasp. Sidious yanked his weapon back and Savage seemed to hang suspended for a moment, as if he were being levitated by with the Force. Then he crashed to the ground.

Sidious stepped back as Maul rushed to his fallen brother’s side. A mist seemed to rise from Savage’s body, emerging from his wounds and then from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. As Maul and Sidious watched, Savage’s horns shrank and the massive bands of muscle melted away from his chest and shoulders. The last misty remnants of Mother Talzin’s magic grew hazy and tattered, then dispersed and vanished, leaving the dying Savage lying in the shell of his now-oversized armor.

His eyes turned to Maul.

“Brother, I am an unworthy apprentice,” Savage said. “I am not like you. I never was.”

He took a last breath and lay still.

Maul looked up, saber in his grasp, and stared into Darth Sidious’s blazing eyes.

“Remember the first and only reality of the Sith,” Sidious said. “There can only be two, and you are no longer my apprentice. You have been replaced.”

Sidious raised his saber and flew at Maul, who parried desperately, his mechanical legs whirring as he sought to counter his former Master’s blows. Sidious’s sabers were a blur, a whirling cage of deadly plasma. Maul danced away from one blow, then reversed his movement to avoid another, and then there were too many to count, and then there were even more than that.

Maul’s saber spun out of his hand, bouncing away across the floor. Then Sidious seized his former apprentice with the Force, hurling him against the wall. Maul’s vision swam. He tried to get up, but realized he was already in the air, held aloft by the Force. Sidious slammed him into the floor. Then Maul was off the ground again, legs kicking for purchase in empty air. He could taste blood in his mouth. His head hit the wall with a sickening crunch.

A rhyme crept into his head, a nagging sing-song bit of poetry.

Far above, far above,

We don’t know where we’ll fall.

Far above, far above.

What once was great is rendered small.

Maul could no longer remember where he had heard it, or what it meant. He was broken, helpless, useless.

“No,” Maul heard himself gasp. “Have mercy. Please...”

“There is no mercy,” Sidious said.

Bolts of energy ripped out from the Sith Lord’s fingers, tendrils of brilliant blue and purple that danced across Maul’s tattooed skin and ripped through his muscles, his organs. His mechanical legs convulsed, shorting out.

“You belong to me,” Sidious said. “Your existence is now perfectly meaningless.”

He stretched out his fingers and the energy tore through Maul again. Sidious watched the lightning build in intensity, his eyes unblinking, his teeth gritted in a triumphant, terrible smile.

--Taken from Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy

To recap from the novelization:

  • Savage is awed by the power Sidious radiates in the Force
  • Sidious repels their combined strength in a saberlock
  • Maul is astonished by Sidious' speed and efficiency with his blades
  • After killing Savage, Sidious gradually throws consecutive blows faster and faster until all Maul can see is a blurring "cage" of light and numerous blows heading towards him, unable to block them all
  • Sidious tosses Maul around with the Force, then tortures him with Lightning

If anyone wants to dismiss the novelization on the grounds that it no longer represents TCW Canon, fair enough. In that case, to summarize what we've learned from the episode "The Lawless" as well as Filoni and's descriptions:

  • Sidious held both Maul and Savage helpless against a wall and willingly released them in order to engage in a fight
  • He smiles and laughs throughout the battle, enjoying the contest
  • He pulls the brothers off the balcony after Savage rammed him
  • He hits the brothers more times than the inverse
  • He never wavers from his position of superiority, and he always holds the upper hand
  • He dazes Savage with a kick twice
  • He knocks Maul unconscious with a Force Push
  • He dances around Savage's last attack with impunity before killing him
  • He permits Maul to rush to Savage's side, pausing the duel
  • He defeats an irate, dual-wielding Maul while toying with him
  • He telekinetically throws Maul around without Maul being able to mount a defense against his power
  • He tortures Maul with Lightning

If all of that doesn't spell a clean, painless curbstomp, I don't know what does. Every single source that discusses this duel distinguishes Sidious as the winner by a country mile, and the episode itself illustrated Sidious' amusement, restraint, and inevitable victory. The facts are the facts, and Maul and Savage together were never able to adequately oppose Sidious in a fight.