Most audience members didn't expect Darth Maul's cameo appearance near the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Those unfamiliar with the official canon of Star Wars were probably downright shocked, and left with one question: how is Darth Maul still alive?
For viewers watching only the cinematic Star Wars tales, the Darth Maul timeline is a little confusing, mostly because he was last seen getting chopped in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the conclusion of the prequel The Phantom Menace. However, fans following The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels TV series know Maul’s story didn't end at the bottom of a shaft on Naboo.
Since the fateful encounter with Obi-Wan, Darth Maul’s tale has continued throughout comic books, literature, and TV series. Fans shouldn't feel obligated to take in all of this extensive material to enjoy the Star Wars films, though. The surprise reappearance of Maul is just one more reminder of the wide breadth of stories still told from long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
It's understandable many people thought Darth Maul died in The Phantom Menace. After all, he's cut in half and dropped in an enormous reactor shaft by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the film’s climactic lightsaber battle. However, fans familiar with the Star Wars canon know Maul improbably survives his torso-splitting injury and multi-story fall, as strange as it might seem. They know this because after The Phantom Menace, Maul goes on to appear in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels - two canonical TV series - as well as countless official novels and comics.
The exact means of Darth Maul’s survival after his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi are never fully explained, but it’s something Star Wars fans expect in regard to continuity from the galaxy far, far away.
It's rumored Maul survived due to his intense hatred for the guy who just cut him in half, along with a powerful will to live. This may sound like a flimsy explanation, but it actually checks out, thanks to Maul’s well-established connection to the dark side of the Force, which is fueled by such things.
The Star Wars franchise has a bit of an obsession with garbage compactors, whether they’re being shut down by C-3PO on the detention level, or ambiguously crushing Captain Phasma. The miraculous death-defiance of Darth Maul, however, proves garbage compactors are potentially both benevolent and threatening.
Using the Force, the top half of Maul snags an air vent before he can reach the bottom of the reactor shaft, and Maul worms his way into a trash container. From there, he’s transported to the junkyard world of Lotho Minor, where he begins his slow and uncomfortable rebound to plot relevance.
More than a decade passed before Star Wars fans ran into Darth Maul once again, as he made his reappearance in the fourth season of The Clone Wars. Maul drastically altered his appearance in the intervening years.
Once he’s dumped on Lotho Minor, the legless Sith Lord crawls around until he can cobble together enough mechanical parts to build himself replacement limbs. For reasons unknown, Maul doesn't stop at two legs, and instead constructs six mechanical legs, giving him the horrific appearance of a spider-centaur.