MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Darth Maul originally had feathers on his head instead of horns.
It's funny. I write enough different things here at CBR that it is amusing when a reader will write in with a question for one column that I've actually addressed in a whole other column! For instance, when reader Aaron G. wrote in to ask about Darth Maul's odd origins, I had actually just talked the topic a month or so ago in a list about the evil Sith lord. So this is a rather easy one to answer for me!
In any event, Aaron wanted to know if it was true that Darth Maul was originally going to have feathers on his head instead of horns. The answer to that is basically a yes.
The production work for the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, obviously began much earlier than the actual release of the film. So there were still a lot of moving parts when it came to the story of the film. In other words, it wasn't like George Lucas walked in and said, "Okay, so there's going to be this guy named Darth Maul and he's going to have horns on his head and he's going to have this awesome doubled-edged lightsaber."
All anyone knew is that there was going to be a new Sith character who would be serving Palpatine (who obviously was not yet officially the Emperor).
Artist Iain McCaig is the guy who eventually came up with the iconic Darth Maul look. He once described to Starwars.com how the first take on Darth Maul came to be - when Maul was going to be a female villain!
“George Lucas had described Darth Maul as a figure from your worst nightmare. So… I drew George my worst nightmare. At the time, my worst nightmare was this…'I’m inside a room during a thunderstorm. The hours pass by and I suddenly become aware that there’s a lifeless face pressed against the window. It’s dead, but it’s alive, staring at me through the rain. I drew something like that for George, adding metal teeth… and blood red ribbons falling over the face instead of rain. When George saw it, he quickly turned the drawing over. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Now draw me your second worst nightmare…'”
Hilarious. Here is that ribbon-themed version...
Since Lucas sent McCaig back to the drawing board, McCaig eventually came up with the idea of having a villain with marks all over his face. He brought the idea even further, by suggesting that it would look like flayed flesh. When he finally had the official design, though, with a flayed flesh designed based on his own face (just with the flesh then torn off), he added an interesting touch at the top...
“To balance a design as horrible as a flayed-flesh head, you might give it a soft hood… or long, flowing hair… or, in this case, feathers. These were beautiful black feathers, bound like Native American prayer totems to a length of piano wire. And every morning I imagined Darth Maul would get up and bind his head with this piano wire, and that the feathers had to end up at the right points-it was just a part of the focusing of the Sith.”
When the other artists took over his design, though, they assumed that he meant for those feathers to be horns and that's what they drew. The horn idea obviously was liked by everyone and that's how Darth Maul's famous horned look came to be!
Interestingly, you might also note a strange collar on McCaig's feathered-look. He intended for Maul to wear a suit of armor that was stitched into his actual flesh. However, Lucas wanted to have Maul be an acrobatic villain who could move freely and that wouldn't work if his armor was stitched into his flesh, so that idea was dropped and he ended up in the robes that he wore in the final film.
The legend is...
Thanks to Aaron for the question and thanks to Iain McCaig and Starwars.com for the information!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.