Sam Witwer has been a huge part of the Star Wars universe since he was first introduced in the 2008 game The Force Unleashed. Since then Witwer has established himself at the center of the galaxy far, far away, becoming the voice of several major characters including Emperor Palpatine, the Son, and of course, Darth Maul. Witwer transcended from the realm of animation to his first live action Star Wars voice acting role when he voiced Darth Maul during the huge reveal at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story. To celebrate the home video release of the Han Solo origin story, I talked with Witwer about bringing his talents to the big screen. His journey to voicing Maul in Solo was an unexpected and long one, reaching back as far as The Clone Wars. “Dave Filoni called me up and he says, ‘I need Darth Maul. Can you do it?’ This was before we’d established that he was just Maul, which is a significant thing that the Solo creators also picked up and capitalized on. So when he said that to me, it was just a panic attack, and I immediately tried to calm my voice on the phone and muster up the will to lie to him convincingly and say, ‘You’ve got the right guy, no problem, I’ve got you!’ Then I got off the phone and was like… ‘I don’t know how to do that! The fans are going to kill me.'”
But the fans didn’t kill him. In fact, Maul’s arc became one of the many highlights of The Clone Wars. Filoni called upon Witwer yet again for Star Wars Rebels, but even after Maul’s demise, Witwer wasn’t done with the iconic role. “We killed Maul off in Rebels, so by this point I’d said goodbye to the character twice. Fast forward and Matt Wood [of Skywalker Sound] calls me up; he’s doing sound and mixing on Solo, so he’s been working with the Kasdans [Lawrence and Jon] and [Ron] Howard for a while. He says ‘Oh how’s it going man? So, anyway you know Maul’s in the movie…’ and I was like ‘What do you mean? So you know Maul’s in the movie? No! What does this mean?!‘ and he was like ‘Yeah, he’s in the movie. Should we give you a call? Are you interested?’ Of course, Matt Wood voiced General Grievous so he knew exactly how much it meant to me, he’s been there. He had a lot of fun teasing me with that.”
When it came to portraying Maul in the film, Witwer thought he had the process all figured out. But Lucasfilm and Howard had different plans. “The thing that shocked me the most was I thought they’d shoot things with Ray Park and I’d come in and voice it. Obviously we do things a little bit differently with the animated series; we voice it first and they animate it, so I have a bit more freedom of performance. But that’s fine because Ray is the guy who started this, he’s the presence, he’s the reason why we’re here! Then I discovered Ron Howard and the Kasdans really felt it was very important that this feel seamless from Rebels and The Clone Wars, and to feel like it was exactly the same character and honor the work George Lucas had done.”
Witwer continued, “I was very surprised when I went in and I was expecting to do it to some picture, and they were like ‘No, just record. Do it at your pace, your tone.’ And I was like ‘How is this going to work?’ and it turned out that Ray was going to lip sync. ‘When he’s shooting Ray will have the freedom to do what he needs to do,’ they told me. ‘Then we’re going to have you back in, so that both of you are going to have input into who this character gets to be.’ Which I thought was brilliant!”
Are you excited to revisit Solo from the comfort of your own couch? Intrigued by Witwer’s account of how Solo’s Maul came to life? Fire your blasters into the comments below!