In 1977, George Lucas single-handedly changed the face of our culture when he released his weird little space movie that no one had any faith in: Star Wars. It became the highest grossing movie of all time just two years after Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had claimed that very same record. Those two movies are credited with giving birth to the summer blockbuster model of marketing, that is still used to this day. There’s no telling the scale and scope of the impact that Star Wars has had on popular culture. It’s not just that they’re some of the most popular movies of all time; they sell out theaters every single year since Disney took over, even forty years after the release of the initial movie. Unlike the current superhero fad, it seems that Star Wars will never get old. There are books, toys, comics, TV shows – even entire conventions dedicated to the Star Wars phenomenon. And at those conventions, cosplayers proudly dress up as their favorite Star Wars character. Everyone has a favorite character. The saga is populated with so many great ones – from Wookiees to Tusken Raiders, from Sarlaccs to Hutts, from Ewoks to, um, humans – that on the surface, it might appear as though fans are spoiled for choice, like a kid in a candy store. But anyone who thinks that can drop their scepticism, because everyone knows who their favorite Star Wars character is. It’s ingrained in the fiber of our being. Everyone responds to one particular character more than the rest. So, objectively, in anticipation of this December’s highly-awaited The Last Jedi, here are the fifteen greatest Star Wars characters.
15. Poe Dameron
Who else felt a flush of relief over them when Poe Dameron reveals himself to have survived the crash in The Force Awakens? He was such a great character who was almost squandered. He’s even cooler than Han Solo, and he’s the nicest guy ever. When JJ Abrams was originally developing The Force Awakens, he was referring to Poe simply as John Doe: he was a Jedi and at one point a bounty hunter with a Wookiee sidekick (Wookiee sidekick – derivative much?). Luckily, he landed on making him (in the words of Oscar Isaac, the actor who plays him) “the best freaking pilot in the galaxy,” with the most adorable droid sidekick in BB-8. Now have the most endearing cross between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, and it’s just fantastic. Let’s hope we get to see more of Poe in future movies – primarily the upcoming The Last Jedi, which is now just a few short months away – because he’s a huge bank of untapped potential.
He might have a red arm now, but C-3PO has always been C-3PO. He and his companion R2-D2 are two of the few characters (maybe the only characters) who don’t spend the Star Wars movies going on some transformative journey inspired by samurai movies and Joseph Campbell’s research and theoretical work in comparative mythology. C-3PO is just there, being himself, the whole time. He’s also one of the only characters to appear in every single movie in the saga – he was even needlessly shoehorned into a cameo appearance in Rogue One! George Lucas’ original characterization of Threepio was to be a car salesman, but thankfully Anthony Daniels plays him with the wit and class of an old English butler which has become endearing and lovable (if sometimes annoying). But whatever he does, he should never tell Han Solo the odds.
13. Jabba the Hutt
Of all the Star Wars characters being touted for their own spin-offs – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano – it could be argued that none deserve it more than Jabba the Hutt. He’s a 600-year-old slug. He’s also, as described by film critic Roger Ebert, a cross between a toad and the Cheshire Cat. Oh, and he’s also an intergalactic mafia kingpin. Jabba’s appearances in the crummy, CGI-ridden DVD Special Editions of A New Hope have been met with a sour reception, but that’s not to say that the character himself isn’t great. He’s a fat space gangster! Guillermo del Toro has met with Lucasfilm about the possibility of directing for them a gangster movie about Jabba the Hutt in the vein of The Godfather. Oh, God, please, please let that happen.
BB-8, Poe Dameron’s trusty companion droid, became an instant hit with Star Wars fans when he was introduced in The Force Awakens. He’s cute and kind and he uses his little lighter to insult people who tick him off. Fun fact: his voice was provided by the hilarious Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz playing around with an iPad app. And even better, he was created using practical effects and not CGI. Isn’t that awesome! What a great character. When John Carpenter was cheaply producing his space-bound sci-fi movie Dark Star, he infamously made a robot out of a beach ball. Is it possible that the “BB” in BB-8 stands for “beach ball,” and he’s both named and designed as a homage to Carpenter’s handiwork? Food for thought, right?
11. Darth Maul
Perhaps the only redeeming factor of The Phantom Menace, the colossal disappointment 16 years in the making, was its antagonist. Darth Maul is sheer evil, reflected in his design, which was based on none other than The Devil himself. He’s got the scariest tattoos and the coolest lightsaber, and he has one goal: destroy the Jedi. He won’t stop until the Knights of the Jedi Order are crushed – or, alternatively, until he’s chopped in half and sent flying into a bottomless pit by a vengeful Obi-Wan Kenobi. See, fans hated The Phantom Menace, but they loved Maul. According to IGN, “Of the countless characters to walk in and out of the Star Wars saga, none looks or acts more badass than Darth Maul.” It’s true!
Artoo, along with his companion C-3PO, was originally intended to be the comic relief of Star Wars, but he’s become so much more than that. For starters, he’s a movie icon – with Ralph McQuarrie’s ingeniously simplistic design inspired by the robots Huey, Dewey, and Louie from Silent Running – and he’s become the guiding star of the whole saga. He’s been there for everything, from start to finish. R2-D2 is arguably the lead character of the Star Wars saga. And the origin of his name is a fantastic story. Legend has it that George Lucas was in the editing room for his earlier movie American Graffiti and fell asleep while he was writing the script that would become Star Wars. Walter Murch was editing the sound for the movie and asked for Reel 2, Dialogue Track 2, albeit asking for it with the abbreviation “R-2-D-2.” Lucas woke up for a second, heard that, said it was a “great name,” and then fell back asleep. And thus, Artoo was born!
9. Obi-Wan Kenobi
Along with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the very few inherently good people in the Star Wars universe. He’s good through and through. Even when his Padawan turned against him and they had an epic duel that he started on the lava planet of Mustafar, Obi-Wan repeatedly tried to turn him back before finally giving up on him. But he didn’t kill him – he showed him mercy. This is a testament to Obi-Wan’s good nature, although it did eventually come back to bite him in the ass, as his Padawan was nursed back to health as Darth Vader and went on to become the most evil person in the galaxy bringing everyone to their knees and causing destruction in his path. Also, thirty or so years later, he killed Obi-Wan anyway. But still, he was a great character with a great heart. And hey, jokes on Vader, because now Obi-Wan is more powerful than he could possibly imagine, so hah!
8. Boba Fett
Boba Fett joined the Star Wars saga as a pretty flat, two-dimensional character. He was basically just a bounty hunter who looked cool, but that was enough to make him a lot of people’s favorite character. However, some credit has to be given to the actor who played Boba Fett, Jeremy Bulloch. It’s the little things he did with the character that made him a classic. He took inspiration from Clint Eastwood’s performance as The Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy of spaghetti westerns. It’s the little things, like the way he held his gun, like he was always ready to use it, and he tilted his head a bit to unnerve the viewer. Also, Bulloch didn’t develop a backstory for the character, instead saying that “the less you do with Boba Fett, the stronger he becomes.” But still, the character as he is in the original trilogy lacks emotional depth. I hate to say it, but we have the prequels to thank for giving Boba Fett some depth. In Attack of the Clones, he’s just a little kid whose father, Jango Fett, is the cool bounty hunter. But then Jango has his head cut off and it lands in Boba’s hands and bibbidi bobbidi boo, his emotions die and his callousness later in the story starts to make sense.
Chewbacca is one of the most loyal sidekicks in the history of fiction, and certainly the most lovable and memorable. Tragically, he lost his co-pilot at the end of The Force Awakens. He saw Han Solo, the guy he loves the most in one of the original movie bromances, get killed by his own son. Chewie was devastated by the loss, and it sent him on a killing spree in a murderous rage. Han and Chewie were the best friends in the galaxy, soaring through the stars together at hyper speed with no one but each other (until the actual events of the movies, when they joined forces with a bunch of other people). Until then, it was just Han and Chewie versus the world. Even between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, as Han retreated back to being a space pirate, leaving behind his wife and evil son, Chewie stuck by his side. It’ll be interesting and heart-breaking at the same time this December to see how Chewie is coping without Han in The Last Jedi.
6. Princess Leia
Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan shines in the Star Wars universe. Being pretty much the only female character in the movies she was in, she had to fight for prominence in the male-dominated world. In fact, it’s not just Star Wars that’s dominated by males – it’s science fiction and the movie industry as a whole. But spunky Carrie Fisher had the goods to stand out and rise above the archetypal role of damsel in distress. Sure, she was imprisoned and had to be rescued by men, and enslaved and made to wear a bikini, but Fisher ensured that Leia’s on-screen persona always objected to it. She wasn’t just curled up and frightened in the corner, waiting to be saved. She had quips like, “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” to make sure she was always on top. She has since become an icon, and a precursor for all the feminist progression that movies have slowly been taking since then. A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that Leia was “a foremother of Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen and of countless latter-day Disney princesses.” It all started with her.
5. Luke Skywalker
There is no hero greater than Luke Skywalker. He’s always been good, from start to finish. He never strayed into anything dark or dubious and you never question his actions, because he always has been and always will be the hero of Star Wars. He jumped at the opportunity to save Princess Leia (twice), he defeated the Rancor in order to save Han from carbonite, and he blew up the Death Star and saved his own mortal enemy’s life because his heart is too damn good. And also, let’s face it, we all see ourselves in Luke. We’re all living on a little farm in the middle of a far out alien desert planet, looking up at the stars and dreaming about getting the hell out of there. We all feel as though we’re destined for greater things, and we’re all waiting for fate to come calling in the form of a message inside R2-D2.
Played by the ever-lovable English actress Daisy Ridley, Rey came into 2015’s The Force Awakens with a vengeance. She very quickly became many fans’ new favorite character. Just like Luke Skywalker (who is possibly her father or something), she was a loner living a life of solitude on a desert planet, scraping by as a scavenger, when suddenly she’s swept away into a big, intergalactic adventure. Ever since JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan’s early discussions, Rey was always supposed to be the center of the story and female representation was very important in The Force Awakens. Her past as a scavenger led her creators to call her “the ultimate outsider and the ultimate disenfranchised person.” Disney’s new handling of Star Wars has given way to a surge of feminism, which is epitomized by the character of Rey, who MSNBC called a “new feminist icon.”
The 900-year-old Jedi laureate does not, upon first glance, look like anything special. He’s just that funny little Muppet who can’t string a sentence together and is making the kids laugh. But Yoda is so much more than that. He might articulate his wisdom with incorrect grammar, but it’s still some of the wisest stuff you’ll ever hear: “Do or do not; there is no try” etc. And your heart is made of stone if you didn’t start to tear up when Yoda dies in Return of the Jedi. Yoda trained Luke Skywalker to use the Force, and that ended up saving the galaxy from the evil Empire’s rule. So thanks for that, Yoda. He’s the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, (which is a title that, in case you can’t guess, carries quite a bit of weight), and his species is unknown, which just adds to his awesomeness. He stands alone, head and shoulders above the rest (which is ironic, since he’s two feet tall). Oh, and he’s also freaking adorable.
2. Han Solo
Han Solo is the coolest son of a bitch in the galaxy. Ever since he was introduced into theaters in 1977, every wide-eyed kid watching the Star Wars movies has wanted to be him. On the surface, he seems like a brash, loud-mouthed, lovable jerk, but there’s more depth to him than that. In George Lucas’ words, Han is “a loner who realizes the importance of being part of a group and helping for the common good,” and his likability is only helped by the ever-charming Harrison Ford. From his first appearance in A New Hope to his tragic final appearance in The Force Awakens, we saw Han transform from a selfish, uncaring lone rider to a sympathetic hero. He fell in love with Princess Leia. When we first met Han, he wasn’t the kind of guy who would fall in love. He was originally a green-skinned alien Jedi with gills, but thank God Lucas decided to turn him into a “tough James Dean-style star pilot,” because he created an idol for kids of generations to look up to. In 2015’s The Force Awakens, he was given a beautifully heart-breaking send-off, as he was struck down by his own son. He’ll always have a place in cinematic history.
1. Darth Vader
When you think of iconic movie villains, who springs to mind? Darth Vader, the most iconic of them all! But there’s more to him than that. Vader isn’t just a bad guy who shows no mercy. He has depth. Endlessly quotable and the model for all villains to come in popular culture, Vader was (unlike almost every other character in the saga) depicted almost exactly the same in the original screenplay draft as he was in the final film. George Lucas clearly knew exactly what he wanted from his bad guy to end all bad guys. Lucas added dimensions that you don’t normally get in big, clear-cut, fairy tale genre movies. He wasn’t just a two-dimensional villain chasing young hero Luke Skywalker – he was his father! And as crappy as the prequels are, the narrative journey of Anakin Skywalker is a fascinating one. It’s like an intergalactic Breaking Bad, the tale of a hero who becomes the villain. Anakin was a bright-eyed kid building a podracer and a protocol droid. Then he was a noble Jedi warrior under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Then he was led into the Dark Side by Emperor Palpatine. And then, at the end of Return of the Jedi, he gets a bit of redemption. Even the most evil being in the galaxy has an inherently good heart – he was simply misguided and manipulated. This is a perfect ending for the character and has led many scholars to view him as a “tragic hero.”