Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
I’ve been toying around with the idea of doing some random rambling about Star Wars characters for a while and with Rogue One right around the corner, now seems as good a time as any to discuss the denizens of that galaxy far, far away. As the title suggests, this particular post is going to examine my top ten favourite heroes and villains, but before I begin, there are a few things I feel I should address.
First of all, I have no doubt that there are many out there who will take issue with the fact that Darth Vader isn’t included on this list and I don’t blame you. Anyone who asserts that Vader is one of the most iconic characters in the history of cinema will receive no argument from me, but it’s because of his near mythical status within the Star Wars saga, and pop culture in general, that he has been omitted.
To my mind, Vader is far too symbolic to be assigned a ranking that would do him justice. While I’m not saying I believe him to be better or worse than every other character in my top ten, the Sith lord formerly known as Anakin Skywalker is essentially the very essence of Star Wars itself and in my personal opinion that means he transcends this tabulation. To a lesser extent, the same is true of Yoda.
Disclaimers for the lack of Vader aside though, it turned out to be surprisingly easy to decide who to include here. What was more difficult was choosing the order in which to present them, especially after the first three entries. For that reason, I’ve opted to open at number one and work my way down from the top. I know top tens are traditionally done the other way around, but I think it’ll be easier to explain my choices this way. Oh, and I’m writing this article under the assumption that anyone who’s reading it has seen the first seven episodes so, suffice it to say, significant spoilers will ensue.
Now that we’ve gotten the housekeeping out of the way, let’s begin…
1. HAN SOLO
Do I even need to justify this? I don’t know a soul who doesn’t love Han Solo and I’d be shocked if anyone would begrudge me giving him the gold medal, even if they wouldn’t place him in the top spot themselves. Not only is this scruffy looking nerf herder my favourite Star Wars character of all time, he’s my favourite fictional character, period. From the very first time I saw him introduce himself to Obi-Wan and proudly declare that his ship had made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, Han had me hooked.
Effortlessly exuding charm and charisma by the bucket load, the cocksure captain of the Millennium Falcon brings a degree of levity to the saga that was sorely missed during the prequels. Lines like “Get in there, you big furry oaf! I don’t care what you smell!” and “No time to discuss this as a committee!” never fail to make me laugh, while his eleventh hour rescue of Luke during the Battle of Yavin leaves me wanting to jump up and shout “hell yeah!” every time I see it. Not to mention the fact that taking a shot at Vader without hesitation in Empire was the ultimate example of badassery.
Han’s transition from reluctant yet righteous renegade to brash but brave rebel general is one of the most enthralling and well-written arcs of the original trilogy and after more than two decades of watching him onscreen, he has become akin to a companion I can count upon to put a smile on my face whenever I see him. It’s for that reason that his death was so indescribably devastating and to this day I still genuinely can’t get through The Force Awakens without being brought to tears when I witness him being stabbed through the chest and falling into oblivion.
As far as fictional characters go, Han Solo is my hero and no matter what the future may hold for the courageous Corellian, Harrison Ford’s impeccable performance will never be outdone.
2. SHEEV PALPATINE
Vader may get all the credit in the villainy department, but anyone who’s familiar with the franchise knows that the true antagonist of the first six episodes is his sinister Sith master, Darth Sidious. Manipulating events from behind the scenes, this evil genius tricked the Republic into endowing him with unlimited power while secretly inciting the Clone Wars and exploiting Anakin Skywalker’s insecurities to turn him to the dark side before bringing about the end of the Jedi Order, declaring himself emperor of the galaxy and making himself seem like a hero in the process.
Even when he doesn’t appear onscreen, Palpatine’s presence can be felt looming over the plot as he disbands the Senate in A New Hope and communes with Vader from afar in The Empire Strikes Back. In the end, his downfall was his overconfidence, but to be fair, if you’d gotten away with as much as he did for three or four decades, you probably wouldn’t be fazed by a farmboy with four years of sporadic Force training either!
Sidious drives the story of Star Wars forward and Ian McDiarmid’s delightfully demented depiction of the character is one of the greatest aspects of the first two trilogies. Considering this politician turned oppressor was the puppet master of Episodes I – VI, it feels somewhat awkward to continue the saga in the wake of his ruination. No matter who or what Snoke is, he can’t possibly surpass the prowess of Palpatine of Naboo.
3. OBI-WAN KENOBI
For the record, I’m not differentiating between the Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor renditions here, I’m just talking about Obi-Wan in general. The man who originally introduced the world to the concept of the Force managed to win our hearts in half a film by being captivatingly compassionate yet astoundingly intense all at the same time. Who can forget the scene in which he amputates Ponda Baba’s arm in Chalmun’s cantina, then gives an amiable but ominous glance around the room causing no one to question his actions?
By the time he’s cut down by Vader on the Death Star, we’ve only known him for about an hour, but thanks to his selfless sacrifice and Guinness’s engrossingly gracious portrayal, his death manages to make an incredibly powerful impact. Such is the strength of his character in A New Hope that his quick but crucial cameos are some of my favourite moments in Empire and Jedi, and surely there aren’t many who would disagree that Ewan McGregor’s tremendous take on the character is the highlight of the prequels.
Granted, he isn’t particularly well-developed in The Phantom Menace, but once he ascends to the status of Jedi Master, McGregor does an irreproachable job of transitioning Obi-Wan towards the wise mentor with which we are familiar from the original trilogy while simultaneously making the role his own. It’s no wonder that the world is crying out for the Scottish actor to return for his very own spinoff.
4. LEIA ORGANA
Onto another of the “big three” of the original trilogy now and I’m just going to go ahead and state that Leia is by far the more likable of the Skywalker twins. No disrespect to Luke, it’d be hard to enjoy Star Wars if I didn’t think he was a strong protagonist, but as far as personality goes, his sister is a lot more fun. Right from the start, there’s a fieriness to the adopted daughter of Bail and Breha Organa that makes her extremely engaging.
The way in which she talks down to Vader and Tarkin demonstrates a fantastic amount of fortitude while her ability to put Han in his place results in one of the most turbulent yet charming romances ever committed to camera. At the same time, she displays a wonderful amount of warmth in scenes such as when she comforts Luke following the loss of Obi-Wan, despite having just lost her entire planet to the Death Star’s superlaser.
Carrie Fisher may be a little eccentric in real life these days, but as her delightfully adept performance in The Force Awakens shows, she hasn’t forgotten how to bring Leia to life on the big screen and I look forward to seeing what’s next for the valiant leader of the Resistance.
In all honesty, I debated long and hard about whether Chewie should precede Luke on this list. However, there’s just something inexplicably comforting about the big walking carpet from Kashyyyk.
Appearing in all bar two episodes of the main saga so far, Chewbacca serves as something of a reassuring constant within the Star Wars universe. He’s someone on whom you can always depend to be present and likable and even if the man behind the mask changes, it will still be the same Chewie we know and love onscreen.
While a similar argument could be made in relation to Vader, Artoo and Threepio, I’m a lot more drawn to Chewie. His unflinching loyalty and protective personality coupled with his heroic heart and soft soul makes him one of the most pure and enchanting characters the franchise has ever manifested.
6. LUKE SKYWALKER
At last we come to the protagonist of the original trilogy; the legendary Luke Skywalker himself. It may seem like a slight to place Luke so low on this list, but allow me to explain my decision. First off, I LOVE this character. He may not make my top five, but he undoubtedly facilitates some of the most exciting developments in the saga. I was among the crowds that were crying out “Where’s Luke?” in the run up to the release of The Force Awakens and was bitterly disappointed when he only showed up for a silent cameo before the credits. Now I’m counting the days until I get to see him in action again in Episode VIII.
Having said that, the main reason he didn’t receive a higher placement here is that, at times, his arc is more compelling than his character, because, to be blunt, Luke is a little bland. Oh sure, he’s likable and well-meaning and everything that a good protagonist should be, but watching his journey unfold is often more interesting than he is as a person. Whereas each of the above characters are quirky and colourful in their own way, Luke is a lot more clean cut.
His evolution from wistful farmboy to impatient padawan to refined Jedi Knight is well done, but his personality is a little too pristine, even if he is impertinent at times. So while I do very much enjoy seeing him onscreen and find him to be well-realised, he simply lacks the edge of the likes of Han, Leia and even Obi-Wan. But, he damn well better have a substantial role in Episode VIII and if he dies, we riot!
7. LANDO CALRISSIAN
Who doesn’t love Lando? It’s a testament to both Billy Dee Williams and how the character is written that he remains sympathetic throughout The Empire Strikes Back, even when he seemingly betrays Han and Leia, and the pivotal part he plays in the Battle of Endor involves some of the most pulse-pounding action scenes of the entire saga.
I cannot fathom why the powers that be chose not to include him in The Force Awakens and am even more dumbfounded that he wasn’t announced as being part of the cast for Episode VIII. With recent appearances in Rebels and a recast for the upcoming Han Solo spinoff, Lucasfilm clearly aren’t sweeping the character under the rug, but they must realise that everyone wants Billy Dee Williams back on the big screen.
If Abrams could include cameos for Ackbar and Nien Nunb as members of the Resistance, I don’t see why Lando couldn’t have appeared as a member of Leia’s command staff at the base on D’Qar. But for now, I can only praise how peppy Williams was in the original trilogy and hope that we haven’t seen the last of him in front of the camera as the former administrator of Cloud City.
8. MACE WINDU
Once upon a time, I probably would have put Mace Windu higher on my list of favourite characters. During the release of the prequel trilogy, I was obsessed with the high ranking Jedi Master, partially due to my love of Samuel L. Jackson and partially due to his unique purple lightsabre. Either way though, while I now realise he’s not the best developed character ever to have appeared in Star Wars, I still think there’s a lot to like about him.
His tranquil yet intimidating demeanour differentiates him from his peers by making him seem more menacing without veering into dark side territory. I defy anyone to say that his “This party’s over” line wasn’t incredibly cool in Attack of the Clones and the look of loathing on his face as he confronted and fought Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith was awesomely intense.
It’s a shame that his death was a little underwhelming, but it did still take the combined might of Sidious and Vader to eliminate him, so he at least has the distinguished honour of being felled by the franchise’s finest villains. Even though it’s undoubtedly a by-product of being played by Sam Jackson, Mace Windu is certainly one of the fiercest Jedi Star Wars has ever seen and I very much enjoy what he brings to the table.
9. QUI-GON JINN
Qui-Gon is another character whose ranking I heavily debated while compiling this list. Originally, I couldn’t decide whether he deserved to occupy the number eight or nine spot, but in the end I went with Windu for nine based on the fact that he got to stick around for three films. However, there is an argument to be made that Qui-Gon was better developed after just one.
So at home does Liam Neeson seem in the role, that Obi-Wan’s maverick master feels like a fully fleshed out individual from the moment we meet him. The Northern Irish actor endows the part with a sense of warmth and wisdom that makes him come across as a very natural father figure.
His personality really puts you at ease and, much like Obi-Wan in A New Hope, it hits hard when he falls upon Maul’s blade at the end of Episode I. Mixed feelings about The Phantom Menace aside, the only genuine negative I can give about Qui-Gon is that he didn’t get to appear in more than one movie.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for all of the issues I had with The Force Awakens, I absolutely adored Rey. I just find that there’s something about her that makes her very easy to invest in as a protagonist. Maybe it’s because she felt refreshingly different to other characters, maybe it’s due to the enigma of her origins, or maybe I was just relieved that the franchise’s new hero was well written, but a big part of her appeal is definitely down to Daisy Ridley’s mind-blowingly brilliant performance.
You might be wondering why she isn’t higher up on the list since I hold her in such high esteem, but the simple truth is that it’s still too early to tell whether she’ll end up being a better character than any of the above. However, I find no fault in what I’ve seen of this Force sensitive scavenger so far. Knowing that Rey will put an epic beat-down on Ren makes Han’s death scene slightly easier to endure on re-watches of The Force Awakens and that moment when Anakin’s old lightsabre flies into her hand gives me chills every time I see it.
If there’s one thing I’m looking forward to as much as seeing Luke re-ignite his own lightsabre, it’s discovering how Rey’s arc pans out, and if she continues to be as compelling as she was in her first appearance, she could well be moving further up this list by the time the curtain closes on the sequel trilogy.
So there you have the rundown of the top ten Star Wars characters according to me. With so many movies still on the horizon, my thoughts could well change over the next few years, but one thing’s for sure, there’s no way Harrison Ford’s Han is ever being usurped from his throne at the top! Thanks for reading and may the Force be with you.
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