The 8 Ball 5.06.14: Top 16 Star Wars Movie Characters (#16 - 9)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.06.2014
From Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul to Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas begins his look at the top 16 Star Wars movie characters with #16 through 9!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 16 Star Wars Movie Characters (#16 - 9)
It's Monday night/Tuesday morning, which means that it's time for another edition of the 411 Movies 8 Ball! Welcome readers, I'm Jeremy Thomas as always and this week we're kicking off a two-parter in honor of this past Sunday. That day, for those of you who aren't in the know, was Star Wars Day. (Don't worry, I'm not going to go into the pun that you've probably heard seventeen too many times in the past couple of days.) In honor of that and with a ton of Star Wars-related news as of late, we're going to delve into the lore of characters from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and examine the greatest characters in Star Wars history. George Lucas' iconic franchise has no shortage of great characters so this was a tough one to narrow down, thus the reason we're going with a top sixteen. So make sure the power pack in your lightsaber is fully charged and your YT-1300's hyperspace drive is ready to fire, because it's full speed ahead!
Caveat: As should be obvious from the title, I am only ranking characters from the movies and leaving the Expanded Universe behind. This means that characters created for video games, the animated series, novels and comics are not eligible for this list. The reason is simple: I needed some way to pare the list down to a manageable level and I will probably do an Expanded Universe character list down the line. In terms of the characters I was looking at them in a holistic manner: how well-written they were, how well-acted they were, their impact on both the setting and fandom and their legacy.
First on our list is the single-greatest Imperial villain without Force powers. Grand Moff Tarkin, or Wilhuff Tarkin if you prefer, was one of the most powerful individuals in the Empire and represented the most formidable Imperial officers in terms of ruthlessness and influence within the galaxy. Tarkin only appears in Episode IV: A New Hope but he has already had a huge impact at that point; the Tarkin Doctrine shaped Imperial policy and he was responsible for the push to build the Death Star. Now granted, that didn't work out so well in the long run but if you want to question how impactful the space station was to the Star Wars universe, you can just look at the big hole in space where Alderaan once was. Many of the Imperial officers were spineless, sniveling cowards who found themselves Force choked to death for their failures. Tarkin, thanks to an icy performance by the great Peter Cushing, was the exact opposite of that. Yes, he died because of the fatal flaw in the Death Star's defenses but he was an overseer and not an engineer. Tarkin was Star Wars' Tywin Lannister in a lot of ways and the only reason he ranks down at #16 is because he only received one film in which to promote the Empire's reign of terror.
#15: Jabba The Hutt
There are certain characters in Star Wars that are just universally recognized, and you'll see many of them on this list. Jabba the Hutt is a perfect example of that. The Hutt gangster has become an essential part of pop culture and was the most feared non-Imperial adversary of the Star Wars franchise. Jabba was our introduction to the ruthless Hutt criminal organization, an individual who was imposing not just because of his enormous size and alien worm-like features but because of the reach he had through the Hutt Empire. Jabba was one of the few names that could strike fear into the hearts of people like Han Solo and his army of bounty hunters made him terrifying to us before we had ever met him. By the time we actually did get around to seeing him in Return of the Jedi he was an impressively-girthed Hutt, but the way he ruled over his court and had turned the Saga's heroes into slaves and wall decorations belied any potential weight jokes. In fact, I would venture to say that he was more imposing when he had that Marlon Brando size to him; the prequels actually hurt his estimation because he was kind of a joke in Episode I. That's a minor blip for such an important character to the franchise though and he certainly earns his spot here.
#14: Boba Fett
If I'm being honest here (and, as always, I am) I think that Boba Fett is a bit overrated among many Star Wars fans. The mercenary is cool, don't get me wrong; I didn't put him on this list just to pander. But he is ultimately a fairly minor character who doesn't do a whole hell of a lot other than deliver Han to Jabba. Yes, he's a badass in the Expanded Universe but in the films we never get to see a lot of that skill put into practice and he gets swallowed by the Sarlacc because of a lucky shot by Han. That being said, he earns his spot on this list because of his striking imagery and his impact on the franchise not in-universe, but out of it. Boba Fett became a fan favorite character with his Mandalorian armor and his ruthlessness, spawning a long series of popular EU adaptations and even a solo spin-off film that is reportedly in development. He was also one of the original characters who was not badly hurt by his inclusion in the prequels; as a young kid you actually learn more about Boba and whether you like the Jango Fett story or not, you can at least appreciate how this young child grows to be the most feared mercenary in the galaxy. He's not my favorite but he's definitely someone that you have to appreciate as a fan for his impact.
#13: Qui-Gon Jinn
It may not be a surprise to many that this list will feature many more characters from the Original Trilogy than the prequels. Whether you like the prequels or not, very few people would ever suggest that they have particularly superior characters to the first three released films. That being said, there are certainly a couple of gems that come out of them and Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn is one of them. Qui-Gon is a great character because he represents a different kind of Jedi than we are used to. Qui-Gon stood out from many Jedi in the prequels because he often comes in conflict with the Jedi Council and did many things that seemed to keep him on the outs with Jedi hierarchy, but he was no less of a proper Jedi for it. I've said before that Liam Neeson was one of the few people to escape The Phantom Menace with his dignity firmly intact; he handles Qui-Gon with his ever-impressive talent and seems to stand as a serene island amidst wooden performances from most of his fellow actors. Of course in an in-universe standpoint Qui-Gon's significance is unquestioned; he is Obi-Wan's mentor and finds Anakin Skywalker, who will end up being the Chosen One. Qui-Gon's actions shape the course of the Star Wars universe in many ways both good and bad for the Jedi, but his presence is a definite win for the franchise as a whole.
#12: Lando Calrissian
Lando Calrissian earns his spot on this list not because he's played by the inestimably-cool Billy Dee Williams (although that certainly doesn't hurt), but because he represents a very different kind of character in the Star Wars universe. There are many people who have denigrated Lando as a character and called him little more than another Han Solo-type character. And on the surface, that comparison is understandable. He's a scoundrel-type who is initially just looking out for himself but ultimately joins the rebellion in order to take down the Empire. But there's a lot more to Lando than that. The Socorro-born rogue is a self-made man; he is everything that perhaps Han could have been in another situation. They both started out as relative lowlifes but while Han stayed there until his association with the Rebellion drove him to nobler ideals and greater success, Lando parlayed his gambling skills and con man talents into becoming a "respectable businessman." As the Baron Administrator of Cloud City, he had everything he could have wanted and that gives him a sense of nobility when he leaves it all behind because he's realized how bad things truly have become. As for his betrayal of the Rebels in Empire, that was done for the safety of everyone on Cloud City so he was really trying to do the best thing. Williams imbued Lando with considerable charm and made him an unforgettable character with more than his share of fans.
The droids of Star Wars are a tricky proposition when trying to determine the franchise's best characters. On one hand, they're certainly some of the most well-known characters in the franchise and deserved to be recognized as such. On the other, they have a negative reception from a vocal contingent of fans due to the constant reliance on them for comic relief. But for my money, the comic relief was a needed part of the early parts of the franchise and worked far more than it failed. It was a natural humor, as opposed to the often-forced attempts at laughs that came from the Gungans and droids in the prequels. And it isn't like they didn't have their significance to the franchise. C-3P0 showed his resourcefulness many times; sure, he was a very neurotic droid but he was invaluable to the team on many occasions, with his protocol programming coming into use on several occasions. Anthony Daniels invested a lot of personality into a character that could have easily been a colossal failure and instead helped turn him into an essential part of the Star Wars universe. That places him firmly on my list.
#10: Darth Maul
There are few people who would argue that Darth Maul wasn't one of the best things about Episode I. I'm not even trying to beat on the prequel too badly by saying that; there are some good things about it but Darth Sidious' Sith apprentice was clearly at the top of that list. Played by stunt man Ray Park, Darth Maul represented a physical threat the likes of which we had never seen in this franchise. A Force user who had unmatched physical capabilities made him a far cry from the clumsier Darth Vader and allowed for a fantastic lightsaber fight sequence against Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. But it's not just the stunt capabilities that made him so impressive. As a Zabrak he was already somewhat predisposed to looking sinister with the horns, but the black and red color scheme made him look positively terrifying and Park showed a great range of emotion in his expressions. Darth Maul was less of a person than a force of nature (no pun intended), an elemental manifestation of the Dark Side who was more than a match for two fairly badass Jedi in their own right. He went down hard in the first film but was later resurrected for The Clone Wars, which is a testament to the character's popularity.
C'mon, who doesn't love Chewbacca? Of all the Star Wars alien races, the Wookies are perhaps the most well-regarded (with Twi'lek and Hutts battling it out for second place) and Chewie is a huge part of that. The sentient bear-like race of Kashyyyk couldn't have asked for a better representation than Han Solo's best friend and co-pilot, who was as formidable as you could imagine on a physical level and could wield that bowcaster with the best of them. Chewbacca earned himself a spot in the public consciousness due to his intimidating visage and of course his language, the combination of barks and growls known as Shyriiwook. Peter Mayhew did great work as the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) giant and Chewie would prove to be one of the greatest heroes that the Rebellion would ever see. This is probably where we're glad that the non-canon stuff isn't coming into play because The Star Wars Holiday Special would knock him down a bit, but with that out of the way he stands tall as one of the great sidekicks in all of science fiction, let alone Star Wars.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 13 Last Serial Completed:The Box (Part 2) - Sydney and Jack find themselves in the ironic position of having to save SD-6 as former agent McKenas Cole tortures Sloane in order to obtain a mysterious item stored inside the SD-6 vault, while Will finds new leads into his story about the organization. Episodes Remaining: 92
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.