The 8 Ball 05.13.14: The Top 8 Star Wars Movie Characters
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.13.2014
From Darth Vader and Yoda to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Star Wars movie characters!
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 8 Star Wars Movie Characters
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the conclusion of our top 16 Star Wars movie characters run on the 8 Ball! Jeremy Thomas here again, and last week we kicked this list off in order to honor Star Wars day. We had some good discussion over the first eight, so let's just get right to it with the cream of the crop!
Caveat: As I said last week, 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.
16. Grand Moff Tarkin
15. Jabba The Hutt
14. Boba Fett
13. Qui-Gon Jinn
12. Lando Calrissian
10. Darth Maul
C-3P0 landed in the top half of the first eight, and his counterpart notches just a little bit higher than him. This isn't anything to say that R2D2 is a particularly better character than the protocol droid, but he is more significant in a narrative sense to the universe. R2 is of course in all six of the films like 3P0, but he gets his start earlier in The Phantom Menace and ultimately proves to be more useful in terms of moving the plot forward. Whether it is the fact that he aids a few characters in flight (his job as an astromech droid), his tendency to "wander off" and do things that need to be done or of course his use as the messenger that kicks off the entire plot of the Original Trilogy, the beeping and blooping droid is a big part of the storyline and 3P0 is just more often "along for the ride," so to speak. The character is nearly as recognizable as any other in the franchise; go Google "R2-D2 merchandise" and see how many things he's been marketed into. This isn't an indicator on its own of a character's worth (there are a lot of Jar-Jar items too), but it does show how pervasive within popular culture that a character is. It's hard to give a non-speaking character personality but R2 has it in spades and that's a credit to Kenny Baker and yes, George Lucas for how he was designed.
#7: Palpatine/Darth Sidious
While there are a lot of heroes up in this part of the list, it is a truism that heroes are only as good as the villains who challenge them. And counting on that basis, the Emperor is one hell of a villain. Palpatine appeared in five of the six Saga films, although one was a very brief appearance wherein he was not played by Ian McDiarmid but by Elaine Baker with a part of chimpanzee eyes superimposed. Obviously they couldn't do that once Darth Sidious wasn't just a hologram so McDiarmid was brought on board. McDiarmid gave Palpatine a fantastic menace and yet when it came time for the prequels he made what was frankly some pretty over-the-top dialogue sound very good. It is because of the actor that we believe the way he manipulates Anakin, and thus becomes the most powerful man in the galaxy. Whether he was the malevolent monster of Return of the Jedi or the puppet master of the prequels, Palpatine was a true master of evil and his actions were what gave the entire series its narrative drive. And of course he has become, like all of those on this list, a pervasive icon within pop culture which doesn't hurt his placement at all.
#6: Luke Skywalker
Luke may be the primary character of the Original Trilogy, but he's just not my favorite. This isn't to say I hate him (obviously, being as he's at #5 on my list here); he ultimately proves to be one hell of a character by the time Return of the Jedi rolls around and I appreciate the journey that it took him to get from point A to point B. Is he whiny in the first and parts of the second film? Absolutely. Does he have Special Snowflake Syndrome (the fact that everything awesome just happens to be done by him)? Yep, without a doubt. But Mark Hamill made this character work to the point that you could tolerate Luke in the first film so that he provided the eyes and ears of the audience leading ahead from there. Luke grows by leaps and bounds and by the time Jedi rolls around he's one of the most impressive characters we've seen in the franchise. He knows his stuff and he's able to resist some very hefty temptation in order to do what he has to do for the galaxy's sake. I tend to think Luke is overly denigrated sometimes and while he isn't my favorite, he's undoubtedly one of the top characters with ease.
#5: Leia Organa
You know, it kind of bothers me that the Star Wars movie franchise doesn't have more strong women in it. Padme is okay; she has a lot of great moments and is good as a young leader, but she is also hampered by her forced romance with Anakin. The rest of the female characters are generally lackluster and forgettable, which is annoying when you consider how powerful the women of the Expanded Universe are. But we always have Leia, who is pretty much the benchmark for good female sci-fi characters. Leia is a political leader who has it all; she can fight with the best of them when the blasters are out, she has the moral fortitude to stand up to the Empire when many of her male counterparts won't, she's smart and witty and more than a match for most of her own allies within the regular cast. She isn't whiny like Luke often is, and while she needs to be rescued a couple of times it is important to note that one of those times it's not just her; its Han Solo too. And the other time she is just as capable in her escape as Han and Luke. Carrie Fisher was one of every 1980s teenager's dream girls, even before you got her in a Tatooine slave girl bikini. She was beautiful and yet had all those traits above. One of the reasons that Star Wars stands as tall as it does is because it included such a great heroine in Leia, giving fans of both genders someone to idolize.
Yoda. We all love the little green guy, no doubt. And he is certainly one of the most popular and well-known in the Star Wars universe. And that's for very good reason. Master Yoda is a huge part of how we perceive the Jedi Order. He is the most well-known member in terms of those who shaped the direction of the organization, and his wisdom is what most people remember when they think of the Jedi. Sure, there were some humorous moments as well (not the list of which come in the way he talks), but he gives us weight to the Jedi. And that's kind of funny to think of when you consider that he was alternately a puppet and a CGI creation. But yes, with Frank Oz providing the famous voice and such iconic quotes as "Do or do not, there is no try," Yoda was one of the first truly great live action voice performances. And by the time the prequels came around we got to see how skilled he was with a lightsaber too. When he opens up his robe in Episode II and draws it out to battle Dooku, that's a chills moment. Yoda may be long gone, but his memory will remain with the stories that the franchise tells pretty much forever.
#3: Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan is the true hero of the prequels. While Anakin is all about the fall in Episodes I through III, it is Obi-Wan who undergoes the heroes' journey. Obi-Wan is one of the best characters for many reasons; he has one of the fullest and richest stories in the franchise and he is portrayed by two excellent actors along the way. Ewan McGregor did some fairly wooden work as the Jedi Knight in The Phantom Menace but by the time Attack of the Clones rolled around he had gotten a thorough grasp on his character and become one of the highlights of the prequels at that point. And Alec Guinness provides the gravitas needed in the Original Trilogy to really sell all the concepts that they're presenting. If a lesser actor had tried to tell us about the concepts of the Force and such, it just would have all come down. Exposition is largely dependent on who tells it and Guinness made it believable. While he wasn't a saber-wielding badass during Guinness' reign with the role, McGregor did a great job embodying the physicality of a Jedi. Of course Obi-Wan is incredibly important within the context of the franchise story as well and when it comes to the Jedi, he really is the embodiment of the best in the Jedi Order.
#2: Han Solo
Han Solo helped to create an archetype that extends beyond just the Star Wars franchise. We've had rogues in cinema as long as there has been cinema, but the space smuggler with the heart of gold really codified under Harrison Ford's portrayal of Han. The Corellian captain of the Millennium Falcon who eventually takes up the Rebellion cause has been marked as an influence for everything from Firefly and basically every other sci-fi anything to the Prince of Persia games, more reality-grounded rogue characters and so on. The flippant gestures and the incredible scoundrel skills make him dangerous; the characterization along with Ford's acting make him just not-perfect enough to be one of those landmark characters. Ford's banter with Carrie Fisher made Han and Leia one of the great science fiction romances of all time, because it wasn't sappy or overdone. It was adversarial of the kinds of romances you saw in screwball comedies of the 1940s, the same sort of dynamic you see in Tony and Pepper in Iron Man. (Another character influenced by Han, by the way.) Han is my favorite protagonist by far; he may not be the most noble but he's the most interesting character with an engrossing story and portrayal, which puts him almost at the pinnacle.
#1: Darth Vader
Really wasn't another choice. And no, Anakin in the prequels didn't hurt him badly enough to drop him out of this spot. Darth Vader is THE Star Wars character. He's the one everyone recognizes; it was once estimated that more people know him by sight than any real other character in fiction. He became an internationally-recognized icon for evil and yet his portrayal by James Earl Jones (vocally), David Prowse in most scenes physically and Bob Anderson for lightsaber scenes makes him sympathetic at the right times. The Star Wars saga is, in a lot of ways, the story of Anakin Skywalker. The original trilogy is about what the aftermath of his fall to the Dark Side and the prequels are the tale of that fall. I don't think anyone would deny that Jake Lloyd was terrible and Hayden Christensen had his problems (although few could make that romantic dialogue stick), but right or wrong the character shaped the course of every film he was in. When it comes to Star Wars, the franchise pretty much IS Darth Vader.
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.