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Feature
The 30 Greatest Star Wars Characters
From Admiral Ackbar to... Yoda - we count down Lucas' best creations

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1. Han Solo

Han Solo

While not wanting to stir up the whole originals-versus-prequels debate, there is one simple factor that will forever set them lightyears apart. Every kid in every playground from 1977 to this day could tell you the answer. He remains the difference between Star Wars and every other sci-fi mythos going.

Every kid wanted to play him, not Luke (or, worst of all, Threepio). He just made it all work. Surly, wisecracking, dismissive, a dab hand with a blaster, the best pilot-smuggler in the galaxy, and best friends with a Wookiee. Jedis can go hang - we're with the cool cat in the waistcoat.

George Lucas managed to launch Steve McQueen's Cooler King, Clint Eastwood's Blondie, Vegas-era Elvis, Frank Sinatra, JFK, Lenny Bruce and goddamn Indiana Jones (although we didn't know it yet) into space, all of them crammed into the handsome body of one Harrison Ford, one-time carpenter, shortly to become the biggest star in the world.

Forget the Force, forget Vader's overarching tragedy, forget the Death Star and lightsabers and Leia in that slave-girl bikini get-up. When it comes to what makes Star Wars the greatest fucking science-fiction story ever told, the answer is Han Solo.

The story of his casting is as well-worn as the movies themselves - that he was only used by Lucas to read in auditions; Nick Nolte and William Katt were the favourites, but this young actor was layering the lines with a sly sarcasm that won him the part. It is well-known Ford thought it was all so much hooey and treated the script with something like disgust.

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid," he quoted with a superiority gained through nothing but cocky self-confidence. Right there, Lucas realised this would be the making of the character who had started life as a green-skinned alien with gills.

When he arrives in the movie - actually when the movie arrives at his table at the back of the Cantina - the saga springs to life in a way we never could have imagined. It becomes cool. Ford's rancour remained throughout the shoot, but the character grew and grew, feeding off his spiky backhanders.

He is almost a postmodern conceit, a character who comments on the plot as he rides along with it. Solo single-handedly (okay, Chewie helps) prevents the original trilogy from giving in to its own pomposity. "You have to force yourself!" he quipped when pushed by testy interviewers on how he chewed out those silly lines. That's just it - by taking the piss, he was making the material live.

He was also being somewhat disingenuous. The part is smartly written and grows with each film, hidden depths emerging from beneath the 'space cowboy' swagger, and an unforeseen romance blossoms. This was the first of the sequel's many shock turns - we were still suffering under the illusion Luke was going to romance Leia. Ford's sparring with Fisher deviated into Bogart/Bacall territory: a film about space knights and shiny droids was gaining, of all things, sass. Solo was giving us his second gift - beyond the cool we were getting heart. Jeez, the ending of The Empire Strikes Back is savage.

How could a comeback to Leia's confession of love as peculiarly ungiving as "I know" work so well without old-fashioned decent acting? As he is frozen in carbonite and sent off with Boba Fett towards Jabba's court, small boys left the cinema with a totally new sensation: pain. Playgrounds were desolate; foul rumours had it he would never return.

Ford did of course come back, but not without pressuring Lucas to kill off Solo (he had Indy simmering nicely, superstardom was a breath away). The director sensibly ignored such importuning: "He didn't want me killed by those teddy bear guys," smarted Ford in pure Solo-ese. The crossover was obvious; so much of Solo's bone-dry delivery and touchy attitude stemmed directly from planet Harrison.

The part was three-dimensional, he retorted to his critics - "The third dimension is me." Any other actor, even loopy-lanky Christopher Walken (a near-miss), is unthinkable.

Then there are the simple things. A lot of which are down to Lucas' creative nous. Solo happens to be the owner of the Millennium Falcon, the ship that can do the Kessel run in fewer than 12 parsecs, for heaven's sake. He can speak Wookiee, or at least translate. And, while others had judo suits or woollen hoodies, he always looked the business; the guy just never let it slip. He even went unsullied by the prequels: an idea to have a junior Solo hanging out on the Wookiee homeworld was sensibly ditched at the concept stage.

Solo stands apart, the jaunty counterpoint to all that holy Jedi pontificating: "Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff. But I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls MY destiny." You may stand in awe of Vader, or Yoda, or Obi-Wan, but you want to be Han Solo. IAN NATHAN

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

1 WTF?
AS usual this list is screwy, how does Portmans stroppy bitch beat Windu? Windu chopped off Jango Fetts head and he gets stepped over by a fucking biker scout? A princess? Some red draped security guard from the Death Star? Probaly the greatest JEDI ever, and you miscreants piss on his eternal memory. Fuck all y' all ! More

Posted by DAVIDK on Wednesday June 19, 2013, 13:09

2
Dannybohy, if you stopped reading Empire in the 90s, what you still doing here? My Name is Legion, it's not the 30 most important characters but the 30 greatest characters! Sheesh! More

Posted by zeech1941 on Wednesday November 7, 2012, 19:18

3
Dannybohy, if you stopped reading Empire in the 90s, what you still doing here? My Name is Legion, it's not the 30 most important characters but the 30 greatest characters! Sheesh! More

Posted by zeech1941 on Wednesday November 7, 2012, 18:23

4 RE:
Empire haven't got a clue. This is exactly why I stopped buying the magazine religiously like i did in the mid 90s!, the fecking stupids lists!! everybody likes a list, but every damn issue and always complete and utter shite. More

Posted by Dannybohy on Wednesday November 7, 2012, 14:41

5
Yoda 'species indeterminate?' actually Yoda is a Whyll. Star wars.com says so? It's just a shame he never got to win a light saber fight, the chance to name a DVD chapter 'The Triumph ofvthe Whyll ' would have been hard to resist More

Posted by PaoloCorleone on Monday November 5, 2012, 14:37

6 Bad Mother Fucka
Mace Windu no 29??? Biatch please... More

Posted by JohnMcClane81 on Saturday November 3, 2012, 20:58

7 The Pilots
Where is Wedge Antilles, he survived both Deathstar runs. Where is Biggs Darklighter, he died that we might live. More

Posted by Avoid on Saturday November 3, 2012, 11:42

8 Interesting point by Legion!
Boba Fette is a cool character but Luke should surely be above him. Only other change would be Darth Vader at number 1. More

Posted by guysalisbury on Friday November 2, 2012, 13:30

9 Sam Jackson is great, but Mace Windu isn't
Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, Padme Amidala and Count Dooku were some of the worst written, one dimensional, no-depth characters ever to grace the big screen, they were definitely not great creations and should not be included in this list. More

Posted by Jamie_M on Friday November 2, 2012, 13:20

10
Oh yeah forgot too say...fck luke Skywalker, Han is the man More

Posted by UncleFknBully on Friday November 2, 2012, 11:58

11
Wtf...where is Salacious B.Crumb? More

Posted by UncleFknBully on Friday November 2, 2012, 11:55

12
Congratulations Empire on once again completely missing the point when it comes to what made Star Wars work. Luke Skywalker is the most important character. Why? Because he represents us, our longing to be somebody, to do something important, to escape from the mundane and grow as an individual. The binary sunset scene alone pisses all over the entire prequel trilogy. Yet you place him 7th, below Boba Fett! A nothing character when you actually look past all the fanboy shite. You didn't get it thirteen years ago, and you still don't get it now. More

Posted by My name is Legion on Friday November 2, 2012, 02:46

13 Excellent List
I agree with this list almost 100%, although I wouldn't have included some of the lame, one-dimensional prequel pseudo-characters like Mace Windu. (Actually, with the exception of Darth Maul, I probably would've left the prequels out entirely. Those movies, after all, don't feature characters so much as merchandising opportunities.) In Windu's place I would've added Grand Moff Tarkin, somewhere higher on the list. More

Posted by intelandroid on Thursday November 1, 2012, 23:45


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