The 30 Greatest Star Wars Characters

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With his evidently colourful imagination, George Lucas never had a problem populating his Star Wars galaxy. You can't move for Gungans, Corellians, Twi'leks, Imperial badmen, Jedi footsoldiers, bounty hunters, droids and whatever the hell Admiral Ackbar is (turdfish?). Yet everyone's sure about which of those denizens is their favourite. Sure, the Han fans outnumber the Luke-lovers, and the Fett-followers think they're way cooler than the Vader ravers, but even the likes of Wicket the ewok have their yay-sayers.

So it was, on the eve of Star Wars' 30th Anniversary, that the Empire office decided to set out its space-stall and announced the 30 greatest characters. And here's the full top 30, counting down from l'il fuzzball Wicket to a certain blaster-favouring Kessell-running smuggler, complete with the Empire writers' case for each...

This article first appeared in issue 217 of Empire Magazine. Subscribe to Empire Magazine today.

30. Wicket

Wicket still

Many Star Wars fans - usually male, usually over 30 - swear that they always hated Ewoks. How could a nation of soft toys bring down the mighty Galactic Empire? What was Lucas thinking? And why is it so hard to get a date? What these curmudgeons fail to understand is that Wicket (Warwick Davis) is the ne plus ultra of Star Wars heroism.

The saga pits underdogs against a great evil, and it doesn't get much more "under" than a three-foot furball, even if he does live in a tree. Nor much more 'evil' than the wanton destruction of a Redwood forest (although that Imperial atrocity is only developed in James Kahn's novelisation).

Wicket and his kin not only represent the Rebellion in microcosm, they're vital to its success. If you honestly did hate these fuzzy teddy bears even as a child, then you have our pity. The Ewoks remain the only Star Wars characters to get their own feature spin-offs (however ropey) for a reason - they're adorable.

Understand that, and it may even help your love-life...

29. Mace Windu

Mace Windu

It is part of prequel lore that, before playing Mace Windu, Samuel L. Jackson had the initials BMF engraved into the hilt of his lightsaber. Standing for Bad Mother Fucker (surely the most un-Star Wars phrase ever?) and a reference to his iconic Pulp Fiction character Jules Winnfield, these three little letters perfectly sum up Jackson's contribution to Windu's appeal.

On the page, Mace is part diplomat, part voice of doom, part samurai. But onscreen, given Jackson's swagger and poise, pimped purple lightsaber (a request from Jackson so he'd stand out in combat) and ability to make even the most expositional dialogue sound weighty, he is Jedi Master as Mack Daddy, the perfect use of persona to embellish character.

Ironically, Windu is arguably at his most BMF when Jackson isn't involved at all, as in Genndy Tartakovsky's brilliant Clone Wars 'toon - when Windu Force-crushes General Grievous' chest, giving him that trademark asthmatic wheeze, "great vengeance and furious anger" are only a hair's breadth away...

28. Count Dooku

Count Dooku

According to dozens of interviews Christopher Lee has given over the years, he's best known for playing a wizard in Lord Of The Rings, being sixth-billed in Richard Lester's Musketeers movies and his fine operatic voice. However, in our world, his finest eight minutes came in 1958 when he took the title role in Hammer's first Dracula film.

He returned to the role many times, and just as Sean Connery will always be 007 rather than Indy's Dad, and no amount of West End musicals will let Michael Crawford escape Frank Spencer, Lee remains the reigning incarnation of perhaps our greatest popular villains.

So, when Christopher Lee strides into Attack Of The Clones wearing a long black cloak, flashing his trademark glower and bearing the significant title and initial, it's as if Dracula has stepped into the Star Wars universe. If Bela Lugosi were still alive, he couldn't have done it better. However, Dooku isn't just Dracula: in his swordsmanship, he's any number of swashbuckling baddies Lee played in a run of films from The Crimson Pirate in 1952 and Hammer's Devil Ship Pirates to Rochefort in the Musketeers films; and, in his brutally obvious baddie-ness (the point is that everyone knows Dooku is a rotter, but trusts Palpatine), he's the Nazi from 1941, Fu Manchu, Lord Summerisle, Scaramanga, the Satanist of To The Devil A Daughter, Mr Midnight from Return Of Captain Invincible, Saruman and all the other villains Lee has ever played rolled up into one hissable whole.

Having underused Lee's old sparring partner Peter Cushing in Star Wars, George Lucas knew the worth of iconic casting when he called in Christopher Lee. And, despite nay-sayers, it's obvious from that Empire-award-winning duel at Episode II's climax that Dooku can kick Yoda's Muppet ass all the way to Alderaan and back.

27. Admiral Ackbar

Admiral Ackbar

There are three little reasons why we love Admiral Ackbar. Three little reasons why we're quite prepared to ignore the fact that the leader of the Rebel Alliance's Endor attack fleet looks like the offspring of a fish and a turd (with the astoundingly inventive species name of Mon Calamari - tastes great with lemon juice), and overlook his initial cowardice during the Battle Of Endor. And those three little reasons are: "It's a trap!"

Those three words are barked by Ackbar - aka puppeteer Timothy J. Rose - as the fleet comes out of hyperspace towards the end of Return Of The Jedi, only to find they've been sold a pup. And it's those three words, more than anything else about the character, that have made him oddly iconic.

They've been endlessly referenced, not only in the Empire office where you can't mention Ackbar without having them yelled back at you, but also on websites such as Something Awful, YouTube and YTMND, where they've been immortalised in countless avatars, sound files and augmented and amended video clips.

Indeed, Ackbar is further proof that, despite its maligned reputation, Return Of The Jedi features the best and most inventive supporting cast in the saga. From Jabba lackey Bib Fortuna to mumbling Millennium Falcon co-pilot Nien Nunb, to Mon Mothma, banging on about those bloody Bothan spies, no other Star Wars film has as rich a background tapestry.

And at the forefront of that is our dear Admiral, blurting orders to the rest of the Fleet, zipping around in his neat rotating chair, and ultimately implementing a crazy-mo'fo' battle manoeuvre that saves the day, by attacking the Imperial Star Destroyers head-on. Curiously, at the end of the Battle, with the Rebel forces victorious, Ackbar slumps into his retro La-Z-boy, head bowed and looking somewhat disconsolate when he should be punching the air and raising the roof.

Some Star Wars scholars take this as proof that Ackbar is a pacifist at heart and that, even in the moment of ultimate triumph, with freedom restored to the galaxy, he mourns for the loss of innocent (and Ewok) life. There's a simpler explanation, though - Ackbar is celebrating, but the make-up of his fishy head (both as a species and as a prosthetic applicance) doesn't allow him to smile.

Interestingly, this problem could have been avoided if plans had proceeded to instead make Ackbar a blue humanoid. On second thoughts, though, it's really rather cool that the leader of the Rebel Forces is a fish/turd hybrid. After all, if nothing else, it shows that the Alliance is an equal opportunity employer...

26. Padme Amidala

Padme Amidala

There are costumes in Star Wars positively hazardous to the health, and, as Padme Amidala-Skywalker (nee Naberrie), poor Natalie Portman wears almost all of them. Whether it's the gravity- (and breath-) defying black number in Attack Of The Clones or the possibly lead-based whitewash of her regal struggles in The Phantom Menace, she appears perpetually on the brink of either spilling out or collapsing under the weight of her own hair.

But these obstacles can't deter her from conveying Padme's supernatural commitment to her Republic throughout the preview trilogy.

Of course, it helps to be so gorgeous that she has to hire Keira Knightley to play her sidekick/double, and so intelligent that Anakin (elsewhere portrayed as a pretty smart guy) finds himself wrapped around her little finger every time she opens her mouth.

Which is why it's so unfair that Padme dies of an uncharacteristic lack of grit - given a quiet room and a little time, she could have knocked the Dark Side right out of her ne'er-do-well husband.

25. Gamorrean Guards

Gammorean Guards

Without doubt the dumbest denizens of the many-fangled Star Wars multiverse (and that includes such chronic dimwits as Jar Jar Binks and those hapless stormtroopers), these porcine dupes, fat and green like Shrek but without the stroppy Scottish comebacks, have developed a cult following largely due to their action figure offering great VFM. They were twice the size of any other, and had an appealing troll-like quality as if they had just stumbled in from Middle-earth.

The original remit from Lucas simply read "pig guard", which designer Ralph McQuarrie turned into more gorilla-like humanoids, before Joe Johnston added the wild-boar aspect of the tusks and snouts, taking them back to pre-industrial thugs likelier to be carrying an axe than a good blaster. Which kind of makes their position as galactic bouncers open to question.

They are, after all, highly susceptible to Jedi mind-tricks, as evinced by Luke suggesting his name was, in fact, down on the list for entry to Jabba's palace. But the giant mobster-slug still picked them for his security (apparently they are cheap and effective over short distances), even if their enjoyably vacant, slobbering demeanour makes them more lovable than intimidating.

Inside the rubbery carapace you can't help but picture a British stuntman sweating under the strain and stumbling about like a wobbly drunk, and you have to look to the Expanded Universe for any stand-out individuals from the Gamorrean populous.

For here we meet "Piggy", who was intellectually spruced up by the Empire's Binring Biomedical Corporation, before escaping their evil facility and joining the Rebellion. He made a name for himself as an analyst on Han Solo's anti-Zsinj taskforce, which sure beats being eaten by a rancor...

24. C-3P0


You may think the Star Wars character you most resemble is Han Solo or Boba Fett or, if you lack self-esteem, Mouse Robot but - look into your heart - you know it is C-3PO. He's smart (six million languages), loyal (it is his intervention that saves Artoo at the Jawa yard-sale), sensitive, occasionally says the wrong thing at the wrong time (asteroid-field odds) but always has his heart in the right place (he offers to donate his circuits to his battered-up friend).

C-3PO is redolent of Star Wars' unique (especially at the time) ability to warm up the coldest staples of science-fiction.

In jettisoning his original conception of Threepio as a used-car salesman for Anthony Daniels' perfectly pitched prissy English butler, Lucas turned a robot into Star Wars' most recognisably human character, marked by universal doubts and everyday frailties. Doesn't that sound a bit like you?

23. Qui-Gon Jinn


Whenever people bang on about the Jedi being a bunch of po-faced party-poopers, they clearly haven't considered Qui-Gon Jinn. While it's true that for much of The Phantom Menace Qui-Gon blithers on about the Jedi code, he also displays more charisma, cojones and better hair than any other Jedi in the saga.

Jinn, played with calm authority by Liam Neeson, constantly bends the Jedi code to his own purposes, cheating during a game of chance with Watto and defying the Jedi Council over Anakin.

In fact, given his unhealthy interest in Anakin's development, connection to Count Dooku and ambiguous nature, it was even postulated by some that Episode III would actually reveal his connection to the Sith.

That, alas, was not to be, but Jinn's laudable rep as the saga's most maverick Jedi (other than Anakin, of course) remains intact.

22. Imperial Guards

Imperial Guards

Criminally, despite having one of the most striking looks in the galaxy, these silent sentinels enjoy far less screen time than the Empire's other foot soldiers. Featured primarily in Episode VI, the Imperial Guard crop up only once thereafter, being manhandled by Yoda in the latter half of Episode III.

But while the films do little more than showcase Nilo Rodis-Jamero's striking costume design - all sweeping robes and intense, monocular visor - the Extended Universe depicts them as the elite of the Empire's armed forces. Candidates, it's revealed, are chosen from among the most exceptional stormtroopers in the Empire.

Those that survive the training are schooled in the Echani martial arts and permitted to don the blood-red armour of the Emperor's personal protectors. Blink and you'll miss them on screen, but their arresting aesthetic raises the Royal Guard head and shoulders above the rest of the Imperial cannon-fodder.

21. Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan Kenobi

"I've been waiting nearly 20 years to have my own lightsaber. Nothing's cooler than being a Jedi Knight!" Thus spake Ewan McGregor, before cruel disillusionment. The thrill sadly soon palled, as did some of the twinkle out of his impersonation of a young Alec Guinness; his evident disappointment with Episode I ("flat" was his most diplomatic utterance) wasn't helped by the tedious-to-disturbing attentions of the obsessives.

Still, his youthful Kenobi remains a figure of moral and physical courage, despite being clearly doomed by dark events to bitter loss and solitude.

As we follow his progress from faithful Padawan to Jedi Master and dedicated negotiator, we see his natural humour and dry wit season into cynical wisdom, and by the third movie he is, in a strange way, the nearest thing we have to a prequel Han Solo.

At his best, he's slicing Darth Maul in half, wasting multi-limbed 'saber-waver General Grievous and crisp-frying Anakin; at his funniest, he's putting his hypnotic hoodoo on a drug-dealing barfly.

20. TIE Fighter pilot

TIE Fighter Pilot

Back in 1977, along with the droids bickering in the desert, the only Star Wars clip ever to be shown on TV, be it on News At Ten or Screen Test, was the escape from the Death Star attack. And if one thing stuck in the mind of impressionable ten year-olds, beyond that hairy gorilla co-pilot thingee, the squat robot that put out a fire and the shaggy-haired kid in a judo suit, it was the image of a TIE fighter pilot sitting in a cauldron of a cockpit, stars rushing by in the background, moving in for the kill.

Looking like the offspring of a drunken one-night stand between Darth Vader and a stormtrooper, we now fully understand that the TIE fighter pilot is the epitome of sleek unknowable cool - especially compared to their Rebel counterparts. Where TIE pilots are bedecked in good-for-all-occasions black, the Rebels sport orange jumpsuits that would be garish for a CBeebies presenter; while the Rebel pilots witter on about "the size of that thing" and "Beggar's Canyon back home", TIE aces have a taciturn demeanour, talking only when necessary ("Yes, sir" and "Look out" is the extent of their dialogue in A New Hope), otherwise keeping schtum.

In a galaxy seemingly governed by incompetence - stormtroopers are not much better than the fey Rebels, banging their heads or shooting with a Stevie Wonder-esque precision - TIE fighter pilots are the model of clinical, efficient professionalism.

Featured almost fully-formed in a very early Ralph McQuarrie concept painting, TIE pilots also point to another joy of the SW universe: the level of detail and logic applied to even the smallest bit-part character. The helmet, bulkier than a stormtrooper's, suggests reinforced padding or an internal communication system, the connective tubes seemingly providing life-support gases.

Enhanced by such vivid minutiae, the TIE pilots have prevailed through their masked impenetrability, mysterious devotion to their cause and their almost kamikaze mentality. That and the action figure smelt like liquorice.

19. Greedo

Greedo still

This lizardy-skinned, guppy-lipped, sub-titled bounty hunter has minimal screen-time in Star Wars - and gets killed when Han Solo blasts him through the table in his first scene. But he had a distinctive enough look to feature in the first line of Star Wars toys and, as the only baddie non-human in the blister-pack, became the favourite of many kids.

These days, Boba Fett, Greedo's replacement, gets more respect - and this is at least in part due to George Lucas' re-release version of A New Hope, where Greedo fires a shot off before Han plugs him.

The original Greedo had the stature Howard Hawks accords the baddie played by Christopher George in El Dorado, trick-shot without a chance to defend himself by John Wayne and told, "You're too good to be given a chance."

The revised version is just another disposable thug who gets what he deserves. Trivia question: who's the uncredited actor under the mask? Paul Blake, formerly of ITV soap Crossroads.

18. Tusken Raiders

Tuskan Raiders still

If you want to pick a moment that perfectly encapsulates the genius of the Tusken Raiders, head on over to The Phantom Menace. As the Podracers hare around the windy caverns of Tatooine, a band of pesky Tusken Raiders perch high above the race course and revel in taking pot shots at the drivers. They do this not to survive or protect. They do this because it's fun.

For Tusken Raiders - it should always be Tusken Raiders; Sandpeople is a far too prosaic and limp nomenclature to convey their magnificent malevolence - are the ASBOs of the Star Wars universe, preying on wayward farm boys, smart enough to ride single-file to hide their numbers, dumb enough to be scared off by a pensioner making weird moaning noises.

Interestingly, after rummaging through Luke's landspeeder, they don't actually steal anything. As they raise their gaffi sticks and hoot in mindless glee (or in reality electronically modulated donkey brays), they are mugging people just for the thrill of it. It's only a matter of time before they discover happy slapping.

Astonishingly for such legendary creations, the Tusken Raiders didn't appear in Lucas' screenwriting process until the third draft. In this version, Luke is taken prisoner and rotated on an electronic windmill until Artoo frees him. While that idea was culled during budget slashes, the Tuskens still pack a magnificent punch. Stuntman Peter Diamond, wearing the Tusken mask, couldn't actually see Mark Hamill during combat, which gives the moment a real frisson of danger and raw ferocity. That Lucas smartly shoots them from below only enhances their mythic status.

The Tusken Raiders also sum up Star Wars' lo-fi, homespun simplicity. Here are creatures crafted from beige bandages, sackcloth and loo-rolls-painted-silver-for-eyes, yet they still manage to be far more effective than a thousand pixels. That such iconic creations get an ignominious end at the hands of Anakin Skywalker is too sad for words. Or electronically modulated donkey brays.

17. Scout Trooper

Scout Trooper still

The highly popular Speeder Bike toy had a button which, when pressed, made the vehicle explode into tiny pieces. A gimmick, yes, but one that captures some of the appeal of the scout troopers, that speedy, woodland variant of the stormtrooper genus. Save the Emperor's reactor-core plunge, no Imperial deaths are as satisfying as the moments when these guys lose control of their rides, spinning hopelessly into Endorian trees and departing the galaxy as fireballs.

It serves them right - they are troops so cruel that they bully cute woodland creatures and so arrogant they can't be arsed to switch their white armour for camouflage.

Still, there's no denying they look totally cool, with a souped-up version of the stormtrooper kit (macro-binocular viewplate, boosted comlink, kneepads) and a high-velocity flying bike that every kid wanted to ride. Even if it blew up at the end.

16. Anakin Skywalker

Anakin Skywalker still

Anakin represents the riskiest proposition in the Star Wars character canon. Not only did Lucas take on demystifying Darth Vader, cinema's greatest villain, but he also decided to etch an ambitious arc - from Jake Lloyd's mechanically-minded moppet through Hayden Christensen's lovesick youth and later Dark Side apprentice - that takes on The Biggest Question: how does evil come from good?

Lucas displays admirable patience in revealing Anakin's Dark Side tendencies, correct in the knowledge that despots are not necessarily born bad.

You might quibble with the execution ("Yippee!"), but you can't fault Lucas' narrative design, smarts - catch the subtle and not-so-subtle foreshadowings to Luke - or scope. Watching Anakin become Vader as Palpatine tells him Padme is dead may not have been the prequel experience you expected or wanted, but it is a moment of broken humanity rare in any blockbuster.

15. Lando Calrissian

Lando Calrissian still

Most of the Star Wars saga is for kids - the droids, the Ewoks and chittering critters of all shapes and sizes. But now and again a character appears who's just for the grown-ups. In A New Hope, it's Alec Guinness, lending his bottomless gravitas to a silly space story. In The Empire Strikes Back, it's Lando Calrissian, all snake-oil-salesman charm and snake hips, bringing sex into a series generally accused of having about as much genitalia as Action Man.

Billy Dee Williams is generally accused of reprising his untrustworthy charmer from Lady Sings The Blues, but in space, that's no bad thing. Lando's action figure should really have been anatomically correct, because no sooner has he greeted Han like a long-lost pal, he's pulling the moves on Princess Leia. This unthinkable gall might have tipped the heroes, or the audience, to the greater treachery that awaited, but such is Lando's magnetism that he blinded us all.

In any case, as back-stabbings go, his is excusable - entrap an acquaintance he hasn't seen in years to safeguard an entire city. Once Vader goes back on his word, Lando goes into full damage-control mode, and spends years redeeming his honour and undoing the harm caused.

But the crime isn't what makes Lando memorable. It's his aplomb, his way with the ladies (just 'cause he doesn't pull Leia doesn't mean it isn't there) and his wide-ranging competence. He does, after all, destroy the second Death Star. And the accusations of tokenism or, worse, racism? The suggestions are apparently founded on his devil-may-care attitude, or possibly his overt flirting.

But Lando's another Han - his brother from another planet if you will - and shares his characteristics exactly, down to his taste in women. Lando's a little more mature, perhaps, a little more confident, but it's no wonder that it's Han who best sums him up: "He's a card player, gambler, scoundrel. You'll like him."

14. Jawa

Jawa still

Averaging just below a metre in height, draped in dark cloaks that obscure their faces and muttering unintelligible menaces, the Jawas are the hoodies of Tatooine. Yet, unlike their Dagenham counterparts, they possess a distinct charm beneath all the vandalistic argy bargy. They are, after all, the perfect introduction, after the terrors of Vader, to the Star Wars rogues' gallery - mischievous but never evil.

"It's impossible to dislike them," says director Robert Rodriguez, who mentioned the Jawas third only to Darth Vader and R2-D2 when Empire asked for his favourite character recently. "You know, they're just little guys chasing a buck. You've got to root for them. When the stormtroopers take them out and Ben and Luke find them outside their sandcrawler is an upsetting moment for me."

Expanded for comedy effect in 1997's A New Hope redux, the Jawas you best know - the warrior division - are in fact the public face (well, yellow glowing eyes) of the species, the scavenging arm of a race which lives in fortresses deep in the desert to protect themselves from Tusken Raiders.

And let's face it, they're an energetic bunch, responsible, apparently, for finding Jabba The Hutt's rancor, as well as drawing the attention of Luke Skywalker and Uncle Owen to a certain R2-D2 and C-3P0... "I mean," says Rodriguez, "where would we be without them?"

13. Darth Sidious

Darth Sidious still

Forget Vader - Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine is the true villain of the saga. It is he who meticulously plans the events that allow a humble Senator from Naboo to become first Supreme Chancellor of the known universe and, ultimately, unimpeachable Emperor.

It is he who orchestrates the Clone Wars and the whittling away of the Jedi, before the hammer-blow of Order 66 and the final cull. And, if you want some hyperbole (the Emperor loves hyperbole), it is he who is the most evil character in movie history.

Yet it's entirely possible that Palpatine would have been just another power-crazed bad guy had it not been for Lucas' decision to replace Clive Revill, who voiced the role in the original version of The Empire Strikes Back (the face was provided by an elderly woman; and the eyes by, of all things, a chimp), with Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid for Return Of The Jedi.

McDiarmid injected the character - whom Lucas modelled on various despots, including Hitler - with elements of Othello's Iago, creating a coldly calculating character who persuades everyone of his noble intentions while working to destroy them. His fake bonhomie and subtle insincerity renders his rise to power entirely plausible - the Darth Plagueis speech in Episode III is possibly the finest piece of acting in the entire franchise.

But when the veil drops away, and McDiarmid gets to cut loose as Darth Sidious in Revenge Of The Sith and the Emperor in Jedi, subtlety takes an early bath. Snarling and sneering for all he's worth, helped by a generous smattering of the best lines, McDiarmid's turn as the Emperor is a go-for-broke depiction of pure malevolence that has deservedly become something of a cultural icon.

In the Expanded Universe, Palpatine has been brought back to life a number of times, via some handy clone bodies - an honour afforded no-one else, not even Vader. But then again, when you're so evil that Darth Vader is your bitch, perhaps special treatment is in order.

12. Ben Kenobi

 Ben Kenobi still

"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." On paper, that reads pretty silly. Out of the mouth of Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi, in the silver-haired guise of Alec Guinness (whose voice could varnish wood), it sounded like holy liturgy. For all the special effects, space cowboys, arch villains and comedy droids, it was Kenobi who gave Star Wars conviction. It was Guinness who made us believers.

George Lucas had, of course, been boning up on his archetypes, and here was a classic mentor figure cut from the Merlin/Gandalf cloth - the givers of wisdom. Putting him in the hands of a classically trained British thesp who could quote Shakespeare at 'will' was assuredly building on rock. Hooded in mystery, vaguely priest-like, the strange hermit out beyond the Dune Sea gave the concept of Jedi Knights a mysticism and authority no amount of blather about "midi-chlorians" could undo.

Yet the two best performances in the whole saga arguably came from the two actors most resistant to Lucas' dreamy mythos - Harrison Ford's Han Solo being the other. Perhaps their distance from the script actually left room for depth.

There are endless stories of Guinness' distrust of fandom; Star Wars remained a burden to the actor until his death. How he loathed being hailed as "Obi-Wan" in the street. One poor moppet was supposed to have tapped him on the arm to boast, "I've seen Star Wars 100 times!" before imploring his hero for an autograph. Guinness nodded sagely, Jedi-like in every supple movement, before agreeing if the small child promised never to watch it again.

There were undoubtedly tears before bedtime. Even during production he was tiring of this science-fiction nonsense: "I'd had enough of the mumbo-jumbo," he sighed in interviews. Yet, such mumbo-jumbo was to land him an Oscar nomination, make him adored by millions and also very, very rich (he was wise enough to also have points).

11. Jabba The Hutt

Jabba The Hut still

If there's one criticism that can be levelled at George Lucas over the 1997 Special Edition of A New Hope, it's that he didn't know when to put the brakes on with the computer stuff. Lucas' lack of constraint is nowhere more evident than in his decision to reinsert the scene where Han Solo confronts galactic gangster Jabba The Hutt in Mos Eisley, replacing humanoid Declan Mulholland with a CG approximation of the genuine article.

The scene doesn't work, but you can't blame Lucas for giving it a go. Jabba is such a fabulously realised creature that it seems a shame he only really gets one big scene (although what a scene it is: Jabba holding court at his Tatooine citadel, surrounded by flunkies and scantily clad slave girls).

How can you not want to give more screen time to a guy like that - a 600 year-old, 12-foot-long crimelord slug so grotesquely bad-ass he demands his court jester makes him laugh at least once a day or he'll eat him?

But like so many of the popular minor players, he is more fascinating because he's an enigma. Discounting the silly Special Edition scene, Jabba is a background presence throughout A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. When he does make his bow in Return Of The Jedi, his appearance and behaviour blow anything we could possibly have imagined out of the water.

He is awesomely disgusting, the repulsive physical corollary to his vile trade - and then some. Voiced by Larry Ward and operated by puppeteers Mike Edmonds, Tony Philpott and David Barclay, Jabba instantly became a Star Wars icon.

His death scene, strangled by Leia with her slave chains (a scene inspired by the garrotting of Luca Brasi in The Godfather), is a bittersweet experience for connoisseurs of gelatinous, guffawing bad guys. Nevertheless, Jabba lives on, popping up regularly in novels and comic books. And his name has passed into the popular lexicon as a metaphor for everything from morbid obesity to political corruption.

His last screen appearance was in The Phantom Menace, where, true to form, he commits yet another dastardly act: falling asleep before the end of the Podrace. You've got to hand it to the fat bastard, haven't you?

10. Princess Leia

Princess Leia still

If not for Princess Leia, Star Wars would be a mainstay of gay culture. Consider the two approximately male, co-dependent droids, one of them overtly camp; opposites-attract couple Han and Luke, pairing cynicism and naivety, Han luring Luke away from his conservative older 'mentor'; and S&M pair Vader and the Emperor. Something had to be done. Lucas needed to set his characters on the straight and narrow and convince us that this was family entertainment. He needed, somewhat ironically, a beard.

What he ended up with (one suspects, almost in spite of himself) is one of science-fiction's best female characters. Impatient, opinionated and completely self-assured, Princess Leia Organa is often dismissed as bossy. But she is the boss. She is a princess, senator and leader of the Rebel Alliance; in the Extended Universe, she's a key architect of the New Republic, as well as being instrumental in forging the alliance with the Ewoks that proves decisive in the battle for Endor.

If she is occasionally reduced to the role of bikini-clad slave or handwringing observer, the ever-spiky Carrie Fisher ensures that Leia is never a snivelling damsel. "Even though she gets captured," says Lucas of Leia, "she is very capable of taking care of herself. The guys are the ones who are fumbling around in trouble." She's handy with a blaster or, when necessary, a slave chain, so one suspects that, had Obi-Wan handed her a lightsaber and sent her after Vader, the saga would have finished by Cloud City.

Most fans fell for her at first sight when, a vision of purity in white, she saved the Rebellion by dispatching Artoo on his mission, shot (at) a few stormtroopers and went toe-to-toe with the looming Vader, without ever losing her cool. And her slave-girl costume in Jedi directly caused the sexual awakening of an entire generation (ask Ross Geller in Friends if you don't believe us).

As time's passed, her role has been sidelined, perhaps because even the best breakfast-pastry hairdos get a little stale. The naysayers focus on the high-handedness, that messy incest thing (it was just two fairly chaste kisses! She didn't know!). But Leia's a worthy cinema crush, a credit to her gender and an essential part of the Star Wars universe. No wonder she was able to steal her brother's man...

9. Stormtrooper

Stormtrooper still

Let's face it: without stormtroopers, Star Wars would be a lot less cool. The Rebels are stuck with orange jumpsuits, dodgy tunics (stand up, Admiral Ackbar) and over-sized helmets, while their Imperial counterparts strut around in the pimpest-looking outfits in the history of sci-fi. The stormtrooper aesthetic is the perfect fusion of style and menace: crisp and gleaming white (yes, white! The bad guys wear white!). The helmet is insectoid, detached, inhuman. The equipment is state-of-the-art, from blaster rifle to belt-held thermal detonator. Significantly, it's the only costume from the original trilogy that still looks futuristic 30 years on.

Their enduring popularity is evident, from dedicated websites to the reconstructed costumes flaunted at geeky conferences. There are a variety of flavours to pledge allegiance to: as well as the plain old 'vanilla' troopers, a long list of speciality divisions including snowtroopers (ice-boots, burka), scout troopers (funky visor, speeder bike) and sand troopers. Non-canon fan fiction has created even more, from magma troopers to shadowtroopers - which are, says Wookieepedia, "stormtrooper-Dark Jedi soldier hybrids".

Whatever their training, stormtroopers share an absolute allegiance to the Empire. What they also share is an inability to fight effectively, something which has turned these faceless soldier-drones into hapless comedy icons. A New Hope attempts to instil them with some genuine menace, as Ben Kenobi, holed up in the Tatooine badlands, whispers of their deadliness: "These blast points; only Imperial stormtroopers are this precise."

If so they proved, the Rebellion would certainly have failed. Instead, they run around the Death Star like space-age Keystone Kops, continually failing to hit their targets and, in the case of two particularly useless troopers, getting bopped over the head by our heroes.

Somehow, their ineptitude has made them all the more beloved. There's particular affection for the one poor grunt who bumps his head on a door in A New Hope. The clip has been visited more than 850,000 times on YouTube, and George Lucas, aware that he'd never manage to erase this blooper from the minds of fans, went the other way and added a comedy "boink!" sound effect on the remastered DVD.

Outside of the films, the cult lives on. There's the Cops-spoofing fan short, entitled Troops, that depicts them as beleaguered law-enforcers on Tatooine; a camp, all-singing, all-dancing appearance on the Donnie And Marie Show Star Wars Special; a guest appearance at a Microsoft rally in 2005; and most recently, a spectacular formation of 200 infantrymen at this year's Rose Bowl Parade - according to one breathless commentator, "the largest gathering of stormtroopers ever assembled".

They might not be able to shoot for shit, but they sure can march.

8. Darth Maul

Darth Maul still

When he stepped from the shadows of a murky hologram, we knew little about Darth Maul; the inhabitants of the Star Wars galaxy - bar one - knew even less. We wouldn't discover much more: he was a force of pure malevolence, hellbent on destroying the Jedi. Even in the Expanded Universe, despite a novel devoted to him, there was precious little background on this Sith apprentice.

A Zabrak from Iridonia, he was brutally trained to perfection from a young age by Sidious, never questioning his master, exacting every order to the letter. Even his strange hue was no help in identifying him - the red and black design on his head is part of a Sith body tattoo.

But Maul managed to be the highlight of Episode I, simply by virtue of being the darkest thing in a very bright, innocent movie. And of course, he had the coolest lightsaber ever. "The double-ended bit was pretty much set when I got there," says the man (if not the voice, which belongs to Peter Serafinowicz) behind the tats, wushu blackbelt Ray Park. "The only difference was that the handle was going to be the size of a standard lightsaber.

It would have been virtually impossible to move something that small around my body and keep it balanced, so I asked George if I could have it bigger." Other elements of his outfit were the usual carefully orchestrated mash-up, a mix of original cuts from Star Wars designer extraordinaire Trisha Biggar, and existing materials; the boots are from famous motorcycling brand Frank Thomas.

The knee-jerk instinct when waxing nostalgic about Maul is to claim he was a wasted opportunity, that he should have been used further into the prequels. In truth, this isn't the case. Badass beyond words he may have been, but having such an essentially submissive personality, and being a character who needed to be removed from the spotlight early on (to get the Sith attentions onto Anakin), he couldn't stay for long, and Lucas' decision to kill him at the end of The Phantom Menace was a wise one.

People may quibble over the specifics of how he was dispatched, but there's no question he had fulfilled his requirements to the story. Less is Maul, if you like...

7. Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker still

Who among us could ever forget Luke's iconic first appearance in the Star Wars saga? As Padme Amidala, struck down for reasons beyond human ken, gasps her last breath, we are granted our first glimpse of the great redeemer, the elder twin, the son... oh, wait. No, sorry. You're right. That wasn't it. What we actually meant was the bit on Tatooine with the twin suns.

It is, of course, typical of Luke's luck that his semi-classic screen entrance - sullenly dragging his feet over desert floor to answer a nagging aunt's summons - should be somewhat sullied by Sith's climactic loose-end gathering. Luke, a heroic figure so expertly drafted that if he didn't exist mythologist Joseph Campbell would have to crack open a new archetype to capture him, never could catch a break.

While three decades of fickle fandom have seen hokey religions coalesce around costumed extras, Luke, the original saga's original starkiller, is enduringly cast as a punchline, perpetually pining for the golden summer of '77. These days even shouty squid-fish alien things and dead-meat TIE fighter pilots can become cover stars (crazy world!), and yet the only instance of cult cred to embellish Luke's CV recently is that Simpsons episode where Mark Hamill told Homer to "use the fork".

It was also Hamill's peculiar misfortune to settle down at a back table in a Mos Eisley dive bar and find himself face-to-face with a superstar in the making. Who knew? From the moment Han shoots first (first!), Star Wars is such a Solo affair that by 1978 George Lucas would re-dub his middle episode A New Hope in order to remind the cheap seats that it is, duh, about Luke.

All of which is, of course, grossly unfair. It's not so much that he's the character closest to Lucas himself (Luke... Lucas... think about it), rather that, quite simply, he has the best story arc, the best fight scenes (until the prequels he's the only hero to engage in proper, full-on lightsaber duels) and even the greatest scene of the entire saga.

Sure, Han's carbonite farewell in Empire has crushing emotional oomph, but it's the Vader/Skywalker showdown, with its climactic megaton-bombshell revelation, that stands as the entire canon's single most memorable, most iconic, most numbingly impactful moment. And it's Luke who sells it, screaming his soul-riven disbelief into the tornado; then, once he's shattered, choosing to fall despondently down that giant air duct rather than take his pop's metallic hand.

Unlike everyone else, Luke is allowed to grow up. He completes his Jedi training (back when that was a cool thing to do) and even gets his revenge on Han ol' buddy by skipping out to face down the Emperor while Solo is teamed with the teddy-bear army. Ultimately, Luke finds closure, for us as much as himself, and we are with him all the way.

6. Yoda

Yoda still

Master Yoda - or 'Yoghurt' as Mel Brooks restyled him for Spaceballs - remains species indeterminate and looks like something the cat might drag in, but his lustre as the lovable font of all Jedi wisdom is undimmable. He's lived 900 years, he must know something. (Although surely he was mortified that so many of his former proteges went over to the Dark Side, no?)

And heavy-duty buffs are still jarring about whether the etymological origin of Yoda's name is yoddha, Sanskrit for "warrior", or yodea, Hebrew for "knows". Oh, what-EV-er...

So: wizened Muppet sage Yoda, courtesy of Frank Oz's fine puppeteering, or CG Yoda? At his best, on Dagobah, Yoda is cryptically slapping down the rash young Skywalker (that apple didn't fall far from the tree, eh?).

Although the primo highlight of Attack Of The Clones, nay the battle of 2002 in its cinematic entirety, is undoubtedly CG Yoda's Force-fu fight with Chris Lee's Count DooDoo...

5. Chewbacca

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George's dog, Indiana, may have lent his name to a certain fedora-topped icon, but we owe him far more than just Dr. Jones. "Indiana used to ride on the front seat of my car," says Lucas. "He was a big dog, and when he sat there he was bigger than a person, so I had this image in my mind of this huge furry animal riding with me. That's where Chewbacca came from."

Appropriately, the Millennium Falcon's first mate remains man's single best friend in the Star Wars universe. In a galaxy where loyalty is at a premium and double-cross and deceit run deep, it's this 200 year-old Wookiee that's its beating heart, the character you would always most want by your side when the going got tough. (The Expanded Universe novel Rebel Dawn tells us that he and Han Solo first met when Han - then a lieutenant in the Imperial Navy - found him unconscious aboard a slave ship and was ordered by his superiors to skin him; Han refused and Chewbacca swore a "life-debt" to him in return.)

Chewie has some fine moments in A New Hope - his chess-based tantrum, the prison-wing ambush - but it's in The Empire Strikes Back, and Cloud City especially, that he really shows his true colours; his mistrust of Lando, his carrying then fixing of the broken Threepio and his heartbreaking howl of anguish as Han gets frozen in carbonite, misting over millions more eyes than any number of "I love you"/"I know" romantic one-twos ever could. Here was, quite simply, the best chum an intergalactic smuggler could ever have.

"George thought of him as looking like a lemur with a huge, ape-like figure," remembers designer Ralph McQuarrie. "I added an ammunition bandolier and rifle. I had shorts on him and a camouflaged flak jacket, but that was edited out..." Of course, over the years Chewbacca has faced far bigger obstacles than dodgy beachwear. He survived 1978's TV car-crash that was The Star Wars Holiday Special, in which we were introduced to his extended family of Mallatobuck (aka Malla), Attichitcuk (aka Itchy) and Lumpawarrump (aka Lumpy).

He dodged a bullet in Return Of The Jedi, where an original and subsequently discarded storyboard saw him take a Boba Fett laser bolt intended for Luke onboard a desert skiff. And he ultimately met his maker, in officially the No.1 Most Memorable Moment of the Expanded Universe, when in the 1999 novel Vector Prime he sacrificed his own life to save that of Han's son, Anakin. (A tragedy that saw Solo subsequently sink into alcoholism and depression.)

That his return, alongside an army of fellow Wookiees, was a draw second only to the birth of Vader for fans in the build-up to Episode III, is proof positive though that, no matter how untimely his demise, the popularity of the saga's purest character, the Mighty Chewbacca, is timeless. Not bad for a walking carpet.

4. R2-D2

R2-D2 still

What is it that prompted the United States Postal Service, in honour of Star Wars' 30th anniversary, to dot the country with an army of mailboxes dressed as R2-D2? Well, obviously, he fits the part from a physical standpoint.

But more than that, Artoo remains the most universally cherished character in the Star Wars pantheon and, with the possible exception of Vader's mask, its most potent emblem, doing duty in innumerable universes far, far away from his own, appearing in everything from Sesame Street to Raiders Of The Lost Ark to The Simpsons.

And that's certainly not because he represents anything particularly innovative in droid design. He is, as has been endlessly pointed out, a close relative of the kitchen swing-bin (albeit one of those swanky chrome ones that cost £200 at The Conran Shop, rather than the £8.99 Addis job you bought at Tesco).

He would also seem to be utterly unsuitable for every manner of terrain he encounters. Casters are not what are called for when you spend as much time as Artoo does trundling the desert wastes of Tatooine...

Nevertheless, he is irrepressibly cute, perhaps the only robot in movie history that instils the urge to pet him. Kids adore him because he looks, acts and sounds like the biggest, best toy in the shop.

But for all his cuddly design, Artoo is a useful little fellow. Entrusted with the Death Star blueprints by Princess Leia, he's one of the saga's key players. Courageous and cool-headed, he saves the day on countless occasions while C-3PO stands around dithering like an old woman.

And who among us does not get a lump in their throat when the plucky droid is shanghai'd by Jawas and conks out with a bleepy gurgle so plaintive it could melt the heart of a Coruscanti ogre?

3. Boba Fett

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It's ironic, really. If it hadn't been for Boba Fett's remarkable rise from minor villain (11 scenes in original trilogy) to cult fan-favourite (1,180,000 Google results), then it's arguable that we'd never have seen him reverse-engineered into a Kiwi kid (Daniel Logan) whose corruption was so conveniently sealed by his father's decapitation in the prequels.

Had George Lucas not attempted to service Fett's fans with this intended treat (or reclaim the character from dire literary mutations), they'd have been spared a regrettable exercise in demystification: Fett's icy power as a bad guy, arguably the most potently cool in the entire Star Wars galaxy, is sourced not in his proximity to the saga's core plot, but in his harsh facelessness and twilit ambiguity.

This guy, we realised immediately in The Empire Strikes Back, wasn't some Imperial wonk. He's not out for the Greater Evil. He simply wants his fistful of credits. By specifically announcing him as a bounty hunter - not just a 'mercenary' or 'gun-for-hire' - Lucas was referencing one of recent cinema's coolest archetypes: those self-serving anti-heroes taken to the peak of their popularity by Sergio Leone in his Spaghetti Westerns.

Indeed, the eye-slits on Fett's T-visored helmet somehow recall the sharp, steely glint of Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef, and the way he cradles his gun at his introduction in the bounty hunter line-up scene recalls Eastwood's casual pistol-handling in all three of Leone's Dollars movies. Such spot-on body language was, it seems, entirely deliberate on Jeremy Bulloch's part. The Leicestershire-born actor, whose other best-known movie role was in the Moore Bonds as Q's lackey, claims he had Leone's work firmly in mind while sweating beneath that mask.

"I modeled Boba very seriously on Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars," he's since said. "It's exactly that, but in armour. I found with Boba Fett, the less I do, the better. He stands in a certain way. And he's always ready."

For Bulloch, posture and movement were the performance. Just as well, really. While he knew his lines would be redubbed (by Jason Wingreen), he still delivered them on film, but didn't quite lavish the same thespy attention on the vocal as he did on the physical.

He happily admits that when Fett supervises the loading of Han's petrified body onto his appealingly ugly ship Slave 1, Bulloch actually blurted, "Put Captain cargo in the Solo hold" - and the gaffe survived right through to the rough cut...

2. Darth Vader

Darth Vader still

"If I were in Star Wars," said John Milius, "I'd definitely want to be working for Darth Vader. I'd much rather be on his side." Obviously, Big John (whose Apocalypse Now script, originally set for George Lucas to direct, prefigures the Star Wars saga in its voyage of a young hero who has to destroy then become his spiritual father) assumes he'll be the sort of minion who won't disappoint the boss and wind up telekinetically strangled, but you can see his point.

The heroes of Star Wars spend the whole film squabbling, but Vader gets on with the job.

With the weightlifter shoulders of Bristol's Dave Prowse holding up the long black cape, the rich tones of Mississippi's James Earl Jones making evil lines sound better than they are ("The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands") and costumier John Mollo providing that glossy black stormtrooper/samurai-helmet-cum-gas mask, Darth Vader is the visual and dramatic lynch-pin of Star Wars, the perfect balance for Alec Guinness' tweedy, elderly goodie.

Vader knows that if everyone else wears white, black is the ideal fashion statement.

In Star Wars, he doesn't even seem to be working for the Empire - for him, it's all about becoming the last of the Jedi by offing Obi-Wan. Later, when Lucas invented more backstory, Vader gets one of the great reveals of all time ("I am your father") and - for a few moments at the end of The Empire Strikes Back - you feel Luke really ought to ditch the Rebels and join his dad to found their own Empire.

The end of Return Of The Jedi, with Vader unmasked as a redeemable cherubic nice guy, is arguably a mistake - but what power the prequel trilogy has is all down to watching Anakin get ready for that helmet come Revenge Of The Sith's devastating conclusion.

1. Han Solo

Han Solo still

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.