A week ago, I walked through the top 10 films that made me a film geek. These were the movies that expanded my film horizons in a ways I could have never imagined as a kid.
Still, the love affair with the cineplex for me started with Star Wars. To this day, I am amazed at the details I’ll recall as I’m talking with folks about the films. I love that original trilogy more than just about any film ever.
In honor of that, I offer you my top ten characters from the Star Wars films. They bring out moments that make the Star Wars films feel like a larger universe and can provide fodder for all of the tales Disney may tell using their newly-acquired property. Some caveats caveats going in:
- Yes, I am aware this may be my geekiest article ever.
- I am not including any of the big major characters. I love Han and Chewie, but that just seems so obvious
- I did not forget the prequel trilogy. It gets exactly as much consideration as it deserves.
Without further ado:
- Malakili, the Rancor Keeper – Near the opening of Return of the Jedi, Luke is dropped into a pit to be eaten by the monstrous Rancor for the entertainment of Jabba and his guests. When Luke defeats the creature, the gangster and his entourage are furious and the audience is relieved at our hero’s escape, but one character grieves. That’s the Rancor’s trainer, Malakili. I’m not sure that anyone in the entire trilogy leaves as big an impression in as little screen time as the Rancor’s keeper pushes aside Luke and the guards to see his fallen pet, before sobbing and putting an arm around a friend for support.
- Porkins – This is one of those characters I still cannot believe George Lucas got away with. He’s an overweight X-Wing fighter pilot who dies in the first Death Star battle. He’s a symbol of just how outgunned the rebels are (no way there’s basic training with him at the controls) and a clear bit of bizarre humor Lucas inserted into the climactic battle (his name is actually Porkins for crying out loud). What’s not to love?
- Darth Maul – It’s as though Lucas and his creative team reached directly into a nightmare, plucked out the most unsettling creation they could find and called him a Sith apprentice. He’s everything people think Boba Fett is (see below). He barely utters a word throughout The Phantom Menace, but you totally believe he can take out two Jedi at once. And that double-sided lightsaber reveal in the trailer remains one of the great “Hell yeah!” moments ever.
- Admiral Ackbar – “It’s a trap!” This may be my favorite pure character design of the entire trilogy. Vaguely humanoid, but with squid-like features (his race is actually called Mon Calamari), he’s the one Rebel leader you remember. Short-hair girl? General Beardy? Not so much.
- Count Dooku – Christopher Lee is having a lot of fun in genre flicks. He played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, then played Dooku, an apprentice of the Dark Side in Episodes II and III of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. He has a slimy elegance to him and a distinctive light saber. His death in Episode III is a critical moment for Anakin’s development.
- Tarkin – Another British thespian bringing gravitas to the Star Wars universe, Peter Cushing’s Tarkin is all about arrogance and decorum. When he orders your execution, he rolls every “r.” Even Darth Vader obeys him. The last thing we see before the first Death Star blows up is his face, assured of the victory he thinks he is about to achieve.
- Salacious Crumb – Most of the aliens in the Star Wars universe get subtitles when they are speaking in their own language. Not so for Jabba the Hutt’s little rat-weasel-thing, Greek chorus in Return of the Jedi. Yet, every time he speaks you know the gist of what he is saying. From his infectious laughter after his boss’ every decision to his stream-of-consciousness cursing at Artoo before the gangster’s barge explodes, you always know exactly what’s on this strange little creature’s mind.
- Emperor Palpatine – Palpatine is both a minor and a major character in every film. He tends to operate in the shadows and is only on screen for significant stretches in Episodes III and VI. That said, he’s always behind everything the Empire is doing. Ian McDermid oozes over-confidence in his every movement and utterance as the character. He’s the best part of the prequel trilogy and after a huge Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker lightsaber battle on the unfinished Death Star, he casually strolls down a staircase and shows Luke he could have swatted him like a bug at any moment.
- Yoda – Yoda represents perhaps the greatest risk and biggest reward of any decision made in creating the Star Wars movies. After the massive success of the original film, the choice to center large portions of the movie on a green puppet voiced by the guy who created Fozzie Bear, Grover and Miss Piggy can hardly be called a sure bet. However, the benefit of hindsight tells us all that the decision resulted in some of the most iconic moments in the trilogy. His initial meeting with Luke, “Do or do not. There is no try,” and his heart-breaking death scene are all highlights of the original trilogy. And seeing his shadow appear before he limps into a battle with Dooku almost makes Attack of the Clones worth it. Almost.
- Wedge Antilles – I have a fixation on Wedge Antilles like you wouldn’t believe. My college roommate and I created an entire religion around this unsung rebel hero (Janson, Wedge’s co-pilot in the snowspeeder, was “He who rides with Wedge” an another important figure in our belief system). Along with the trilogy’s so-called main heroes, Wedge is the only character to survive Hoth and both Death Star battles. Not only that, he keeps Vader off Luke long enough to blow up the first Death Star, actually takes out an Imperial Walker in the battle on Hoth, and is the only Rebel ship to reach the interior of the second Death Star without bumping into anything. True believers know the original trilogy is not about a Tatooine farm boy; it’s about a spunky rebel pilot who is gracious enough to allow others to take the spotlight.
Most over-rated character – Boba Fett
Look, I know he’s a popular character and he’s had any number of stories written about him outside of the films, but I’m focused on the movies. Here’s Boba Fett’s basic arc:
- He’s a clone (i.e., he’s genetically the same as all of the bad guys in white who can’t shoot straight and bump their heads on entry doors).
- His clone daddy is killed and he gets angry.
- Years later, he shows up to make a cool pose as part of Jabba’s posse when the gangster confronts Han in Episode IV.
- He gets his big moment in The Empire Strikes Back, which consists of following the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City, then calling Darth Vader to actually capture the rebels.
- Finally, in Return of the Jedi, he hangs out with Jabba some more, has a brief fight with Luke which ends when a blind guy accidentally sets off his jet pack, sending him to his death in the Sarlacc pit.
Explain to me again what he actually does? He was a cool-looking action figure and he talks back to Vader once, but really that’s it. Add to that his actual introduction came in the Star Wars Christmas special, and I simply can’t get the appeal.
Remember, we here at Man, I Love Films don’t do definitive lists. We do our favorites and we want to hear yours. So, make sure and tell us about them in the comments section below.