As I’m assuming you know, this week marks both the beginning and end of something very special to approximately 800 billion people worldwide: It’s the beginning of a new Star Wars trilogy (and the universe beyond) and (hopefully) the end to the wait for a proper Star Wars sequel. Listeners of this show know how much I love this universe and how excited I have been for the last three years waiting for this week to arrive. To celebrate the occasion, we’ve recorded a ton of special podcasts which have been releasing over the last two weeks and I’m working on putting together some kind of Star Wars-related content each day this week for the blog.
Today I present to you, dear reader and listener, the (my) definitive ranking of every villain within the Star Wars movie universe. Two quick disclaimers: One, I chose not to include creatures. Maybe rancors are actually very gentle beings unless they’re forced to kill for the entertainment or Jabba and maybe the space worm (now known as an exogorth thanks to the Internet) just didn’t want a spaceship landing in its throat. We don’t know, so they’ve been tossed out. And two, this list pertains only to the six Star Wars films, NOT the expanded universe. While I have some experience with the expanded universe (books, video games, comics, TV shows, etc.), there’s far too much of it to consider in this space. So these 26 baddies are ranked based only on what sort of impact they made within the films themselves. Enjoy and feel free to send in your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or @MAM_Podcast or @BGill12 on the Twitter. (Also, I’m sure there are small errors or exclusions and I’ll just have to live with that.)
26. Nute Gunray (Episodes I and II)
There is nothing even remotely positive anyone can say about Nute Gunray and the entire Trade Federation story line that dominates the plot of Phantom Menace. He’s obnoxious, his voice is borderline offensive, and he looks like a puppet that got rejected by Fraggle Rock.
25. Battle Droids (Episodes I and II)
In so many ways, the prequels are such a huge regression from the original trilogy and nowhere is that more apparent than the battle droids. It doesn’t really make sense that in this universe, the bad guys would downgrade from robot killing machines to humans who can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a blaster and it makes even less sense that these robots would speak as if they were all practicing for an open mike night. Even with all the other issues, the prequels come up a grade or two just by removing these guys from the mix.
24. Zam Wesell (Episode II)
The only good thing you can say about Zam is at least she (he?) dies quickly. A Jango Fett patsy in Attack of the Clones, he/she shape shifts while botching an assassination attempt that sets the entire plot of the film spinning. Worthless.
23. Greedo (Episode IV)
Greedo slides down here to the bottom of the list because he overstepped his boundaries. You might have thought yourself a decent bounty hunter, Greedo, but you were not ready to step into the ring with pre-carbonite Han Solo and come out alive. You couldn’t even get a shot off, bro. (See what I did there?) And now you’re green toast.
22. Watto (Episode I)
The biggest issue with Watto is that I think he would’ve been a menacing or at least interesting villain in the original trilogy. If Han and Leia roll up on a Watto character in Jedi, I imagine he has an edge to him and the creature design isn’t comical and maybe he actually adds something to the story. As he stands, he’s a symptom of the issues within Phantom Menace and basically doesn’t have a reason to exist.
21. Bib Fortuna (Episode VI)
Great creature design on Mr. Fortuna and he plays the part of creepy majordomo quite well. But when your own boss calls you a “weak minded fool”…well, you’re probably not long for this list.
20. Imperial Generals, Admirals, and Captains (Episodes IV-VI)
I grouped these dudes together in part because most of them are virtually nameless on screen and in part because they’re almost all terrible at their jobs and/or really good at angering Darth Vader. From Admirals Motti and Ozzel to Generals Tagge and and Veers on down to Captain Needa, these guys exist pretty much just to hold back Vader and Company and pretty much all get choked out at some point. Only Captain-turned-Admiral Piett seems to accomplish anything but he, too, winds up dead. Tough job.
19. Clone Troopers (Episode III)
I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was in the clone troopers. Whenever the Clone Wars received mention in the original trilogy, I had visions of some grand spectacle and appropriate soldiers. Instead, the prequels virtually passed over the Clone Wars and all we got were some super CGI-y Stormtrooper knock-offs. Their programmed shift against the Jedi is a cool moment but it doesn’t make up for how meh they turned out in the first place.
18. Sebulba (Episode I)
As a character and from a design standpoint, Sebulba isn’t far off from being a cool secondary villain. Unfortunately, his dialogue is atrocious and like most of Phantom Menace, he comes across altogether too childish.
17. Magnaguards (Episode III)
Magnaguards start off pretty well. A group of them put Obi Wan and Anakin to the test at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith and their electrostaffs are effective both visually and in combat. But in their second appearance, Obi Wan dispenses of them so easily that we are left to believe that the first go ‘round must have been an aberration.
16. Royal Guards (Episode VI)
Of all the B-characters within the original trilogy, I think the Royal Guards probably look the coolest. Those red robes are baller and they carry some sort of spear that you just know can do some nasty things. And yet, they’re nowhere to be found when Luke and Vader fight it out and don’t even bother to come to Palpatine’s defense when Vader chucks him down shaft. Weird time for a smoke break, guys.
15. Tusken Raiders (Episodes I, II, and IV)
Tuskens look like something out of Mad Max and I mean that as a compliment. Plus, these dudes are incredibly primitive in virtually every way and yet they terrify everyone on Tatooine so you know they make the most of their limited intelligence and resources.
14. Count Dooku (Episodes II and III)
To be honest with you, I have Dooku this high only out of respect for Christopher Lee, a great actor who did some amazing work in his career. But frankly, Dooku is a major let down. Sure, he imprisons Obi Wan and Anakin but only after they both mysteriously forget how to use the Force for 20 minutes of screen time. Then Mace Windu shows up and Dooku immediately tucks tail. And when he returns in Revenge of the Sith, he promptly loses his hands and head. Lame. Plus, his name is definitely a word for poop in one language or another.
13. Bounty Hunters (Episode V)
This group (Bossk, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, IG-88, and Dengar) displays some of the best creature design within the entirety of the Star Wars universe. If only we actually got to spend some time with them! There’s plenty on this crew in the expanded universe but within these six movies, we get virtually nothing on them. And yet they landed this high because they’re so dadgum COOL looking. Even Dengar, who was definitely just a homeless dude they brought on set at the last minute.
12. Storm, Snow, and Scout Troopers (Episodes IV-VI)
Stormtroopers (and their kin) take a lot of flak for not being able to shoot anything except Jawas and rightly so. It’s weird that the Empire put Stevie Wonder in charge of their shooting range but I guess Vader had a soft spot for “Songs in the Key of Life.” Regardless of their shooting ability, their armor game is on point and when a huge group of them march in, you get a little chill down your spine.
11. Jango Fett (Episode II)
Another “what could have been” casualty from the prequels. What happens if you take a bounty hunter (easily the most awesome vocation in the known universe) who is so wicked that someone builds an entire army out of his DNA, give him super cool armor and add in an actor who can actually act and a screenwriter who can actually write? You probably get an iconic villain. Instead…kind of a letdown. On the plus side, he totally hangs with Obi Wan and even quasi wins their standoff…only to get beheaded in one second when Mace Windu shows up.
10. Anakin Skywalker (Episode III)
Bad acting aside (and trust me, that’s a HUGE aside), Anakin’s turn in the back half of Revenge of the Sith is incredibly dark and horrifying. He just straight up murders a bunch of kids. There’s so much more that could be drawn out of his shift but as it is, it’s still one of the more well-done elements of the prequels.
9. General Grievous (Episode III)
Grievous is incredibly well designed and comes across as menacingly as an entirely CGI character possibly could. He presents a great challenge to Obi Wan and he’s a fearsome fighter. The problem is, almost all of what should be the best Grievous content is relegated to the cartoon series and the rest of the expanded universe. He basically has no place in the actual movies so he never matters the way he should.
8. Darth Maul (Episode I)
The marketing for Phantom Menace was EVERYWHERE in 1999 and the most interesting, exciting part of the whole thing was Darth Maul. Star Wars lifers such as myself could not wait to get a look at Maul on the screen. And then he showed up and he was AWESOME. And then he showed up again and he was even MORE awesome! And then he got cut in half. And then he fell down a shaft. And that was the end of him. Why do you have to tease us so, George?!
7. Boba Fett (Episodes V and VI)
An international man of mystery if ever there was one, I would wager that no character in the Star Wars universe has a greater ratio of screen time to expanded universe content. As a nerdy society, we are OBSESSED with Boba Fett. There are entire video games, books, graphic novels, and fan films devoted exclusively to Boba Fett and while I totally get it because I, too, think he’s incredibly cool, it is kind of funny that someone who has perhaps three lines in the entire franchise and dies in the most throw-away manner imaginable could capture our collective imagination in such a way.
6. Emperor Palpatine (Episodes V and VI)
Obviously Palpatine is the great evil within the galaxy far far away and he drives the narrative from behind the scenes. On screen, he’s creepy and fully illustrates the way in which absolute power destroys a man. But because of his physical state and his arrogance, we only briefly see him turn his power loose and as such, the real lasting image we have of him is the way he dies which is hardly befitting of a truly great villain.
5. Grand Moff Tarkin (Episode IV)
Initially, I had Tarkin a bit lower on my list but a friend talked me into his current spot. The destruction of Alderaan gets overlooked when you consider all the events of these films but that’s a pretty big deal to just flip past. For no other reason than to show off the power of his new toy and torture a 19 year old girl, Tarkin killed BILLIONS OF PEOPLE. I’m not sure even the Emperor himself is that evil.
4. Jabba the Hutt (Episode VI)
Jabba’s particular brand of villainy is simple: the dude wants money and respect and that’s pretty much it. Despite being a galactic slug, there’s a familiarity to him that I can’t help but appreciate. You don’t pay him his money? He freezes you and displays you for all to see. You try to sneak in and steal his prize? Guess what, now you have to wear a humiliating slave costume. Jabba doesn’t get near enough credit for being the great villain that he is, to the point that the Emperor and Vader would rather treaty with him than try to fight him outright.
3. Darth Sidious (Episodes I-III)
There are many, many failings within the prequels but Darth Sidious is one of the few elements that Lucas got right. If you cleaned up his dialogue (seriously, Lucas’s dialogue gets worse on every viewing), he’d be a perfect political villain. He’s slimy in the most charismatic way and he wields the tool of manipulation just as well if not better than a lightsaber. And yet, when it gets down to the gettin’ down, Sidious takes out Mace Windu (with the help of Anakin, of course) and battles Yoda to a draw. He’s a great villain lost in a sea of awful writing and bad CGI.
2. Darth Vader (Episodes IV-VI)
The case for Vader has been handled ad nauseam so I’ll just say this: I think Darth Vader is the most iconic villain in the history of cinema. I’m sure there are plenty of other worthy contestants but you would be hard pressed to find a movie watcher between the ages of 8 and 60 who would not be able to identify him or at least acknowledge that he is the bad guy from Star Wars. He’s menacing and terrifying but most of all, he has that PRESENCE that demands attention. In the macro, overall view of film as a whole, Darth Vader is synonymous with “villain.” And yet…
1. Jar Jar Binks (Episodes I-III)
…in the micro view of just this franchise, Jar Jar is undoubtedly the greatest villain. Now look, if you listen to this podcast or read my writing, you know that I love bits and jokes more than just about anyone. But I really mean this; it’s not a bit. As much as this fanboy would like to ignore him, Jar Jar has become a huge part of the conversation revolving around this franchise. He brings about feelings such as hate, disgust, anger, and a little bit of fear. (What Star Wars fan hasn’t expressed even a modicum of doubt regarding The Force Awakens in light of Jar Jar?) We’ve gone so far as to release edits of the prequels that cut him out entirely. Even Lucas himself seemed to grasp the horrible mistake he’d made in allowing Jar Jar into his beloved universe by giving him the deciding vote in Revenge of the Sith to award Senator Palpatine unlimited power. That’s a stroke of genius! I freaking hate Jar Jar and so does just about everyone who’s ever claimed to have some connection or affinity to this universe. He’s the villain we deserve, not the villain we need. Jar Jar is basically the Donald Trump of Star Wars and because of that, he’s earned this crown.