Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Top Ten Things: Star Wars Characters

What's the haps, folks?  Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Well we are in the midst of a new trilogy in the grand Star Wars saga.  I for one loved The Force Awakens (in spite of its admitted flaws and reliance on story beats from A New Hope) and look forward with great anticipation to The Last Jedi.  For me what's worked so well about this new series are the numerous captivating characters that have pulled me into the story, much as their OT counterparts did four decades ago.  The prequel trilogy unfortunately introduced almost no characters I found interesting or terribly memorable, even including the young versions of Obi-Wan and Anakin (the one real keeper for me was Darth Maul, whom George Lucas didn't, um...keep).  So no, this list does not include any characters from Episodes 1-3, except in their respective 4-6 form.  Sorry Prequelers, I think those movies stink.



Anywho, here are my ten favorite Star Wars characters, updated post-TFA.  Here we go....





10. Yoda


The Empire Strikes Back introduced a spectacular achievement in the art of puppetry.  In Episode V, Luke travels to the Degobah system and encounters Yoda, the most powerful wizard in the galaxy.  So strong is he with the Force that his diminutive size matters not.  Voiced by Frank Oz, Yoda provided so many quotable lines and taught us all about the nature of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi.  His involvement in the story elevated its mystical concepts to something much more complex and philosophical than simple magic.  Yoda hammered home the spirituality of the Jedi arts, forcing Luke to reexamine his outlook and grow immensely as a character.  The prequels sadly reduced Yoda to a lightsaber-wielding video game character, but originally Yoda was quite remarkable and represented everything beyond the narrow limits of the physical world.





9. Finn


The #2 good guy of the new trilogy is former Stormtrooper FN-2187, dubbed Finn by his new BFF Poe Dameron.  Finn was raised by the First Order for one reason - to be an agent of death and oppression.  But during his mission on Jakku he had an attack of conscience and defected, rescuing Poe and eventually helping Rey and the Resistance destroy Starkiller Base, before being maimed by Kylo Ren.  Where Finn's arc goes from here is a mystery, but this charismatic, rather reluctant hero played by John Boyega has tremendous chemistry with his fellow protagonists and is a very welcome addition to the Star Wars mythos.





8. Obi-Wan Kenobi


When the original Star Wars was being cast, George Lucas enlisted several unknowns to play the principle characters, but he realized he'd also need some veteran actors in supporting roles.  One such actor was Sir Alec Guinness, who immediately lent this bizarre space movie some credibility.  Guinness brought to life the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, a former Jedi Knight instrumental to the growth of Luke Skywalker.  Kenobi's primary function in the story is to begin Luke's (and our) education on the concept of the Force.  Through Obi we learn about this mystical power and how vital it is to the success of the Rebellion.  We also learn about the Dark Side and how it corrupted Darth Vader.  Kenobi sacrifices himself so our young heroes can escape, but then as an ethereal being aids Luke in destroying the Death Star.  Obi-Wan represents our first glimpse into the spiritual side of this galactic good vs. evil struggle.  In the prequels Obi-Wan (as played by Ewan MacGregor) is also the one heroic character with any real depth.





7. Princess Leia


The one compelling female character in the saga (yes, including the robotic non-character Padme), Princess Leia Organa taught us all at a very young age that women could be strong leaders, brave warriors, and respected authority figures.  As the story begins Leia is in fact the driving force behind the Rebellion, having stolen the Death Star plans and uploaded them into R2-D2's memory.  When our male heroes Luke and Han first meet her she appears to be in distress, but they soon learn she's more in control of the situation than they are.  By Empire Leia has officially become the leader of the Alliance, and we later find out she is also a Skywalker.  In The Force Awakens she has become a General and once again leads the good guys against an oppressive regime.  The late Carrie Fisher brought to this role a gravitas and wisdom far beyond her years, and helped realize this complex female action hero.





6. Luke Skywalker


The central protagonist of the Original Trilogy, Luke Skywalker has the most clearly defined arc in the story.  We first meet him as a young, impatient farmboy who dreams of an adventurous life in space.  By the end of the first film he becomes a star pilot, a budding Jedi apprentice, and a true hero.  In Empire he is put through a much more rigorous training regimen, confronting the darker side of both the Force and his own inner self, while also learning the horrible truth of his family lineage.  By the third movie Luke is a confident, stoic young Jedi who has fully accepted his responsibility to bring down the Emperor and his own father.  Growing up I always found Luke a bit too white meat, preferring my heroes to be morally ambiguous.  But as I've gotten older the character has grown on me and I've come to appreciate his journey as the main character of the Trilogy.  I look forward to seeing more of the aging, world-weary Luke in the new films.





5. Chewbacca


I'm not sure why Chewie ranks so high for me, but he does.  Maybe it's because I love animals, and everyone's favorite Wookiee is based on an Alaskan Malamute.  I dunno.  But Chewbacca's awesome.  Brought to life by the freakishly tall Peter Mayhew, Chewie manages to convey a full range of emotion and character quirks without saying a word.  It's one of the strengths of the Original Trilogy that so many of its characters and scenes rely on visuals, body language, and sounds to tell the story.  Chewbacca is a prime example of this, and like Boris Karloff's monster in Frankenstein, is one of the greatest non-verbal characters in movie history.  Now let's see about finally getting him a medal, huh??  The poor guy just lost his hetero life partner....





4. Rey


The plucky firebrand protagonist of the sequel trilogy, Rey grew up a scavenger on Jakku but unknowingly possessed a tremendously powerful Force gift, which she later begins to use to its full potential.  It's great to see a female character in this series that brings the strength and intelligence embodied by Princess/General Leia to a new level.  Brought to life by the wonderfully expressive Daisy Ridley, Rey's character arc is thus far the most compelling we've seen in these films since Luke's, and I anticipate some twists and turns in the upcoming Episodes.  Rey is a really splendid, likable character I have no problem identifying with in this trilogy.





3. Kylo Ren


The former Ben Solo (son of Han and Leia) might be the most complex, conflicted villain thus far in the series.  Solo was in the process of being trained as a Jedi by Luke Skywalker before Supreme Leader Snoke sunk his claws in the boy and turned him against his family and friends.  The boy killed his fellow students and joined The First Order as the masked, fearsome Kylo Ren, modeling his appearance and philosophy after his grandfather Darth Vader.  The only problem is Ren has neither the self-assuredness nor the bloodlust of his ancestor and he spends much of The Force Awakens trying to scrub his better nature and give himself to the Dark Side.  As a self-imposed rite of passage he finally murders his own father and attempts to turn Rey into a disciple.  Played as a whirlwind of inner turmoil and uncertainty by Adam Driver, Ren stole the show for me in TFA and I eagerly await the next chapter of his character development.





2. Darth Vader


Mr. Vader is one of the most legendary and recognizable characters in any medium, and probably the greatest cinematic villain of all time.  It took two actors to bring this monstrous figure to life.  Bodybuilder David Prowse lent his imposing frame to fill out the black suit, while the amazing James Earl Jones provided Vader's now-iconic voice, creating a fully menacing bad guy.  Then of course there's that mask.  That samurai-inspired, motherfucking kick-ass mask that's probably sold more toys and Halloween costumes than any other.  Darth Vader begins the trilogy as simply an upper-echelon baddie, but gains significance and depth in Empire when we learn he is also the father of the main hero.  Finally in Jedi his arc is completed when he redeems himself, saving Luke's life and destroying the Emperor.  Despite a horribly miscast pair of actors portraying Vader's alter-ego Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, the legend and image of Darth Vader will forever be burned into our collective memory.





1. Han Solo


The greatest Star Wars character of all time.  Han is the quintessential thief with a heart of gold, whom we don't quite trust when we first meet him, but who ultimately proves his worth and becomes invaluable to the Rebellion.  Harrison Ford initially wasn't even considered for the role, as Lucas had already used him in American Graffiti.  But after helping other actors audition for Luke and Leia, and reading for the part better than anyone else, Lucas realized how perfect Ford was.  In the first film Han was the "cool" good guy, bringing machismo and swagger to the proceedings.  Then in Empire he morphed into a romantic lead and a vulnerable figure, being frozen in carbonite and shipped off to Jabba the Hutt.  By Jedi Han was arguably softened too much as a character, but he still had that sardonic sense of humor and we couldn't imagine a Star Wars movie without him.  Captain Solo got one final hurrah in The Force Awakens, supplying much of that film's levity and swashbuckling, before his fittingly tragic end at the hands of his son Kylo Ren.  As we all know, there is a Han Solo prequel in the works, and I'm cautiously optimistic.  Han is introduced with such a potentially rich backstory and it could be fun to see that play out.  Casting is key of course, as Harrison Ford was a nigh impossible act to follow.  But the character is just such a joy to watch, and probably the biggest reason I love the Star Wars saga.


There's my top ten.  Comment below with some of your picks!


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