Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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 between trilogies in the grand Star Wars saga.  Lots of rumors swirling about upcoming film projects but so far nothing concrete.  In the meantime Disney+ has no shortage of television series for us to dig into.  But for the record I'm a big fan of the overall sequel trilogy, in spite of its imperfections (and let's be honest, part of the charm of Star Wars has always been its imperfections).  For me what's worked so well about sequels 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 eleven favorite Star Wars characters.  Here we go....

11. 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.

10. Finn

The #2 good guy of the sequel 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.  In The Last Jedi Finn and series newcomer Rose are dispatched to a casino planet to find a codebreaker who can stop the First Order from tracking the crippled Resistance through hyperspace.  Finn starts the second film disillusioned about our heroes' chances, but by the end his friendship with Rose and loyalty to his new allies win out, and he embraces his role in helping to lead the "Rebel scum."  In The Rise of Skywalker we learn through a few subtle hints that Finn very likely has budding Force powers, as he can sense Rey's movements while she's away.  Their implied romance never comes to fruition but it seems that they've connected on a different level.  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.

9. 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 (and the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series lended even more to that incarnation of the character).

8. The Mandalorian

Here's a character who shouldn't work nearly as well as he does.  The title character of the uber-popular Disney+ series, Din Djarin was rescued as a child by the ancient tribe of masked warriors and became one of the most devout of their creed.  Vowing never to remove his sacred Mandalorian helmet in public, Djarin dedicated himself to bounty hunting and grew to be a fearsome, no-nonsense hired gun, free of any personal attachments and constantly looking for the next job.  But then that one gig came along that changed everything, his capture of The Child, for live delivery to a mysterious former Empire nobleman.  On spending time with little Grogu, Mando became deeply attached and made it his new mission to bring him safely to his own kind, namely the Jedi.  The Mandalorian as a character was written in the grand Spaghetti Western tradition of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, taciturn, quick on the draw, and tough as nails.  Played by Pedro Pascal in an almost purely vocal/physical performance, Din Djarin has quickly become one of my favorite characters in Star Wars lore.

7. Princess Leia

The one compelling female character in the first six episodes (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 sequel trilogy she has become a General and once again leads the good guys against an oppressive regime, while becoming a close mentor to Rey.  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.  The Last Jedi is perhaps Mark Hamill's finest performance in this role, as we catch up with a now-defeatist, hopeless, aging Jedi Knight.  Rey begs Luke to help the Resistance, but Luke blames himself for Kylo Ren's turn to the Dark Side and instead teaches Rey that the Jedi do not own The Force and he is not the answer she seeks.  However Luke's final act most embodies what Yoda taught him in Empire - "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack."  To that end Luke Force-projects himself into the battle on Crait, distracting Kylo and the First Order long enough for the remaining Resistance to escape and fight another day, and ultimately inspiring a newfound sense of hope in the galaxy, which allows our heroes to once again defeat evil.

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.  

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.  The Last Jedi sees her attempt to enlist Luke's help, to no avail, only to unexpectedly form a bond with Kylo Ren, her sworn enemy.  Rey's ultimate quest is to ascertain her place in the galaxy; her entire being is built on the certainty that she will find her parents again.  When she discovers that to be all for naught, Rey learns via Kylo Ren that her parents were no one of consequence....or were they?  In The Rise of Skywalker of course we find out she's the granddaughter of Palpatine and must forge her own path, separate from her evil ancestor.  Rey is a luminous, easily relatable hero with loads of internal conflict.  Call her a Mary Sue all you like, I call her a prodigy whose biggest challenge in life was to find her peace and purpose.  If you can't relate to that, I dunno what to tell you.

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 this trilogy, becoming even more conflicted in Episode VIII.  Kylo and Rey are linked by the Force (Snoke's doing), and begin to discover that perhaps neither side is right.  Kylo destroys Snoke and asks Rey to help him tear it all down and rebuild.  Rey instead chooses the Light Side, and Kylo becomes the new Supreme Leader of the First Order, but it was clear the bond with Rey was still too compelling to ignore.  In the end the real Ben Solo emerged to help Rey put things right, sacrificing himself to save her.  Kylo is an all-time great, complicated screen villain. 

2. Darth Vader

Mr. Vader is one of the most legendary and recognizable characters in any medium, and arguably 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.  The Solo standalone film gave us a rich, fun backstory for everyone's favorite Star Wars swashbuckler.  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!  Join us on Facebook, MeWe and Twitter!

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