Since 1977, few movie franchises have had the pop culture impact of STAR WARS. Beyond just the immense size of its fan base, the STAR WARS universe has iconic and hugely influential aesthetics, and the big picture storytelling has had an unquestionable effect on modern blockbuster filmmaking. In all of that, the franchise has also provided our world with a series of iconic characters, with each new release spotlighting more and more amazing heroes and villains.
It’s in celebration of these legends (and in anticipation of the upcoming STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER) that we have put together this list, highlighting the characters we see as the most iconic from each of the movies.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Han Solo
While there is no questioning that A NEW HOPE is all about Luke Skywalker and his hero’s journey, it’s hard not to look back on this film and think about the incredible introduction of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. There's a lot to love about this character and his arc in George Lucas’ movie: He has a badass anti-authority attitude; he flies an amazing spaceship; he has an awesome best friend in Chewbacca; and he totally saves the day at the end of the story when everything seems lost.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda
In retrospect, one expects that there was at least some fear behind the scenes of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK about introducing a weird, diminutive green alien as a key character in the sequel to STAR WARS, but fans will forever be thankful that any potential negative thoughts were put aside. He might be kind of silly and weird looking, but Yoda’s impact on pop culture following his introduction is undeniable, and seeing him use the Force to lift Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamps of Dagobah will forever be one of the best moments in the saga.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker
Luke Skywalker went on an amazing journey through the first three STAR WARS movies, and it’s really in the RETURN OF THE JEDI that he becomes the icon that he is today. From the first act where he infiltrates Jabba’s Palace, to his final confrontation with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, Luke becomes a true legend in the trilogy capper.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul
Darth Maul may not have a ton of real screen time in THE PHANTOM MENACE, but he absolutely makes the most of it by leaving a special impression. Fans fell in love with this character, played by Ray Park and voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, from the very moment he was revealed — and what’s not to love? The red and black face with the crown of horns makes him look terrifying, and his double-bladed lightsaber practically made nerds faint when it was activated for the first time.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan Kenobi
Despite being incredibly important to the larger story, Obi-Wan Kenobi was very much a supporting player in both A NEW HOPE and THE PHANTOM MENACE, but it’s in ATTACK OF THE CLONES that the Ewan McGregor version of the character gets to be fleshed out. He takes on major responsibility agreeing to train Anakin Skywalker in the ways of the Jedi, and it’s really through his arc that the main story in this chapter of the Prequel Trilogy blossoms.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader
In the same way that RETURN OF THE JEDI solidifies Luke Skywalker’s transformation into a legendary hero, REVENGE OF THE SITH is where Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, completes his transformation into a legendary villain. The character’s turn to the Dark Side is hard to watch at times, as he both turns on friends and kills children, but also leaves a serious impression that fleshes out one of the most iconic antagonists of all time.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Finn
He may not wind up being the character with the ability to control the Force, but John Boyega’s Finn is very much the standout protagonist in THE FORCE AWAKENS as he journeys from being a First Order stormtrooper to a key member of the Resistance. If he didn't make the choices he made at the start of the story, the entire Sequel Trilogy couldn't happen, and it’s amazing to watch his emotional journey over the course of the film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jyn Erso
As the first standalone story, ROGUE ONE gave the franchise an opportunity to introduce audiences to a host of new heroes and villains in the universe, and the film delivers an excellent protagonist in Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso. Her backstory is compelling (growing up working with the Rebels while her father helped design the plans for the Death Star), and it’s endlessly exciting to watch her on the path to ultimately become one of the great martyrs of the canon.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, Rey
While we won’t know how her story turns out until we get to see THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, Rey goes through a brilliant transformation in THE LAST JEDI, traveling on a journey of self-discovery while also becoming the hero she was always meant to be. Her training with Luke Skywalker opens up doors both to her future and to her past, and it’s fascinating to watch her fulfill her destiny and prepare to lead the Resistance against Kylo Ren and the First Order.
Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han Solo
This one is kind of obvious, right? Han Solo is the only character to get the spotlight twice on this list, but there was no way he wasn’t going to be the prime pick for SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. It’s a different depiction of the character than we’re used to seeing, basically because it’s Alden Ehrenreich playing the role and not Harrison Ford, but it's still a thrill to see the legendary smuggler at the center of his own story on a thrilling adventure.
Who will wind up being the most iconic character from STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER? We’ll just have to wait to find out on December 20.