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The new Star Wars movies have been criticized for relying largely on nostalgia rather than creating something entirely new. But while nostalgia plays a role in the sequel trilogy, it’s dishonest to suggest that there’s nothing original here. Between the first two movies, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson have brought us so many new characters who will go down as some of the greatest in Star Wars history. Still, some of the sequel trilogy characters are definitely more compelling than others.
Let’s take a look at the 10 greatest original characters from the new Star Wars trilogy, ranking them from worst to best until we arrive at No. 1 — a character who is perhaps the most compelling in the saga’s history. (Note: We will only be looking at characters from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, not from Rogue One.)
10. Captain PhasmaCaptain Phasma in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
The character’s suit design comes from early Kylo Ren concept art. While Lucasfilm went in another direction with Kylo, the chrome suit looked so cool, they simply had to use it. Indeed, that suit is quite phenomenal, and for minor characters in Star Wars, a rad design can often be all you need. Phasma does what she needs to do in The Force Awakens, giving Finn a specific person to rebel against in the First Order and to get the better of at the end. There’s not a lot more to her than that, but there doesn’t necessarily need to be.
Phasma’s return makes for an epic moment in The Last Jedi, complete with a line that has instantly become a Star Wars classic: “So good to have you back.” While Phasma is ultimately underutilized, her showdown with Finn is thrilling, leading to a rare moment of humanity from her when we see a bit of the person underneath the helmet. Those interested in exploring more of Phasma’s backstory can check out the excellent tie-in book Phasma, which goes a long way towards enhancing our understanding of her.
Hopefully, Phasma will live to fight another day in Episode IX, becoming, as Rian Johnson put it, the Kenny McCormick of this saga.
9. Maz KanataMaz in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
It seems as if Maz Kanata is introduced mainly so that someone can give Finn the lightsaber and Rey a bunch of information. But she doesn’t feel like a lazy exposition device, even if she basically is. She’s no Yoda, but with Maz, Abrams does come close to recapturing that same magical feeling we had after hearing Yoda describe the Force for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back.
Indeed, some of the most iconic and goosebump-inducing Star Wars lines in The Force Awakens belong to Maz, as when she tells Rey, “Close your eyes. Feel it. The light. It’s always been there. It will guide you.” There was also the equally electrifying line only heard in the trailer and not in the movie: “The Force. It’s calling to you. Just let it in.” The fact that she’s over 1,000 years old also allows her to put the story in the broader context of Star Wars and provide the movie with its rare prequel tie-in.
Sure, Maz only receives a few minutes of screen time in The Force Awakens, but pull her out and the film would feel demonstrably less magical and less like Star Wars. Unfortunately, there’s little role for Maz in The Last Jedi; all she does is send Finn and Rose on their mission. But hopefully, Abrams will make better use of Maz, a character he created, in Episode IX.
8. Supreme Leader SnokeSnoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
Supreme Leader Snoke isn’t much of a character in The Force Awakens. He only has three scenes, after all. Because he was such a blank slate, fans went wild with theories, imagining that he was Darth Plagueis, Palpatine reborn, the first Jedi, and the list goes on and on. So when his backstory was not revealed in The Last Jedi and he was killed off, those fans were enraged.
But casting aside expectations for what he should be and just accepting Snoke for who he is, he’s still a solid Star Wars antagonist. Johnson’s unexpected flourishes in The Last Jedi are exactly what the character needed to prevent him from being just another Palpatine. In the second film, he dons a gold robe, complete with matching slippers and rings. And he’s essentially a creepy old man, with a smile that sends chills down the spine. His throne room is among the most striking images of the film, looking like something out of Twin Peaks.
Because Snoke is so mysterious, we get the sense that anything could happen in any scene he’s in. One minute, he’s unleashing Force lightning out of nowhere, and the next, he’s throwing someone around the room like a rag doll. We just have no clear idea of what this guy is capable of, which depending on your perspective is either exciting or frustrating. He’s no Palpatine, and there was perhaps a missed opportunity to provide us with more information about him. But Snoke on his own still serves his role in the story effectively and is a unique and memorable villain.
7. Rose TicoRose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
The Last Jedi didn’t include Rose Tico in its first draft . Instead, Finn was to go on his mission to Canto Bight with Poe. But Johnson found that the result was fairly boring. He needed someone to challenge Finn, and the result was Rose Tico, The Last Jedi‘s primary new character. At the beginning, she’s essentially an average person who watched The Force Awakens: she’s in awe of the bravery of Finn and totally geeks out when he tells her, “May the Force be with you.” In a movie full of grand heroes and epic battles, Rose keeps us grounded.
As the story progresses, Rose shows Finn the importance of fighting for a larger cause rather than continuing to run and fight for individual friends. And after a film in which the consequences of the destruction of the Republic were not adequately dealt with, Rose is the voice of the millions whose lives have been torn apart by First Order. Plus, with the new Star Wars movies heavily emphasizing the idea that you can come from nothing and still make a difference, Rose is a key part of that theme, starting off as a mechanic and, within hours, infiltrating Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship on a mission to save the galaxy.
Admittedly, Rose doesn’t have quite as much chemistry with Finn as she should if this is to be a romantic relationship. And her line about “saving what we love” doesn’t land as well as it should, especially since it’s a little confusing why Holdo’s sacrifice was heroic but Finn’s was ill-advised. But Rose is still a welcome addition to the Resistance, and someone we’re looking forward to seeing developed further in Episode IX.
6. General HuxGeneral Hux in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
The original Star Wars trilogy had so many fantastically hatable, unambiguously evil imperials who could chew the scenery, and Domhnall Gleeson fits into that role like a glove playing General Hux. In The Force Awakens, he delivers one of the most remarkable speeches in Star Wars, a Nazi-style rally of stormtroopers ahead of the destruction of the Republic. Behind closed doors, Hux is cool and collected, but when he needs to fire up the troops, he can unleash the rage at a moment’s notice.
Hux is a lot different in The Last Jedi, which speaks to some inconsistency between Abrams and Johnson’s visions. But the new version is equally enjoyable. Johnson plays Hux for laughs, and thankfully, Gleeson nails the humor, as when he attempts to hide his fear of Snoke in the opening scenes or when he bickers with Kylo Ren on Crait.
With Snoke gone, Hux has been set up as Kylo’s foil in Episode IX. That’s probably a good decision since a battle between Kylo and Hux will be a lot more original than a battle between Kylo and Snoke, which would have essentially been a Return of the Jedi retread. Hux will need to be treated a bit more seriously next time if that is to be the case, but the idea of Gleeson getting even more to do is exciting indeed.
5. BB-8BB-8 | Lucasfilm
When it was reported that The Force Awakens was going to have a ball droid, not everyone was on board. But little did we know that BB-8 would wind up being among the most delightful additions to the Star Wars universe, a droid that is certainly a worthy successor to R2-D2.
These sorts of sidekick droids function best when they are like pets, and Abrams captures that right away with BB-8, whose expressive, sad beeps make Rey feel guilty. He’s even more articulate than most non-speaking droids have been in the past, getting a laugh in The Force Awakens by giving a “thumbs up” and letting out beeps whose meanings are clearly understood. He even gets the recurring line “I have a bad feeling about this” in The Last Jedi. In the past, droids have basically been treated as if they’re toasters, with humans not connecting with them as we would expect. But in this new trilogy, BB-8 is like Poe Dameron’s dog, and that’s just wonderful. Poe even does the equivalent of rubbing a dog’s belly with BB-8 in The Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi is also packed with fun physical comedy for BB-8, like his desperate attempt to help Poe in the opening action sequence or him being mistaken for a slot machine on Canto Bight. Rian Johnson comes close to making BB-8 a bit overpowered, an issue with R2-D2 in the prequels. But assuming Abrams tones this down a bit in Episode IX, BB-8 will come out of this new trilogy being one of the most lovable droids of the entire saga, one that every kid will be imitating for decades to come.
4. Poe DameronPoe in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
Originally, Poe Dameron was never even supposed to be a recurring character. Apparently, the character was to die early on in The Force Awakens. Thank goodness Abrams changed his mind, as Poe would go on to inject the new trilogy with such vitality that it’s difficult to imagine what it’d be like without him.
From the opening scene of The Force Awakens, Oscar Isaac is dripping with charisma. We’re instantly captivated by his conversation with Lor San Tekka, something Isaac imbues with dire importance. Isaac then lands the first joke of the new franchise — “Who talks first?” — continuing to lay on the charm during his breakout with Finn. After three movies in which characters spend a lot of time speaking dispassionately about trade disputes, it’s so very refreshing to see Poe screaming “Yes!” after taking down a Star Destroyer’s guns. Later, when Poe swoops in to save the day on Takodana, he seems to be having the time of his life.
Luckily, Poe was given more to do in The Last Jedi. Isaac manages to take jokes that could have been lame coming out of another actor’s mouth and make them hilarious. But Johnson doesn’t simply allow Poe to remain the cool pilot the entire movie. Johnson actually challenges him, with Poe winding up being completely wrong in his distrust of Amilyn Holdo. By the end, Poe has learned a valuable lesson from Leia and Holdo about not being so impulsive. When Leia declares that we should follow him instead of her, we are completely ready to do so.
3. FinnFinn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
Making one of The Force Awakens‘ protagonists a former stormtrooper was nothing short of ingenious. By doing so, Lucasfilm forces us to reckon with the fact that these soldiers are not just random white suits. The hero we now root for was once exactly the kind of person whose brutal death we’d usually cheer on.
In The Force Awakens, Finn’s journey is a fascinating one. He goes from being a cog in a machine to someone who wants desperately to get out. Rather than stay and fight, Finn would prefer to run and hide. It’s only in the last act that he decides to stop running and stand up for Rey. But Finn has more growing to do in The Last Jedi. He still only cares about himself and Rey, having no real desire to fight for the larger cause. It’s by meeting Rose, one of the millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the First Order, that Finn comes to understand the value of standing up for the collective rather than the individual.
Between two movies, Finn has gone from a man on the run and out for himself to a man ready to sacrifice his own life for a galaxy of people he has never met. That’s quite a meaty arc, especially considering he’s still got an entire other film to go. There’s plenty of room to continue exploring Finn in Episode IX. And John Boyega has such a grasp on this character that it will be difficult to say goodbye to him when the time comes.
2. ReyRey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
There’s a great scene in The Force Awakens in which Rey, having prepared what’s essentially the Star Wars version of a TV dinner for herself, puts on an old X-Wing pilot’s helmet and looks to the horizon, imagining herself on a grand adventure. Like Luke Skywalker before her, Rey is a nobody who dreams of being a somebody. But she’s much more than just the new Luke. Rey is exactly the three-dimensional female character Star Wars needed for 2015.
Star Wars, a franchise that before the sequel trilogy had essentially two main female characters, didn’t just need a perfect young woman who has no flaws and can do no wrong. Rey is not that. She’s a strong and capable person whose traumatic upbringing has left her well-equipped for battle, for sure. But she’s also severely crippled by loneliness and by her need for a family who has no need for her. After a life defined by isolation, she has a tendency to wait for other people to bring her meaning. First, that’s her parents, and then, it’s Luke Skywalker himself.
Over the course of the trilogy, Rey is learning that this will only lead to disappointment. She must find meaning for herself and not wait for others to bring it to her. She’s also learning that the families we choose can be just as valuable as the families we’re born into.
Abrams struck gold when he discovered newcomer Daisy Ridley. In her capable hands, Rey is a girl who is warm and compassionate but also flawed, who is self-reliant in some ways, but not in others. In short, she’s exactly the kind of complex female character we’ve been hoping to see in major blockbusters for years.
1. Ben Solo (Kylo Ren)Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
With the prequel trilogy, George Lucas attempted to explore how an innocent child could grow into a monster. But the result was awkward. Within a few scenes in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin goes from wanting to turn Palpatine into the Jedi Council to literally murdering children, all due to a vague sense that his wife would maybe die. It was all far too rushed, and with little nuance.
Ben Solo is in some ways what Anakin should have been. But in other ways, he’s something even more interesting than we’ve seen in Star Wars before. He, too, starts off as an innocent kid and is manipulated into joining the dark side. But his journey back to the light — which seems to be where the story is headed — is being beautifully and patiently told over the course of this trilogy. We don’t need characters to tell us that there’s conflict within him. Thanks to Adam Driver’s magnificent performance, we see it all over his face in virtually every scene. In The Last Jedi, Johnson pulls off the impossible. Despite Ben killing Han, we still root for his redemption, and we’re heartbroken when he turns on Rey.
In the original trilogy, Darth Vader’s redemption is not a three-movie arc. He doesn’t really stop being a purely evil bad guy until Return of the Jedi. So if J.J. Abrams is able to nail Ben’s redemption in Episode IX — and hopefully provide some additional backstory about his fall to the dark side — there’s a realistic chance he will go down as the most compelling and fully realized antagonist in the entire Star Wars saga.
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