If Bud Light is still looking for Internet Heroes of Genius, we humbly nominate the person who read today’s date aloud and invented the unofficial holiday of Star Wars. In addition to honoring bad puns, May the Fourth is a day for us to celebrate the most influential film series of all time.
Part of what makes Star Wars such a unique phenomenon is that the full saga of intergenerational space drama has unfolded over a 40-plus year span, creating its own cross-generational appeal. Whether you’re a boomer who came of age with the original trilogy, or a zoomer who grew up with Rey, Finn, and Poe, every series had its own generation of young fans.
Each of the three trilogies also has its own strengths and weaknesses, just as each film has its own hits and misses. But on the whole, the success of Star Wars rests on its characters. From adorable if unintelligible droids to dozens of distinct species of aliens, the Star Wars movies have always been crowded with engaging heroes, villains, and supporting characters (it’s also home to possibly the single most-reviled character in film history, but enough-sa about him-sa).
In honor of Star Wars Day on TBS—which will feature a marathon of the original and prequel trilogy on May 4, followed by four newer Star Wars movies on May 5, aka Revenge of the Fifth—we searched our feelings and came up with this list of the single best character in every movie. Be sure to tune-in to TBS for the live marathon, check out our “May the 4th Be With You” playlist under the On Demand tab to watch any time, and use the link at the bottom of this page to get Sling Blue with TBS.
Episode IV: A New Hope
The OG Star Wars introduces most of the characters that will form the foundation of the Saga. Among all of the introductions, it’s Sir Alec Guinness as Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi that makes the biggest impression. As a knighted thespian, Guinness lends weight to exposition about lightsabers and “Feeling The Force.” More importantly, the grace and composure with which Obi-Wan carries himself establishes the dramatic template for all Jedi Masters who would follow.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Empire is perhaps the hardest choice for a number of reasons. As the single greatest Star Wars movie, there’s just so much to love. Empire is where we first meet Yoda; Darth Vader’s oft-misquoted “I am your father” reveal is one of the biggest twists (and most-famous lines) in movie history; and this is the beginning of Han and Leia’s love story, the only romance in the entire saga that really works. Because of this, we thought about calling it a tie, but only one of them was brave enough to sleep in a Tauntaun carcass for warmth. That’s enough for a SOLO win. 😎
Episode IV: Return of the Jedi
Ewoks were created by George Lucas to pander to small children in need of plush toys. As one of those small children, I can confirm that this strategy paid off (also, the Wicket the Ewok board game ruled). Anyway, with apologies to Jabba the Hutt and his coterie, Darth Vader is the pick here, as his redemption arc is one of the most satisfying storylines in the entire series.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Outside of the obligatory Jar Jar joke, we don’t need to rehash the issues with the prequels in this space. Instead, let’s celebrate what works about these movies, and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Darth Maul works. With his fangs and horns and double-sided lightsaber, Darth Maul—played with stoic intensity by martial artist Ray Park— is pure evil. Sadly, like another Darth in the later Episodes, he’s chopped in half before we really get to know him. Who knows, maybe he DID survive despite Obi-Wan severing his lower extremities? (SPOILER alert: He survived and rebuilt his lower extremities).
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Yoda has a strong case for the greatest puppet in film history. But in Attack of the Clones, he appears in CGI for the first time, freeing him up to finally square off in a lightsaber duel with the evil—but ultimately, sort of correct, maybe?—Count Dooku. It’s pure fan service, and it works like a Jedi Mind Trick. Enjoy a ninja Yoda you will.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequels almost by default, but it has a couple of set pieces that stand along the best in the entire saga. The opening battle features Anakin’s legendary X-Wing piloting (something we should have seen a lot more of, to hear Obi-Wan tell it). And the final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin on the lava planet Mustafar is genuinely tragic, as Kenobi chops apart his former Padawan apprentice, completing his transformation into Darth Vader (come to think of it, there's a suprising amount of body mutilation in Star Wars). Ewan McGregor did a great job honoring Guinness, not only in his performance but by shouldering the dignity for the material.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens introduces us into a new trio of heroes, but it's the movie's villain who steals the show. As the tortured son of Han and Leia, Adam Driver gives the character of Ben "Kylo Ren" Solo a lot of pathos, even as he does evil stuff like kill our favorite character from Episode IV. From Harrison Ford to Natalie Portman, the Star Wars saga has always filled out its cast with some of the best actors of each generation. That's a distinction that Driver is well on his way to earning.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi is easily the most divisive film in the entire series, with some calling it the best Star Wars movie since Empire and others complaining loudly about its liberal additions to the cannon of Force powers. Your opinion probably hinges on Luke Skywalker’s storyline, but of the three new heroes, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) has the most interesting subplot, as his cocksure attitude is tested by a new Rebel leader.
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
From where we sit, the final installment in the new trilogy was an overstuffed disappointment. The movie tosses aside The Last Jedi’s provocative democratization of the Force in favor of a story that doubles-down on the importance of genealogy in mastering the Jedi arts. It also tries to shoehorn the introduction of several new characters, most of whom feel pointless and bland. There is one indelible new character: The adorably-accented, delightfully-named Babu Frik, a miniature mechanic who wipes the mind of C-3PO. As you can see in the clip above, he steals every moment he's on-screen, the clear highlight of an otherwise messy conclusion.
The Rise of Skywalker is available to rent on Sling
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Even among arguably the strongest ensemble in any Star Wars movie, Sling favorite Alan Tudyk stands out as K-2SO, a reprogrammed imperial droid who assists the rebel squad in Rogue One. Making great use of Tudyk’s deadpan, K-2SO is like a funnier, braver, slightly less-annoying C-3PO, and functions as similar comic relief.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
On this list, we’ve had three different species of aliens, two different versions of a hero, a villain who’s “more machine than man,” and a robot. But until now, we haven’t had Woody Harrleson. Remember what we were saying about “best actors of their generation”? Harrleson definitely qualifies, and he’s at his rascally best as Tobias Beckett, a thief who mentors young Han Solo in the arts of amorality (nerf herding while looking scruffy, not so much).
Watch 10 of the Star Wars movies on-demand all month with TBS and sign up for Sling Blue by clicking the link below!