Star Wars is a story about good triumphing over evil, the heroes overcoming all challenges before them and defeating the villains. But we love to watch the antagonists, too! What would the saga be without its iconic, larger-than-life villains?
The hum of a lightsaber echoes in a hallway filled with smoke. A mastermind works behind gilded walls against his enemies. A bounty hunter zips through the sky with his jet pack. A dark lord awaits her prey from the core of a dying planet. These are moments that stay with us long after the credits have rolled, and they’re the reason why a few of the villains on this list are considered some of the best ever created regardless of the medium.
We’ve ranked our top 10 favorite Star Wars villains below:
10. General Grievous
Like many characters and concepts in the Prequels, Grievous is perhaps most notable for his visual design and powerful presence. A spindly four-armed droid, he looks like a mix between a robot, a spider, and a dinosaur. This non-human form wields four lightsabers at the same time, all of which he stole from Jedi he killed.
While Grievous’ personality isn’t really the draw here (he has a brief backstory and a tendency toward the dramatic), you can see some of his history in the excellent The Clone Wars episode “Lair of Grievous.” But we’d especially recommend you check out his first on-screen appearance in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars microseries. Scary stuff!
9. Grand Admiral Thrawn
Inspired by Sherlock Holmes and legendary military strategists like Alexander the Great, Grand Admiral Thrawn is the first character on this list to originate in tie-in books. He also has the distinction of being the first major villain of the post-Return of the Jedi era. The “Thrawn Trilogy” in the 1990s remain the most famous books of the lot for rejuvenating the franchise and introducing this tactical genius.
The epitome of working smarter, not harder, Thrawn is a no-nonsense thinker who can tell what a culture’s war strategy will be like based solely on their art. His clashes with characters from the Original Trilogy to the Rebels crew to his own Chiss Ascendancy are beloved as tactical puzzles and a showcase for his intimidating personality.
Fans love Thrawn so much that he was one of the first non-canon Legends characters to be retconned back into the Disney continuity after the House of Mouse bought Lucasfilm in 2012. The Mandalorian season 2 has even set up the Grand Admiral to make his first live-action appearance at a later date.
8. Kylo Ren
While there’s some debate among fans about whether Kylo Ren should still be considered a true villain after The Rise of Skywalker, his appearance in The Force Awakens is our favorite, and he’s firmly in bad guy territory there. From the intimidating crossguard lightsaber to his chaotic nature that makes the audience feel like even he doesn’t quite know what he’s going to do next, Ren’s vivid characterization and volatile personality (not to mention Adam Driver’s performance) helped sell The Force Awakens as a worthy successor to the Original Trilogy.
He sometimes borrows too much from Darth Vader in that first installment to be truly unique, but that’s the point: Kylo is a fan of the villains who have come before, a member of a new generation of characters who inherit the saga and choose which role they want to play. Ren joins the dark side knowing exactly where it will lead.
7. Asajj Ventress
Ventress has been many things. A witch, a bounty hunter, a Jedi, and a Sith disciple, but her different roles are all in service of finding what she really wants: A home.
Introduced as the acrobatic and creepy antagonist in the first and second seasons of the Clone Wars miniseries, she goes toe-to-toe with Anakin Skywalker on several occasions during the galactic conflict. Throughout The Clone Wars, we also see how her part in the war changes, all while she tries to fill the hole in her heart created by her separation from her parents and death of her mentor when she was just a child. Ultimately, she’s both a tragic and sympathetic figure but also a frighteningly unpredictable villain.
6. Kreia/Darth Traya
Knights of the Old Republic II features one of the most inventive and critical explorations of what it means to wield the Force. The game’s Jedi and Sith are conflicted, use their powers in unique ways, and hold personal philosophies about the light and dark sides beyond the beliefs of their respective orders.
Into the life of the game’s Jedi exile protagonist comes the mysterious Kreia, a Sith lord disguised as the hero’s mentor in the ways of the Force. And her teachings about the ancient energy are unlike anything else we’ve seen or read to date.
Instead of following the light or the dark side, Kreia feels the Force itself is a malevolent barrier between people and free will. Although her philosophy technically leads her to the dark, her ideas about going beyond that dichotomy entirely make her one of the most thought-provoking characters in the series. It’d be interesting to hear what she thought about the Force dyad from The Rise of Skywalker.
5. Boba Fett
Boba Fett began his Star Wars career as a mysterious cartoon character in The Star Wars Holiday Special and as a faceless villain in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, before making the jump to the classic Legends tie-in books and comics. Now, he’s back for the first time in the Disney canon, thanks to The Mandalorian, which gives a new generation of fans plenty of reasons to love the iconic bounty hunter.
Although he isn’t the first actor to portray Boba Fett, Prequel Trilogy veteran Temuera Morrison brings newfound charm and power to the legendary bounty hunter, whose armor, jetpack, and laconic personality made him a breakout star despite his relatively minor screen time in the Original Trilogy. On The Mandalorian, we finally get to see his legendary prowess as he single-handedly breaks stormtroopers with his bare hands before even regaining his armor.
Boba Fett’s history is almost as long as Star Wars‘ itself, debuting in 1978, and he’s been a fan-favorite ever since, living many other lives on the page beyond the movies. He’s worked for the Empire, teamed up with other bounty hunters, and even become the leader of the Mandalorian people. With his return to Disney canon, he gets a whole new future full of adventures for fans to look forward to, including The Book of Boba Fett.
4. Darth Maul
Maul just keeps coming back. While he was easily one of the best parts of The Phantom Menace, it’s his development in The Clone Wars that really puts him near the top of the list. A perpetual student always looking for a master, Maul’s tutelage under Sidious means he never really learned how to live outside the structure of the Sith order. That mentality clashes with the Jedi in one of the most dramatic confrontations in The Clone Wars, where Maul reveals he knows the Empire is coming and the Jedi are too late to stop it.
From a martial arts expert to the galaxy’s Cassandra, he’s played many different roles, including the secret leader of a galaxy-spanning criminal organization in Solo. In Rebels, his death serves as a moving capstone to what began in the Prequels, when Obi-Wan Kenobi finally ends his life in a battle not of martial skill but of the kind of mercy and solace only a Jedi at their best can offer.
3. Moff Gideon
While the villain of The Mandalorian hasn’t had nearly as much time on screen as many of the others on this list, he’s climbed to the top through force of personality. Giancarlo Esposito gives even Moff Gideon‘s expository dialogue a sinister life.
As an ISB agent, he differentiates himself from most Star Wars villains by not being a Force-wielding warrior first and foremost. He’s cool because he thrives on information, and frightening because of the lengths he’s willing to go to get it. And don’t forget, he’s willing to handcuff Grogu. You get in the Villain Hall of Fame for that.
2. Emperor Palpatine
The mastermind of many falls (Anakin’s, the Republic’s, Ben Solo’s), Emperor Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, is the shadow looming over the entire saga. He has a hand in everything, from the inability of the Jedi to hold on to even their own Force powers (as they discover in the Prequels) to the rise of the First Order. He’s the ultimate example of ambition gone wrong, the desire to rule the galaxy for the sake of ultimate control in human form. And the performance by Ian McDiarmid through the decades has become a staple of pop culture.
1. Darth Vader
From the first part of A New Hope to the finale of Rogue One and beyond, Vader’s intimidating visage is synonymous with Star Wars. Designed by Ralph McQuarrie in part after the shape of a samurai armor, the apparatus that keeps Vader alive was made to look dark, intimidating, and “spooky.” He doesn’t have to run or use flashy lightsaber moves to kill you: instead it’s his inexorable approach and brutal moves that are so fearsome. And he has no problem Force choking his own men to get what he wants.
While part of what makes Vader number one is how frightening he is, that’s not the whole story. As Anakin Skywalker, he also brings pathos to the saga and inspires endless debate. His choice to turn to evil is the event on which the rest of the saga turns. Decades later, he’ll inspire Kylo Ren to start down a similar path.
Let us know your own ranking in the comments below!