Although industry insiders expected it to bomb and even a lot of people who worked on the movie had little faith in it, George Lucas’ Star Wars ended up becoming a worldwide cultural phenomenon when it hit theaters in 1977. It broke the record for a highest-grossing movie ever made and ended up changing the face of Hollywood forever.
Lucas introduced audiences to some of the most iconic characters ever created in the original Star Wars movie. From Han Solo to Leia Organa to Darth Vader, these unforgettable characters made their debut in the 1977 hit.
9 Grand Moff Tarkin
Peter Cushing set the smarmy tone for every Imperial bureaucrat to come with his hammed-up performance as Vader’s right-hand man Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars movie.
It’s a testament to how great the characters of Star Wars are that Tarkin is not among the favorites. It’s not that he’s a bad character by any stretch of the imagination – he’s more memorable than a side villain has any right to be – it’s just that everybody around him is even more awesome.
A lot of the early storytelling in Star Wars rests on C-3PO, as Leia sends him to get the message on R2-D2’s hard drive to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Since their escape pod lands in the middle of the barren Dune Sea and R2-D2 speaks in electronic noises alone, C-3PO is the only speaking character on-screen for almost the entire first act of the movie.
While some fans find Threepio’s whining and complaining annoying, Anthony Daniels did a fantastic job of bringing quirky human qualities to the role of a droid. He plays Threepio like an anxious butler.
7 Obi-Wan Kenobi
The original Star Wars movie loosely follows the structure of a fairy tale, and aging Jedi warrior Obi-Wan Kenobi is the wise old wizard who mentors the hero on his journey and ultimately dies to motivate him to defeat the bad guys. The expansion of Obi-Wan’s backstory in the prequel trilogy has made his grizzled older self in the original trilogy even more compelling.
Much like Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings, Alec Guinness brings real gravity and pathos to his exposition-filled monologues. Speeches about the Force, the Jedi, and the Empire that could’ve come off as nonsense are unceasingly engaging, thanks to Guinness’ powerhouse acting.
There are very few Star Wars characters – or just fictional characters in general – who are more lovable than Chewbacca. Termed a “walking carpet” by Leia, Chewie is a big, cuddly Wookiee who is so fiercely loyal to his friends that he’ll animalistically brutalize anyone who tries to hurt them.
According to Looper, Lucas based the character on his dog, an Alaskan Malamute named Indiana (who later became the namesake for Indiana Jones). Indiana would ride shotgun when Lucas was in his car, and this dynamic formed the basis for Han and Chewie’s antics on the Millennium Falcon. Han and his Wookiee co-pilot share one of the most endearing friendships ever put on film.
While C-3PO works really well as a reactionary character, the most lovable droid in the Star Wars universe will always be R2-D2. Ben Burtt managed to convey R2-D2’s cheeky attitude through beeps and whirs alone (and with a helping hand from Anthony Daniels’ hilarious portrayal of C-3PO’s reactions).
R2-D2 is the MacGuffin in the original 1977 movie, as his hard drive holds the holographic message that will lead Obi-Wan to the Death Star. Unlike most MacGuffins, R2-D2 develops a real relationship with some of his co-stars – particularly Luke, who grows weary of his insolence.
4 Leia Organa
Since Leia is captured by the bad guys and needs to be rescued by Han and Luke, she’s often called a “damsel in distress.” But Lucas beautifully subverts this outdated archetype seconds after Leia is “rescued” and it becomes apparent that Han and Luke have no exit strategy.
Carrie Fisher gives a wonderfully empowered performance as Leia, whether she’s standing down Darth Vader without a hint of fear or barbing Han with sarcastic insults to rival his own.
3 Luke Skywalker
In crafting his script for Star Wars, Lucas famously studied Joseph Campbell’s studies in comparative mythology and, more specifically, the “hero’s journey.” This story arc has been copied by just about every blockbuster since Hollywood figured out there was a decades-old blueprint for the next Star Wars.
In a sense, this makes Luke Skywalker the ultimate protagonist. He’s the hero that influenced all subsequent heroes. Mark Hamill’s own genuine love of the Star Wars myth inspired a warm, bright-eyed performance as a farm boy-turned-Jedi that audiences everywhere can look up to.
2 Darth Vader
Similar to the likes of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, and the Wicked Witch of the West, Darth Vader is easily one of the most iconic villains in movie history. The rest of the trilogy would go on to humanize Vader with the “I am your father” twist and his eventual redemption, but the 1977 original introduced Vader as a straightforward villain.
Vader is such a monumental role that it took two actors to bring him to life. The combination of David Prowse’s hulking physique and James Earl Jones’ rich, booming voice made Vader one of the best villains in Star Wars.
1 Han Solo
Han Solo is a scrappy underdog who flies a piece of junk, owes money all over the galaxy, and barbs everybody he meets with sarcastic quips. Harrison Ford’s suave, charismatic acting style (and pitch-perfect delivery of the sardonic one-liners) fit so well with the pulpy world of Star Wars that Lucas cast him to lead his next pulp homage, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The 1977 original introduces Han as a cool-as-ice gunslinger ripped straight from a classic western. Luke and Obi-Wan meet him in a dusty saloon where, before long, he’s confronted by a bounty hunter and goaded into an impromptu blaster duel that he wins with ease. Even after the introductions of Boba Fett and Din Djarin, Han is still the galaxy’s greatest gunfighter.
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