If there’s a defining element to the Star Wars universe beyond the existence of the Force, it’s the ubiquity and showmanship of its villains. They tend to arrive wearing fascist-inspired armor (0ften all in black), riding around in ships with a geometry that positively advertises that flair for genocide. Heck, even their lightsabers are color-coded to make their moral landscape patently obvious. But none of means all Star Wars villains are created equal, and so, to celebrate the release of The Rise of Skywalker, we’ve ranked all the major ones, from the most ineffective (if still scary) to the downright terrifying.
Let’s face it, Imperial Stormtroopers are the worst. While there have been stories that served to give the Stormtroopers some personality, or even a heroic tinge, and we’re specifically excluding the more efficient Death Troopers from this entry, in the main Stormtroopers are incompetent. Their main tactic seems to always be marching directly into the line of fire while randomly discharging their weapons in random directions, and despite having overwhelming numerical superiority in almost every encounter, they pretty much always lose (the notable exception being the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One—the Rebels were pretty much wiped out even before the Death Star destroyed the base, though not before they managed to complete their mission—responsibility for which can also be placed squarely on the armored shoulders of the boys in white. =
Bounty hunter Greedo is part of an iconic moment in A New Hope, killed by Han Solo in a bit of classic smuggler conflict resolution. Greedo seems pretty intimidating, but is also killed pretty easily by an irritated Solo, making it kind of incredible that he survived so long as a bounty hunter. Greedo’s stock sank even further when George Lucas altered the canon so that Greedo tried to sucker-shoot Han first—and failing, at point-blank range.
16. Orson Krennic
It’s difficult to fear a man named Orson. While Krennic gets credit for overseeing the construction of the Death Star, and he’s certainly an evil man, he’s also a glorified civil servant with delusions of grandeur—delusions quickly corrected by a real villain, Grand Moff Tarkin, the moment his usefulness has passed. While having Krennic as your boss would probably lead to some light torture and probable death, if he’s not conducting your annual performance review, you don’t have much reason to fear..
15. Jango/Boba Fett
Not only was Jango Fett a legendary bounty hunter in his own right and the basis for the clone armies wielded by the Old Republic, his clone-slash-son Boba took up his mercenary mantle and became one of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy. While there are other bounty hunters in the non-canonical universe that might have been his peers, Boba stands out as one of the most effective and ruthless, successfully capturing Han Solo and delivering him to Jabba among plenty of other villainy. But he did go out like a punk (accidentally falling into a hole isn’t exactly an impressive way to go), plus Attack of the Clones showed us he was once a tiny, adorable child cheering “yeah, git ‘im, dad!” from the cockpit of Slave I. So.
14. General Hux
The galaxy far, far away sometimes has a bit too much fun with its villains; it’s difficult to be terrified of someone who gets called “General Hugs” by Poe Dameron. Whereas in the earlier films the fascist military officers of the Empire were often scary (see, again, Mr. Tarkin), Hux is portrayed as a sputtering martinet, overfond of capes and dramatic speeches. Sure, he’s obviously more than willing to commit genocide and planetary destruction, but he’s simply not that scary.
13. Jabba the Hutt
Ah, Jabba. While Star Wars fans of any vintage are fond of the worm-like crime lord, there’s only a brief window in the original films where Jabba the Hutt seems at all threatening. In the end, this makes sense—Jabba is the most powerful villain on Tatooine, but as the story expands to a Galactic scale you realize that being the most powerful anything on a single planet pales in comparison to being, say, the Emperor and his planet-destroying weapons. Plus, Jabba has no legs, he’s a pothead, and he moves about as fast as molasses on a hot day. Sans thugs, he’s not exactly fearsome.
12. Dryden Voss
Overall, Dryden Voss is an okay villain, although much of this can be attributed to the skill of Paul Bettany’s portrayal in Solo. His polite, civilized exterior does inspire a chilling affect, and he’s certainly ruthless. The fact that he’s really just a figurehead for Crimson Dawn and a puppet of Darth Maul kind of detracts from this villainy, however; you have to wonder how much of a terrifying crime syndicate he would have managed to build without the power of a Sith Lord behind him.
11. Darth Bane
You may not have heard of Darth Bane, and he’s just barely canon now. Although an extremely powerful Sith Lord (albeit one long gone), he’s mainly on this list because he’s the originator of the Sith “Rule of Two” that states that there can only be two Sith Lords at any one time—a Master and an Apprentice. While you might assume limiting the number of Sith while the Jedi get to recruit any old orphan kid they stumble over would make the Sith weak, the Rule of Two was actually instrumental in elevating the Sith power to the point where the Emperor was almost invincible.
10. General Grievous
You gotta love a cyborg who greets Obi Wan Kenobi with four robot arms, each wielding a lightsaber. Trained by Count Dooku, Grievous was unique in that he had no Force sensitivity at all, but was a fearsome duelist with the lightsaber (in part because of the aforementioned extra arms) in addition to being a brilliant military mind and something of a living weapon. The only reason Grievous isn’t higher on this list is his relatively quick demise in the cinematic Star Wars universe; although he has a rich backstory as a warrior in non-canon animated series, he was reduced to a wheezing Darth Vader also-ran in Revenge of the Sith.
9. Captain Phasma
Captain Phasma certainly looks badass. And she sounds badass, thanks to the acting skills of Gwendoline Christie. And Delilah Dawson did a bang-up job of making her literally badass in the novel Star Wars: Phasma that recounted her origin story. But in the films, Phasma is kind of inconsequential. She commits treason, stages a ruthless coverup, and seems to lose every fight she’s in. If you’re a hero of the Republic, you’d be kind of cheered to discover Phasma had been assigned to your case.
8. Grand Moff Tarkin
Now we’re getting to the true villains. Tarkin, the first Grand Moff in the Empire’s history, didn’t have any Force powers, cybernetic implants, or skill with a lightsaber. But he was the personification of ruthlessness, willing to torture, deceive, and destroy entire planets in service to his Emperor. Plus, you got the feeling Tarkin kind of enjoyed it all. But perhaps the biggest testament to his power was the way he interacted with Darth Vader; while it’s true that he had the Emperor behind him, his casual attitude towards Vader was bone-chilling to observe because he knew what Vader was capable of.
7. Supreme Leader Snoke
When Snoke first appeared in The Force Awakens, he was shrouded in mystery and seemed poised to be a major player on the Dark Side. Though not a Sith, he was a powerful master of the Force and the leader of the Empire remnant known as the First Order. His appearance sparked a million fan theories about his true identity—but then, in The Last Jedi, he was killed by his protege, Kylo Ren, falling for a trick a true master of the Force would have spotted a mile away. In the end, Snoke did a lot of evil things, but didn’t rise to the level of the other Sith Lords in the top 10.
6. Darth Maul
When The Phantom Menace hit the screens in 1999, fans were in a frenzy. While the disappointment with the film remains a big talking point, exactly zero people were disappointed with Darth Maul, a villain who instantly had the potential to be the equal of Darth Vader. With his famous dual-blade lightsaber and his distinctive facial markings—and horns! don’t forget the horns!—Maul was a fearsome opponent who survived being cut in half by Obi Wan Kenobi and later became the leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. His surprise appearance at the end of Solo made fans very happy, because who wants to live in a Star Wars universe without Darth Maul? No one.
5. Count Dooku
He might look like a frail old man, and his name might sound like something your toddler says when describing their bathroom adventures, but Dooku was a powerful Sith Lord as Darth Tyranus, apprentice to Darth Sidious, and instrumental in destroying the Republic and thus, indirectly, the Jedi Order itself. That he was ultimately killed by Sidious and Anakin Skywalker—not yet Darth Vader—actually enhances his ranking, as it took two of the most powerful people in the galaxy to bring him down (Yoda couldn’t even get it done).
4. Kylo Ren
Kylo may be a bit emo and prone to tantrums, but he’s also a powerful villain. Like Darth Vader, what makes Kylo such a great villain is the potential for goodness he displays—his most evil acts, like, say, killing his own father in cold blood—seem to cause him serious distress, and he exhibits a real yearning for, you know, a friend, someone who understands him. These glimmers of goodness make his ascent to the supreme leadership of the First Order even more horrifying—and he’s no slouch when it comes to dark side of the Force, either. While his full character arc remains to be seen as of this writing, he’s already established himself as one of the best—and most complex—villains in the Star Wars universe.
3. Grand Admiral Thrawn
Thrawn, of course, was a huge part of the expanded Star Wars universe before pretty much all of that was declared uncanonical. Despite having no Force powers and being somewhat unknown to fans who only watch the films, Thrawn is our #3 villain—some argue he should be #1—because his superpower is competence. Thrawn is not just a brilliant military mind, he’s simply brilliant, and is the single biggest threat to the Rebels and the newborn Republic after The Emperor and Vader are killed, ending the Sith. Timothy Zahn’s new canonical books exploring Thrawn are just solidifying his reputation as the best non-Sith villain in the galaxy.
2. Emperor Palpatine
Sheev Palpatine, aka The Emperor, aka Darth Sidious, is clearly the greatest politician in the history of ever. Keeping his Sithiness under wraps for many, many years, Palpatine appears initially as a mild-mannered Senator from Naboo and works the gears of the huge, unwieldy galactic government to sow chaos until he can install himself as Emperor, reveal himself as Darth Sidious, and even announce a new Sith Rule of One with the intention of living—and ruling—forever. He’s incredibly powerful, incredibly smart, and in the end was only defeated by the power of a father’s love.
1. Darth Vader
What can we say? Even though Anakin Skywalker never became a great Jedi because of his personal failings, and despite the fact that Lord Vader was only ever the second-most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy, Darth Vader wins on both style points—is there a more iconic villain design in the history of film visuals?—and sheer power (go re-watch his final scene in Rogue One for a refresher). The fact that Vader manages a heel-turn in the end to emerge as one of the galaxy’s great heroes just underscores how overpowered a villain he was.
Who’s the biggest Star Wars baddie on your list?