While the prequel and sequel trilogies divided the fan base between those who loved them and those who despised them, George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy is pretty much universally accepted to be one of the greatest stories ever told. Luke Skywalker’s journey from bright-eyed farm boy to the Jedi’s new hope inspired millions of moviegoers across the world and continues to inspire new generations to this day.
The original trilogy gave the silver screen some of its most recognizable icons, from the people’s princess to the cool-as-ice captain of the Millennium Falcon to arguably the most memorable villain in movie history.
10 Boba Fett
Back in 1980, Star Wars fans fell in love with the cool-as-ice bounty hunter who needed to be told by Darth Vader not to disintegrate people. As a badass of few words, Boba Fett is a quintessential spaghetti western gunslinger in the mold of the Man with No Name.
It’s a shame that Boba went out so unceremoniously in the first act of Return of the Jedi, but Temuera Morrison has successfully restored the character to his former glory in The Mandalorian.
The Force ghost of Ben Kenobi sends Luke to train with Master Yoda in the swamps of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. Frank Oz’s masterful puppetry holds up better today than most CGI from just a couple of years ago.
Yoda lifting Luke’s X-wing out of the swamp after Luke deems it to be impossible might be the most hopeful, awe-inspiring moment in the entire Star Wars saga.
R2-D2 and C-3PO are the focus of Star Wars for its opening act. Leia records a message onto Artoo’s hard drive asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for help, then sends the droids to Tatooine to deliver it to him. They end up getting picked up by Luke, who is immediately peeved by Artoo’s cheeky behavior.
Luke and Artoo went on to develop arguably the sweetest human-droid relationship in the Star Wars universe. Whenever Luke told Artoo to stay with the ship, Artoo would follow him anyway.
Han Solo’s Wookiee companion Chewbacca is one of the most lovable Star Wars characters because he’s basically a big shaggy dog with a laser crossbow. He’s fiercely loyal to Han, and later to Luke and Leia.
From breaking into Jabba’s palace to liberate Han to collecting the pieces of a dismantled C-3PO and putting him back together, Chewie is always there for the people he cares about.
6 Ben Kenobi
Ben Kenobi is struck down by his fallen apprentice Darth Vader early in the original trilogy, but he sticks around for the next two movies as a Force ghost to guide Luke on his quest to become a Jedi Knight, confront his father, and bring peace to the galaxy.
The impeccable acting talents of Alec Guinness made Kenobi an instant icon. The Bridge on the River Kwai star brought real pathos to Lucas’ world-building exposition. Ian McKellen would later do the same thing for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
5 Emperor Palpatine
After the Emperor got a passing mention in the 1977 original and briefly video-chatted with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, the big bad of the Star Wars saga pulling Vader’s puppet-strings was finally revealed in Return of the Jedi – and he didn’t disappoint. Ian McDiarmid’s performance is spectacular (and he went on to add more depth to the character in the prequels).
The climactic duel in the Emperor’s throne room provided a thrilling conclusion to the story of the Skywalkers. Anakin’s son’s love is what saves him from the manipulation of his evil overlord.
4 Leia Organa
In keeping with Star Wars being a fairy tale in space, Leia Organa is a princess locked away in a tower (well, technically a holding cell onboard a space station) and a noble knight has to come and rescue her. But that trope is subverted when Luke’s rescue mission backfires and Leia has to save her own saviors seconds later.
The second and third movies touch on Leia’s Force sensitivity, while her military leadership is crucial in the Rebellion’s eventual victory over the Empire. Of course, the greatest thing about Leia is that she’s played by the late, great Carrie Fisher.
3 Luke Skywalker
George Lucas ensured that hundreds of Hollywood blockbusters would follow Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” to a T when he used it as a rough guideline to develop Luke Skywalker’s character arc in Star Wars. Luke is a mythical figure that audiences can look up to. He’s tempted by the dark side, as we all are, but ultimately chooses the side of good.
The sequel trilogy bizarrely recharacterized Luke as an unrecognizable grump that Mark Hamill referred to as “Jake Skywalker.” Fortunately, The Mandalorian brought back a more familiar Luke in its latest season finale.
2 Darth Vader
The Joker, Nurse Ratched, Anton Chigurh, and the Wicked Witch of the West are some of the silver screen’s most memorable antagonists, but they’re all playing for second because the most iconic movie villain of all time is undoubtedly Darth Vader.
Vader’s redemption in Return of the Jedi set a precedent for countless unearned redemption arcs in sci-fi and fantasy franchises (including Kylo Ren’s in the sequel trilogy), but Vader’s redemption works. The audience isn’t expected to forgive Anakin for his many devastating war crimes; the audience just has to believe that Vader is forgiven by his own son.
1 Han Solo
There’s a lot of competition, but arguably the most beloved and iconic character introduced in the original Star Wars trilogy is Han Solo, the charismatic captain of the Millennium Falcon who doesn’t like being told the odds.
Harrison Ford’s own cynicism toward the Star Wars phenomenon ironically ended up feeding into Han’s own cynicism toward the Force and the Rebellion.