The 40 best movie characters in 40 years of 'Star Wars,' ranked

Brian Truitt
Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, left), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are off to take down a second Death Star in 'Return of the Jedi.'

Star Wars is turning 40, and four decades have spawned eight movies and endless characters, be they Jedi or Sith, Rebels or Imperials, twisted bounty hunters or adorable Ewoks.

In honor of the milestone anniversary of the original movie's May 25 release, we're ranking the 40 best movie characters in Star Wars history, from the original heroes of 1977 to the new figures introduced in the seventh episode The Force Awakens and recent spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Some don't make the cut — sorry, Jar Jar — while others have yet to prove their status in galactic lore. (We'll take another look at Captain Phasma if she proves she's more than just a cool suit of armor in The Last Jedi, in theaters Dec. 15).

Here's our rundown, from the good to the very, very bad:

40. Bail Organa: Listen, politicians may not have the best reputation in the Milky Way, but in the galaxy far, far away, the senator from Alderaan not only took in Baby Leia and kept her hidden from the Empire but was also integral in the formation of the Rebel Alliance. He's got our vote.

Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) have an important meeting in 'Revenge of the Sith.'

39. Bossk: The large lizard guy walks tall, carries a very large hand cannon and works freelance for the Empire as a bounty hunter alongside Boba Fett. Also fun for instances of Star Wars wordplay (as in "like a Bossk").

38. Jek Porkins: He died as a hero during the Battle of Yavin. More importantly, he was a role model for dudes with dad bods who wanted to squeeze into the cockpit of an X-wing.

37. Greedo: Whether you believe he shot first or Han Solo shot first, the green villain stepped up and threw down with the legendary smuggler. No guts, no glory.

There is still much to be learned about the First Order's Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who first appeared in 'The Force Awakens.'

36. Supreme Leader Snoke: He leads the nefarious First Order of the new trilogy and ... well, that's pretty much all we know thus far. Snoke makes the list because he looms large in hologram form and gives Star Wars fans fits online theorizing about his origins.

35. Director Orson Krennic: Anybody in middle management can relate to this Imperial officer who's saddled with getting a big project up and running (in his case, the first Death Star), forced to deal with uncaring bosses and winds up having some rebellious types screw the whole thing up.

34. Count Dooku: Christopher Lee with an awesome cape and a lightsaber. How do you not love that combination?

33. Wedge Antilles: The Tom Cruise of the Rebel Alliance. The X-wing flyboy was a top gun taking on AT-ATs in the Battle of Hoth and being an integral member of Red Squadron during the attacks on both Death Stars.

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32. Mon Mothma: The Rebels' primary mover and shaker behind the scenes, she first opposed the evil Palpatine in the Galactic Republic and then was integral in the growing resistance against the Empire.

31. Darth Maul: The Sith apprentice never got much to do in The Phantom Menace before getting sliced in half, falling down a shaft and being left for dead. Still, from his horns and tattoos to the double-bladed lightsaber, Maul's bad-guy chic is hard to beat.

30. Nien Nunb: Chewbacca is the best to ever sit in the Millennium Falcon's co-pilot seat. A close second, though, is the Sullustan smuggler who helped Lando Calrissian take down the second Death Star and then decades later flew an X-wing against the First Order's Starkiller Base.

Liam Neeson wielded a lightsaber as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn in 'The Phantom Menace.'

29. Qui-Gon Jinn: Liam Neeson's wise Jedi master was the first one to figure out that Anakin Skywalker was something special. It's probably for the best he didn't see the very dark turn the kid would take.

28. Wicket W. Warrick: Arguably the cutest Ewok, Wicket became the unofficial furry mascot of the Rebel Alliance and also has a cooler name than his buds Paploo, Logray and Chief Chirpa.

27. Maz Kanata: She likes Wookiees, running a crazy space bar, looking into people's eyes to see their soul and collecting antique lightsabers. The old folks had Yoda as their feisty oldster and the kids now have Maz.

26. Mace Windu: Samuel L. Jackson with an awesome tunic and a lightsaber. How do you not also love that combination?

25. K-2SO: The most human of all the various Star Wars droids also is the snarkiest robot in the Rebel Alliance. And we adore him for it.

Natalie Portman stars as Queen Amidala of Naboo in 'The Phantom Menace.'

24. Padmé Amidala: The queen of Naboo as well as Luke and Leia's mom, Padmé honestly wasn't the greatest at picking guys, and her friendship with Jar Jar was a head-scratcher, too, but she was quite the woman of action when needed.

23. Grand Moff Tarkin: Even a guy like Darth Vader has to answer to somebody, and in the original Star Wars there was nobody more ruthless or cunning than Tarkin. Who ordered the blast that took out the planet Alderaan? Yep, that guy. Cold. Blooded.

22. C-3PO: The protocol droid is always good for getting in the way and giving you odds of death during stressful space missions when you least want or need them. He's fluent in more than 7 million forms of communication and probably annoying with every single one.

21. Cassian Andor: We didn't get to see much of Diego Luna's secret agent before he sacrificed himself for the cause. Too bad, since the Rebel intelligence put a darker spin on our core protagonists than fans had ever seen before.

Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) meets Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) for the first time in 'Rogue One.'

20. Chirrut Îmwe: He's one with the Force, and the Force is with him. The spiritual warrior gave us the most ethereal Star Wars quote since "May the Force be with you."

19. BB-8: The little ball droid rolled into our hearts in The Force Awakens and is probably staying there for a while. BB-8 loves Poe, kinda digs Finn and is always available if you need a light or a thumbs up.

18. Jabba the Hutt: So corpulent he couldn't even move, Jabba was an intergalatic gangster with some serious swag. Owe him some money and you're likely to wind up in a carbonite frame and hung on the wall as cautionary-tale decor for the next guy.

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17. Chewbacca: Perhaps the most egregious fail in Star Wars history was Chewbacca not getting a service medal after the Battle of Yavin. And don't even go there calling him a "sidekick" — Han Solo's hairy best friend is the Rebels' most loyal jack of all trades.

16. Kylo Ren: Being the grandson of Darth Vader ain't easy: Do you embrace the light side of the Force like your parents and Uncle Luke, or is the dark side more your jam? So far, he's chosen the latter and killed his father, Han Solo; and we're chomping at the bit to see what happens next.

Old friends Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) reconnect in 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

15. Lando Calrissian: The smoothest of operators, Lando was forgiven too easily after betraying Han Solo and friends and gifting them to Darth Vader for some political capital. He helped save Han from Jabba, became a Rebel general and took down a Death Star, so probably a win in the long run.

14. R2-D2: He's best known as the other half of an iconic mechanical pairing with Threepio, and that's all well and good. But one of Star Wars' neatest friendships is between Luke Skywalker and Artoo, a duo that remained tight from the sands of Tatooine to the swamps of Dagobah.

13. Jyn Erso: She watched her mom die in front of her as a child, lost her dad to the Empire and was raised under the watchful eye of a Rebel extremist — so not the greatest upbringing. An ex-con, Jyn more than proved her worth as a hero stealing the plans to the Death Star. In short? She rules.

12. Boba Fett: Star Wars' most mysterious fan favorite is a guy who didn't say all that much and got eaten by a sand monster before we got to know him. You can't argue with fandom, though: Fett's signature helmet, rocket pack and sweet Slave I ship just round out the profile of an iconic outlaw.

11. Poe Dameron: The greatest pilot in the Resistance, if not the galaxy. So he’s got that going for him.

Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) become fast friends on a starship in 'The Force Awakens.'

10. Finn: Where you’ve got one half of the #TeamFinnPoe bromance, you need the other. Finn, though, broke some interesting ground by giving cannon-fodder Stormtroopers a face, a penchant for flirting and a reluctant heroism.

9. The Emperor: The baddest man in the universe, no matter what name he goes by. As Senator Palpatine, he created a political situation perfect for the coming of a fascist Empire, and as Darth Sidious, led the fight to wipe out the Jedi.

8. Obi-Wan Kenobi: The prequels aren’t good for much, but what they do is give old Ben a tragic backstory: Before protecting Luke for years and being killed by Vader, Obi-Wan was one of the Clone Wars’ greatest heroes until he and the Jedi were betrayed by his talented apprentice and best friend.

7. Admiral Ackbar: Pop culture may know him for tossing one very memorable line in a stressful situation — “It’s a trap!” — yet Ackbar goes bravely into battle against the second Death Star with the Rebel fleet, plus lives long enough to be an important part of the later Resistance.

6. Rey: Whatever her parentage — is she Luke’s daughter? Wedge’s kid? A Kenobi? Another Porkins? — Daisy Ridley’s rookie Jedi is fierce, smart, way strong in the Force and an ideal hero for little Star Wars fans, no matter their gender.

5. Yoda: Don’t underestimate the wizened little green guy putzing around with a lightsaber. He acrobatically took on Palpatine in the prequels, but the Jedi master’s best work came showing Luke the ways of the Force and preparing him to face Vader.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gets some lessons in the Force from Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) in 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

4. Luke Skywalker: Everybody freaked out that no one knew what he was up to as an old man in The Force Awakens because he's just that important to the original Star Wars trilogy and the overall saga. In terms of all-time heroes' journeys, his is up there, from his humble beginnings on a Tatooine to learning of his sinister dad to finally becoming a Jedi master to now training young Rey.

3. Princess Leia: For the longest time, the late Carrie Fisher's iconic heroine was the only one around in George Lucas' movie universe, but she still redefined female characters in the sci-fi genre. She took no guff from anybody, particularly not slug-like villains who put her in metal bikinis, and will forever be the gold standard of Star Wars women.

2. Han Solo: A protagonist armed with not only a blaster but a signature smirk and questionable morals, the Corellian smuggler flew into fans' hearts from the start in 1977 and never let go. In many ways, Solo fueled the narrative as the Everyman caught up in a world of "hokey religions and ancient weapons" while just trying to make a buck. His return in The Force Awakens — with the insta-classic line "Chewie, we're home" — meant we were, too.

1. Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker: The story of Star Wars, four decades of it, is Anakin's, a tragically Shakespearean exploration of what happens when "the chosen one" isn't exactly that. From superhero to child killer to intergalactic enforcer, Vader's arc leads him to want to rule the galaxy with his son by his side, though Luke doesn't turn like his father when given the chance. Anakin does ultimately find redemption through sacrifice, and even after death his presence is still felt through Luke and his grandson, Kylo, whose tale is still unfolding. This universe has no bigger or more important personality.

Darth Vader (Sebastian Shaw, left) finds redemption in his final moments with his son Luke (Mark Hamill) in 'Return of the Jedi.'