The original Star Wars trilogy was a campy, action-filled fever dream of trope-filled characters. There’s nothing wrong with tropey writing, whether done in earnest or as a lampoon. It’s known for its cartoonish side characters who are meant to serve as comic relief and minor villains with fairly generic goals in mind, centered around violence and domination.
As the universe and storylines expanded across generations, the characters became more and more nuanced. Luke Skywalker, for instance, went from a boilerplate Farm Boy Turned Chosen One to a flawed mentor and reluctant hero with hard-earned wisdom. The series also explores the complexities of evil, including the descent to and ascension from villainy.
10 Poe Dameron
Right off the bat, Poe comes off as a complex character. He’s heroic, but heroism doesn’t come with nerves of steel, and it’s understandable that he would suffer under Kylo Ren’s interrogation. Though Poe is immediately complex and likable to the audience, he still has much to learn.
Poe serves General Leia proudly as a member of the Resistance. Both Leia and Vice-Admiral Holdo have valid criticisms about how he flouts orders and takes unnecessary risks that endanger lives. In the end, Poe truly internalizes General Leia’s advice about what makes a stellar leader and makes his mentor proud.
9 Luke Skywalker
Luke Skywalker went from a wide-eyed farm boy who knew little more than blue milk and the twin suns of Tatooine to a legendary hero. Discovering that his father was not only alive but the most powerful Sith lord in the galaxy was the first moment his simple ideas of good and evil were rocked to the core. His illusions were shattered further when he became a Jedi Master with Padawans.
And yet, Luke Skywalker still had much to learn. As the last Jedi, it was his job to teach younglings, and he lost it all when he gave in to fear and nearly killed his nephew. His failure caused him to retreat for years, but even then, he tried to do right by teaching Rey and reassuring Leia that there was still hope for Ben.
8 Jyn Erso
In the span of her fleeting life, Jyn Erso went from foundling to child soldier to criminal to Resistance fighter. She tried to save her scientist father but couldn’t, despite her best efforts. Though Jyn couldn’t save him, she acted in the spirit of her parents and saved countless lives by successfully getting the Death Star plans to Princess Leia.
Not only did Jyn go further in her heroism than her parents, but she also got a taste of what it felt like to finally trust a worthy person when she developed a bond with Cassian Andor. Cassian telling her that she would make her father proud is one of the kindest and truest things a person could tell Jyn.
7 Ben Solo
Darth Vader had a short moment before he died where he expressed genuine regret, while Ben Solo’s redemption arc was foreshadowed heavily, especially starting at the beginning of The Last Jedi. All his life, Snoke whispered evil in Ben’s mind, isolating and corrupting him. Ben thought killing his father would relieve his torment, but as Snoke observed, it only served to break his resolve further.
Ben’s absorption of Rey also goes well beyond selfish interest. When Snoke nearly kills Rey, Ben kills his master. His ascent back to the light isn’t a simple trajectory, though. He leaps forward and backslides in turn as he fights within himself. Still, he has one of the most convincing anti-hero arcs in any Star Wars film.
6 Darth Maul
There is little doubt that, at first, Darth Maul was written merely as an antagonistic ornament of sorts. In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul is depicted to have excellent fighting techniques, a frightening countenance, and a flat character’s simple motives. He’s a creature of the dark side who takes down the noble Qui-Gon.
But The Clone Wars fleshes out Darth Maul’s character, showing exactly how a character becomes a creature of the dark side and what that actually means. Darth Maul is incredibly intelligent and has a capacity for politeness. The Sith robbed him of his mother and brother, leaving him nothing. But rather than rebelling against the Sith, he craved the illusory and comforting feeling of power to assuage his trauma.
5 Cassian Andor
Cassian Andor is a wonderful character because he’s dynamic and contributes to the plot, but he’s one of the few Star Wars protagonists that aren’t Force-sensitive. Unlike Darth Maul, when Cassian lost everything, he didn’t take it to darkness. Instead, he resolved to work even harder against the forces of oppression that hurt him and others in the first place.
One of the most significant reveals so far in Andor was that Cassian was forced to build part of the Death Star while he was imprisoned by the Empire. The same weapon he would later devote his life and death to destroying. It’s hard to top his well-earned heroism.
4 Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan was a mentor who was more of a plot device than a fleshed-out character in the original trilogy. His job was to inspire Luke and care for Luke. The prequel trilogy shed more light on his character, as he went quickly from Qui-Gon’s Padawan to Anakin’s Master.
As a Master, Obi-Wan’s leadership and nurturing skills outmatched even Qui-Gon’s. His wisdom didn’t insulate him from mistakes, however. He couldn’t keep his Padawan from the path of destruction, which haunted him for the rest of his life. He didn’t let that ruin him, though. He was still there for young Leia when she needed someone, leaving such an impression on her that she would go on years later to name her only son after him.
Rey began as a scavenger, living on a remote planet without family or connections. Though she was definitely food-insecure (because of the exploitive Unkar Plutt’s way of running business), she managed by herself alright. She could fight, build and survive with her sense of morality intact.
When BB-8 unwittingly dragged her into the Skywalker saga, her true potential as a Jedi was tapped. Like Ben Solo, Rey also saw the dark side in herself, confronting it several times. Rather than give in to it, she made peace with it and chose the light, eventually helping Ben, too. It almost doesn’t matter whether she’s Rey Nobody or Rey Skywalker; she’s one of the greatest Jedi ever.
2 Din Djarin
Fatherhood is one of the main recurring themes in Star Wars, and adoptive parenthood is considered sacred to the Mandalorian culture. Though The Mandalorian has a simple episodic spaghetti-Western storytelling style, Din Djarin is much more than the average lone ranger. Din is a ruthless bounty hunter, but when he’s confronted with the helpless child Grogu, his plan changes entirely.
As he grows closer to the child, he removes his helmet so Grogu can see his face. He also wants to reconnect with his tribe so that Grogu can learn the way of the Mandalore. He goes from a lone bounty hunter to a pillar in the community.
1 Anakin Skywalker
Not all character development is positive, and Anakin Skywalker is one of the series’ most tragic, compelling villains. Fans couldn’t help but root for him as he went from a talented youth to a precocious Jedi student. His love for Padmé was rife with unnecessary shame and secrecy because of puritanical Jedi mores.
Anakin’s decisions can be traced back to his trauma as a child. All he wanted to do was stop the people he cared about from dying. Palpatine exploited that love and fear, tormenting and breaking Anakin, turning him into the worst part of himself. And even after the worst of his deeds, Anakin still wanted to come back to help his child, making his arc much more heartbreaking.