Criminally, despite having one of the most striking looks in the galaxy, these silent sentinels enjoy far less screen time than the Empire's other foot soldiers.
There are three little reasons why we love Admiral Ackbar. Three little reasons why we're quite prepared to ignore the fact that the leader of the Rebel Alliance's Endor attack fleet looks like the offspring of a fish and a turd (with the astoundingly inventive species name of Mon Calamari - tastes great with lemon juice), and overlook his initial cowardice during the Battle Of Endor. And those three little reasons are: "It's a trap!"
Looking like the offspring of a drunken one-night stand between Darth Vader and a stormtrooper, the TIE fighter pilot is the epitome of sleek unknowable cool - especially compared to their Rebel counterparts. Where TIE pilots are bedecked in good-for-all-occasions black, the Rebels sport orange jumpsuits that would be garish for a CBeebies presenter; while the Rebel pilots witter on about "the size of that thing" and "Beggar's Canyon back home", TIE aces have a taciturn demeanour, talking only when necessary ("Yes, sir" and "Look out" is the extent of their dialogue in A New Hope), otherwise keeping schtum.
This lizardy-skinned, guppy-lipped, sub-titled bounty hunter has minimal screen-time in Star Wars - and gets killed when Han Solo blasts him through the table in his first scene. But he had a distinctive enough look to feature in the first line of Star Wars toys and, as the only baddie non-human in the blister-pack, became the favourite of many kids.
Averaging just below a metre in height, draped in dark cloaks that obscure their faces and muttering unintelligible menaces, the Jawas are the hoodies of Tatooine. Yet, unlike their Dagenham counterparts, they possess a distinct charm beneath all the vandalistic argy bargy. They are, after all, the perfect introduction, after the terrors of Vader, to the Star Wars rogues' gallery - mischievous but never evil.
You may think the Star Wars character you most resemble is Han Solo or Boba Fett or, if you lack self-esteem, Mouse Robot but - look into your heart - you know it is C-3PO. He's smart (six million languages), loyal (it is his intervention that saves Artoo at the Jawa yard-sale), sensitive, occasionally says the wrong thing at the wrong time (asteroid-field odds) but always has his heart in the right place (he offers to donate his circuits to his battered-up friend).
Whenever people bang on about the Jedi being a bunch of po-faced party-poopers, they clearly haven't considered Qui-Gon Jinn. While it's true that for much of The Phantom Menace Qui-Gon blithers on about the Jedi code, he also displays more charisma, cojones and better hair than any other Jedi in the saga.
“I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee!” These are the stirring words of Queen Amidala of Naboo – Padmé, to you – spoken with the kind of fiery passion you might expect from a seasoned politician, not a 14-year-old. Although elected young, Natalie Portman’s Padme kicks some serious Separatist ass, uniting her own planet before embarking on a successful career as a Senator, striving for peace during the bleak years of The Clone Wars.
The highly popular Speeder Bike toy had a button which, when pressed, made the vehicle explode into tiny pieces. A gimmick, yes, but one that captures some of the appeal of the scout troopers, that speedy, woodland variant of the stormtrooper genus. Save the Emperor's reactor-core plunge, no Imperial deaths are as satisfying as the moments when these guys lose control of their rides, spinning hopelessly into Endorian trees and departing the galaxy as fireballs.
Dashingly handsome, blessed with a silver tongue, and handy behind the wheel of a starfighter, there’s more than a whiff of Han Solo about him. But Dameron is his own Star Wars hero: committed to the cause of the Resistance; an encouraging mentor to defecting Stormtrooper Finn; he even survives Force-torture from Kylo Ren. If the only real criticism you weather is that you weren’t in the movie enough, you’re probably doing something right.
Grand Moff Tarkin was the quintessential Star Wars villain before he even spoke a line of dialogue. As the commander of Death Star, the perfectly-cast Peter Cushing cuts a terrifying figure: his stern uniform, thin, pale face, and laser-cut cheekbones struck fear into the hearts of rebel scum and ankle-biting audiences alike. And then you hear that sonorous, classically-trained English accent snarl lines like: “perhaps she would respond to an alternative form of persuasion...”
Anakin represents the riskiest proposition in the Star Wars character canon. Not only did Lucas take on demystifying Darth Vader, cinema's greatest villain, but he also decided to etch an ambitious arc - from Jake Lloyd's mechanically-minded moppet through Hayden Christensen's lovesick youth and later Dark Side apprentice - that takes on The Biggest Question: how does evil come from good?
Most of the Star Wars saga is for kids - the droids, the Ewoks and chittering critters of all shapes and sizes. But now and again a character appears who's just for the grown-ups. In A New Hope, it's Alec Guinness, lending his bottomless gravitas to a silly space story. In The Empire Strikes Back, it's Lando Calrissian, all snake-oil-salesman charm and snake hips, bringing sex into a series generally accused of having about as much genitalia as Action Man.
Let's face it: without stormtroopers, Star Wars would be a lot less cool. The stormtrooper aesthetic is the perfect fusion of style and menace: crisp and gleaming white (yes, white! The bad guys wear white!). The helmet is insectoid, detached, inhuman. The equipment is state-of-the-art, from blaster rifle to belt-held thermal detonator. Significantly, it's the only costume from the original trilogy that still looks futuristic 30 years on.
It seems something of a shame that such a fabulously realised creature as Jabba The Hutt only really gets one big scene. But what a scene: Jabba holding court at his Tatooine citadel, surrounded by flunkies and scantily clad slave girls.
As an introduction to the new post-Disney Star Wars, Finn held a groundswell of promise and intrigue; played with charisma and likeable charm by South London’s John Boyega, he more than lived up to it. Though occasionally playing second fiddle to Rey, he enjoys a satisfying arc – from soldier to insurgent – all of his own, and earns some of best moments of the film, his misplaced bravado and naive excitement stealing the show. He’s a big deal in the Resistance, you know.
When he stepped from the shadows of a murky hologram, we knew little about Darth Maul; the inhabitants of the Star Wars galaxy - bar one - knew even less. We wouldn't discover much more: he was a force of pure malevolence, hellbent on destroying the Jedi.
Forget Vader - Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine is the true villain of the saga. It is he who meticulously plans the events that allow a humble Senator from Naboo to become first Supreme Chancellor of the known universe and, ultimately, unimpeachable Emperor.
She’s already an intriguing character when we meet her on Jakku: tough, self-reliant, living the life of a scavenger, and handy with a stick (a telling early scene sees Finn running to her rescue, before realising she can manage fairly well by herself). But as we get to know her, we realise she’s vastly more important to the future of the galaxy than perhaps initially suggested: a Force-sensitive hero whose destiny is forever intertwined with the Solos and the Skywalkers. There’s more than meets the eye with Rey.
"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." On paper, that reads pretty silly. Out of the mouth of Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi, in the silver-haired guise of Alec Guinness (whose voice could varnish wood), it sounded like holy liturgy. For all the special effects, space cowboys, arch villains and comedy droids, it was Kenobi who gave Star Wars conviction. It was Guinness who made us believers.
We need to talk about Kylo. Much of the series has been about the ongoing struggle between the dark side of the Force and the light. Usually, though, it’s characters struggling with temptations of evil, not the other way around. As the fearsome master of the Knights of Ren, Adam Driver brings extraordinary presence to a character that spends most of his time behind a mask, and cemented his status as an iconic bad guy with that awesome crossguard lightsaber.
Master Yoda, the wisest and perhaps most powerful Jedi of them all, remains species indeterminate and looks like something the cat might drag in, but his lustre as the lovable font of all Jedi wisdom is undimmable. He's lived 900 years. He must know something.
Artoo, the little droid that could, is surely the most universally cherished character in the Star Wars pantheon. And that's certainly not because he represents anything particularly innovative in droid design. He is, as has been endlessly pointed out, a close relative of the kitchen swing-bin.
Boba Fett has seen a remarkable rise (and we’re not talking about his jetpack): from minor villain (11 scenes in original trilogy) to cult fan-favourite (a solo standalone movie is currently in development). Arguably the coolest bad guy in the galaxy, Fett's icy power is sourced not in his proximity to the saga's core plot, but in his harsh facelessness and twilit ambiguity.
It’s not hard to see why the characters immediately endears himself to us: BB-8 brings laughs (the lighter ‘thumbs up’ scene is a highlight) and puppyish loyalty alike. For what is essentially a spherical, black-eyed, bleeping puppet – or in the words of designer Neal Scanlon, a “Swiss Army Knife that shouldn’t be trusted” – BB-8 is recognisably human, irrevocably entwined into the human drama that unfolds. (The fact that he’s not CGI surely helps.) His outrageous success in merchanding moolah speaks volumes of his instant and universal popularity. We haven’t seen the last of this little droid.
George Lucas's dog, Indiana, may have lent his name to a certain fedora-topped icon, but we owe him far more than just Dr. Jones. "Indiana used to ride on the front seat of my car," says Lucas. "He was a big dog, and when he sat there he was bigger than a person, so I had this image in my mind of this huge furry animal riding with me. That's where Chewbacca came from."
In a film, a genre, and – yes – an industry dominated by men, Leia shines as one of science-fiction's best female characters. Impatient, opinionated and completely self-assured, Princess Leia Organa serves many roles: princess, politician, soldier, military strategist. If she is occasionally reduced to the role of bikini-clad slave or handwringing observer, the ever-spiky Carrie Fisher ensures that Leia is never a snivelling damsel.
Luke could never catch a break. A heroic figure so expertly drafted that if he didn't exist, mythologist Joseph Campbell would have to crack open a new archetype to capture him, over the years the hero almost became – undeservedly – the punchline.
Vader knows that if everyone else wears white, black is the ideal fashion statement. In Star Wars, he doesn't even seem to be working for the Empire - for him, it's all about becoming the last of the Jedi by offing Obi-Wan. Later, when Lucas invented more backstory, Vader gets one of the great reveals of all time ("I am your father") and - for a few moments at the end of The Empire Strikes Back - you feel Luke really ought to ditch the Rebels and join his dad to found their own Empire.
Han Solo passed the ultimate litmus test of a character's popularity: every kid, in every playground, since 1977, wanted to play him. He just made it all work. Surly, wisecracking, dismissive, a dab hand with a blaster, the best pilot-smuggler in the galaxy, and best friends with a Wookiee. Jedis can go hang - we're with the cool cat in the waistcoat.