What really makes a good villain? We’re surrounded by them, and in a galaxy whose defining conflict is that of good and evil, we need some adequate challengers from the dark side. Some villains are best defined by their over-the-top plotting, some are something of comic relief, and some are horrifying just by how familiar they are to us. We are surrounded by villains, and it’s time for a rogues’ gallery of the good, the bad, and the unintentionally funny.
A truly effective villain must straddle the line between ominous and omnipotent. A villain who is too good or too consistently out-thinks our heroes will soon be considered too strong, but one who can’t accomplish a single plot without being foiled is no better. The team of bad guys that we meet in the GFFA combines many types of villains, and they all have different motivations. We meet some who are just doing their jobs, some who believe in their evil, and some who believe their causes are justified. We all associate Darth Vader and the Emperor with evil, and seeing the shadowy machinations of the mysterious Darth Sidious keep us interested. The Empire themselves are often a more mundane sort of evil, as they just follow orders. The more morally grey parts of the saga also provide some heroes and villains, and some who even switch sides. We’re going to need an ensemble of enemies to populate Episode VII and beyond. Let’s find some ideas.
From the EU, we have some inspiration and a few cautionary tales. Thrawn is perhaps the greatest villain of the EU, as well as one of the most recognizable. Cunning,
civilized, and surprisingly brilliant, he nearly succeeds in destroying the New Republic in its infancy. The things that make him such a good villain are often imitated if never quite duplicated. He’s a significant threat, but by no means invincible, and has been seen to make mistakes. Thrawn is consistently humanized and given more of a character than just that of an antagonist. Someone like Thrawn has a lot of potential for the ST’s villains. We’re going to need someone who poses a credible threat to our heroes, stands a reasonable chance at winning, and is interesting on their own. In terms of everything the GFFA has to offer in terms of antagonists, an intelligent and cultured villain comes with plot possibilities throughout the galaxy.
We run into many more excellent villains in the New Jedi Order. Tsavong Lah is intimidating just by physical appearance alone, and turns out to be quite dangerous militarily. As a whole, the Yuuzhan Vong are fantastic enemies. They are utterly unlike anything the New Republic or the readers have encountered before, and for a while, we contemplate whether they even will be defeated. As soon as the New Republic realizes that the Yuuzhan Vong are not, in fact, invincible, the war starts to turn in favor of the New Republic. It’s a long and difficult road, and victory is by no means certain. Though the Yuuzhan Vong are the overarching villains of the story, there are many others who prove quite dangerous. The Peace Brigade and the traitor Viqi Shesh are the villains we hate by virtue of their own familiarity. They are the same species as our heroes, from the same galaxy, and directly working for the enemy that we aren’t sure we can destroy. There aren’t many villains scarier than that. Traitors and double agents have an excellent place in a galaxy so rife with conflict, and upcoming media could make excellent use of them. As a whole, these villains who are the utter opposite of the galaxy we know and love are scary. Future villains shouldn’t be afraid to be this different from the norm.
We aren’t without our share of not-so-bad bad guys, though. Throughout the literary EU, we run into Admiral Daala as one of the most ineffectual bad guys out there. Most of her ideas have something to do with destruction for its own sake and only later realizing how much damage she’s done to her own cause, and when her battles become political, the fallout only increases. Even Han Solo comments that her main goal seems to be destruction rather than actually accomplishing anything. In-universe, she is seen as a dangerous loose cannon, and apparently did more significant damage to the nascent New Republic than we were aware of. Her greatest achievement really seems to be adding a few ships to the Second Battle of Fondor, and from there bringing the new Galactic Alliance into utter chaos. By the time she finally retires from politics, she’s become more a laughingstock than a threat- quite an ignoble end for an antagonist who had potential.
Here’s the problem with this particular ineffectual villain: she could have been so much more. As a lesson for the future, a somewhat unconventional military leader is a good source of long-standing villain. Look at Thrawn- being able to interpret art leading to decisive victories, obscure strategies, and having plenty of contingency plans paid off. Though we are told that Daala is at least good at destroying things (and we see this), we get nothing of the tactical skills she supposedly has. It’s a waste of a good villain, to be honest. What if Thrawn really had been alive again during the hand of Thrawn duology, and had indeed been menacing the New Republic? That could have been catastrophic. Coming back from the dead is a difficult theme to work with, but if done correctly, could be an excellent plot point. Creating a bad recurring villain who can’t actually get much accomplished just simply isn’t as interesting as having a shorter-lived good villain whose specter haunts our heroes for years to come. There is a balance between villains who are bad at what they do and villains whose incompetence leads to them not being taken seriously as threats.
Every time we discuss Star Wars villains, we have to talk about the Bantam era of publishing and some of the colorful characters we encountered. For all that a lot of us laugh at the plotlines and the foes the New Republic faced, we certainly did see some one-of-a-kind characters. Warlord and/or superweapon-of-the-week is going to result in some rather interesting things. Parasitic bugs, Hutt Jedi, ghosts in computers, extradimensional godlike beings, xenophobic aliens, clones, and mad admirals all make for good adventures. The only problem with this is that it’s not a very sustainable formula, and if Star Wars wants to continue movies for some time to come, they will need to be selective about pulling inspiration from this rogues’ gallery. One-shot villains often make for a great diversion from the main plot, or even a distraction from an overarching threat. However, they don’t work well as the lifeblood of the series.
There is, however, a place for the funny villains and warlords-of-the-week. We are apparently getting quite a few Star Wars spinoff films, and we’re going to need to populate them. For all that we ran into some ineffective and entertaining enemies, they’re actually a rather good story possibility. What if we get a series of loosely-connected films chronicling the time between Return of the Jedi and Episode VII? It would be a great place to show all the warlords and others squabbling over the galaxy; the EU scenario of the Empire fragmenting and destroying itself in an internecine war of attrition comes with myriad film and novel opportunities. Some, of course, should be dangerous. Some can be more along the lines of comic relief. We may laugh at the likes of Zsinj, Waru, the Empire Reborn, and others, but they have their place in Star Wars storytelling. When Episode VII comes to theaters, I’m going to be watching the villains just as much as the heroes, and hoping for a well-developed range of characters on both sides.