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The 8 greatest 'Star Wars' villain intros, from Darth Vader to Admiral Thrawn
What's the (cough cough) situation with these introductions?
Villains in Star Wars have a flair for the dramatic. They want you to feel their presence the moment you see them. Some play with your expectations (and the expectations of the viewer) to create truly memorable introductions.
The movies and shows of the saga are loaded with villains making grand entrances, many of which are the first time the character is being seen. Obi-Wan Kenobi begins its Disney+ streaming domination on May 27, and there will undoubtedly be many red-bladed Inquisitors getting some dramatic intros. We may have seen some of these inquisitors before in animation (the Grand Inquisitor, Fifth Brother, etc.), but live-action is another story. To prep for the arrival of the Red Blades, we’re going over our favorite introductory villain scenes from Star Wars.
Extend that ramp and bust open the doors, because here come the bad guys.
8. General Grievous (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith)
Before we get a good look at who this villain is, the opening crawl mentions him. Both Anakin and Obi-Wan talk about him. If you saw the original Clone Wars series from Genndy Tartakovsky, you had some idea of what to expect. Fans were led to believe that a badass force of nature was about to show himself.
And then in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the door to a Separatist command center opens, and in struts a coughing coward, voiced by Matthew Wood. Tartakovsky’s version was surreally overpowered and frightening, but this thing is neither. He’s a proto-Vader puppet, and he lasts as long as he does because he continually runs away and hides.
The real villain of this movie is Darth Sidious, but that shoe hasn’t dropped yet. A bio-mechanized monster with severe health issues fills the time before Sidious shows his true colors (and turns Anakin), and he immediately lets us know who he is by the way he coughs himself onto his own bridge.
7. Grand Admiral Thrawn (Star Wars Rebels)
Phoenix Squadron has gotten the better of the Empire for two Star Wars Rebels seasons running, and it’s only when Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin get involved personally that anything starts to go right for the Imperials. Both Vader and Tarkin have other things going on, of course, so Season 3 of this animated series brought in Grand Admiral Thrawn.
A villain from the very beginning of what was once called the Star Wars Expanded Universe, fans were overjoyed that the blue-skinned Chiss was being re-canonized. Played by Lars Mikkelsen, he lets everyone know instantly on the show that he’s still the strategic mastermind that Timothy Zahn created for the book Star Wars: Heir to the Empire.
In the premiere of Season 3, Tarkin talks with Agent Kallus and the useless Admiral Konstantine. Thrawn eventually steps out of the darkness, speaking in his voice of silky menace, and we know that our beloved Phoenix Squad heroes are royally kriffed. He’s good enough for Tarkin (which is saying something), and the Emperor himself has promoted him to the unusual rank of “Grand Admiral.” Kallus points out that civilian casualties were huge in Thrawn’s last campaign, but nobody present has a problem with that.
Thrawn looks at the data, and immediately deduces what the Rebel plot for the premiere episode is. He’s right about all of it. “They will be the architects of their own destruction,” he says, cementing himself as a serious threat. It was a grand return for a brilliantly deadly Grand Admiral. We haven't seen the last of this Chiss.
6. Moff Gideon (The Mandalorian)
We knew that Giancarlo Esposito was coming in Season 1 of The Mandalorian, we just didn’t know when he’d appear. Chapter 7 finally brought him in, and even though the Empire had been defeated, he still managed to muster up a dramatic introduction.
A large garrison of troopers have Din Djarin and friends pinned down. A TIE Fighter flies in, and folds its wings to land in the middle of the formation. This is something new, so we’re already expecting something special. Gideon struts out, black cape swishing behind him, and the soundtrack thrums with his musical motif.
He has us before he says a single word, partially thanks to this extended entrance. When he gets close enough for us to see his face, the natural brilliance of Esposito takes over. He wasn’t playing an Imperial version of his Breaking Bad villain Gus Fring, though. Esposito was giving us something new.
“You have something I want,” he declares to the huddled heroes. It’s as simple as that. A perfect first line, a perfect delivery, and a perfect entrance make Moff Gideon’s introduction… perfect.
5. Orson Krennic (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
Few things are better than hearing Ben Mendelsohn scream at people. He does a lot of it when playing Director Krennic in Rogue One, but his introduction is scream-free. It still makes an impact.
The Erso family is freaking out over an approaching shuttle, only saying “he’s found us.” Who, exactly? Whoever it is, he’s wearing a white Imperial uniform with a regulation Imperial rain poncho draped over it. We see him from the back as he approaches the Erso farm flanked by Death Troopers. We hadn’t seen them before.
We see his face as he walks up to Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and he plays nice. It’s almost small talk, but it has menace underneath. When Galen lies about his wife being dead, Mendelsohn plays a beat that tells us everything we need to know about Krennic.
He blows out some air in an exaggerated gesture, as if to say, “Oh she’s dead? What a blow.” He gives his "condolences" to Galen, even though he doesn’t believe the story at all. He has troopers searching the place a second later, and soon enough Lyra is dead for real and Krennic is shouting more orders.
He’s glib, he’s sarcastic, and he's gonna get what he needs. He’s better at this game than Galen is (at this point) and he knows it. By the end of the scene, we know it too. This is HIS achievement. NOT YOURS.
4. Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Here’s another introduction that is greatly assisted by the arrival of a large spaceship. In the middle of the First Order attacking a Jakku village, a dark shuttle lands like a floating bat of death. A ramp extends, and out walks a hooded figure in a mask.
He’s not Vader, because he walks angry. He’s not strutting, he wants the ground that he is walking on to suffer. He walks directly up to Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow), and we hear Adam Driver’s voice processed through the mask. It was unexpected, and definitely unlike other masked villains in Star Wars.
Who is he, exactly? Thanks to Tekka, we know his name is Kylo Ren. We know that was not always his name. We know that he has family history of some kind too, because Tekka tells him he can’t deny it.
“You’re so right,” is all Kylo says, before sparking up the crossguard lightsaber that everyone saw in the trailers. He cuts Tekka down in one swipe, and that’s the last time we see Max Van Sydow in Star Wars. Thanks, Kylo! As if all of this wasn’t enough, he then blocks a blaster bolt in mid-air that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) shoots at him, with nothing but the power of The Force.
Put all of these things together, and we’ve got a formidable new villain in town for the Sequel Trilogy.
3. Darth Maul (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)
We’re going to cheat on this one, because the scene we’re thinking of is not Darth Maul’s introduction in The Phantom Menace. That moment happens over hologram, and it’s great, but it’s not the moment we think about when we think of Maul making an entrance. Technically this is a re-introduction, but whatever, we’re counting it. As you have likely already guessed, it is Maul joining the fray on Naboo in the movie’s climax.
The assembled forces of Queen Amidala have broken through the first line of defense to get into the palace. A giant double door opens, and BAM. Everyone stops dead in their tracks, because a hooded figure is standing in their way. Natalie Portman’s first look at him is incredible. You can see her eyes swiping left.
Maul looks up. We’ve seen his nightmare face before, but not like this. The two Jedi say they’ll handle it, and the now-required pre-duel unrobing takes place. The two Jedi spark up. Maul sparks up himself. Ray Park brandishes his long lightsaber hilt and out comes one blade. Another one comes out the other side. For the first time in a Star Wars movie, we were looking a double-bladed lightsaber.
We knew this was coming because of the trailers (they really showed way too much), but the moment is still a classic. When paired with John Williams’ opening notes of “Duel of the Fates,” it’s a hard entrance to beat. Technically, it’s not Maul’s introduction, but it might as well be.
2. Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi)
We’d heard references to an “Emperor” for two movies, and we see him over hologram in The Empire Strikes Back. Finally, in Return of the Jedi, he arrives on the unfinished Death Star in the flesh.
The buildup is huge. It looks like half of the Empire is in formation on the unfinished Death Star as a million TIE Fighters fly cover outside. A shuttle lands and out come some red-robed guards who we’d never seen. Darth Vader approaches and kneels. What being of awesome power are we about to finally meet?
We meet a shriveled old man who walks with a cane. “Rise my friend,” he says from the depths of his hooded black robe, and he has a little walk and talk with Vader. We hardly see his face, but we do get his trademark cackle. This was the guy that every other villain (Vader included) bowed to? This is who Yoda said should not be underestimated? He’s a shriveled old man! Where’s the danger?
When originally viewed in 1983 (long before Palpatine was a regular in the prequels), this was how the thinking went. We didn’t know what he was capable of, we just saw an old man. After this intro, Ian McDiarmid proceeded to eat every piece of scenery he could find, before we saw the true power of this Sith Lord laid bare.
Despite Yoda’s warning, Luke underestimated the Emperor’s power. We did too, because all we saw in his first scene was a laughing prune. Did we expect him to shoot lightning out of his hands and effortlessly take Luke down? We didn’t, and neither did Luke. His introduction is fantastic because it undersells him. It gives you no hint as to how powerful he truly is. When we found out, it was… shocking. If you've already seen the prequels then you know what to expect, but we didn't know kark in 1983.
1. Darth Vader (Star Wars: A New Hope)
We’re off to the races very quickly at the beginning of the first Star Wars movie. A big ship is captured by an even bigger ship, some oddly armored troopers board that ship, and a firefight ensues. There are droids around and one of them is gold. The other one is a trashcan. What the f**k is this movie?
The white-armored troopers then step aside, and in comes one of the most iconic Star Wars characters (if not the most iconic of all) that you’ll ever find. Armored all in black with a long cape, this immense thing struts onto the ship like it holds no danger for him at all. It doesn’t. The design of his helmet immediately makes an impression, just in case the rest of him doesn’t.
No words are said. He looks to one side, he looks to the other, and then he looks ahead and struts down the hall. All we hear is the breath. No lightsaber, no words, just the breath.
The legend of Darth Vader is born.
Once he started talking with the voice of James Earl Jones, our love (and fear) of this villain would skyrocket even further, but Jones doesn’t have a contribution in this first moment. That it lands so hard is a testament to the design, but also to the in-suit performance of the departed David Prowse.
The master of the “nothing can touch me” strut, Prowse managed to make Vader unforgettable with just a couple of movements. It doesn’t matter how many times we watch this movie (and how much of Vader’s story we already know), this moment never fails to take our breath away.
It has to be, without a doubt, our favorite villain introduction in all of Star Wars.
Obi-Wan Kenobi begins streaming on Disney+ on May 27th. He hasn't gone by that name in a long time. A long time.
Looking for more sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY has new series The Ark in the works from original Stargate film writer/producer Dean Devlin and Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner.