When George Lucas' "Star Wars" came out in 1977, many critics noticed something interesting about this innovative science-fiction film with the eye-popping special effects - it was decidedly old-fashioned.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the film's characters. From the swashbuckling Han Solo to the farm-boy Luke Skywalker, nearly everyone in "Star Wars" seems inspired by old adventure films, Saturday serials or - reaching back further - classic adventure novels and fairy tales. Actually, Lucas' sources are even older than that: He was a fan of Joseph Campbell's work on world religions and folklore, and used those myths to create his overarching narrative.
As the "Star Wars" franchise continued, Lucas increased the population of his fictional universe but always stuck to recognizable types - and not always for the better. We'll see whether writer-director J.J. Abrams uses the same approach when his new film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," arrives in theaters Dec. 18. For now, here's a list of 17 definitive characters from the "Star Wars" saga.
BEST SIDEKICK: Chewbacca
Han Solo's furry friend and unofficial bodyguard is steadfast, loyal, dependable and humongous. A gun-toting Wookie with a menacing yowl and an extreme version of 1970s-era facial hair, Chewbacca is the buddy you want in any shootout, bar fight or all-around tough spot. He's the ideal mix of Secret Service Agent and Hell's Angel.
COOLEST BAD GUY: Boba Fett
It's hard to explain why this bounty-hunter with the dark green helmet has gained such a reputation - maybe because he's the only guy with the skills and smarts to trap Han Solo. Adding to his appeal is that he never speaks. Also, he can fly. For a tertiary character, he's created quite a cult of personality among "Star Wars" fans. Collectible Boba Fett action figures can sell for as much as $2,000.
MOST CONTROVERSIAL: Greedo
Sidling up to Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina in the original "Star Wars," Greedo uttered the famous line, "Oota goota, Solo?" The two then sat down to talk - but from there accounts differ. In the 1977 film, Han pulls his blaster and kills Greedo with a pre-emptive shot. In the 1997 re-release, however, Lucas re-edited the scene so that Greedo shoots first. Lucas' attempt to tinker with history and soft-pedal Solo's character outraged fans, leading to the t-shirt campaign "Han Shot First."
BEST WINGMAN: Gold Five
"Stay on target... stay on target..." Those are the immortal words of the Rebel Alliance pilot Gold Five during the climactic battle scene in the original "Star Wars." He has only the tiniest of roles (he's played by Graham Ashley), but this dogged soldier is an important symbol of the sacrifices that were made to destroy the Death Star. As with all things "Star Wars," even this character has an elaborate backstory - did you know his real name is Davish Krail? Regardless, we'll always remember him as Gold Five.
BEST COMEDY TEAM: R2-D2 and C-3PO
Like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis or maybe even Bert and Ernie, these two androids are an endearing odd-couple. Squat little R2-D2 is essentially a childlike figure, toddling and babbling in electronic squawks and burps, while C-3PO plays his polar opposite, a snooty aristocrat who always stands on ceremony. When the going gets too serious, you can always count on these two to lighten the mood.
BEST FATHER FIGURE: Obi-wan Kenobi
In 1977, Americans had essentially forgotten about the British actor Alec Guinness despite his achievements in "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Doctor Zhivago" and other cinematic classics. Some were surprised to see this classy thespian starring in a space opera, but Guinness turned out to be perfect as Obi-wan Kenobi, a wise and warm-hearted Jedi Knight who takes a fatherless Luke Skywalker under his wing. As an added coincidence, Guinness really was a knight, having been dubbed such by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.
BEST DRESSED: Padme Amidala
As her Royal Highness of the planet Naboo, Natalie Portman went through more costumes than Katy Perry and Cher combined. Amidala often went for a Shakespearean look - a conical-shaped ballgown, or perhaps something with a green velvet hood - but her closet also contained a midriff-baring military uniform, a rather seductive diplomat's dress and a gauzy golden number that wouldn't have been out of place at Woodstock. Her most memorable outfit, though, remains her regal-gown-and-headpiece combo, a wild mix of Japanese geisha, Thai princess and Hindu goddess. Credit goes to hard-working costume designer Trisha Biggar, who worked on all three films in the second "Star Wars" trilogy.
MOST LIKEABLE: Luke Skywalker
In a universe teeming with aliens, outlaws, robots and wizards, Luke is "us" - an avatar of sorts whose shoes we can fill. Played by Mark Hamill, Luke fits the bill perfectly. He's good-looking but not gorgeous, nice but not a pushover, heroic but vulnerable. Age-wise, he hovers somewhere between boy and man, allowing moviegoing children and parents alike to identify with him. The only glitch is that most of us didn't make out with our sister.
WORST HYGIENE: Jabba the Hutt
One of Lucas' most enduring creations is this organized-crime figure who rules the planet Tattooine. In another era he might have been played by Sydney Greenstreet (the corpulent Kasper Gutman in "The Maltese Falcon") or Peter Ustinov (the unctuous Batiatus in "Spartacus"), but here he's a massive alien who resembles a bloated sea cucumber. One of his more grotesque qualities is his slobbery tongue, as Princess Leia found out when she became his unwilling harem girl.
BEST OUTLAW: Han Solo
The swaggering space smuggler Han Solo was the role of a lifetime for Harrison Ford, and the actor has spent that lifetime grousing about it. That's too bad, because Han Solo is essentially the secret hero in "Star Wars" (he's arguably the character who goes through the biggest personal transformation). Like many characters in the Lucas universe, Han Solo is a throwback to all those classic cinematic loners - from Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca" to William Holden in "Stalag 17" - who finally realize that some things are worth sacrificing for.
BEST PARTNER IN CRIME: Lando Calrissian
We all have a friend like this one. He's the guy who calls you up, takes you out, gets you in trouble and skips out on the bill - but you love him all the same. That's Lando Calrissian, played with velvety charm by Billy Dee Williams in "The Empire Strikes Back." He welcomes his old friend Han Solo to Cloud City, promptly makes a pass at Leia (she isn't having it), then turns around and sells them out to Darth Vader. Nevertheless, by the end of "The Empire Strikes Back," Han and Lando are a team once more. They don't call Lando "old smoothie" for nothing.
COOLEST TEACHER: Yoda
There's a reason kids like this puppet creation from Frank Oz, who provided both the voice and the movements, and designer Stuart Freeborn. Small, cranky and given to eccentric turns of phrase ("What know you of ready?"), Yoda is a combination of martial-arts sensei, Army drill sergeant and cafeteria lunch lady. As pupil Luke Skywalker discovered, Yoda has no time for triflers and doesn't want to hear any whining. The reward for putting up with all the harsh criticism, though, is a set of nearly superhuman powers. As the master says: "Do or do not. There is no try."
DUMBEST BIT PART: Dexter Jettster
Few characters epitomize the creative abyss of the second "Star Wars" trilogy better than this reptilian-looking Besalik from "Episode II: Attack of the Clones." The plot called for Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) to glean new information from an old friend, so he visits Dex's Diner, an interplanetary greasy spoon that looks like something you'd see on Sunrise Highway, complete with red-leather banquettes and art-deco chrome. With his stained t-shirt and quasi-Brooklyn accent (by Ron Falk), Dexter Jettster shatters the movie's pretense of being science fiction and reduces it to a '70s sitcom like "Happy Days" or "Alice."
BEST LITTLE PEOPLE: Jawas
No, not the Ewoks. As most "Star Wars" fans would agree, the Ewoks (first seen in 1983's "Return of the Jedi") were fuzzy-wuzzy, cutesy-wutesy creations whose sole purpose was to sell millions of plushies at Toys R Us. The Jawas, on the other hand, were scrappy, scroungy, ferocious little dudes - and probably ugly, too, though we never quite see what's under their hoodies. They're resourceful survivors who should never be underestimated - the Pizza Rats of the planet Tattooine.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Princess Leia
This is one damsel who rarely needs rescuing. She's a leader, a soldier, a military strategist and usually the smartest person in any room. Carrie Fisher played Leia with modern-day intelligence and wry humor, which may be why she looked so humiliated by that gold slave-bikini in "Return of the Jedi." Jabba the Hutt forced Leia to wear it, and look what happened to him: She strangled him to death in one of the more physically brutal scenes in the entire franchise.
WORST OVERALL: Jar-Jar Binks
You wouldn't think an alien creature could be a racist stereotype, but George Lucas managed to invent one in "Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Though nominally a Gungan, the character of Jar-Jar Binks - entirely computer generated and voiced by Ahmed Best - struck many viewers as an egregious caricature of an African-American. Bug-eyed, bumbling and speaking in a pidgin English that sounded awfully close to "yes-massa-no-massa," Jar-Jar has gone down as a cringe-worthy addition to an otherwise family-friendly franchise. It's worth mentioning that Lucas' animated film "Strange Magic" (2015) features a clearly African-American gnome named Sunny (Elijah Kelley) who sings Bob Marley tunes.
BEST OVERALL: Darth Vader
He's not the "best" in a moral sense, obviously, but Darth Vader is easily George Lucas' most memorable creation. He's the clearest, simplest personification of evil, dressed entirely in black with a swirling cape for added effect. A brilliant strategist, athletic swordsman and down-and-dirty TIE fighter pilot, Darth Vader has no obvious weaknesses, only powers (including the ability to strangle people from a few yards away). The coup de grace is the helmet, a hissing gas-mask hiding what must be a disfigured visage (James Earl Jones provided the sinister, stentorian voice). If Alfred Hitchcock was right that a film is only as good as its villain, then Darth Vader is the reason "Star Wars" has earned its place in history.