Star Wars isn’t only defined by the Skywalker Saga. The series contains a multitude of tales fueled by the humans, aliens, and droids who help or hinder the heroes, many of whom exist outside of the main storyline. As Star Wars expanded into other materials — spinoff films like "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," TV shows like the Disney+ series "The Mandalorian," comics, novels, and more — it became as clear as the stars that these players don’t need the Jedi by their side.
The Star Wars galaxy is an ever-expanding cosmos of players who impact the universe in their own ways, and the franchise is nothing without these colorful supporting characters. Whether they are brought to life by live-action performers, CGI-animated models and voice actors, elaborate practical effects, or puppeteers, they enrich the main stories while becoming well-rounded characters in their own right.
They may not have the spotlight, but these characters don’t really exist on the side. They’re the foundations of the whole Star Wars franchise. From the movies, live-action television, cartoons, and books, these are the best side characters in the galaxy far, far away.
R2-D2 and C-3PO
R2-D2 and C-3PO are the first characters that the audience got acquainted with during 1977’s "Star Wars" premiere, and they’ve been fan-favorites ever since. Both of them are loosely — I mean, loosely — based on the pair of bickering peasants in Akira Kurosawa’s "Hidden Fortress," and they’ve brought both unbridled heroism and comedic relief to the Star Wars universe throughout its entire run.
What’s there not to love about R2-D2, our beeping blue-and-white astromech droid? Famously played by the late Kenny Baker, he’s the best pal you can ask for, and he’s handy in a crisis — just watch how he throws Luke his saber during a tight spot. His partner, protocol droid C-3PO, played by Anthony Daniels, is the more comedic of the pair. Poor C-3PO is the butt of running gags, getting disassembled and reassembled repeatedly, and enduring memory wipes. But even when facing sticky situations that are well beyond his programming, C-3PO never loses his graciousness.
R2-D2 and C-3PO have been in all nine of the main movies, and made a cameo in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." They even had their own TV show — the ’80s animated series, "Droids" — and could easily carry their own buddy comedy, should Lucasfilm see fit to give them a feature of their very own.
Voiced by Tiya Sircar, this young hot-blooded Mandalorian, her colorful beskar armor splattered with pink and purple paint, loves to stick it to the Empire in the "Rebels" cartoon. Enjoying a sisterly relationship with the Jedi-in-training Ezra Bridger, Sabine has a dark past in which she created weapons for the Empire. She eventually broke free and, to atone for her wrongdoing, became part of the Ghost’s crew.
Sabine’s art emerges as a spiritual force throughout "Rebels." Although Sabine doesn’t interact with the legendary Grand Admiral Thrawn, the manner in which he treats art makes Sabine one of his biggest foils. Grand Admiral Thrawn steals art from its creators and uses it as a tool of oppression; Sabine’s art champions her culture, intimacy, and her belief in a higher cause. In the "Rebels" ending, her art that immortalizes her found family long after the Ghost’s crew parts ways.
Sabine was also the center of one of the greatest "Rebels" episodes, "Trials of the Darksaber," which played out a deconstruction of the Chosen One narrative. In it, Sabine has to decide if she wants to wield the Darksaber and rule Mandalore — and, remarkably, Sabine is given the option to say no. In a fantasy story like "Star Wars," it’s rare and refreshing to see a young girl who’s allowed to lay down a burden of this magnitude with the blessing of her family.
At first glance, Neeku Vozo, a benign green Nikto, is kid-friendly comedy relief like Jar Jar Binks. When he’s introduced in "Star Wars Resistance," one of the more lighthearted Star Wars cartoons, as a simple-minded mechanic, he gets "Resistance" lead Kazudo Xiono into a bind. But soon, Neeku proves to be an invaluable friend to those on the Colossus.
Living among the Colossus’ residents, Neeku is a beacon of compassion. When he notices that Kaz is in financial trouble, he buys water for his pal, and later purchases medicine for refugee children. He’s kooky but generous, and his trusting nature is exactly what makes him formidable in this dark galaxy. He’s the guy who knows that the little things matter and validates everyone’s needs.
When the Colossus goes on the run from the First Order, Neeku performs his greatest deed: He constructs a holographic sky from spare parts so that the homesick Colossus civilians will feel at home. The X-wing pilots, like Luke Skywalker and Poe Dameron, who shoot at the Empire are easy to identify as heroes. but Neeku flies under the radar, putting the needs of his community ahead of himself. That’s a hero, too.
Chirrut and Baze
Like C-3PO and R2-D2, separating this duo would not do either justice. Played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, Chirrut and Baze are the Jedha human duo introduced in "Rogue One" who became irreplaceable allies to Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and the Rebellion.
In the live-action movies, Chirrut introduced us to acolytes who were not Force-sensitive but still follow the principles of the light side. No, Chirrut is not a Jedi, and yet the Force very much flows through his essence and his virtues. It guides him through his blindness, his keen senses, and his deadly combat stick.
Baze is as cynical as Chirrut is spiritual, but they are thick as thieves and good friends despite their different outlooks. Baze loves ribbing about Chirrut his spiritualism, but what Chirrut needs, Baze will get done — often with a flamethrower. As much as the war-hardened Baze rejects the Force, the deeper you get into "Rogue One," the more evident it becomes that Baze keeps Chirrut around because he hopes that Chirrut’s optimism will rub off on him. Now, that’s friendship.
Lando is a lovable, smooth-talking scoundrel originated by Billy Dee Williams in "The Empire Strikes Back." He’s both buddy and rival to Han Solo, and the former owner of the Millennium Falcon, which Han won from him in a game of sabbac.
Unlike Han, Lando commits a massive betrayal, but he does have a conscience. Lando sells out our heroes to Darth Vader, but not without guilt — and, to be fair, he was protecting Cloud City from Imperial control. In a reprint of Marvel’s "The Empire Strikes Back" adaptation, Williams writes, "He was dealing, as best he could, with a situation that was presented to him by the Empire upon their arrival." Like Han, Lando grows into a Rebel ally, and becomes an active general in the battle against the second Death Star — and fans love how good he looks doing it.
In "The Rise of Skywalker," Lando has matured into an old general, a shadow of his once-cocky self who drops sage advice and is more than happy to pass the mantle to a younger generation. Joining him in his mischievous youth is fun as well, with a suave Donald Glover’s young Lando being the highlight of "Solo: A Star Wars Story."
Played by Veronica Ngo, Paige Tico is introduced five minutes before she is killed off. But for a fleeting appearance, by golly does she have a big impact on "The Last Jedi." On the surface, Paige’s purpose is to release the bombs that destroy a First Order Dreadnought. When she’s slammed below deck, she grunts, kicking a ladder to get the denotation trigger into her hands. When the deed is done, she shuts her eyes; the fire swallows her peaceful expression as she clutches her crescent moon necklace.
Why does a character killed off so easily resonate throughout "The Last Jedi" and embody the spirit of Star Wars? Her sister, Rose, portrayed by Kelly Marie Tran, carries the same necklace. Shots of the jewelry denote Paige’s presence, marking moments when Paige’s memory inspires Rose to do the right thing, even if it means sacrificing herself.
It would be easy to dismiss Paige as a plot device to motivate Rose, but "Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson understood that it was important to witness her terror, her determination, her resolve, and her peace. In that way, the audience honors the anonymous people who exist in the margins of the Skywalker saga. Paige’s lines are little more than grunts, yet her expressions, actions, and spirit echo across the cosmos.
BB-8 is R2-D2, but compressed into a spherical roll that enhances his cuteness (sorry, R2!). When he debuted in the "Force Awakens" trailer, the mere sight of BB-8 made young and old viewers squee. Like the droid that came before him, BB-8 achieves his goals no matter what; it’s no wonder that his owner, Poe Dameron, likes him so much. BB-8 also has a knack for forging bonds with other humans, like Rey and Finn, and even keeps Finn’s secret with a cute, memetic thumbs-up. But it’s really when BB-8 interacts with other droids, like R2 or D-O, that the adorableness becomes too much to handle.
Thanks to the handicraft of "Babe" creature designer Neal Scanlan and puppeteers like Dave Chapman and Brian Herring, this rolly-polly droid really feels like he’s alive. That extends off-screen, too. BB-8 isn’t CGI. He’s a realistic, practical effect that shows up at conventions, inciting some whoops and hollers at the 2015 Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.
Voiced by Vanessa Marshall, Hera Syndulla is the "mom" to the Ghost’s crew in "Star Wars Rebels." A green Twi’lek pilot, Hera is the heart of the cast, passing advice and encouragement to Kanan, Sabine, Zeb, and Ezra. While Kanan usually leads the on-field missions and Hera provides the getaway rides, she knows how to take charge when necessary. If it wasn’t for Hera, Kanan would not have rediscovered his Jedi purpose, as seen in John Jackson Miller’s novel "A New Dawn." By the time that Hera welcomes Ezra into her crew, he’s impressed with how she’s knitted together a family.
In "The Bad Batch," we glimpse how her childhood was forged, in the words of Grand Admiral Thrawn, by war on planet Ryloth. Her appearance in that series lets the audience see how a young soul, someone who is not a soldier, is affected by the Empire’s rule. After the event of "Rebels," Hera’s battle continued in the "Alphabet Squadron" books and the "Doctor Aphra" comics.
Born in the slums of Corellia, Qi’ra is little more than Han Solo’s love interest in the movie "Solo" — at least, at first. As played by "Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke, Qi’ra almost seems like she knows the role she’s supposed to play in his story, and takes years to break out. Even in the beginning, melancholy haunts her bubbly smiles. When Qi’ra is ripped away from Han, she begins her own journey, and by the time they reunite she’s unable to tell him how far she has fallen. She senses that Han has a different purpose, and knows that her place is among seedy criminals, especially Maul, the leader of the Crimson Dawn.
Plenty of fans want to see the guileful Qi’ra commit more crimes. Qi’ra hasn’t appeared in any on-screen Star Wars stories since "Solo," aside from an animated "Forces of Destiny" short, but she’s playing a big role in the comics. In addition, Clarke is game to reprise the character when the time comes. She’s signed up for multiple Star Wars movies, after all. But no guarantee.
If C-3PO is a nuisance who tries too hard to be polite, K-2SO is your insensitive buddy who’s happy tossing around insults and thwacking a stormtrooper’s skull. An Imperial droid reprogrammed to serve Rebel spy Cassian Andor, he offers just as much snark as he does help. Played on set and voiced by "Firefly" star Alan Tudyk, K-2SO is a scene-stealer whose quotable quips add levity to one of the grimmer Star Wars movies. One of his iconic moments? "Jyn, I’ll be there for you. Cassian said I had to."
How many of you cheered when Jyn finally gave K-2SO a blaster and he used it on stormtroopers? And he used it well, proving himself a formidable threat. Like the entire cast of "Rogue One," K-2SO’s sacrifice motivates Jyn and Cassian to find plan Stardust, and his actions ensure that Luke Skywalker will destroy the Death Star in "A New Hope."
Fans waiting for the "Andor" spin-off series on Disney+ will be pleased to hear that Tudyk is reprising his role as the cranky bot. "How does [Cassian] reprogram K-2? What is that like? I’m sure K-2 doesn’t go quietly, so that’ll be fun to play," Tudyk said.
There are too many clone soldiers that are integral to the "Clone Wars" cartoon to name. Dogma is just one of the standouts. A clone trooper who appeared in the infamous Umbara arc, which is a dark examination of the soldiers’ deference to the Republic and Jedi, Dogma proves that it doesn’t take a brain chip to condition a soldier. Sometimes, people simply define their purpose through an institution that doesn’t give a damn about them. As his name insinuates, Dogma epitomizes soldiers who unconditionally follow orders, no matter what, and only grasp the cost when it’s too late.
Dogma’s sense of individualism is defined by military orders. This makes him the antagonist when other clones are forced to circumvent the Jedi’s orders in the name of justice. But, in his final moments, Dogma defies protocol, infuriated at a corrupted Jedi who tricks him into shooting at his clone brothers. While Rex hesitates to execute the murderous Jedi, Dogma pulls the trigger. The crack in his dogmatic convictions is as satisfying as it is tragic — even then, Dogma doesn’t know if he’s really doing the right thing.
Saw Gerrera was the first animated Lucasfilm character to leap to the live-action universe, showing a remarkable range for his character. When he’s introduced in "Clone Wars," Saw is a hot-headed youth dedicated to saving Onderon, his home. By the time he pops up in "Rogue One" in the grizzled form of Forest Whitaker, his imposing presence injects grey morality into Galactic Civil War, which is usually shown as a fairly black-and-white battle. Saw doesn’t have the greatest reputation among the Rebellion, which seeks to dissociate from his deeds thanks to his high casualty count.
This doesn’t mean that Saw ignores humanity, just that his allies often need to kick some sense into him. Sometimes, Saw’s paranoia reflects the graveness of the Empire’s power. Sometimes, his strategy involves placing kids in danger. We hear of people talk about his violent actions, designating him a terrorist. Depending on which media you consume, you might see different sides of Saw, too. When you meet the man in "Clone Wars," "Rogue One," "Star Wars Rebels," and "The Bad Batch," he can be reasoned with. His zealousness is as sympathetic as it is disturbing. Still, in his later appearances, he’s equipped with a mechanized body, making him the lighter antithesis to the mechanized Darth Vader.
With a profile inspired by Albert Einstein, this crinkly wrinkled puppet was operated and voiced by a legendary Muppeteer, Frank Oz, who was recommended by puppet pioneer Jim Henson himself (imagine what would’ve happened if Jim Henson accepted the offer to play Yoda!).
And yet, Yoda is so much more than cloth, hands, and wire. Oz breathes life into the nine-centuries-old Yoda, making an instant impression in "The Empire Strikes Back." The puppet forged a remarkable connection with Mark Hamill’s character, as well as the audience. Yoda’s a tricky, croaky fellow with a mysterious aura. He’s as mischievous as a Muppet, and as wise as a yogi master. His pearls of wisdom remain quotable to this day: "Do or do not, there is no try."
Yoda’s CGI iteration, who was voiced in "The Clone Wars" by Tom Kane, shows that the green sage is not immune to the dark side, exhibited when he has his own Dagobah cave moment and confronts his darker self. But while Yoda acknowledges his capacity to fall, he remains in control of his worst impulses.
"In my book, experience outranks everything." Rex, designated CT-7567, did not have the most fortunate debut — he first appeared in the ill-received "The Clone Wars" theatrical film — but eventually grew into a main, fully realized cast member. Rex is loyal to both the Jedi and his friend Ahsoka Tano, but also learns to formulate his own principles, realizing that he sometimes has to circumvent orders to do the right thing. This key moment arrives in "The Deserter," when Rex is willing to keep a secret to protect an AWOL clone and his family. In the infamous Umbara arc, Rex’s story serves as a cautionary tale about unconditionally following orders.
Rex never stopped fighting for justice. In "Star Wars Rebels," he suits up and fights of his own volition. Rex became so popular that fans theorized that he was actually one of the extras on Endor. While this wasn’t canonically the case, the "Rebels" finale revealed that he did serve during that climactic battle. We don’t know Rex’s fate after "Rebels," and the accelerated aging of Kamino-bred clones may have hindered his chance at longevity. We can only hope that Rex enjoyed the peaceful retirement he clearly deserves.
Bo-Katan Kryze changes as fast as a chameleon. When we meet her in the "Clone Wars," she’s a Mandalorian terrorist who committed genocide while following orders. Circumstances force her to shift gears and form her own Mandalorian resistance, fighting against the rule of Maul. By her appearance in the "Siege of Mandalore" arc, Bo-Katan has emerged as one of the show’s most morally fascinating characters. While she has the best of intentions for her homeworld, she’s willing to resort to underhanded measures to take back the planet from Maul’s grip — even if it means letting the Republic take over.
In "Rebels," she’s a humble warrior. Bo-Katan refuses to take the Darksaber and rule Mandalore, although she remains passionate in her fight against the Empire. Witnessing Bo-Katan’s humility in "Rebels" contrasts with her debut in "The Mandalorian," where she reverts to her cocky self again, played in live-action by her one-time voice actress, Katee Sackoff, as she seeks the Darksaber.
Yet, watching Bo-Katan’s appearances back-to-back doesn’t make anything feel inconsistent. Rather, we’re just seeing her various dimensions. As a formidable foil to the eponymous Mandalorian, Bo-Katan challenges Din Djarin’s dogmatic observation of Mandalorian traditions. But when she’s just an inch away from being reunited with the Darksaber, she has to reject it due to her own Mandalorian code. That’s the range of this warrior, who exists in different shades across eras and media.