The 20 best female ‘Star Wars’ villains before Captain Phasma (Commentary)

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I established in my last post that Captain Phasma, despite Disney’s hype, is not the first female “Star Wars” villain, no matter how many qualifiers you load onto that statement. Some might argue that she will someday emerge as the best female “Star Wars” villain, though. Time will tell, but Phasma certainly has a high bar to clear. While this list is far from comprehensive, as there were probably at least 100 female villains in “Star Wars” lore before J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan invented Phasma, here are my choices for the 20 best female “Star Wars” villains to date:

1. Mara Jade (pictured above) (first appearance: “Heir to the Empire,” 1991) – In the 1990s, when the “Star Wars” Expanded Universe was not half as big as it would eventually become, Star Wars Galaxy Magazine polled fans about their favorite characters. Nineteen of the top 20 were movie characters; the 20th was not Grand Admiral Thrawn or Talon Karrde or Joruus C’baoth – it was Mara Jade. If anything, she’s become more popular since then. When we first meet her, Mara wants to kill Luke, as per her brainwashing by Palpatine; she overcomes that, and eventually marries Luke. However, we also got lots of pre-“Heir” stories when she was the Emperor’s Hand. As written by Timothy Zahn, Mara may have been a relatively noble Imperial (her enemies are often corrupt Imperial officials), but anyone who does the bidding of Palpatine is unquestionably a villain. The way she morally justifies her role in the galactic government makes her a fascinating one.

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2. Asajj Ventress (first appearance: “Jedi: Mace Windu,” 2003) – Asajj ended up being the first iconic female villain of canonical “Star Wars” materials (those that are part of Disney’s continuity), but she was invented in the Expanded Universe. After making a stylish splash in the animated shorts, Ventress gains layers in the “Republic” comics and the “Clone Wars” TV series. Despite having a muddled backstory and three different fates (the animated shorts, the comics and “The Clone Wars”), Ventress (given a gravelly, mesmerizing voice by Nika Futterman) is always effective either as an icon of evil or as a spurned dark-sider seeking revenge on Dooku and teaming up with the Jedi.

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3. Aurra Sing (first appearance: “The Phantom Menace,” 1999) – Given a second or two of screen time in “Episode I” just for giggles, Aurra Sing quickly became a full-fledged character in the “Republic” comics: Specifically as a stone-cold killer who hunts bounties for cash and kills Jedi for fun. Her evilness is blunted a bit in “The Clone Wars,” where she serves as an early mentor of Boba Fett, but voice actress Jamie King still gives her a twisted sense of dark humor.

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4. Shira Brie/Lumiya (first appearance, Marvel Issue 56, “Coffin in the Clouds,” 1981) – In addition to being the first great female “Star Wars” villain, Shira is also the first love interest for Luke and one of the first breakout non-film characters. Lumiya, the Dark Lady of the Sith, stayed in the consciousness of the fanbase to such a degree that Del Rey brought her back for the “Legacy of the Force” books in the 2000s. It’s possible that Timothy Zahn’s Mara Jade was inspired by Shira, although they ended up forging different paths. Lumiya’s somewhat-mechanical suit followed in the footsteps of Vader, but her lightwhip is an entirely original invention.

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5. Vestara Khai (first appearance: “Fate of the Jedi: Omen,” 2009) – Ben Skywalker’s desire to bring this cute Sith girl (literally, Vestara is raised among the Lost Tribe of the Sith) to the light side was the best of the dangling arcs coming out of “Fate of the Jedi,” as it combined a first-love story with iconic Force mythology.

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6. Ysanne Isard (first appearance: “X-wing: Rogue Squadron,” 1996) – Nicknamed “Iceheart” by both allies and enemies, Michael Stackpole’s principle “X-wing” villain is the non-Force-sensitive answer to Palpatine. Isard uses every trick in the book to rise to political power and then maintain it.

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7. Rain/Darth Zannah (first appearance: “Jedi vs. Sith,” 2001) – Between the “Jedi vs. Sith” comics and the “Darth Bane” book trilogy, we get a moving look at how an empathic kid can drift toward the dark side. In a final twist, it seems her master, Darth Bane, may have taken over her body. (However, author Drew Karpyshyn has said that interpretation is not what he intended.)

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8. Alema Rar (first appearance: “The New Jedi Order: Star by Star,” 2002) – The best creation from the inconsistent pen of Troy Denning, Alema deals with the death of her sister amid the dark time of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. Always on the precipice of the dark side, this sexy Twi’lek goes full baddie under the influence of Lumiya in “Fate of the Jedi.”

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9. Guri (first appearance: “Shadows of the Empire,” 1996) – Although she looks and acts completely human, Prince Xizor’s bodyguard is actually a human replica droid. As such, she is an outlet to explore the classic sci-fi idea of whether sentience requires an organic body. The last time we saw her, she embarks on her quest to be human, sharing a drink with Dash Rendar.

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10. Vergere (first appearance: “Rogue Planet,” 2000) – In a nutshell, this member of the birdlike Fosh species is the dark side’s answer to Yoda. Until she becomes Jacen’s mentor in “Traitor,” her appearances are tinged with mystery about her loyalty, as she lives and works with the Yuuzhan Vong yet also provides healing tears that cure Mara’s disease.

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11. Admiral Daala (first appearance: “Jedi Search,” 1994) – The one-time mistress of Grand Moff Tarkin, who uses that connection to work her way through the Imperial ranks, is not on this list for her portrayal in the “Jedi Academy Trilogy,” where she is cartoonish. Rather, Daala becomes a fascinating window into U.S. politics in “Legacy of the Force,” when she is democratically elected as president of the Galactic Alliance despite her history of war crimes.

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12. Leonia Tavira (first appearance: “X-wing Rogue Squadron: The Warrior Princess,” 1996) – Again, Stackpole delivers a great sociopathic female villain, but unlike Isard, who masters the political game, Tavira’s arena is the looser military structure of the post-Palpatine Empire. Her combination of physical cuteness and ruthless evil makes for a fascinating dichotomy and her motto – “I never apologize” – is deliciously villainous.

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13. Viqi Shesh (first appearance: “The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide I: Onslaught,” 2000) – This self-serving Kuati senator is the primary traitor to the home galaxy when the Yuuzhan Vong come knocking. Once she’s stuck behind Vong lines, she becomes somewhat sympathetic as she finds herself with no friends or allies.

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14. Darth Talon (first appearance: “Legacy,” 2006) – Although her design as a scantily clad Twi’lek with Sith tattoos seems like fan service on the surface, it is fascinating to see how she uses a combination of Force skills and sex appeal to manipulate Cade Skywalker (and also how he uses her right back).

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15. Mother Talzin (first appearance: “The Clone Wars” Season 3, 2011) – Mother Talzin, leader of the Dathomiri Nightsisters, is the embodiment of an unusual branch of magic in the “Star Wars” universe, wherein she steals and uses Force powers without possessing Force abilities herself.

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16. Gara Petothel (first appearance: “X-wing: Wraith Squadron,” 1998) – Alternately known as Lara Notsil and Kirney Slane, Gara has one of the best redemption arcs of the EU, as she is inspired by the good people around her – and her relationship with fellow troubled pilot Myn Donos — to abandon her undercover mission for the Empire and join the side of good.

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17. Ta’a Chume (first appearance: “The Courtship of Princess Leia,” 1994) – The duplicitous Queen Mother knows how to play the power game in the matriarchal Hapes Cluster. She fails to get Princess Leia and Jaina Solo to marry her son, Isolder, but ultimately gets her granddaughter, Tenel Ka, to assume the throne, thus maintaining her own place of power.

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18. Barriss Offee (first appearance: “The Approaching Storm,” 2002) – Luminara’s Padawan is one of the odder entries on this list, because for most of her arc, she is unambiguously a good guy. Then in a twist at the end of Season 5 of “The Clone Wars,” we learn that she is the culprit behind the bombing and the framing of Ahsoka. Her fallen-Jedi arc demands to be continued at some point, and it theoretically could be in “Rebels.”

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19. Maris Brood (first appearance: “The Force Unleashed,” 2008) – Influenced by the dark-side energies of Felucia, the planet on which she was trapped, Shaak Ti’s apprentice is a compelling almost-villain whose arc was unfortunately not picked up in the sequel.

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20. Morag (first appearance: “Ewoks” Season 1, 1985) – This Endor-based Tulgah witch is an effectively frightening villain for young viewers as she hangs out in a creepy cave and is always accompanied by bad weather. Her rivalry with Logray, the Ewok shaman, plays out like a kids’ version of a light-side-vs.-dark-side battle.

Who are your favorite female “Star Wars” villains? Share your lists in the comment thread below.