From Babu Frik to that Imperial Officer who did *not* fire on an escape pod, we explore why minor characters are the backbone of Star Wars.
It is January, my dudes, and although the first month of the year isn’t exactly the barren wasteland for movies it used to be, you might’ve noticed there’s also a wee pandemic going on. So, this specific January, 2021, there is a straight-up dearth of blockbusters to discuss or think about, which led me right back to where I usually go in these times of great pop culture need: Star Wars. No, there’s no new Star War this month, but there is residual hype from The Mandalorian season 2, that “interconnected mega-story” going on in Lucasfilm publishing, the news of a Boba Fett spinoff, as well as the announcement that Disney+ will be debuting Star Wars shows pretty much until the sun burns out. Together with a recent rewatch of the main trilogy of trilogies, I’ve been thinking a lot lately not just about the future of Star Wars, but also why I—and millions of people with me—became so attached to this sci-fi franchise in the first place. This exploration didn’t start with the Battle of Yavin, or the “I am your father” moment, or any particular podrace.
It started when Darth Vader tosses an unnamed Rebel against the wall like a sack of potatoes in A New Hope.
It’s such a low-key striking moment that, for the first time, I thought “what is that guy’s deal?” What was my man’s life like before Vader casually lobbed him into a wall like a 5LB medicine ball? You barely have time to process it before an unnamed Imperial Officer decides not to shoot down an escape pod—thus allowing literally 44 years of storytelling to continue—and it’s like, woof, what is that guy’s story? What even is the name of the dude who lives in a galaxy where humans are arguably out-populated by droids and still can’t fathom why an escape pod wouldn’t have life forms aboard? It’s gotta be, like, Imperial Staff Sergeant Gerald Beans, right? Anyway, you barely have time to process that before an unnamed Stormtrooper legit pops into frame on Tattooine holding a droid part and exclaims “look sir, droids!” with the glee of a Victorian-era orphan finding a two pence piece in his Christmas stocking. What, I ask, is that guy’s story?
Etc, etc, etc. When you watch Star Wars with an eye on the no-name supporting characters—even the ones just lingering in the background—it really gives a sense of why this world lives and breathes unlike anything else. Star Wars does a lot of its worldbuilding through suggestion, introducing you to a parade of unexplainable characters and then leaving the actual explanation up to you. Wanting to know more about minor Star Wars characters isn’t a new observation—the Wookieepedia page for Salacious B. Crumb is several thousand words long, for example—but with potential countless spinoffs on the horizon, I’m struck by how much more entertaining (and intriguing!) these characters are when you absolutely do not ever learn anything more about them. My paternal love for the following characters would diminish, if not outright disappear, if I were to learn a single shred more context or even, in many cases, their names.
- What appears to be the literal Christian interpretation of Satan, having a drink in the Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope.
- The extremely sad, crying Rancor trainer in Return of the Jedi who taught a ten-year-old me the meaning of empathy.
- Ben Quadinaros, the podracer who gets blown to absolute shit before he even leaves the Boonta Eve starting gate in The Phantom Menace.
- Attack of the Clones‘ Dexter Jettster, who owns and operates a Coruscant establishment that has 100% been featured on the Star Wars Universe’s version of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.
- Tito, the glacier-paced droid scavenger in The Force Awakens that Rey introduces with “that’s just Tito…he has no respect for anyone,” and you’re just like “that’s true.”
- The drunkard gentleman goblin who mistakes BB-8 for a slot machine in The Last Jedi.
- Babu Frik, a sentient baked potato who maintains a respected position in a major crime organization. I have a lot of thoughts on Babu Frik.
For the record, I’m aware that a good deal of minor Star Wars characters have, in fact, been fleshed out in countless books, comics, Wiki pages, and deep web erotica. These are all legitimate, and if you do choose to consume your Star Wars as comprehensively as possible, more power to ya’. But one of my favorite things about this franchise is its suggestion of vastness, the idea that the stories of Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker and Rey, uh, Skywalker are just a few in a galaxy filled with billions and billions of stories going untold.
Which rounds us right back to the future of the franchise, which has been the subject of much hullabaloo pretty much ever since J.J. Abrams kicked off another trilogy back in 2015. A lot of modern-day Star Wars has done a fantastic job layering in a healthy dose of hilariously unexplained peripheral characters, like that disapproving Mon Calamari sweater bae in The Mandalorian season 2 who apparently managed to smuggle pure Egyptian cotton on to a fishing planet. But there’s also a troubling trend that suggests Star Wars‘ main goal is to explain itself, again and again, and ensure you know that everything in the galaxy is the same base-level of badass and cool, from Boba Fett’s goofy ass down to an obscure carrying case. In its seemingly unending future of spinoffs, one of the best things Star Wars can do is occasionally just let a weird-ass alien doing something weird be a weird-ass alien doing something weird. That’s what gives this sci-fi franchise its soul.
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