Star Wars is known for its villains. Some of the greatest in cinematic history have come from the galaxy far, far away. Yet, the question remains, who’s the greatest?

For this list I’m only counting on-screen villains. No book-only villains. No villains exclusive to the comics or video games. Thus, there will be no Darth Bane. No Kreia/Darth Traya. Not even Darth Malak, Prince Xizor, or the worst of them all — Abeloth. In other words, villains only from the 11 movies, from the various live-action TV shows and the animated shows. That’s it.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

10. Orson Krennic

Director Orson Krennic, one of the worst villains

Director Krennic made quite the splash when he arrived on screen in Rogue One. Flanked by Death Troopers and wearing the pure white of the Imperial Security Bureau, he was a menacing sight to be sure. And when in his element, Krennic is indeed a powerful enemy.

As head of Project Stardust and chief administrator for construction of the Death Star, Krennic holds great power and responsibility within the Empire. Of course, that power is backed by even more villainous characters further down on this list, but when given a free hand he can be quite the motivator.

Let’s not forget he coordinated the logistics surrounding the Death Star’s construction — no mean feat — getting various political, military, scientific, and engineering personalities on board. And he kept them on board. By any means possible. Almost to the end.

9. General Grievous

General Grievous

As a concept, Grievous is hard to beat. A four-armed cybernetic Jedi hunter is an awesome idea. It’s especially cool when all four of those arms are wielding lightsabers. Talk about difficult to block. It’s an intimidating image, having that sort of firepower teamed up with a Terminator body.

So why does he have to have a cough? I understand he’s not all machine. That there’s flesh and blood inside that metal shell, but the cough is so distracting. And when amplified by his mask, Grievous sounds like a geriatric too far removed from his oxygen tank. It breaks the illusion of a badass outlaw. 

Add to that Grievous being saddled with a military rank. With command. And it all comes crashing down because Grievous is so very incompetent. He doesn’t know how to lead. Every time he takes the helm, the plan fails. Which tragically reduces his fear factor, dropping him lower on this list.

8. Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren, one of the next generation villains

It was already decided that Kylo would never measure up to his grandfather. Yet, how many can compare with Darth Vader? It’s a hard act to follow. Still, despite the homages, Kylo has a lot going for him. He has his own cool mask and voice modulator. He has a uniquely terrifying lightsaber. And his Force powers are regularly on display.

Added to that, Kylo isn’t afraid to make bold moves. He slices Supreme Commander Snoke in half. He goes after Rey even after she mentally kicked his butt. And he faces down Luke Skywalker mano a mano.

So why isn’t he higher? I mean, he sounds like top three to me. Well, there are the tantrums. Not very menacing. And the associations — being around people like Hux certainly isn’t going to get you to the cool table. But most of all is his movement toward the Light. His redemptive arc. While that makes for an engaging soap opera, it pops the illusion of scary mean bad guy.

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7. Asajj Ventress

Asajj Ventress

Ventress is like a bad penny. She keeps turning up. The number of times she should have been killed is hard to calculate but eventually she did die, by her former master’s hand, Count Dooku. Before that moment, she’d had a hand in almost everything. Nightsister. Slave. Padawan. Assassin. Bounty hunter. Hero.

What puts Ventress on this list, however, is her time as a Sith assassin and acolyte. This is when she was at her worst, killing with glee and doing her part to drag out the Separatist’s war with the Republic. In this role she often fought against Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Often at the same time! The fact that she held her own should say something about her abilities.

Ultimately, Ventress grew too powerful for her own good. Thought to be usurping Dooku’s place as Sidious’s apprentice, Ventress was forced out. Multiple times she was slated for death but each time she survived. Even when the Confederacy razed her home planet of Dathomir, she endured.

Unfortunately, Ventress was never in the spotlight. She was never on the main show. Instead reduced to supporting roles on an animated series. Were it not for that, she’d be higher. A lot higher.

6. Darth Maul

Darth Maul, in the upper echelon of villains

Maul was the best part of The Phantom Menace, and his death left a villainous hole for the rest of the prequels. Sure, Dooku came along. Same with Grievous. But neither of them had the same animalistic brooding as Maul. His duel with Qui-Gonn Jinn and Obi Wan was Sith-Jedi fighting at its best. But it was the hunt leading up to that moment that allowed Maul to shine.

Much like Boba Fett before him, Maul made use of an economy of words and scenes. Every time he was on screen, it was a must watch moment because you knew something was about to happen. While you knew he was bound to fail — that Anakin, Padme, and Obi-Wan would ultimately prevail — you also knew that he would get his pound of flesh before departing. And indeed he did, taking down Qui-Gonn in that duel.

Now, common sense dictated that Maul had died. After all, he’d fallen a long ways down that service tube — much like Palpatine at the end of Return of the Jedi — and, you know, he’d been sliced in half! But apparently Dathomiri magic is potent and Maul lived. Long enough to terrorize Mandalore and take over a crime syndicate before facing a final (?!?) demise in Rebels.

5. Jabba the Hutt

Jabba the Hutt

The most notorious gangster that ever was, Jabba makes this list for one reason only — ruthlessness. Jabba Desilijic Tiure has always been willing to destroy the competition no matter the cost. For well over forty years he ruled the Outer Rim with an iron fist. First resisting the Republic and then the Empire, Jabba was successful in carving out exceptions for his territory, allowing slavery, bounty hunting, and other unsavory practices to thrive.

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Even against the Emperor, Jabba came out ahead, making Darth Vader come to him to parley for materials and safe passage. Sure, the Empire had the firepower to subdue Nal Hatta and bring the Hutts into line, but the cost would have been counterproductive. And Jabba knew that, which gave him a free hand to consolidate at will.

While screen Jabba was never as terrifying as book Jabba, his influence and villainy should not be discounted. Especially when you consider how much effort it took Luke, Leia, Chewie, and Lando to free Han. Sure, the remainder of that effort turned silly, especially with how Fett was defeated, but the build up was commiserate with Jabba’s importance and legacy.

4. Grand Moff Tarkin

Grand Moff Tarkin, one of the original villains

Tarkin has been a villainous fixture since A New Hope came out in 1977. While he’s always played second fiddle to Vader, it’s worth remembering who held Vader’s leash. Tarkin had concentrated so much power around himself that he was second only to the Emperor in most people’s minds. And were it not for a lucky shot on the Death Star, he might have moved up to the top spot.

With Vader and the Emperor cornering the market on Dark Side menace, Tarkin became the everyman’s bad guy. He was an institutional terror, subsuming control where he had no business doing so. And with the might of the Imperial war machine behind him, he only grew stronger and more influential.

Tarkin’s downside, of course, was his overconfidence. His belief that the machinery he’d constructed was impervious to any home-grown rebellion. Had Luke not stopped him, though, the odds would have been heavily in his favor. With Tarkin as an overlord and his police state unchallengeable.

3. Darth Vader

Darth Vader

The most frightening man in black, Darth Vader has always been synonymous with villain. All the way to his redemption in Return of the Jedi, Vader was focused. He was intent on singular goals — namely the downfall of the Jedi Order, the Rebellion, and then the search and capture of his son. On those paths he didn’t care who he hurt — friends or foes. Just as long as he achieved what he wanted.

Because of his passion, Vader could oftentimes be sloppy. He could overdo his tactics, pushing the war machine to its breaking points. But Vader often got results. Despite his slash and burn philosophy, he was effective. He was a motivator. And few people could motivate quite like Vader.

When it came to psychological warfare, Vader was second to none. From his armor and helmet to his modulated voice and breathing effect, he was a frightening sight to behold. Even before he showed off his Force abilities or “unsheathed” his lightsaber, Vader oftentimes compelled enemies to surrender. And those who didn’t soon regretted angering him. Vader is shock and awe at its purest and simplest. A powerhouse of evil who is hard to supplant.

2. Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious

Emperor Palpatine

As the man to turn Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side, Shiv Palpatine is certainly unique. He has the power to manipulate, to charm, and to listen. Not to mention bring about the demise of a Republic thousands of years in the making. He’s a terror to civility, a destroyer of civilizations, and a liar with no compare. Without question, Palpatine is an evil man. He exudes hate with every breath, twisting those around him to his whims.

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Being a villain of the highest order, the Emperor has a great deal of accomplishments. He’s corrupted people as well as institutions, causing opponents to fear him while turning the galaxy upside down. He broke the Jedi Order, ending its rise and spread while reversing a Sith losing streak hundreds of years old. On a personal level, he caused Yoda to flee Coruscant, killed Mace Windu, and gave Vader life as well as a platform to do harm.

The Emperor is worthy of taking the top spot and were it not for recent developments, he would be there. But lately another name has surpassed his own. Another villain has arrived on the scene with enough clout to cause the good guys to tremble a little more.

1. Grand Admiral Thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn

What makes Thrawn so scary is that he almost never loses. He’s so tactically competent and naturally intelligent that he’s always one step ahead of everyone else. And because he’s so persistent, being opposed by him feels like a death sentence. On screen, Thrawn has had only two setbacks — once to an ancient Force user with god-like power and another time to a Jedi upstart by the name of Ezra Bridger.

Outside those defeats, Thrawn has won everything else. Every battle. Every campaign. It’s widely believed that had he been in charge of suppressing the Rebellion, the Empire would have won. That’s because, unlike Vader, Thrawn is respectful of his underlings as well as his opponents. He doesn’t underestimate them or abuse them. And, unlike Tarkin, he isn’t inflexible. If something isn’t working, he changes directions.

While Thrawn doesn’t have Force powers, his ability to learn about people and cultures from their art is almost prescient. It only enhances his infallibility. And, unlike the Emperor, Thrawn isn’t afraid to go into the field. Multiple times he’s oppressed rebellious systems, coming onto a situation where opponents had hope only to single-handedly turn that to despair.

While screen Thrawn is a watered down version of book Thrawn, what he did in Rebels is an example of how menacing he can be. It took two Jedi and an elite team of Rebels to force him from his objective. And even that victory was on delay, as we’re seeing in Ahsoka. Thrawn is back and is again building momentum. Take it from Ezra and the gang, Thrawn as an enemy doesn’t end well. He’s the most dangerous and therefore the worst villain to face.

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