Luke, Princess Leia, Yoda, Chewie, Han, R2-D2, Rey, Fin, Darth Vader…
I don’t have to tell you which universe these iconic names hail from. (And if you’re anything like me, you’re counting down the minutes until you get to watch more of this universe unfold tonight!)
Star Wars created awesome, ridiculously cool and iconic characters that took the world by storm. So how did creators like J.J. Abrams, George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and others create such iconic characters? And how can you, a padawan writer, create characters as iconic and shimmering as these faces?
There are four basic building blocks needed to create a character that resonates with your readers. So what are they?: a unique identity, an iconic friendship, an incredible feat, and emotional growth.
So, let’s expand on these and how you can implement these building blocks in your work of fiction.
1. Unique Identity
Crafting a unique identity for your character requires more than just a rebellious, wild personality. Unique identities are born from characters who take striking turns from unchallenged ideologies, paths, titles, or destinies. And Star Wars offers a plethora of unique identities exactly like this.
Take Darth Vader, for example:
Vader was once a young and promising Jedi named Anakin Skywalker who did the unthinkable. He disregarded the Jedi code forbidding romantic relationships and married his childhood love. Breaking under the weight of fear of losing his wife in childbirth, this powerful young Jedi turns to the dark side and becomes one of the most powerful Sith Lords of all time. Talk about a seeeerious turn from the straight n’ narrow!
Or how about our beloved Finn?:
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a black stormtrooper, (high five again to Star Wars for its diversity) and a stormtrooper that becomes aware of his conscience. Stormtroopers are bred from birth to be mindless robots who simply take orders, aim a blaster, shoot, and miss every time. But that’s not enough for Finn. Facing a crisis of right and wrong, Finn becomes self-aware and therefore aware of his ultimate choice in this war. This causes him to stray from the path and become a “big deal” in the rebellion.
Now, this doesn’t mean personalities aren’t a big part of creating unique identities for your characters. Star Wars teaches us the value of strong personalities in unexpected characters.
R2-D2 and BB8:
Lacking facial expression and only beeping to communicate, why do we still adore these little astromechs? Because the energetic rolling, excited beep-booping, and adorable shuffling nature of these little guys are their personalities. Their child-like reactions and whimsical behavior defy the odds of what droids (or for argument’s sake, ‘robots’) are capable of. We love these guys in turn as much as we love Yoda, Leia, or Han.
So what do we learn from these few examples? A truly iconic character breaks from the norm and has a personality that resonates with your audience.
2. Iconic Friendship
Who does your main character share his journey with? What bumbling apostle follows his lead? What beloved best friend challenges his decisions? Who travels with him to a galaxy far, far away? Your character’s identity is celebrated through a strong friendship. While it is possible to have your main character be without a buddy, readers adore a unique friendship they feel they too can be apart of.
Han and Chewie:
Han and Chewie were the beloved ragtag duo always getting into trouble and blasting their way out of trouble one bad deal at a time. Chewie challenged Han’s decisions, often highlighting his mistakes through a series of disapproving “HNNGGGGGRRRRRR!” Wookie cries. But their partnership wasn’t absent of unflinching loyalty and mutual admiration. It didn’t matter that we hardly understood Chewie, we knew the two understood one another and that is what made them truly unique, truly beloved. You hardly saw one without the other, and the day the two were forever parted lead to me personally destroying ten tissue boxes and punching two walls.
Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla:
Apart of the Star Wars Rebels animated (expanded universe) series, Kanan, a Jedi, and Hera, pilot of the Ghost, take care of their crew of young rebels fighting against the Empire. Kanan and Hera act like the parents of the crew, both deeply invested in their team and in one another. The two often bicker like an old married couple, firmer cementing an unconfirmed notion that the two share a romantic bond. I love the dynamic of their relationship because they both selflessly fight for one cause, but their admiration for each other and respect for one another is what moves them to acts of bravery.
So what do we learn from these duos? Friendships or relationships should be built on mutual admiration. Friends disagree and challenge one another, causing each other to grow as a result. The relationship works together for a greater cause but is bonded by respect, admiration, even love for each other. And the two work better when they are together. Readers gobble up relationships like this and therefore become deeply invested in the relationship themselves.
3. Incredible Feats
A once humble farm boy from Tatooine, Luke eventually destroys the ultimate weapon in the galaxy- the Death Star. So how’d he go from zero to sixty in two point five movies? It’s a journey for Luke, one that leads to unbelievable discoveries about who he is, where he’s come from, and what he’s destined to become. Regardless of his lack of experience or his lack of knowledge about the Force, Luke inserts himself in the rebel cause. Thanks to training both from Master Yoda and Ben Kenobi, he soon becomes one of the best fighter pilots in the rebellion. Destroying his father’s prized weapon was only the beginning, but this incredible feat turned humble farm boy Luke into a legend.
And how about newbie, Rey?:
Rey, a scavenger, lives a lonely life on desert planet Jakku. But after stumbling across a BB unit escaping an attack by another scavenger, Rey becomes attached to BB8 for unexplainable reasons. Eventually running into Fin, the two flee attacks from the First Order. Rey quickly discovers her natural ability to fly the Millennium Falcon. And, remarkably, without any training, Rey uses the Force to free herself from hostage circumstances and defeat Kylo Ren (for now). Rey is clearly on the path to greatness.
What do we learn from these two examples alone? Iconic characters are born with amazing abilities they hone later in life. They use this ability to defy the odds and achieve the impossible. Now, not every iconic character in the world is born great, but every iconic character faces and overcomes the impossible in a great way.
Han fights with the rebel cause. Luke shows mercy to his father. Rey discovers her connection to the Force. Leia and Han make amends. Iconic characters go through a learning curve emotionally, mentally, and even physically. The most important part of character development is a character recognizing their flaw, learning from their mistakes, or avoiding repetition of the same mistakes. The journey your character takes helps them become aware of flaws, or limitations, and pushes him or her to take that challenge head-on. Your character will grow from the challenge as a result and become a better version of themselves- or if a villain- a worse version of themselves.
It’s absolutely vital that your character(s) experience growth. Otherwise, the story will have had no purpose and your character will have had no excuse for being involved in the story. And, worse still, readers will wonder why this stagnant character was included at all.
Star Wars changed our childhoods forever.
Heroes like Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Rey, Fin and more, moved us to invest in the rebellion ourselves and loyally follow their journey. With these 5 building blocks, you too can create iconic characters readers will invest in, believe in, and fall in love with.
So where do you start? You start by taking this free worksheet for yourself and checking out my character-crafting workbook series. These workbooks ask you specific questions designed to draw out the best in your characters. Your characters deserve a fandom. And these items will make certain that happens.
For now, I’ll see you in theatres, young padawan. And may the Force be with you!