This Star Wars article contains spoilers.
The Star Wars universe has created some of the most terrifying villains in cinema and TV history. Dark Lords of the Sith can shoot lightning from their fingertips and strangle you from miles away through the Force. Cruel bounty hunters will kill anyone for the right price. Crime lords on lawless planets feed their prisoners to their big carnivorous pets.
Then there’s the Empire, a tyrannical galactic power inspired by real-world fascist ideologies, which is horrifying in both its aims and the way in which it executes them. The self-branded “New Order” has been the major antagonist throughout the Star Wars saga since its start in 1977 and has shown up in many different forms since, including as the Imperial Remnant in The Mandalorian (and tons of classic books and comics) and as a reborn Sith war machine in The Rise of Skywalker. Their never-ending mission: to do as much evil as possible before the heroes swoop in to save the day.
Recently, Andor has shone a further light on the inner workings of this sinister government, from the ISB agents who torture anyone they think might have valuable information to the shadowy ruler at the top of the food chain. But who among the Empire is the most evil entity in the galaxy far, far away?
It’s not just his impeccable aim and unpredictable nature that make this mutant clone trooper such a terrifying threat on the battlefield, but the fact that Crosshair is a true believer, a soldier who will follow orders no matter how heinous the task. Assassinate a leader who is just trying to defend her people from Imperial invaders? Check. Kill the Jedi and the other clone troopers who were once his brothers in arms? No problem.
Even if you wanted to blame the secret inhibitor chip implanted in his head at birth — the reason why the clone army so easily turned on the Jedi during Order 66 — that’s no defense for Crosshair, who chose the Empire even after he’d had the control device removed. And even if Crosshair does finally does redeem himself on The Bad Batch, it won’t erase his many crimes in the early days of the Empire.
14. Dedra Meero
The newest villain on this list is also one of the Empire’s most formidable intelligence officers, willing to get the answers she needs by any means necessary, even if it means torturing a few prisoners along the way. To Dedra, the collateral damage means nothing, she only cares about her target, which makes her the scariest of the many bad guys chasing Cassian Andor. Even the rest of the top brass at the Imperial Security Bureau have reason to fear her. Dedra’s tactics are ruthless and her dedication to her work is unshakable.
By the end of the first season of Andor, she’s ruined multiple lives, massacred the people of Ferrix, and seemingly partnered up with the equally despicable Syril Karn. Dedra is definitely hard to root for, but it’s impossible to look away as she devises the next part of her twisted plan to bring Cassian and the rebels to justice.
13. Natasi Daala
Natasi Daala first made her debut as one of the antagonists of the Jedi Academy trilogy. While the character has been confined to the realms of the now non-canon Legends continuity, her legacy indicates that she could return to canon like other Imperial villains have before her. She was the first woman to become an admiral under the Imperial regime. That’s no easy feat, and it’s obvious how cruel and commanding Daala had to be to push past the glass ceiling.
In the days of the Galactic Civil War, Daala oversaw the development of top-secret superweapons in a distant part of space that was incredibly difficult to reach. Cut off from the rest of the galaxy, Daala didn’t learn of the Emperor’s defeat until almost a decade after his fall. She quickly set out to reform what was left of the scattered Empire and led multiple campaigns to overthrow the New Republic. Her commitment to the cause eventually led her to become the Chief of State of the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances (the government that succeeded the New Republic in Legends canon), a title she used to spread anti-Jedi sentiment and wage war against the Luke Skywalker’s Order. Daala relished the role of villain until the very end of the Legends timeline.
The 2015 Darth Vader comic book saga introduced the cybernetically enhanced Cylo, a mad scientist who cheated death by building technology that allowed him to jump between clone bodies. As you might expect, his tech-powered immortality and research quickly drew the attention of the Empire.
Cylo didn’t operate within any moral boundaries, using body parts from various victims and even experimenting on children to turn them into a band of deadly assassins who served the Empire, each enhanced by one of Cylo’s upgrades. The scientist’s big mistake was believing that he could replace Darth Vader with his own cybernetic monstrosities, an ambition that would eventually spell his doom. No one puts the Dark Lord of the Sith in a corner.
11. Orson Krennic
Orson Krennic was a man with no moral scruples, which made him the perfect choice to head up the Empire’s secret Death Star project. It was Krennic who oversaw the team tasked with creating the space station’s superweapon, which would one day be used to obliterate entire planets. But it wasn’t belief and devotion to the Empire that led Krennic to this work, it was his own obsession with rising up the ranks and gaining more power. With the Death Star complete, he hoped to finally be at the Emperor’s side.
Krennic tore families apart, used slave labor to meet his deadlines, and destroyed entire cities in his quest to prove the Death Star’s might. While he was eventually disposed of by Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, Krennic’s work weighs heavy on the galaxy. After all, it’s his weapon that led to the destruction of Alderaan and countless lives being lost.
10. Moff Gideon
Moff Gideon’s cruelty allowed him to rise up the Imperial ranks quickly. He took part in the Great Purge of Mandalore and the genocide of the Mandalorian people, stealing the Darksaber in the process, which left the scattered survivors of the attack without a Mand’alor to one day lead them back home. But the villain truly rose to power after the fall of the Emperor, becoming the leader of the Imperial Remnant still operating in the Outer Rim in the early days of the New Republic.
In The Mandalorian, Moff Gideon’s goal is to bring about a new era for the Empire, while also secretly conducting experiments with Force users like Grogu for some nefarious reason that’s yet to be explained (it probably has to do with the Emperor’s eventual resurrection). Gideon is calculating, manipulative, and obsessed with bringing back “order” to the galaxy. His willingness to carry out the ideologies of the Imperial regime no matter the cost is chilling.
9. Carnor Jax
The Dark Horse comic Crimson Empire, now part of the Legends timeline, introduced audiences to Carnor Jax, a personal protector to the Emperor. But things changed after the fall of the Empire. Without a regent to watch over, the former member of the Royal Guard decided that he wanted to follow in the Emperor’s footsteps and become a Sith Lord, even serving as an apprentice to Dark Lady of the Sith Lumiya (more on her in a bit).
But Jax didn’t just want to be a Dark Lord of the Sith, he also wanted to rule over a resurgent Empire. When the Emperor returned in a clone body (yes, it happened in Legends first), Jax set out to assassinate the clones that challenged him for the Imperial throne. He also executed his fellow Royal Guardsmen, and while he was eventually bested and killed, Carnor’s actions remained a particularly dark mark on the galaxy’s history.
8. Rae Sloane
Grand Admiral Rae Sloane was introduced in the Aftermath trilogy of canon novels, which told the story of what happened after the Battle of Endor. Known as an Imperial hardliner from the start of her naval career, Sloane stopped an assassination attempt against the Emperor when she was just a cadet, and was the captain of her own Star Destroyer by the age of 30. By the time of the Emperor’s death, Sloane was one of the Imperial Remnant’s foremost military leaders.
Although she exhibited a range of emotions uncommon within Imperial leadership, including mercy and empathy, Sloane could also be a ruthless strategist. Her goal was to revive the Empire and restore it to its former glory. Sloane eventually led what was left of her forces to the Unknown Regions, where she helped reorganize the remnant into the First Order, becoming one of this new galactic power’s earliest leaders. This Imperial admiral’s actions would one day lead to the fall of the New Republic.
7. Ysanne Isard
Ysanne Isard, one of the major antagonists of the Rogue Squadron series of Legends books and comics, earned her position as Director of Imperial Intelligence by having her father executed. In fact, she was known as “Iceheart” because of her penchant for cruelty. She was close to Palpatine and was known for her terrible torture methods, which included brainwashing prisoners into becoming sleeper agents for the Empire.
After the Battle of Endor, she continued the Empire’s mission of oppression, becoming its new leader after assassinating her rivals. Isard later unleashed a lab-grown virus on Coruscant just as it was about to be captured by the New Republic. If she couldn’t have the capital world, no one would. She eventually joined Grand Admiral Thrawn in his own campaign to terrorize the galaxy. Overall, not a great person.
Originally known as Shira Brie, this Legends character debuted in the 1970s Star Wars comic books from Marvel. Devoted to the ways of the New Order, Shira quickly rose up the Imperial ranks, and soon found herself serving the Sith Lords directly, taking on assassination missions for both Vader and the Emperor. She trained in the dark side under Vader, and after a fight with Luke Skywalker left her disfigured, Shira was refitted with cybernetic parts and transformed into Lumiya, Dark Lady of the Sith. Lumiya became one of Luke’s most dangerous nemeses in the comics.
After the deaths of Palpatine and Lord Vader, Lumiya continued the work of the Sith in secret, manipulating galactic events from the shadows as the Emperor once had. Eventually, Lumiya hatched a plan to create a new generation of Sith Lords, a scheme that culminated with the fall of Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s oldest son, to the dark side. While Lumiya was finally killed by Luke decades after their first meeting, through Jacen’s reign of terror during the twilight years of the Legends timeline, Lumiya secured the long-lasting legacy of the Empire and the Sith.
5. Grand Inquisitor
The Rebels animated series introduced the shadowy figure known as the Grand Inquisitor, a servant to Darth Vader and the dark sider in charge of hunting down the Jedi and Force-users who had escaped the purge of Order 66. The Grand Inquisitor’s methods were cruel and his blade merciless, striking down even children if need be. And those Jedi who did survive an encounter with this ruthless hunter were tortured and converted into inquisitors themselves, twisted and brainwashed into hunting their own kind for the glory of the Empire.
Even in death, the Grand Inquisitor would often return to continue his work, rising multiple times from his supposed doom like a cockroach. Although he could never pose a threat to Sidious or Vader, the Grand Inquisitor was the soulless mastermind of the deaths of countless people throughout the galaxy.
4. Grand Admiral Thrawn
Grand Admiral Thrawn is arguably the most intelligent military leader to ever serve the Empire. A tactical genius who studied his enemies’ art to better understand their flaws and weaknesses, the Chiss admiral oversaw some of the Empire’s most successful military campaigns, both in the Legends and canon timelines. Although you likely know him from the original trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, the heir to the Empire is as much a threat in canon stories like Rebels, where he subjugates planets in the name of the Emperor and leads brutal attacks against the early Rebel Alliance.
Even after he’s been defeated by the good guys, Thrawn pulls a page out of the Emperor’s playbook, usually finding some way to return from the dead. In Legends, he had a clone contingency plan, and in current canon, it sounds like he’s been busy building up his forces in the Unknown Regions. His comeback feels inevitable, and on top of his brilliant mind, that’s what makes him such a scary member of the Empire.
3. Grand Moff Tarkin
Grand Moff Tarkin was such a powerful and intimidating Imperial officer that he even had control over Lord Vader in A New Hope and could command the Sith Lord to do his bidding. This put him on almost equal ground with the Emperor himself. But unlike most other operators within the Imperial regime, Tarkin didn’t make a move to dethrone the Emperor. Instead, he was so dedicated to the cause that he was willing to perform any act as long as it served Palpatine’s idea of the “greater good.”
Tarkin’s evil nature saw him commit some of the worst atrocities in galactic history, from overseeing the sterilization of Geonosis in order to hide the existence of the Death Star project, to ordering the destruction of the clone army, to blowing up Alderaan. When it comes to Imperial villains, few have a list of war crimes as extensive and horrifying as Tarkin.
2. Darth Vader
Formerly the fallen Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, the cybernetic monster known as Darth Vader is Palpatine’s right hand man, a dark figure so horrific that many people in the galaxy believe him to be a ghost story conjured up to scare potential rebels. Until they come face to face with this hulking Dark Lord of the Sith in the flesh. Inside the fearsome armor, what’s left of Vader’s heavily scarred and mutilated body is near unstoppable. No ordinary soldier can take him down, no blaster bolt can even touch him. Even most Jedi have failed to bring him down.
Vader’s crimes go all the way back to Anakin massacring Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, and things get even worse in Revenge of the Sith, when the new Sith Lord leads a purge against his former Jedi brothers and sisters, even striking down defenseless younglings in the name of Darth Sidious. He’s perhaps the saga’s most cold-blooded killer, leaving none alive once he’s decided their fate, and will stop at nothing until all the remaining Jedi in the galaxy are dead. That he finally finds redemption in Return of the Jedi by helping Luke destroy the Emperor doesn’t really erase decades of evil acts.
1. Emperor Palpatine
Darth Sidious infiltrated the heart of the Republic and twisted it into the Empire, sparked a terrible war that engulfed the entire galaxy in fire and ash, corrupted once-noble Jedi to his cause, and executed Order 66 to erase the Jedi Order from existence. The Empire itself was created in his image and shaped by the horrible dark side beliefs of his Sith brotherhood. So many evil acts have been committed in his name that it’s difficult to even begin to keep track.
Even decades after his defeat at the Battle of Endor, Palpatine’s shadow is impossible to escape. The Sith Lord has cheated death multiple times in both canon and legends timelines, often using the Force to move between cloned bodies. He is the ultimate antagonist, with no single shred of humanity to be found.