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The most impressive women in the Star Wars universe

Star Wars has historically been seen as something of a male-dominated franchise, but in reality, that galaxy far, far away includes no shortage of relatable, fully realized, and all-around inspiring female characters. From smugglers to Jedi, bounty hunters to politicians, here are our picks for the most impressive women in the Star Wars saga.

Jaina Solo

A fan favorite from the old Expanded Universe, Jaina was the daughter of Han and Leia. With that sort of parentage, fans expected her to grow up into one of the coolest ladies of Star Wars, and she didn't disappoint. As soon as she was old enough, she started training in the Jedi arts. While others were good at healing or meditation, Jaina excelled at two things: fighting and piloting.

With Skywalker blood in her veins, Jaina became one of the best pilots in the galaxy, getting so good that she joined the legendary Rogue Squadron, following in her uncle Luke's footsteps. She was such an amazing pilot she was given command of Rogue Squadron, and was so good at lightsaber combat that Luke named her the "Sword of the Jedi"—which is the most badass nickname in Star Wars history.

But it wasn't just the piloting and fighting that made Jaina so impressive. She was so dedicated to the Jedi order that she even killed her twin brother Jacen after he turned to the Dark Side. How many of us could do that? If Rey ends up being half as cool as Jaina was, we'll be pleased as punch.

Mara Jade Skywalker

Kidnapped by Palpatine at a young age, Mara Jade was given one mission: kill Luke Skywalker. Trained in the arts of assassination, warfare, Dark Side powers and close-quarters combat, she was a one-woman killing machine. With a maniacal drive, she chased Skywalker all over the galaxy, even becoming one of Jabba the Hutt's slave dancers to get close enough to kill the Jedi. If that isn't dedication, we don't know what is.

Ultimately, in spite of Palpatine's brainwashing, Mara ended up saving Luke and helping him take down an insane cloned Jedi. Years later, the two married and Mara became a Jedi master, fighting against the terrifying Yuuzhan Vong invasion, resurgent Sith, and even her own nephew, Jacen Solo. Mara lived a long, heroic life, but sacrificed herself trying to stop Jacen—and completing the best redemption arc in Star Wars. The Dark Side clouds nearly everything, but not Mara Jade.

Hera Syndulla

If we were going to fight the Rebellion, we'd want to do it under the leadership of Hera Syndulla. She's the ultimate resistance fighter. Born from a lineage of rebels, Hera was so angry at the Empire that she got her own ship and was ready to take them on all by herself, never mind the odds.

And what a threat to the Empire she was. Syndulla was a brilliant strategist and leader, keeping her team together through thick or thin, despite not having the Force. But she was at her best in the cockpit, whether at the helm of the Ghost or using the prototype B-wing fighter to break an impossibly powerful blockade. The Rebellion trusted her so much that she knew the identity of the secret Rebel leader Fulcrum. Even under the worst of tortures, we know Hera would never give that up.

It's not an exaggeration to say that without Hera, the Rebellion would have failed. We don't know her final fate yet, but we know she was around for the Battle of Scariff, and probably wanted to take on a Star Destroyer herself. With people like Hera leading the Rebellion, was there ever really hope for the Empire?

Ahsoka Tano

Anybody who saw the Clone Wars movie probably wasn't impressed by Ahsoka. She seemed like an annoying character who had nothing to offer—but she eventually morphed into one of the coolest characters in Star Wars. Although she was young, Ahsoka was on the front lines of the Clone Wars, fighting with the 501st in some of the most insane battles of the war. She even died once, was brought back to life, and went right back into the fray. After dying, we would have just retired.

Ahsoka even survived the Order 66 purge, and instead of lying low, formed a rebel cell as the secret agent Fulcrum, pitting her against her former Master Anakin. Eventually she discovered Darth Vader was her mentor, and had to face the fact that the person she trusted had betrayed the Jedi Order. It would have been easy to wallow in guilt, but she wanted to set things right, finally facing Vader on Malachor for an epic lightsaber duel that showed just how powerful Vader's old apprentice had become.

Nomi Sunrider

Joining the Jedi Order after the murder of her husband, four thousand years before the Battle of Yavin, Nomi Sunrider completed her training and was immediately given an assignment to provide reinforcement to a Jedi task force fighting a Sith uprising on the planet Onderon. Teaming up with Jedi Master Ulic Qel-Droma, she helped put down the uprising.

Two years later, the fallen Jedi Exar Kun started the Great Sith War. Attempting to create a galaxy-wide Sith Empire, Kun corrupted Ulic Qel-Droma and almost defeated the Republic. Nomi was right on the front lines, even though she'd only been a Jedi for four years. During the battle of Ossus, Nomi watched Ulic killed his brother Clay in a duel, and was so overcome with emotion that she unleashed all of her Force powers on Ulic. The blast was so powerful it totally cut Ulic off from the Force—even Yoda couldn't do that. Nomi helped the Republic win the war and went down in history as one of the most powerful Jedi ever.

Aunt Beru

Aunt Beru might seem out of place on this list of powerful Jedi and freedom fighters, but think about the story from her perspective. She's just a girl on Tattooine when Anakin shows up, murders sand people, and comes back with a dead body. Clearly, this guy is unhinged. Then a few years later Obi-Wan shows up out of nowhere and goes: "Here, take care of this baby. It's the son of that murderous crazy person who just plunged the galaxy into darkness." And she does it.

Not only does she take Luke in, but she's an amazing surrogate mother, the whole time knowing that if anybody found out Luke's true identity she would certainly be killed. For years she kept the secret, never using Luke's identity for her own advantage. It would've been easy to turn him into Imperial authorities and be done with it, but she knew the fate of the galaxy hinged on her keeping the secret. Even when stormtroopers showed up to kill her and Uncle Owen, she keept the secret. Without Aunt Beru's quiet courage there would be no Rebellion, no new Jedi Order, and the galaxy would have stayed in darkness. If anybody deserves a spot on this list, it's her.

Bastila Shan

Another Old Republic Jedi, Bastila Shan was one of the stars of the awesome Knights of the Old Republic games. She was right in the thick of the the Jedi Civil War, fighting Darth Revan and Malak. Bastila's first badass accomplishment was leading an impossible mission to capture the two fallen Jedi during a gigantic space battle. Bastila made it to the bridge of Revan's ship, but Darth Malak opened fire, trying to kill the Jedi and his Sith master. With her exceptionally powerful Force abilities, Bastila kept Revan alive on Force life support before help showed up, which began his transition back to the light.

That would be impressive enough, but Bastila wasn't done. She also helped the Republic find the Star Forge superweapon and became a leader in the war. She suffered torture at Darth Malak's hands for a week on the Star Forge, which briefly led her to the Dark Side—but Malak was unable to break her, and she came back to the light. Barely able to catch a breath, she used her regained light side abilities to strengthen the Republic fleet through a Battle Meditation, basically making the Republic forces super powerful through the sheer force of her will, and defeating Malak. We can't think of many things more impressive than winning a battle via meditation after a straight week of torture. She probably must have had a great yoga mat.

Rey

Although her past is mysterious, what we've seen of Rey already makes her one of the most impressive women in Star Wars. Despite being stranded on Jakku without memories of her past, instead of just giving up and accepting her miserable life, Rey made the best of it. She learned how to fight, investigate ruins, rappel, work with technology and even fly the Millennium Falcon (which is such a hunk of junk Han Solo could barely keep it together). Frankly, most of us would have just curled up in the wreckage and tried to sleep our lives away.

Rey is also great because she quickly realizes which side she should fight for without any hesitation. Rey refused to run away from her newfound responsibilities and heeded the call of the light side, not giving up even after her terrifying vision and being captured by Kylo Ren. Imagine being in her situation: never having explored the galaxy but suddenly finding yourself at the center of a huge galactic conflict. She took it really well.

Who knows what the future holds for Rey, but we're looking forward to knowing more of her story. Seeing her blossom into a Jedi Knight is going to be great, and she'll be a key Star Wars icon for years to come.

Doctor Aphra

We never really knew Darth Vader needed a sidekick. But that all changed when we were introduced to Doctor Aphra, a corrupt archaeologist who travels the galaxy with a couple of death-dealing droids—basically, a morally ambiguous female Indiana Jones. Seeking an ally in his power struggle with the Emperor, Vader pulled her into his schemes to gain more power.

What makes Aphra so cool is that instead of cowering before Darth Vader, she stood up to him and became an invaluable asset. She's so good at doing what she does that even the Dark Lord of the Sith had to admit she's pretty darn impressive. Throughout the comics, Aphra (along with her murderous droid compatriots) helped discover secret droid factories, fight off the last queen of Geneosis and extort information about Padme from a Naboo mortician.

Eventually Vader got sick of her and attempted to murder the Doctor, but she was too stubborn for that. Aphra lives on, having survived a murder attempt from the most fearsome warrior in the galaxy. We're probably going to see Aphra team up with the Rebellion's heroes in the future, but don't expect her to go all goody-two-shoes. Please, Disney—if you truly loved us, give us a Doctor Aphra movie.

Sana Starros

In a franchise that sometimes short-changes its female characters, Sana Starros stands out. Like Aphra, she's not good or bad, but sits in the grey area that Star Wars often ignores. She's a bounty hunter, hired gun, and most interestingly, Han Solo's wife (kind of.)

That last part needs some explaining. During Han's smuggling days, he and a team tried to steal from a crime lord's gambling den. To cover for the break-in they staged a wedding between Han and Sana. Even though the wedding was all a ruse, Sana still claimed Han Solo as her husband—but only when she needed the leverage, which makes her exactly the sort of woman Han would love anyway.

Sana's endearing, and certainly earns her reputation as a badass who doesn't need a man to complete her life. She flies a ship she claims is faster than the Millennium Falcon; across the galaxy, she's known as a gunslinger and excellent bounty hunter. It's a nice turn for the franchise, opening up room for all sorts of female characters that aren't just romantic interests. Rumor has it we'll see her in the Han Solo movie, and reports that Westworld's Thandie Newton is joining the cast make it look like a distinct possibility.

Jyn Erso

Watching your mother gunned down by Imperials and your father kidnapped is a terrible way to start life, but for Jyn Erso it made her into one of the biggest heroes of the Star Wars galaxy. Jyn turned her life into a quest for justice and revenge against the Empire, joining Saw Gerrera's extremist faction and fighting with them until she was 16. Most girls her age would just sit around in nice cozy space apartments, posting passive-aggressive social media jabs at the Empire, but Jyn fought against totalitarianism.

It's tragic, but at the same time impressive. Even after abandonment and a lifetime of violence, Jyn never gave in to the Empire—and in the process, she changed the galaxy. Even when the Rebel fleet refused to attack Scarif, she took matters into her own hand and led the Rogue One strike team, knowing it was a suicide mission. She eventually died for the cause she believed in.

Without Jyn, there would be no A New Hope. Sure, Luke might have joined the Rebellion eventually, but there's no way they could have blown up the Death Star without the plans Jyn gave her life for.

Mon Mothma

Starting a Rebellion against the Empire is nearly impossible, but imagine trying to start a Rebellion while serving in the Imperial Senate. Others had the luxury of operating their rebel cells far away from Coruscant, but Mon Mothma couldn't. She had to keep up the ruse of normalcy while creating a resistance movement right underneath Palpatine's crinkly nose—and she succeeded.

The Rebellion formed because of Mon Mothma. Without her leadership, they would have gotten nowhere. It was Mon Mothma who pulled the various senators together, was the driving force behind building the fleet, and coordinated their military actions when peaceful resistance failed. Under her leadership, the Rebellion scored two of their most important victories: the Battle of Scarif and the Battle of Endor.

After the Empire fell, Mon Mothma returned to the principles of peaceful governance, demilitarizing the New Republic fleet. It would have been super easy to just declare herself the new Empress. She had unwavering support. However, she believed in democracy and peace, never allowing herself to become a dictator. That's some hardcore dedication. If we were in that situation, we would have probably formed the New Empire—this time with two Death Stars.

Leia Organa

She needs no introduction: Leia Organa is the queen of Star Wars. Actually, she's arguably the queen of sci-fi/fantasy. Her sarcastic quick wit, dedication to the cause of freedom, and her calm in the face of danger have made her a worldwide icon. It's impossible to imagine a world without Leia.

Leia came by her strength the hard way. She watched her world and everybody she loved killed in a blast of light, was tortured by Darth Vader, chased constantly by the Empire, enslaved by Jabba, and her own son killed her husband. That's not a chain of events that just anybody could deal with, but Leia never gave up. Even though she was Force sensitive, she never even toyed with the Dark Side. There was nothing there for her. Power was never her goal, just freedom for the galaxy.

After the Galactic Civil War, she helped found the New Republic. When the First Order came to power, her own government let her down by refusing to do anything about it. Did she just sit around? Nope—she went to war by leading the Resistance. Leia has inspired generations of girls and boys, and remains a character that new generations of fans continue to admire.