(I shared a version of this post with Laughing Place on February 16, 2022.)
“Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.” Obi-Wan Kenobi
Things aren’t always how they seem, and nowhere is that more true than in the Star Wars Galaxy. Our eyes, our ears, and our brains consistently deceive us, thanks to those deliciously deceptive red herrings planted in plain sight for the sole purpose of throwing us off the scent.
This classic plot device is commonly used in books, film, and television to mislead or distract the audience from the larger question or mystery at hand. Red herrings have always been staples in the mystery, thriller, and horror genres, but they are often used in the Star Wars franchise as well. Let’s check out a handful of the biggest and best in the galaxy.
Darth Maul – Episode I: The Phantom Menace
When Darth Vader sacrificed himself to save Luke in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, he facilitated the end of the Empire, and with it the end of the most widely celebrated three-episode film series of a generation. Sixteen long years later, the Star Wars big screen drought finally ended with 1999’s The Phantom Menace. The film promised to tell the rest of Vader’s story, beginning with a young Anakin Skywalker in the days of the old Republic.
Aside from the story of Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Phantom Menace introduced a brand new, mysterious, and super-marketable character in Darth Maul. The red and black horned Sith apprentice spent much of the film doing Darth Sidious’ dirty deeds. The marketing, toy production, and overall hype surrounding the character built huge expectations of Maul being a deliciously ominous presence in the galaxy for years to come. While Maul and his double-sided lightsaber did provide for a couple excellent fight scenes (and the death of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn) the Sith terror met an unseemly demise at the hands of an Obi-Wan blow that divided him in half.
Maul was certainly a force to be reckoned with in the film, but the beginning of the next big Star Wars character was stunted by what felt like a premature exit from the story. Maul made a comeback in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, as well as a cameo appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story. But by that point he was reconstructed from spare parts and for the most part marginalized as a crime boss – a far fall from the post he once held.
Darth Vader Murdered Your Father – Episode IV: A New Hope
“A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
While Obi-Wan’s statement isn’t exactly a lie (“from a certain point of view”) this deliberately misleading statement about Luke’s father led to one of the biggest reveals in the history of cinema. Without Obi-Wan’s misdirection, there is no iconic “I am your father” moment.
This ultimate red herring was so large, it spanned two films, as Vader didn’t reveal the truth to Luke until the end of The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, the reveal was kept top secret from all actors in the film except Mark Hamill (Luke) and James Earl Jones (Vader).
Not Such a Big Threat After All – Multiple Films
Boba Fett, one of the most feared bounty hunters in the galaxy, burst onto the scene while at the same time displaying an understated presence in The Empire Strikes Back (and later retconned into A New Hope). Boba registered very little actual screen time, along with a few appearances in Star Wars promotional moments. The tease dropped at the end of The Empire Strikes Back promised a much bigger moment for Boba in Return of the Jedi. Two years of hype led to the moment when Han Solo accidentally sent Boba to his death in the dreaded Sarlacc pit, by virtue of a stick to the backpack which caused a malfunction. With a satisfied burp, the Sarlacc signaled the end of Boba in the Star Wars galaxy (until recently). While he never rose to the level of threat fans expected, Boba’s legend continued to grow, inspiring numerous appearances in Star Wars animated series, as well as a resurrection in The Mandalorian and his own series The Book of Boba Fett. Good things come to those who wait…a really, really long time.
Captain Phasma, another promising baddie, set fan expectations sky high in the fanfare preceding The Force Awakens, the first film in the franchise’s “sequel trilogy.” The chrome-plated female trooper looked and acted the part of the baddest Stormtrooper in the galaxy. But her flashy bark proved much worse than her shiny bite. Phasma was subdued by Finn, Han Solo, and Chewbacca in Starkiller base in The Force Awakens, and later died in a fight with Finn and Rose Tico in The Last Jedi.
Phasma’s limited role, along with the constant insults and disrespect hurled her way by Finn, rendered her a marginal threat at best, and a huge disappointment among fans.
Supreme Leader Snoke – Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The award for creepiest character in a Star Wars film may go to Supreme Leader Snoke. The humanoid-like alien Sith appears ominously via hologram in The Force Awakens, guiding Kylo Ren in his quest to carry out the Dark Side’s mission of galactic domination. Snoke rules from his throne with an iron fist, until he (in his glorious golden robe) meets his end at the hand of his pupil in The Last Jedi. Up to this point, Snoke was widely accepted as the sequel trilogy’s Emperor-like puppeteer for Kylo Ren, but his sudden death by lightsaber slice rendered him nothing more than a dead herring. Kylo and his insolent peer General Hux lead the First Order in Snoke’s wake, and they barely miss a beat in doing so (aside from their comical peer sniping, which goes unchecked in Snoke’s absence).
Emperor Palpatine’s return in The Rise of Skywalker reveals that he created Snoke artificially to interface with Kylo (Ben Solo) while he oversaw the construction of his “Final Order” fleet in the Exegol system, further confirming Snoke’s herring status.
Luke Skywalker Fighting Kylo Ren – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
“I want every gun that we have to fire on that man!” – Kylo Ren
We all know Kylo Ren has anger issues. That’s largely what makes him such an intriguing and entertaining character. When you combine Kylo’s temper with an encounter with his former Jedi Master Luke, fireworks are bound to fly. In The Last Jedi, Luke’s appearance on the planet Crait instills a bit of much-needed hope into the hearts of the remaining Resistance forces. After, when Luke walks out onto the battlefield to face Kylo, his former student nearly explodes with rage.
All of his First Order battalion’s firepower does nothing to blemish Luke, so Kylo heads out to confront him face-to-face. Kylo’s lightsaber blows streak right through Luke, but it doesn’t harm him in the slightest. It is at this moment that Kylo realizes that Luke just performed the greatest Jedi trick in the Star Wars saga. Luke was not present in person, but is instead projecting himself through the Force from his temple on Ahch-To, light years away from Crait. Luke’s red herring distraction made a dupe out of Kylo, and gave the remaining Resistance forces enough time to escape from the battle and live to fight another day. Well played, Jedi, now rest in peace.
Who Is Rey? – Star Wars Sequel Trilogy
Who exactly is Rey? This is something Star Wars fans wondered about and theorized about since she made her first appearance in The Force Awakens. Speculation went wild after Rey touched Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber, igniting a series of images and soundbites rife with potential. The voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi suggests that Rey may have a relation to the Jedi Master. Her prowess with mechanics and instant connection with Han Solo could have meant a connection with the smuggler-turned Rebel-turned smuggler again.
But Kylo Ren rains on Rey’s parade when he informs her that she’s a nobody and came from parents who were no more than junk traders. While this could easily have been a psychological tactic employed by the Sith, Rey’s inner feelings confirmed that Ren was, at least in part, telling the truth.
Ren shakes it up one even more a bit later when he admits to Rey that she is in fact descended from Emperor Palpatine. So Rey goes from a possible relation with Obi-Wan or Han Solo, to being a nobody, to being a descendant of the most evil Sith in the Star Wars saga. Will the real red herring please stand up? In the end, none of it matters, as Rey forges her own identity and deems herself a Skywalker in honor of Luke and Leia, and all they have fought for.
The Hutt Twins – The Book of Boba Fett
One of the most popular scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy occurs in and around Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The thirty minute party-in-the-palace ends in the destruction of the vile gangster, along with the disposal of Boba Fett as mentioned above. Jabba’s throne was left in the lukewarm hands of his majordomo Bib Fortuna, until the resurrected Boba Fett staked his claim.
Since Jabba’s death, other Hutts have appeared in books, comics, and animated television. But not until Episode 2 of The Book of Boba Fett has another Hutt made such a ceremonial splash as the twin cousins of the deceased crime lord. When this brother/sister duo parade into town with their badass Wookie in tow, it promises to be game on in Boba’s battle for Tatooine. They appear again in Episode 3 with a warning and a couple gifts for Boba. But after that? Crickets. The promise of another Hutt party fell as short as one of Lando Calrissian’s promises. We want more Hutts!
If you enjoyed fishing for red herrings in the Star Wars Galaxy, check out the stinky fish in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Did you catch a red herring that I missed? Feel free to reach out with a comment here, or send a direct message on social: