(A version of this post was shared with Laughing Place on March 9, 2023.)
Henchmen and goons. They strive to wreak havoc on our world (and theirs)…all for the affection of their heartless employers. My recent list of top Disney and Pixar Henchmen and Goons recognized some of those nefarious number-twos from Disney and Pixar stories.
The Star Wars galaxy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have plenty of bad vibes to go around. Here, I’ve put together a collection of the most evil underlings, ranging from the streets of New York to the far reaches of space.
Henchmen and Goons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away
The power struggle is real in the Star Wars Galaxy, and we’ll find that to be true with this curious list of second-in-commands.
Are you serious? How could the baddest bad guy in the galaxy, and one of the greatest villains of all-time, be considered a henchman? Well, let’s look at one key fact – Darth Vader was runner-up to Emperor Palpatine during his entire reign as Lord of the Sith. That wasn’t well understood in Episode IV: A New Hope, as we never saw (nor knew of) the Emperor at that time. In fact, for some of this film, audiences were even led to believe that Grand Moff Tarkin was the main Imperial in charge.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back shed a little light on the relationship, when Vader knelt to communicate with a holographic image of the Emperor during the film.
But if there was any doubt who was the boss, all uncertainties were settled in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, where emperor Palpatine made it perfectly clear who was in charge. And in the final moments of his life, Palpatine was prepared to sacrifice Vader for the chance to have Luke Skywalker by his side. True to form, the henchman’s allegiance was betrayed, and Vader sacrificed himself to save his son.
Kylo Ren and General Hux – Episode VII: The Force Awakens
If we are considering Darth Vader to be a henchman (“from a certain point of view”) then by definition Kylo Ren would be one as well. Like Vader, Kylo Ren is extremely powerful and a leader in his own right. But ultimately, he answered to Supreme Leader Snoke (until he partnered with Rey to terminate Snoke’s creepy golden robe-clad life). Once Ren got out from under Snoke’s control, his well-documented internal conflicts rose to a boil, ultimately steering him back to the light side in a final battle with the back-from-the-dead Emperor Palpatine.
General Hux, on the other hand, does indeed present as more of an obvious henchman. Like Ren, he answers to Snoke, but without any semblance of Force capabilities, Hux is “simply” the lead general in Snoke’s First Order.
The childish bickering between Ren and Hux irritated many Star Wars fans, but it speaks volumes to the mindset of a classic henchman. They both spend significant energy maneuvering and positioning to be Snoke’s top aide. But once Snoke is terminated by Ren, Ren becomes the clear leader of the two, and Hux’s influence steadily diminishes. Well played, Ren.
Boba Fett – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Back before the new and improved Boba Fett flashed his sensitive side, he was once the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy. While Boba Fett ultimately answered to no one, his team-up with Darth Vader in Episode VI: The Empire Strikes Back put him squarely in that fearsome henchman role – at least for a while. Sometimes you just need to subcontract services for certain jobs, and Vader needed Fett’s unique hunting abilities to track down his prize – Luke Skywalker. Ultimately, Fett was paid handsomely for his services, receiving a perfectly preserved Han Solo in carbonite to present for handsome payment from Jabba the Hutt.
Bib Fortuna – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
You can call him a henchman, but Bib Fortuna prefers the title “majordomo.” Jabba the Hutt’s right hand man took his job very seriously, though at times he didn’t seem very good at it. The “weak-minded fool” (as Jabba insulted him) failed to prevent Luke Skywalker from entering the palace in his quest to save his friends. Jabba’s valued use of C-3PO as a translator also set Fortuna further to the edge of relevance. In fact, Fortuna wasn’t even present for the great sacrifice at the Sarlacc Pit. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as he was the top-ranking survivor following that devastating episode on Tatooine. But his annexation of power was cut short when Boba Fett – left for dead in the pit – returned to reclaim his ship…and Jabba’s throne.
The Order of Inquisitors
“The Jedi are like an itch.”
Darth Vader and the Emperor couldn’t hunt down all the Jedi on their own, so the Emperor assembled this group of Force-wielding beings affiliated with the Sith who would hunt down remaining Jedi who had survived Order 66 at the end of the Clone Wars. Initially begun with a single Grand Inquisitor, the group grew to include a handful of hunters collectively referred to as “brothers” and “sisters.” About a dozen of these Inquisitors are known to exist. They first became known in the animated series Rebels (2014-2017), and continued in live-action in 2022’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. They seem to exist solely to do the bidding of Darth Vader and the Emperor. What a way to live!
Number Two in the MCU
Superhero comics have some of the most memorable villains in all of pop culture, though most seem to operate in a vacuum. However, there are a few from the MCU who’ve employed merciless underlings.
James Wesley – Daredevil
Wilson Fisk – aka Kingpin – is one of the most ruthless villains in the MCU. This “really” bad guy only recently crossed the threshold to Disney from Netflix, and wow are we glad he did. He is frighteningly relentless, with limitless ambition and a temper to match. The perfect complement to Fisk is his most trusted associate (and friend) James Wesley. This man is steely cool, with nary an expression on his stone cold face. He takes care of the boss’s business without ever breaking a sweat. While most henchmen endure a certain amount of humiliation from their employers, Wesley is actually treated quite well by Fisk for his undying loyalty. Well done, Mr. Wesley.
Maya Lopez (Echo) and the Tracksuit Mafia – Hawkeye
Let’s stick with Wilson Fisk for another minute. The ruthless crime boss lost his right-hand man Wesley way back in season one of Daredevil. But when Fisk made the jump to Disney+ as part of the 2021 series Hawkeye, his secret weapon was Maya Lopez – an adopted niece of sorts. Maya is deaf, but what she lacks in hearing she more than makes up for using her other senses (similar to Matt Murdock / Daredevil). She leads Fisk’s “Tracksuit Mafia” in the streets of New York, and remains hot on Clint Barton’s tail for most of the six-episode series. However, Fisk’s lies eventually caught up with him, when Maya learned her adopted uncle arranged the killing of her father when she was just a little girl. The two characters shared an uncertain moment at the end of the series, and we’ll just have to wait and see what Maya’s future holds.
As for the Tracksuit Mafia? This group of Russian goons are loyal to Maya out of respect for (and fear of) Wilson Fisk. But they are also wildly incompetent, like a post-blip version of the keystone cops. Honestly, it was quite humorous to see Hawkeye’s giant arrow stick a fork into the mafia’s cargo van engine!
Kraglin – Guardians of the Galaxy
Unlike most henchmen, Kraglin dwells in that gray space, being of somewhat ambiguous motives. As Yondu’s right-hand man, and part of Yondu’s Ravager Clan, Kraglin idolizes his boss. The feeling isn’t always mutual, as Yondu treats Kraglin much like a drill sergeant would treat a new cadet. Yondu and his Clan spend most of their time hunting, stealing, and doing whatever else would earn them some cosmic loot. But when the truth of Peter Quill’s heritage comes to light, Yondu does the right thing out of love for his adopted son, and Kraglin is right there to help him. After Yondu met his end, Kraglin continued on the high road, following in the final footsteps of his temperamental – yet deep down loving – boss.
Executioner – Thor: Ragnarok
There are henchmen who inspire fear in our heroes, and there are henchmen who goof their way to success. Then there’s this guy. Executioner – also referred to as Skurge – was an Asgardian warrior who defended Asgard’s Bifrost Bridge. But when Thor’s estranged sister Hela threatens the very existence of Asgard, the warrior defects to serve her, and earns his namesake Skurge. In the end, he came back around and did the right thing (don’t do us any favors dude). Executioner is played with a quiet humility by actor Karl Urban, in a role that is quite different from his antihero role as Billy Butcher in the decidedly non-Disney superhero series The Boys (and we don’t mean the Sherman Brothers documentary).
Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
“longing” “rusted” “seventeen” “daybreak”… – Helmut Zemo
Bucky Barnes – best friend to Steve Rogers – took a REALLY bad detour in his character arc. He was assumed dead after falling from a HYDRA train in Captain America: The First Avenger. But his unexpected return in Captain America: The Winter Soldier brought with it an unexpected swath of destruction.
This may be a highly debatable pick, but hear me out. Bucky was “rescued” by HYDRA, pumped full of super soldier serum, and essentially brainwashed to obey the commands of his master (and one of the greatest MCU villains) Helmut Zemo. So my classification of Bucky as a henchman only applies to this film. Though technically, would he be considered a henchman if his actions are not of his own intention? It’s debatable. But wow, what a foe Bucky proved to be!
Marc Spector – Moon Knight
When we focus on the definition of “henchman” as an underling who does the bidding of their master, a picture of Marc Spector could accompany the definition in the sidebar. Marc is one of multiple personalities, shared also with Stephen Grant and Jake Lockley. Marc’s portion of this multiple personality faithfully served the Egyptian god Khonshu for many years. In return, Khonshu gave him superhuman powers. But the struggle between Marc and Stephen resulted in a need for compromise, and the simultaneous rise of another Egyptian god Ammit forced the duo to work outside of Khonshu’s service for the greater good of defeating Ammit. When Marc and Stephen made peace within themselves, Marc was released from his servitude. Jake Lockley, however…
Ebony Maw – Avengers: Infinity War
Ok, most villain henchmen have at least some speck of interest or likable quality. Not this guy. Ebony Maw (whose name in context essentially means “black hole”) serves as a servant to Thanos. Though in Avengers: Infinity War, his actions present more as a herald of the all-powerful purple villain. Straight-faced and dour, Maw nonchalantly informs citizens in New York that they are “lucky” to be “saved” by Thanos’ plan for extinction of half the universe. Tony Stark was having none of it, as he arranged for Maw to be jettisoned into space to meet his chilly demise.
M.O.D.O.K. – Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
(Mild Spoiler Warning)
We end our list with perhaps the most creepy, goofy henchman in the MCU. We all thought Darren Cross – one time protege of Hank Pym and more recently foe of Scott Lang – met his final demise at the end of 2015’s Ant-Man. When Scott shrunk Cross (in his Yellowjacket suit) to subatomic size, we thought the villain’s time was up. But, as we are consistently starting to realize in the multiverse-crazy MCU, the end is never really the end – it is simply the start of something different.
It turns out Kang the Conqueror – the MCU’s newest and biggest baddie yet – found Cross’s deformed body and outfitted him to be a hunting machine. Under his new identity M.O.D.O.K (which stands for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing) Cross felt a new purpose in life, and reveled in the notion that he was a valuable henchman to such a powerful villain. Cross finally did see the light, turning on Kang and assisting the Lang/Pym family in their fight against Kang. In one final awkward moment, Cross died in service, thinking he became an Avenger in the process (Scott didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t one).
And that, friends, completes our list of backup bad guys from the Star Wars and Marvel universes. Can you think of any that I missed? Let me know with a comment, either here or on social at:
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Check out my companion list of top Disney and Pixar Henchmen and Goons, as well as my recent two-part series on favorite Disney and Pixar sidekicks and favorite Star Wars and Marvel sidekicks, where I celebrate some of the most popular pals of the good guys.