No matter what you think of Star Wars, the (to-date) 9 films released bearing its name have entered into popular culture and reshaped science fiction in almost every decade since the first film dropped in 1977. From George Lucas’ original trilogy, the reviled Prequel Trilogy, to the Disney-reboot Sequel Trilogy and the anthology films, Star Wars films each have moments that make one gasp and sit upright in your chair. Here we count down our 10 favourite moments of the entire Star Wars feature film franchise so far.
Naturally, spoilers abound so proceed with caution!
10. Luke Saves Anakin
The climax of Return Of The Jedi is a three-pronged adventure ride. You have Han Solo and the Ewoks on Endor battling to destroy the shield generator for the second Death Star, the advancing fleet of Rebel ships looking to destroy the Death Star, and Luke’s battle with Darth Vader and the Emperor in the throne room aboard the Death Star. Pivotal to both the Star Wars mythos and Jedi’s conclusive role in the original trilogy, Luke expunges Vader’s dark side to return Anakin Skywalker briefly to the light, before the old Jedi passes away in Luke’s arms. It’s a story of salvation we’ve watched since Luke exclaimed “there’s still good in him” back in The Empire Strikes Back, and as redemptive an arc for a single character I doubt there’s been better. Vader’s resurrection as a saviour of sorts – it’s he who throws the Emperor down a chute and allows Luke to time to save himself – is the end game for Lucas’ original trilogy and its band of characters. It sets Luke up as the next generation of Jedi, defeats the Empire, and effectively saves the Galaxy.
9. Death Star Trench Run
Riffing on wartime dogfights, George Lucas’ classic finale to A New Hope involved the fleet of Rebel ships attempting to fire a small missile into an exhaust port on the Death Star. It required the pilots to manoeuvre down a trench across the equator of the enormous vessel, whereby they could be picked off by enemy fighters and where Luke could throw logic to the wind upon hearing an old man’s voice in his head. The trench run in A New Hope is excitement and tension personified: the smaller fleet of heroes against legions of Imperial TIE fighters? A ticking clock plot where the Death Star would soon be able to destroy the Rebellion with a single laser blast? Luke Skywalker’s sudden connection with the Force? A complete lack of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon whatsoever? Yes, the finale to the original Star Wars is iconic and memorable for any number of reasons and automatically gets a drop in our 10 greatest moments.
8. Yoda Vs Count Dooku
Although there’s enough Yoda moments in Star Wars to fill this list completely, we felt it wise to pare things back to one of the greatest hold-your-breath moments Lucas ever gave us. Towards the end of the execrable Attack Of The Clones, tiny Jedi Master Yoda confronts the double-crossing Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and for the very first time we witness the legend himself engage in a lightsabre duel with the elderly Sith. Achieved through state-of-the-art CG effects, notably the avatar of Yoda employed for the whole film, the battle is exceptionally (disappointingly) brief but memorable for its uniqueness. Keep in mind, we’d all heard about Yoda’s skill with a sabre but this was the first time we’d seen it: it was a legitimately cool moment. A similar sequence was employed in the third of Lucas’ millennial projects, Revenge Of The Sith, in which Yoda did battle with the Emperor with far larger destruction ensuing, but for the briefest of moments the Yoda/Dooku swordfight eclipses almost anything else the Prequel films can give us.
7. Haldo’s Sacrifice
The most recent entry into this list would be the sacrifice of Vice Admiral Haldo in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. At a crucial moment, Haldo (Laura Dern) turns her almost unoccupied craft back into the enemy fleet and hits hyperdrive in order to disable one of the enormous pursuing vessels. No matter what you think of The Last Jedi overall (and for some reason some people hate it) you can’t help but feel something for Haldo’s brave sacrifice. It’s a powerful moment on screen – the silence that follows the collision is exhilarating and exhausting all in the same breath, as we witness something never before seen in Star Wars: somebody using lightspeed as a weapon.
6. Anakin Becomes Vader
Although narrative the moment felt like a soft sexual letdown than a powerful moment of catharsis for the audience – particularly for fans who’d waited decades to witness it – the transformation of a horribly burned and scarred Anakin Skywalker into the iconic figure of Darth Vader at the end of 2004’s Revenge Of The Sith was brief and undercut by Lucas’ awful decision to have him scream “nooooo” once he learned his secret wife Padme had died. The moment Vader’s classic mask slips down onto Anakin’s ruined face, and the first husky mechanised breath is drawn, the tension in the cinema could be cut with a knife. The three-film prequel journey to this moment had taken its toll on the franchise’s stalwart fans but it had arrived: Anakin’s fall from grace was done, and the vision of George Lucas was (as far as we knew) complete.
5. The Podrace
Among the shining lights in Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy is a moment in 1999’s The Phantom Menace where a young Anakin Skywalker involves himself in a highly improbably yet entirely exciting podrace among the sand dunes and chasms of Tatooine. It’s a thrilling sequence referenced by Lucas himself as a riff on the famous chariot race sequence in Ben Hur, itself a masterwork of tension and pacing. Lucas, together with John Williams’ evocative and energetic score in the sequence’s later half, are thrilling indeed and give the film such much needed momentum at a crucial time. Although it only tangentially moves the plot forward, the sequence largely exists in and of itself and remains not only one of the director’s better action beats but also the Prequel’s most engaging sequences.
4. Opening shot in A New Hope
There are few opening shots in cinema more memorable than the one that started it all: following the opening titles in A New Hope, accompanied by John Williams’ stirring theme, the camera pans down and we see a tiny spaceship whizz past, firing at something behind it, before an enormous bulk carves in at the top of the screen. The music builds and the giant Star Destroyer almost fills the entire widescreeen frame, dwarfing the smaller ship and making your jaw drop at the scale of it. Since this shot, every Star Wars film has featured some variation of it, and it’s become a much parodied and widely referred to moment in cinema for its ability to transport you instantly into the world the film involves us in.
3. Rogue One: Vader’s Attack
Rogue One remains a divisive film for Star Wars fans. It’s a prequel to 1977’s A New Hope in that it recounts the mission to retrieve the Death Star plans which were being carried by Princess Leia’s ship at the opening of the original film. Telling this story fell to director Gareth Evans, and among the many character-driven moments Disney felt it lacked a solid resolution – reshoots added in a crucial sequence involving a pursuing Darth Vader, hot on the heels of the fleeing rebels (which would lead directly into A New Hope), who attacks a squad of soldiers aboard a vessel in an attempt to retrieve the stolen plans. It’s a bravura moment in Star Wars, and often cited as one of the most potent and memorable sequences of all those involving the dark lord of the Sith, and shows what a brute force villain he was (and should have been in Lucas’ original trilogy) when he put his mind to it. This elegantly shot and astonishingly violent scene jumps straight into our list at number 3.
2. Han’s death
The death of Han Solo in 2015’s Episode VII, The Force Awakens, marked the first time one of the big three franchise players was offed on-screen. Han Solo’s meeting with his son, Ben – aka Kylo Ren – in the bowels of the First Order’s enormous Starkiller Base, and the incident of patricide that followed, established with the new Disney-owned Star Wars films that nothing was off limits, not even sacred characters we knew and loved. The normally garrulous Han Solo’s final desperate attempt to draw his son back from the dark side of the Force is heartbreaking indeed, and coupled with JJ Abrams deft direction and sense of the moment, makes for a tearful, fittingly heroic finale for one of the screen’s great rogues.
1. “No Luke. I am your father”
The granddaddy of all plot twists came in Star Wars‘ second instalment, The Empire Strikes Back, and shook the 1980’s to the core. Before the era of social media and rabid fandoms and the ability to microscopically dissect every frame of footage to be found online, the revelation of Luke’s parentage was carefully hidden from the public upon the film’s 1980 release and shattered all expectations for audiences keen to see Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker face off in Bespin’s Cloud City. Arguably the franchise’s greatest moment even now, the oft-quoted and instantly memorable line from James Early Jones’ iconic screen villain remains arguably cinemas most defining modern game-changer.
What do you think? Think we got it all wrong? Let us know in the comments below! May the Force be with you.