In one month’s time, the final (haha yeah right) Star Wars film will be released in theaters. While Disney and Lucasfilms will no doubt be releasing hours and hours of more content over the coming years (including two TV shows, an Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone feature, and a Rian Johnson original trilogy), this will, in fact, put a definitive capstone on the story George Lucas kicked off over forty years ago. So, in honor of the most beloved saga of all time, as well as one of the films that got me into the business in the first place, I thought we would spend the next few weeks looking at the Skywalker Saga as a whole, starting with the Top Ten Star Wars Scenes Of All Time!
The rules here are simple: I’m looking at the best shot, best executed, and most iconic scenes in the Star Wars lexicon, and paying homage to the ten best of the lot. My only rule is that they have to be canon, and they have to be from a theatrical feature. So you won’t be seeing anything from Genndy Tartakovsky’s terrific Clone Wars shorts, the less-successful series of the same name, anything from the non-canon Expanded Universe, or the Star Wars Holiday Special (not that it had much of a chance if it were eligible). Now, as I looked back on the ten films released to date, I found at least a few Honorable Mentions from each film. Starting with the Original Trilogy, the first film gave us a classic opening scrawl and space battle, as well as an iconic moment where Han Solo shoots first and creates a dubious antihero with an impressive arc. Empire Strikes Back showed us AT-AT Walkers assaulting a massive snowy terrain, as well as a little green Muppet revealing himself to be the most powerful Jedi of them all. Return of the Jedi gave us the impressive spectacle of the Sarlaac Pit, a speeder chase through a forest, and Vader’s redemption. As we move into the far-less impressive Prequel Trilogy, The Phantom Menace gave us the Ben-Hur inspired Podrace, while Attack Of The Clones gave us Obi-Wan’s showdown with Jango Fett. The slightly-improved Revenge Of The Sith gave us Obi-Wan’s battle with General Grievous, the tragedy of Order 66, and the famous Battle of the Heroes between Obi-Wan and Anakin (Obi-Wan fights always get a boost in my book). And the new trilogy has given us the Escape From Jakku, the Kylo Ren/Rey Vision scenes, Luke’s reluctant training of his new Padawan, and the Battle of salt-covered Crait. Overall, I found myself impressed with the films’ mostly-immaculate execution. The only scene I felt was worthy of meriting a Dishonorable Mention comes in the form of the infamous Diner Scene in Attack of the Clones. It is still baffling to me that the series decided to insert a 1950s diner made out of late-90s computer game CGI into the Star Wars saga, but I digress. Let’s not waste any more time – these are the Top Ten Star Wars Scenes!
10. Vader’s Assault On The Rebel Ship – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One was Disney’s first attempt at creating a standalone Star Wars film, and from the get-go it was an uphill battle. Director Gareth Edwards struggled under the weight of the pressure, requiring assistance from Tony Gilroy, Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Z. Burns, and Michael Arndt, and the film experienced the mounting pressure of all spinoff Star Wars films attempted previously (specifically an animated Clone Wars movie) spectacularly failing. But thanks to likable actors and a nostalgic plot, the film managed to become a mostly-impressive hit. And a lot of this has to do with the film’s shocking second-to-last scene, bringing back the iconic villain Darth Vader for a violent, explosive sequence. As the Rebel Alliance tries to escape with the Death Star plans that set the series in motion, they soon find themselves stranded in space, alone with an angry, prepared Darth Vader. Filmed in complete darkness in a style more akin to Friday the 13th and Halloween, Vader hacks his way through the ship as Rebel soldiers try to pass the plans along through broken, sealed doors before meeting their doom. It is a stunning sequence that feels tense, shocking, and fun, all at the same time. Does it make sense for Vader to be this tough two minutes before Star Wars, where he and Obi-Wan fight like old men and his age is shown? Not at all. But when a scene is this impressive to witness, do we really care in the long run?
9. The Holdo Maneuver – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
While far and away the most controversial film in the Star Wars canon (for the record, it’s not perfect, but it is rather good), The Last Jedi boasts several terrific sequences in its lengthy two-and-a-half hour runtime. One of the most technical brilliant has to be The Holdo Maneuver, the emotional climax of the film’s runtime. Having tricked the fleeing Resistance into yet another trap, the First Order begins picking off the escape pods with relative ease. Trapped on an ammo-less, abandoned warship, Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo decides to make the ultimate sacrifice with an untested, sacrificial procedure: to run her ship through the enemy ranks at lightspeed, killing her and destroying the enemy fleet. Historically speaking, the sequence is an excellent homage to the Japenese filmmaking that inspired it (particularly kamizake sequences depicting noble sacrifice), as well as the 1940s war film Twelve O’Clock High. But I’m more impressed with the technical achievement. In a series known for its sound design, Rian Johnson makes the conscious choice to eliminate all sound, silently showing the First Order ships ripped apart, illuminated by the glow of lightspeed. It’s a stunning sequence of self-sacrifice, pathos, and technical prowess, and it stands as one of the best in the series’ run.
8. Mos Eisley Cantina – Star Wars
There are plenty of reasons why the original Star Wars has so many iconic scenes. There’s George Lucas’ inventive imagination (often ignored as he became obsessed with money). There’s the creativity inherent in making the effects on a budget, forcing puppetry, innovation, and experimentation. And of course, there’s the fact that the film came first, unlike anything that came before, and therefore remains stunning in our minds. So it makes sense that the iconic Cantina scene would make the list as one of the best in all of Star Wars. Mos Eisley Cantina is mostly remembered for its creativity: John Williams’ score plays that classic futuristic jazz piece (canonically played by Figrin D’an and the Modal nodes). The puppetry is unlike anything else, as seen in a strange, bulbous creature, a big-headed mercenary, and a pug-nosed man. And the scenic design is unlike anything else – there are few locations as memorable in all of pop culture as the Cantina. But what makes the sequence so memorable is its perfect blend of Star Wars’ two influences: Westerns and Samurai films. In terms of Westerns, it’s hard to watch the sequence and think of anything other than Clint Eastwood and John Ford. It’s a saloon of rogues and outlaws, where people try to blast each other and nerf-herders like Han Solo hang out waiting to get hired. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan’s quick lightsaber work resembles sequences straight out of Kurosawa, slashing enemies to bits in mere seconds. It’s a stunning sequence that pushes the boundaries of creativity, and it’s one of the series’ best.
7. Rey Calls The Lightsaber – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The hallmark of a great Star Wars sequence, as with any great blockbuster, comes in the form of moving otherwise-intelligent audiences to cheer in their seats as if the characters can hear them. While there are a few more of these types of moments on this list, one of the most recent examples came in J.J. Abrams’ reboot/sequel The Force Awakens. For most of the film’s run, we’ve learned to care about the new characters, from cocky Poe to unsure Finn to scrappy Rey. They are a fun, inspirational group of newcomers that pay homage to the original trio without outright replacing them. However, for most of the film’s run, we realize that none of them possess The Force, and none seem ready or worthy to take on Adam Driver’s terrific Kylo Ren. During the film’s climax, after witnessing the death of Han Solo, Finn puts up a valiant fight against a cocky, mocking Kylo before being quickly dispatched. Now free to wield his grandfather’s lightsaber, Kylo attempts to use the Force to call the weapon to him – only to see it wind up in the hands of Rey. We’d seen signs of Rey’s Force sensitivity before this moment, but up until now, it had simply been minor tricks and taunts. However, having given herself over to the Force (both Light AND Dark), Rey emerges as not only a future Jedi warrior, but one capable of confronting the stronger, albeit wounded Kylo Ren. The shock and excitement elicited cheers and applause in both screenings I went to, and it stands out as one of the finer moments of the Sequel Trilogy.
6. Duel Of The Fates – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
One of the criticisms of the Original and Sequel Trilogies, in comparison to the oft-criticized Prequels, is that the lightsaber battles lack the wonder fans feel they should have. For a series that features superhumans battling with laser swords, there’s an awful lot of walking and prodding going on. While Lucas would eventually get out of hand with the acrobatics and magic of the lightsaber duels, it is impossible to deny the cinematic wonder that accompanied the Duel of the Fates in The Phantom Menace. For much of the film’s runtime, Ray Park’s Darth Maul was built up as a sinister presence capable of taking on both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. When Maul finally faces down the two Jedi during the Battle of Naboo, he appears to be outmatched by the two heroes…that is until he reveals his extended blade features not one, but two lightsabers attached at the hilt. What follows is an acrobatic, astonishingly impressive sequence through the mostly-practical setting of Naboo’s power core. The trio leap from ledges, flip through the air, and jab at each other with impressive succession. It’s an emotionally poignant fight as well, as we not only witness the death of Liam Neeson’s lovable Qui-Gon Jinn, but also the birth of the hero that Obi-Wan Kenobi would become. Perhaps, at the end of the day, The Duel Of The Fates isn’t as impressive as we make it out to be. Perhaps we are simply won over by John Williams’ iconic, best-of-the-series score. But no matter what we think of The Phantom Menace and the prequels overall, this was truly a stand-out moment that almost redeemed a flawed film.
5. The Tragedy Of Darth Plagueis The Wise – Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith
After the flaws of The Phantom Menace, things in the Prequel Series mostly went downhill. Instead of doubling down on sequences like Duel of the Fates, Lucas instead incorporated piss-poor CGI, hacky joke sequences, and ridiculously extravagant lightsaber battles (mostly against CGI figures, therefore defeating any sense of stakes). What’s more, after a series of films written by literary geniuses like Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett, Lucas had turned to writing the screenplays himself, leading to the dialogue transitioning from “I love you,” “I know” to “Are you an angel?” and “I don’t like sand.” However, in spite of Lucas’ abilities as a writer, there is one sequence that stands out as a brilliant example of filmmaking, storytelling, and transformation, and that’s The Tragedy Of Darth Plagueis The Wise. Set in a massively extraordinary space opera, complete with bubbles and holograms, the sequence is the only moment in the entirety of the prequels that stands out for its sharp dialogue and intelligent pacing. During the sequence, Chancellor Palpatine tells a trouble, confused Anakin a Sith legend – a legend that he knows will slowly convert Anakin to the Dark Side. The mystery of the legend has sparked debate amongst fans for years – was Darth Plagueis real? Could he really conquer death? Is that the setup for the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker? Was Palpatine the legendary apprentice? Who knows? What we do know is that in a series that sort of botched Anakin’s eventual transformation into Darth Vader, this moment had everything fan’s could hope for – Palpatine being sinister like the Original Series, great dialogue, and more, and it stands out as one of the series’ best scenes.
4. “I Am Your Father” – The Empire Strikes Back
It’s amazing to think that, despite its iconic status in pop culture and twist canon, the final reveal from The Empire Strikes Back almost didn’t happen. It was yet another legendary moment that George Lucas hated, and openly fought against, as Lawrence Kasdan undertook the writing of the sequel. Thankfully, Kasdan managed to convince Lucas that the original plan – that Obi-Wan had killed Luke’s father, not Vader – was not as impressive as Lucas had hoped. For the reveal to have true weight, it needed to do something drastic. And voila! A legacy-creating, genre defining twist was born! We all know the story by this point – after sensing his friends are in danger, Luke abandons his training to go confront Darth Vader, the man who killed both his father and his mentor. In an impressive, smoke-filled battle, Vader and Luke exchange blows while the black-clad villain taunts the young boy, and eventually tries to convert him to the Dark Side. Eventually, Luke finds himself trapped on a ledge, weaponless and amputated, facing off with the menacing figure who supposedly killed his father. And that’s when the twist comes – a twist kept so secret, only Mark Hamill, James Earl Jones, Lucas, and Kasdan were made aware of. That Darth Vader is, in fact, Anakin Skywalker, and the father of Luke. As Luke screams in anguish over the news, Vader once again makes his plea for turning Luke, who replies to this news and the ultimatum by hurtling himself to his death (thankfully he survives). But the damage is done. In one fell swoop, Kasdan, Irvin Kershner, and company changed the fate of a series and suddenly made it vital and shocking. And it’s one of the series’ best moments.
3. The Battle Of Yavin – Star Wars
The original Star Wars film is a perfectly structured film, and there’s no greater proof of that than the exhilarating finale. Star Wars’ final act features an all-out raid on the menacing Death Star, pitting a group of outmatched pilots against an unstoppable killing machine with one fatal flaw. Filmed in the style of World War II fighter pilot films, The Battle of Yavin is an example of expert filmmaking: we are slowly introduced to a group of pilots, with two characters we care about (Luke and R2-D2) thrown in the mix for good measure. The stakes are raised as these pilots we care about are slowly killed off one by one as they battle enemy cannons, TIE fighters, and the dangerous risk of space as they try to enter the Death Star’s trenches and drop bombs down an exhaust port. Slowly, George Lucas raises the tension by forcing Luke – a supposedly decent pilot – to enter the trench himself, before allowing Darth Vader to enter the battle. Lucas uses symmetry, story beats, and more to raise the stakes, removing Luke’s support squadron and injuring R2 the same way a previous team had been destroyed. Tension mounts as Luke hears his deceased mentor’s voice and turns off his targeting computer, trusting in the Force. And, when all hope seems lost, Vader is cast off into space as the amoral Han Solo, having earned a conscience along the way, returns just in time to save Luke and allow him to destroy the Death Star, saving the galaxy. Listening back on tapes of the original ’77 premiere now, it is incredible to listen to how crazy fans go when Han shows up to save the day, and it feel like one of those one-in-a-century cinematic moments for this reason. The Battle of Yavin is one of Star Wars’ finest moments, and it earns its spot on this list.
2. The Throne Room Battle – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Fans and directors often forget that, at its heart, Star Wars is supposed to be an homage to Japanese Samurai films. While the first film portrayed the characters as battling in a classically Japanese style (more of a duel than a fascinating battle), the films since have proceeded to elevate the fight scenes. The characters have become hilarious acrobats, flying through the air thanks to CGI and cartoonish effects. When The Force Awakens premiered in 2015, the film promised more gritty fight scenes in line with the original, thanks to the lack of experience found in its protagonists (they are trained in combat, not the Force). However, if there’s any director that understood exactly what the Saga is supposed to be, it’s Rian Johnson. Johnson returned the series to its Samurai roots in 2017’s The Last Jedi, and gave us one of the most stunning, shocking, well-executed sequences in Star Wars history. Having captured Rey in a sendup to Return of the Jedi, the complicated Kylo Ren shockingly turns on his master, Supreme Leader Snoke, and betrays him with a swift ignition of his lightsaber, killing off the supposed-Chief Baddie of the Sequel Series. He then gives Rey back her lightsaber, and the two engage in an impressive, Kurosawa-inspired battle inside Snoke’s red throne room against the Chamber Guards. Having rid the series of those pesky fake flips and leaps, the scene shows a brutal brawl that forces its heroes to improvise. They turn lightsabers on and off to maneuver around enemy weapons. They throw blades back and forth and ignite them into enemy faces. It’s a nasty, fun, classic battle that is so masterfully executed, Last Jedi haters often have to say, “It’s not really that good!” to justify their arguments against the film. Easily the best, well-choreographed, and least flawed over the series’ lightsaber battles, The Throne Room Battle is one of the series’ crowning achievements.
1. Luke Stares Into The Distance – Star Wars
Why, out of all the scenes in this saga, am I going with a sequence so simple and quiet? Well, because it’s the defining example of what Star Wars is, as well as what it means to people. Let’s look at it from three different perspectives: technologically, narratively, and inspirationally. Technologically, the scene where Luke stares off and contemplates his future is perfectly constructed. The score slowly builds into John Williams’ iconic Luke theme as Mark Hamill is illuminate by not one, but two suns. It’s a subtle, simple touch that adds to the mystery of this universe, and metaphorically shows the two paths that Luke will stare down on his journey toward heroism and redemption. Narratively, it’s the perfect embodiment of the Joseph Campbell arc. Luke’s staring into the distance tells us all we need to know about his character: his restlessness and ambition, his dreams of greatness and his discomfort with ordinary life, and his yearning for greater meaning in life. It’s the moment his story truly begins, and can be pinpointed as the moment the Skywalker Saga truly opens (not to mention ends, considering Luke’s triumphant, brilliant death at the end of The Last Jedi). And inspirationally, it represents why most fans love this series. Luke is an audience surrogate, a hero we can relate to. He desires greatness, and wants to make the universe a better place by battling space Nazis. His stare into the distance resembles audiences who relate to the young hero, who feel the pressure of the world and wants to go out and make a difference. It’s a relatable moment that firmly matches us to Luke’s journey, and connects us to this series for life. For this reason, it is the greatest moment in all of Star Wars.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this look at the Top Ten Star Wars Scenes! I’ll be back soon with a ranking of all the films. In the meantime, please let me know in the comments what your favorite Star Wars moments are, as well as what you think of this list. I’ve picked two scenes from The Last Jedi for this Top Ten, so I’ve already got a bad feeling about this…