We’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars! The “little” sci-fi film that came out in 1977 has spawned an intergalactic media franchise that is just as popular today as it was 40 years ago. Being that it’s the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, we’re continuing the countdown of the 40 greatest moments in Star Wars films and TV.
20. Emperor Palpatine Forms The Galactic Empire (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith): We, and many of the film’s characters, watched with horror as the disfigured Chancellor Palpatine used a failed attack upon him by Jedi as an excuse to dissolve the crumbling Galactic Republic before cheering throngs. What made this moment so unsettling to watch was that it can be compared to real-life events in our history.
19. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn vs Darth Maul (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace): Say what you want about the flawed Star Wars prequel, but it had one kickass lightsaber duel. Buttressed by green screens and John Williams’ rousing, operatic soundtrack the deadly duel between the Jedi Knights and Darth Maul was wild, exciting and undoubtedly the best moment in the film.
18. Ahsoka Leaves The Jedi Order (Star Wars: The Clone Wars “The Wrong Jedi”): In the final episodes of the fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi apprentice, had been framed for murder. After much ordeal, Ahsoka was cleared, but she was so disillusioned with the Jedi Order that she chose to leave it at the end of the last episode. This turn of events was frankly surprising and deftly sets up Anakin’s own disillusionment with the Jedi later on.
17. “Aren’t You A Little Short For A Stormtrooper?” (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): When Luke Skywalker disguised as a stormtrooper bursts into Princess Leia’s prison cell on the Death Star, her first words to him were unexpected. Instead of being fearful or excited, she comes off as nonchalant and unimpressed with her liberator. Throughout the film Leia displayed spunky bravado and put up a steel front even as a prisoner. This savvy attitude perfectly summed up Princess Leia, who dispelled the cliché of being the damsel in distress. We knew that no matter what she could take care of herself.
16. The Battle of Hoth (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back): The very first Star Wars sequel set a darker, more ominous tone which was foreshadowed in the first acts’ climatic battle. Rebel forces were forced to evacuate their base on the frozen world Hoth and brave fighter pilots and troops, including Luke Skywalker, desperately tried to hold off imperial metal, behemoth walkers. It was soon clear that the Rebels were outmatched by the superior forces and the one-sided battle was disheartening, yet exciting, to watch.
15. Yoda’s Vision Quest (Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Vision”, “Destiny” “Sacrifice”): In the series finale, Jedi Master Yoda goes on a spiritual retreat because he is troubled by the Clone Wars and the rise of the dark side of the Force. His insightful visions during a visit to a Sith planet let him (and the viewers) know there was more to the Force than he knew. He realized that waging war was not the answer to bringing balance to the Force and that the Force was much more multi-layered than just good and evil. This, and Yoda’s vision of a true Chosen One, was a poignant way to end the series.
14. Han Shoots First (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): In the original and true version of the first Star Wars film Han is cornered at the cantina bar by the bounty hunter Greedo, who has come to collect Han’s debt owed to Jabba the Hut. From the testy conversation, Han knew Greedo was going to shoot him so he beat the bounty hunter to the punch and underhandedly shot him dead. Pure badassery and it sets up perfectly Han’s eventual redemption later in the film.
13. Darth Vader Saves Luke Skywalker (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi): Following the climatic lightsaber duel in Return of the Jedi a victorious Luke refused to kill his father Darth Vader and to submit to the dark side of the Force. In response, Emperor Palpatine attacks Luke with vicious lightning attacks. Luke was helpless under the savage assault while Vader stood by passively. At this point, Vader made a life-changing choice and turned against the Emperor. This cost Vader his life, but his final act saved Luke and put him on a path of redemption as he rejected the dark side of the Force. This moment made Vader much more layered and somewhat of a tragic figure instead of a one-dimensional villain.
12. Darth Vader Goes Medieval (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story): This moment came in the closing scenes of Rogue One and neatly segued the way into Star Wars Episode IV. After the Rebel flagship received the plans for the Death Star, it was prevented from escaping and boarded by Darth Vader. As the frantic Rebel troops tried escaping onto another ship with the plans, Darth Vader silently cut through the hapless soldiers with his red lightsaber being the only source of light. The way he so viciously and quickly killed the troops was both frightening and awe inspiring. The scene demonstrated how deadly Darth Vader was as he displayed his mastery of the Force.
11. Order 66 (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith): Perhaps the darkest moment ever seen in a Star Wars film was when Emperor Palpatine ordered the Republic’s clone troopers to turn against the Jedi. One by one, we witness heroic Jedi taken by surprise and slaughtered by their own forces. Underlining the gravity of these acts were John Williams’ haunting score, Yoda’s pained reaction at feeling all those sudden deaths and Anakin Skywalker coldly murdering young children, who were training to be Jedi (thankfully this happened offscreen).
10. The Battle of Endor (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi): The big finale of the original Star Wars trilogy was quite a spectacle with thrilling spaceship battles and dogfights that still holds up today. Both the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance laid all their cards on the table for the Battle of Endor, which would decide who won the Civil War. The Rebels showed up with their fleet to destroy a partially built second Death Star orbiting Endor. What they didn’t realize was that they flew into a trap. What followed was an incredible firefight both over the planet and on the ground since both sides knew the stakes.
9. “I Know” (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back): Han Solo’s response to Princess Leia telling him that she loved him is one of the most inspired and cavalier replies to a declaration of love on film. It so perfectly reflects Han’s devil-may-care demeanor, which he maintained even while he faced death. This is why Han is one of the best Star Wars characters and the line broke the tension in the moment when Han, surrounded by enemies and his loved ones, was about to be encased in carbonite and an unknown fate.
8. The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story): It seemed as if the Battle of Endor would always be the greatest space and ground battle ever shown in a Star Wars film. Then this spinoff film came along and took that honor. Thanks to modern special effects, clever editing and tight pacing the Battle of Scarif was everything we could ask for. The battle included great geek out moments, Easter eggs, heroic sacrifices, jaw-dropping visuals and an intense and gritty tone. What punctuated the ground battle was the nature of the sacrifices since Rogue One’s heroes were not going to fight another day. Still, their unsung actions would forever alter the war against the Empire.
7. Yoda Explains the Force (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back): It was a rather quiet moment for a busy film franchise, but nonetheless it was a powerful one. Yoda admonishes Luke for being so full of doubt and spouted many memorable and quotable lines like “Do or do not, there is no try” and “size matters not”. The Jedi teacher Yoda goes on to explain the true nature of the Force and how it connects to everything. It was quite profound and philosophical for viewers. Yoda then stunned Luke (and us) and demonstrated his faith in the power of the Force, by using the Force to levitate Luke’s crashed X-Wing.
6. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith): This was the moment fans have been waiting for ever since the prequel films were announced: finding out how Darth Vader was defeated by his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. What made the anticipation more intense was that most fans found the pre-Vader Anakin Skywalker to be a whiny brat that deserved the beatdown that Kenobi gave him on the volcanic planet Mustafar. The pivotal confrontation between two former friends, now bitter enemies, was not only cathartic for us, but the greatest lightsaber duel in Star Wars.
5. Ben Kenobi’s Sacrifice (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): The very first lightsaber duel may seem tame by current standards, but its conclusion was one of the most gut-wrenching moments in Star Wars history thanks to a last-minute rewrite of the script at actor Alec Guinness’ suggestion. At the Death Star and dueling his former student Darth Vader, Ben Kenobi saw from afar that Luke and his friend risked capture if they came to his aid. Knowing they had to escape the Death Star, Kenobi nobly stopped fighting Darth Vader and let the dark lord cut him down. It was a powerful scene that stunned Luke and sunk our hearts as if we lost a father figure.
4. Death Star Assault (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): The first Star Wars film concluded with an exhilarating finale as the Rebels launched a last-ditch attack from their base to destroy the approaching Death Star. The attack is jammed with unforgettable moments from dogfights inspired by aerial combat footage to the POV shots from a fighter ship rushing into a Death Star trench that still feels as if we’re in the cockpit. We could barely stand the tension as the Rebel pilots valiantly faced laser cannons and TIE fighters to exploit a weakness in the Death Star. The battle also gave Luke his moment to “let go” and use the Force to save the day with a timely and audience-pleasing rescue by Han Solo and Chewbacca.
3, Luke Skywalker Confronts Darth Vader (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back): We were all itching to see the Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fight each other with lightsabers ever since Luke first activated his father’s lightsaber. But we knew that Vader would make mincemeat out of the young Jedi in training. In the final act of The Empire Strikes Back, they finally met and engaged in a duel. It was fairly obvious that Vader was toying with Luke and ended the fight swiftly by cutting off Luke’s hand after Vader was hurt. What happened next when Vader revealed that he was Luke’s father had more impact on Luke and the Star Wars films than anything that came before that stunning revelation.
2. Tatooine Sunset (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): One of the most famous and inspiring scenes in all the Star Wars films is the most silent, save for John Williams rich score. Luke Skywalker is upset that he has to stay working in him uncle’s farm on the desolate desert planet Tatooine when he would rather be out in the galaxy. Frustrated by his lot in life, Luke rushed out of the family home and stared off into the desert landscape as night fell. Little did he know, as he watched the planet’s twin suns setting, that his life would soon change forever. This moment resonated with many fans who could identify with Luke and it gave us a deeper connection to the character and the galaxy-wide events in the film.
1. Opening Crawl and Beyond (Star Wars Episode V: A New Hope): This moment is what started everything and changed film (and even lives) forever. It may seem like hyperbole but it was important for the opening moments of Star Wars (not A New Hope as it was retconned later) to grab our attentions and imagination and it did this perfectly. Back in 1977, audiences in darkened theaters were greeted with a pre-credit card and then came a loud, booming musical cue with the title Star Wars that was emblazoned across the huge screen. The famous Star Wars theme by John Williams played as an opening crawl set the stage for us in simple terms. What followed next was the eye-dazzling shot of a mammoth spaceship flying overhead then we were thrown right into the story along with the hapless droids, C-3P0 and R2-D2, who were whisked into an incredible adventure in a galaxy far, far away. And so were we.
So, there you have it. Are there any other moments that should have gone into this list? Leave your comment below and join in on the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Star Wars!
Haha, glad number 14 was included – wonder if one day we’ll ever see the original scene restored as it rightfully should be? Great choice for the first spot, it really is an impactful moment that grabs and wows the viewer right out of the gate.
There are constant rumors that Disney will release the original versions of the films, so there is always hope.