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).