The original Star Wars trilogy is great for a lot of different reasons. There are the groundbreaking-at-the-time special effects; there’s the classic battle between good and evil; there are the iconic gadgets and weapons, from lightsabers to bowcasters. There are the memorable space ships. And there are the archetypal characters. That’s just to name a few.
Then, there’s the writing. There are times when it’s been rightfully maligned and mocked, but it’s largely solid and often so memorable that many lines – whether due to delivery, context, or the pure eloquence of the phrasing – have melded into the pop culture consciousness. There are loads of lines from the original trilogy people still use in everyday conversation, and we’ve counted down the best and most memorable of them all.
These are the 20 Best Lines In The Star Wars Original Trilogy, spoken “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
We start off with a line that’s not so much great for its purple prose – after all, it’s just one two-letter word – as much as for the context and intensity with which it’s said. It’s said more than once in the original trilogy. First up, there was young Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. Darth Vader has just let slip that he’s his proud papa and Luke just can’t deal. He finds as many ways as possible to deny it. “No,” he declares, simply and monosyllabically at first, “That’s not true. That’s impossible.” But when Vader says Luke knows it to be true, he just can’t take it and screams at the top of his lungs, “Nooooooooo!”
Fast forward to the final act of Return of the Jedi and papa tosses out a little elongated “No” action of his own. This time, Vader is watching as his mentor, Emperor Palpatine, zaps his son with Force lightning. Palpatine plans to kill Luke and that’s just too much for Vader to bear. All the emotion built up through years of living in a life-support suit and fighting his son builds up into a huge “Nooooooooo!” as he lifts up the Emperor and tosses him down a shaft to his death, securing Vader’s own death as he’s engulfed in the Force lightning that was meant for his son.
This list is about the original trilogy, but we can’t help but point out the fact that Vader’s first word after waking up in his suit in Revenge of the Sith was, you guessed it, “Nooooooooo!” Because it’s gotta suck to have lost your limbs, been burnt to a crisp and then be stuck in layers of electronics and armor for the rest of your life.
19. “WHEN I LEFT YOU, I WAS BUT THE LEARNER. NOW I AM THE MASTER.”
Sticking with Lord Vader, here’s a nice one from A New Hope. When Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet up for the first time since Obi-Wan sliced off Vader’s limbs on Mustafar 19-odd years earlier, Vader has had a lot of time to master the dark side of the Force, and he has a little boasting to do. So he says, “When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.”
One of the main themes of the Star Wars saga is the relationship between mentor and protegee, and this line has that all over it. Obi-Wan, of course, was Anakin Skywalker’s master before Anakin turned to the dark side and became Vader. But when A New Hope first hit screens nobody knew all that backstory, so it was a nice hint of what we’d see years later in the prequel trilogy. And also just another line that solidifies Darth Vader as a true badass and one of the greatest villains in film history.
18. “PASS ON WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED. LUKE… THERE… IS… ANOTHER… SK… SKY… WALKER…”
Where the previous line sets up the prequel trilogy, this one actually sets up the sequel trilogy that began last year with The Force Awakens. Or, more accurately, it sets up the backstory to the new trilogy. First, let’s set up the line. In Return of the Jedi, Luke has returned to Dagobah to visit his master, Yoda, before the latter’s death. On his death bed, Luke starts grilling him about his family and whether or not Vader is really his dad. Yoda confirms, but adds, using his last strained breaths, “Pass on what you have learned. Luke… there… is… another… Sk… Sky… walker.”
First, this confirms that Luke has a sibling and teases the fact that Leia, his sister, is Force sensitive. This is a fact that is bound to come into play in some way in Episodes VIII and IX. And it also sets up Leia’s son, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, to be strong in the Force. Then there’s the first part of the line, which sets up the backstory to The Force Awakens. We learn that Luke has, indeed, passed on what he has learned and started a new Jedi academy, which was subsequently ruined by Kylo Ren prior to the events of Episode VII.
17. “THE EMPEROR IS NOT AS FORGIVING AS I AM.”
Let’s go back to Vader. He’s just full of great quotes that subtly reveal his badassery. This time, we are in the first scene of Return of the Jedi. Vader lands in his shuttle on the still-in-construction new Death Star. Commander Jerjerrod is clearly nervous about the whole situation, with this surprise visit and the Death Star not being ready and all that.
Sure enough, Vader is all like, “WTF, you morons? Why isn’t this bad boy gunnin’ down planets yet? You think my visit was a surprise? Well, guess what, losers? The boss is coming and he ain’t gonna be happy.” Well, something like that. He tells Jerjerrod that the Emperor is coming. The horrified commander says they’ll double their efforts, to which Vader responds with this great line, “I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.” And Jerjerrod knows, as do we all after seeing him Force choke officers at the slightest offense, that Vader is not even a little bit forgiving. So imagine someone worse than that.
16. “I AM ALTERING THE DEAL. PRAY I DON’T ALTER IT ANY FURTHER.”
Okay, one more Vader quote and we’ll shove him aside for a little bit. We like this one because it shows a slightly different side to the Sith Lord, one that’s just a tiny bit lenient. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader has just had Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Han, of course, was captured thanks to a deal Lando Calrissian made with Vader, which included Leia and Chewbacca being kept safe from Vader’s grasp.
However, when Vader orders Lando to “take the princess and the Wookiee back to my ship,” Lando’s like, “Hold up, dude, we had a deal. They’re supposed to stay with me.” Or something like that. Vader could easily have just Force choked Lando right there on the spot, or even tossed him into the carbon-freezing chamber. But, no, he just looks Lando square in the eye, deals this not-so-veiled threat of a line, then basically drops the mike, turns and walks away. Obviously, Lando has nothing to say to that.
15. “LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL.”
When Han groans, “Laugh it up, Fuzzball,” to Chewbacca early on in The Empire Strikes Back, it immediately registers as a classic line on so many levels. First of all, it’s just funny in and of itself, even out of context. It’s a great line to toss off to your friends when they’re laughing at your expense. And that leads us to the other reason it’s great: it beautifully illustrates the relationship between Han and Chewie. They’re both pretty much alpha males, but it shows that the Wookiee can laugh at his friend’s expense and they’ll still be friends. And that Han can call Chewie “fuzzball” and not have his head ripped from his neck, which would likely be the case if anyone else called him “fuzzball.”
And finally, there’s the reason Chewie’s laughing in the first place. Leia has just put a boastful Han in his place, calling him “laser brain.” The whole thing shows the flirtatious sparring relationship brewing between Han and Leia. And it also sets up another memorable line coming up later in the list.
14. “I THOUGHT THEY SMELLED BAD ON THE OUTSIDE.”
We’re going to stick with both Han and The Empire Strikes Back for this particularly memorable line. It’s one of those lines Star Wars fans can’t help but say along with Han as they watch the movie. He’s searched forever to find his lost buddy Luke on the frozen wasteland of Hoth, riding his trusty tauntaun. All three of them are freezing as wind blasts snow into them.
Two of them in particular are not doing very well at all. Han is hanging in there, but Luke is delirious and barely conscious (no pun intended) after his fight with the wampa snow beast. And the tauntaun has collapsed from, presumably, exposure to the cold and exhaustion. So, in order to keep Luke warm he takes Luke’s lightsaber and rips the dead and apparently smelly creature open, guts oozing out, and lifts Luke into the still-warm innards of the tauntaun corpse. Then comes the classic line Han breathlessly utters to no one but himself and a chuckling audience: “I thought they smelled bad on the outside.”
13. “THAT’S NO MOON. IT’S A SPACE STATION.”
Back we go to the original film that started it all, A New Hope. That film, of course, at least in terms of the plot, is all about the Death Star, the Empire’s gargantuan new battle station/weapon of mass destruction. It’s all about discovering it, witnessing its power and trying to destroy it. At this point in the movie, the audience has already discovered it and witnessed its unspeakably destructive power, as it destroys the planet Alderaan with one deadly shot.
But this line is all about our heroes discovering the Death Star for the first time. Han, Chewie, Luke and Obi-Wan are in the Millennium Falcon in the area of space where Alderaan used to be, so they already know something is up in the neighbourhood. Suddenly, an Imperial TIE fighter appears and seems to be baiting them toward what Luke thinks is a moon. But, no, says Obi-Wan, in awe, “That’s no moon. It’s a space station.” It’s a classic line and a dramatic reveal for our heroes, illustrating the monstrosity of the Death Star and the monumental task the Rebels have ahead of them.
12. “IT’S THE SHIP THAT MADE THE KESSEL RUN IN LESS THAN 12 PARSECS!”
When, in the bizarre environs of the Mos Eisley cantina, Han brags that his Millennium Falcon is “The ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs,” it’s delicious on so many levels. First off, this is our introduction to Han Solo. It’s his third line in A New Hope and it immediately illustrates two things the audience needs to know and will come to love about him: 1) He’s an amazing pilot; and 2) He’s a boastful bastard.
That would be enough to make it a great quote, but it’s so much more than that. For example: the Kessel Run. What on Earth is the Kessel Run? It’s one of those off-handed references we get throughout the original trilogy that are completely alien to us, but at the same time evocative of something fantastic. We can’t help but imagine some sort of amazing, infamous space race (although we now know from non-film canon material that it’s a complicated route used by smugglers). And finally there’s the fact that it launched the great parsecs debate. In the “real world,” we know that parsecs are not a unit of time, but of distance, so the quote is technically inaccurate. But it’s still awesome. (And, actually, science-y folks have figured out how it could make sense.)
11. “I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING.”
Welcome back, Vader, and thanks for providing us with another deliciously unsettling line, complete with another not-so-veiled threat. A bunch of bad guys are hanging out in a Death Star conference room in A New Hope. They’re a little nervous about the mounting threat of the Rebellion, combined with the fact that their ultimate weapon, the one they’re all standing in, is not yet fully operational.
Vader has listened mostly quietly until one particularly slimy officer, Admiral Motti, gets a little too trigger happy about the Death Star to Vader’s liking. The Sith Lord suggests that the astounding technology put into the creation of the Death Star is “insignificant next to the power of the Force.” And that’s when Motti makes the mistake of throwing some sass at the biggest, baddest dude in the room (if not the galaxy). Who in their right mind would look at Vader and mock the Force as sorcery and a “sad devotion?” Sure enough, Vader interrupts Motti’s inadvisable diatribe with a good old Force choke and a calm recitation of the line, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” No kidding, Vader. And ultimately, it’s just a threat, as he lets him live. It’s another great line to use in real life, on friends who doubt you, and it launched a thousand memes.
10. “WHY YOU STUCK-UP… HALF-WITTED… SCRUFFY-LOOKING… NERF-HERDER!”
Oh, Leia, you do have a way with words. She’s full of snappy lines like, “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” and, “I’d rather kiss a Wookiee.” But can you deny that this is easily the best of the Princess’ witticisms? This is the line we were talking about earlier, set up by Han’s line, “Laugh it up, Fuzzball,” in The Empire Strikes Back.
Leia had already put Han in his place once leading up to the “fuzzball” line, but he’s undeterred. He continues his boastful ways, bragging about the smooch he shared earlier with Leia. But Leia is not down with his kissing and telling. Shocked, and pausing between adjectives to find just the right words, she shouts, “Why you stuck-up… half-witted… scruffy-looking… nerf-herder!” Again she dresses down Han and we get another one of those far-out, alien references. We don’t know what a nerf-herder is, but we have to assume it’s the ultimate insult. Undeterred, Han follows this up with another great line: “Who’s scruffy looking?”
9. “HELP ME, OBI-WAN KENOBI. YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE.”
Your only hope, Leia? Is the Rebellion really all about you? When you grow up royalty, it’s probably hard not to be a little self-centered. Besides, we know what she meant and so does Obi-Wan. Even if a confounded Luke Skywalker had no clue who she was or what she was talking about. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
This is Leia’s classic plea for help with the Rebellion, as a hologram. It’s first heard in A New Hope on Tatooine when Luke accidentally activates the communication while attempting some maintenance on his new droid, R2-D2. It’s a dramatic plea by a beautiful, mysterious woman, so it really piques Luke’s interest. And, really, it’s the inciting incident that launches the farmboy’s legendary involvement with the Rebellion, as he finds old Ben Kenobi, who turns out to be Obi-Wan, they fly off with Han and Chewie, and the rest is history.
8. “USE THE FORCE, LUKE.”
Not long after Obi-Wan allows himself to be slain by Darth Vader in A New Hope, Luke begins to hear the old man’s voice. There’s no denying that for Luke it’s an odd turn of events. But it’s also the first major inkling of his strength with the Force. And never did he need it more than during the Battle of Yavin, as his fellow Rebel pilots are being picked off left and right and it’s up to him to find a way to launch his proton torpedoes into a tiny port in the Death Star.
That’s when he hears Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice calmly but assertively say, “Use the Force, Luke.” It inspires the young pilot, still fresh from the moisture farms of Tatooine, to bear down, to set aside the technology of his targeting system, and trust his senses. It works, he fires at just the right time, and the Death Star goes boom. It’s a classic, inspiring line recited countless times by Star Wars fans playing with their toys or even just to inspire themselves or friends.
7. “IT’S A TRAP!”
We’ve talked about some of these lines inspiring memes, but this might be the most meme-able of them all. Google “it’s a trap meme” and you get the Rebels’ fish-headed Admiral Ackbar wearing a top hat and monocle pompously saying, “It’s an elaborate ruse,” Ackbar as the Dos Equis most interesting man, bulgy-eyed cats saying the famous line, even a potato that looks like Ackbar saying it.
But what’s the context? It’s such a simple line. What makes it so iconic and meme-able? Part of it is Ackbar’s comical, fishy appearance, and part of it is the tone of the voice and delivery of the line. In Return of the Jedi, the admiral is barking orders as he watches his fleet soar into battle, when he realizes they’re flying right into an Imperial trap. So, what else is he to say, with that raspy voice groaning out of a giant fishy head and floppy lips?
6. “I LOVE YOU.” “I KNOW.”
Only a scoundrel like Han Solo could get away with this one. Well, it was the context, too. And here it is. Han is just about to be dropped into the carbon-freezing chamber in The Empire Strikes Back. Nobody is really 100% sure he’s going to survive the process, so tensions are high, Chewbacca is freaking out, and Leia and Han essentially prepare to say goodbye, without actually saying it.
He kisses her. Just before he’s dropped in, she says, “I love you.” Just so he knows for sure. Just in case that’s the last thing she ever says to him. He looks at her with great sincerity, with an expression that says he loves her back and is also scared about what’s about to happen to him. But he doesn’t say he loves her back. He says, “I know.” It’s another line that perfectly defines his character. Just, if you’re any dude other than Han Solo and your girlfriend says she loves you for the first time, say it back. Don’t say, “I know.” It won’t end well.
5. “I HAVE A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS.”
Even more than “Nooooooooo,” “I have a bad feeling about this,” and variations on it, is probably the most repeated line in the Star Wars saga. It’s first uttered by Luke in A New Hope, as “I have a very bad feeling about this,” as they approach the Death Star for the first time. Then Han repeats it later in the film in the trash compactor. Saying it twice in the first film set a solid precedent, so…
Leia says it in The Empire Strikes Back when they’re about to be attacked by Mynocks. C-3PO says it early on in Return of the Jedi as he and R2-D2 enter Jabba the Hutt’s palace. And in the same film, Han says it when it seems they’re about to be the main course of an Ewok feast. That’s five times in the original trilogy alone. It’s also said once in The Phantom Menace (Obi-Wan), twice in Attack of the Clones (Obi-Wan again and Anakin), twice in Revenge of the Sith (Obi-Wan yet again and a Super Battle Droid, of all things), and finally once in The Force Awakens, as Han gets one last shot at it.
That’s a total of 11 times in seven movies. Fans have come to anticipate it in each new film, wondering when it will come up. So, will we hear it this December in Rogue One? Since the new film takes place outside the traditional episodic format, no one knows!
4. “THESE AREN’T THE DROIDS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.”
At the point in A New Hope where Obi-Wan coolly delivers this line, the Force is still pretty new to us. He, Luke and the droids have just pulled into Mos Eisley in their landspeeder, a place seconds earlier billed by Obi-Wan as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” And that’s a memorable enough quote in itself. In any case, he prepares us for the presence of evil. Enter the Stormtroopers.
Obi-Wan knows full well that the droids in that landspeeder are exactly the ones the bad guys are looking for, so he shows us what the Force can do, using a Jedi mind trick. He looks at the Stormtrooper, waves his hand and offers the not-so-subliminal suggestion, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” It works perfectly on the weak-minded soldier, who turns to his buddies and affirms, “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.” And that sparked a million fruitless attempts by fans to work Force magic on their friends and foes to try to get their way. Not to mention a million parodies and homages on everything from That ‘70s Show to House M.D.
3. “DO. OR DO NOT. THERE IS NO TRY.”
Our little Jedi master Yoda was full of memorable lines from the moment we met him in The Empire Strikes Back, first pretending to be a goofy, ignorant gremlin, before unleashing a barrage of motivational (and not-so-motivational) lines to try to kick Luke Skywalker into gear. But a better line there is not than, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
It comes at a time when Luke is having a particularly hard time with his Jedi training. While trying to use the Force to lift rocks, doing a one-handed handstand with Yoda on his leg (not hard at all, Luke, what’s wrong with you?), he loses his concentration as his X-wing fighter sinks in the swamp. Luke’s being all negative about everything and Yoda doesn’t like it. Yoda insists that Luke can use the Force to lift the X-wing to safety, so Luke uncertainly says he’ll try. Then comes the line. Of course, there must always be a “try” in terms of an attempt at doing something, but Yoda’s point is that Luke’s uncertainty is getting in the way. He needs to know he can do it. Even today, it’s a line even non-fans know and use every day.
2. “NO. I AM YOUR FATHER.”
As we approach top spot on the list, we’ve come full circle in a sense, as we arrive at a point just before Luke’s scream of, “Nooooooooo!” that began the countdown. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke and Vader have just squared off in an epic lightsaber battle (we ranked it the third best of all time) and Vader has cornered Luke at the end of a platform, which sits above a seemingly endless drop. It looks like certain death for our hero.
Vader, using the Force, has sensed that Luke is the son of his former self, Anakin Skywalker, and desperately wants to convert Luke to the dark side. So, when Luke shouts that Obi-Wan told him Vader killed his father, Vader plays the papa card. It’s popularly misquoted that Vader said, “Luke, I am your father.” But it was, “No, I am your father,” as Vader is refuting Luke’s assertion that Vader killed his father. And it’s a line that revealed one of the greatest twists in film history.
1. “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU.”
This line is so iconic it almost goes without saying. It practically goes hand in hand with the entire notion of Star Wars. It spawned its own pseudo-holiday where people scrawl on social media, “May the Fourth be with you.” It was satirized on Spaceballs as, “May the schwartz be with you.” The phrase is plastered on millions of t-shirts and posters and memes.
Funnily enough, as ubiquitous as it is in pop culture, it seems like the phrase is said all the time, but it’s actually not uttered all that often in the original trilogy. It’s first said by General Jan Dodonna just before the Rebel pilots are about to launch into the Battle of Yavin. Not long after, Han Solo says it to Luke Skywalker as a gesture of good luck, even though Han isn’t a big believer in the the Force. And that, of course, is the intent behind the phrase: it’s a way of wishing someone good luck, hoping that unseen forces will guide them toward a positive outcome. Incidentally, they’re also the last words of The Empire Strikes Back (Luke to his friends in the Falcon), and it’s not literally said at all in Return of the Jedi, where Ackbar says, “May the Force be with us.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in U.S. theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.