The Star Wars franchise continues to be a rollicking sci-fi adventure series. Nobody, least of all us, is going to tell you these films are built for scares. But we are going to tell you that there are most definitely some scenes in the movies that are meant to charge the viewer with a little jolt of fright. There are scenes that are frighteningly tense, scenes with seemingly unbeatable and often grotesque monsters, and scenes of unspeakable evil. Those of us who saw the movies as children will surely remember.
So, with Halloween just around the corner, we want to celebrate these scenes across all seven of the current Star Wars films, while we also look forward to any scares that could be in store while the Rebels steal the Death Star plans in this winter’s Rogue One.
Rancors and wampas and sarlaccs, oh my! We’re off to see the 16 Most Terrifying Scenes in Star Wars Movies.
16. ENTER VADER
We’ll start our list of Star Wars terror at the beginning– literally the beginning of A New Hope. Imperial stormtroopers have just infiltrated the Rebels’ ship, Tantive IV. The rebels and stormtroopers are exchanging blaster fire, with Rebels dropping like flies all over the place and finally retreating. When the hallway is clear of Rebels, our view turns, centered on an entrance, clouded with smoke.
From within the blur of the smoke, a large, black figure appears; black-suited, black-caped, and black-helmeted. Back in 1977, this was the world’s introduction to Darth Vader. Minor-key horns accompany him, giving us a hint that this dude is no good. Then the breathing. How did heavy, labored breathing become the sound of intimidation? Who knows? But it did. It became a sound you did not want to hear approaching you. He said nothing in that initial entrance, but he was treated with such reverence by the stormtroopers that you knew he was super scary.
15. ENTER KYLO REN
Vader’s grandson, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, had a similarly intimidating introduction to audiences in The Force Awakens. You know right away that this guy is downright scary. He exits his creepy-looking, bat-like command shuttle surrounded by stormtroopers and smoke, much like Vader’s first entrance. Also like Vader, he’s clad in black armor, black cape, and black masked helmet.
The kindly Lor San Tekka is brought before him, fresh from giving Poe Dameron a fragment of the map to Luke Skywalker’s location. San Tekka isn’t allowed to say much before Ren’s crudely buzzing lightsaber bursts from its hilt and comes crashing down with violent force onto the old man, mercilessly destroying him. Immediately, Poe fires his blaster at Ren, who uses the Force to freeze the blast in mid-air while freezing Poe in place. This is a downright scary use of the Force; one we’d never seen before on film. Ren follows that by ordering his stormtroopers to kill all the innocent villagers. In a matter of minutes, we know that Kylo Ren is unfathomably powerful and ruthless.
14. THE SARLACC
For fans of grammar, the most terrifying thing about the sarlacc may be that inexplicable second c. But there truly is so much to be disturbed by when it comes to this gargantuan, and always hungry, creature. We meet it during the barge scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke has been sentenced by Jabba the Hutt to walk off a plank into it.
What is it? That’s the frightening part. When C-3PO translates for Jabba, he describes it as “all-powerful” and that, “In his belly you will find a new definition of pain and suffering, as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.” That’s a frightening proposition, although most beings would not live through much more than a twentieth of that time. What’s 50 years of being digested, after all, compared to a thousand? When we finally see it, we’re introduced to a creature that lives in a pit– all nasty fangs, tentacles and beak. But secondary sources tell us that this is merely the tip of the monster, whose full body averages 100 feet in length.
13. THE EMPEROR IS DEFORMED
In Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi have finally caught on to Palpatine’s evil ways and four Jedi leaders, including Mace Windu, barge into his office to confront him. The Jedi engage their lightsabers, Palpatine does the same, and the battle begins. The Sith Lord quickly puts down three of the Jedi, leaving Windu to square off one-on-one against him. After an intense battle, Windu disarms Palpatine.
He’s down, but he’s nowhere near out. Just as Windu is attempting to arrest him, he blasts the Jedi Master with Force lightning. But Windu blocks it with his lightsaber, forcing the damaging power of the lightning back at Palpatine. As that happens, we watch Palpatine’s face shrivel and deform, growing more and more hideous. His eyes have sunken and yellowed, his face has wrinkled, his hair has grown thin and wispy. He looks like a frail old monster – but a frail old monster who can suddenly burst forth with more Force lightning, sending Windu out the window and falling to his presumed death.
12. THE TRASH COMPACTOR
Luke, Han, and Chewbacca have just rescued Leia from a jail cell on the Death Star, and are locked in a shootout with stormtroopers. They decide to escape through a hatch in the wall and fall onto a pile of disgusting trash. For the germaphobes among us, that would be terrifying enough. But there are true terrors lurking amongst the trash soup in which they find themselves.
At first, they think the worst of it is the smell. Our heroes get cranky with each other until they start hearing monstrous groaning and croaking. A creepy eyeball bursts out of the water to check things out, and soon after a nasty tentacle wraps around Luke’s leg and pulls him under. He makes his way up, panicked and strangled, and Han manages to shoot the tentacle off. But Luke falls back in. His new pals don’t know what to do. The tension is terrible. Suddenly, they hear creaking sounds. Luke pops up because the creature suddenly disappeared– but there’s a reason it disappeared. The walls begin to close in on them. Han tries to buttress the walls with a pole, but it doesn’t work. Death seems certain for all four of our heroes. But, thankfully, R2-D2 manages to remotely shut down the compactor.
11. SNOKE IS REVEALED
In an early scene in The Force Awakens, we hear about Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo Ren and General Hux have a discussion about him. Hux is very adamant about following Snoke’s orders and warns Ren against putting his personal interests ahead of Snoke’s orders. But about halfway through the film, we finally get our first glimpse of this intimidating leader.
The frightening reveal is set up beautifully. First, we hear his slow, booming, echoing, growly voice in voiceover to a shot of Starkiller Base. Suddenly, we’re in a huge, dark room, illuminated only by a dusty beam of light, which reveals two small figures looking up at what can only be described as a giant, who sits in a chair looking intimidatingly down on them. Even our first glimpse of his face in close-up is back-lit, shrouded by shadow. Then he leans forward into the light to reveal a monstrously scarred bald head with beady eyes, almost looking like his skin has been severely burned around his chin – like an ancient vampire with a touch of Freddy Krueger. When he shouts and rises to full height, surely dozens of feet tall, you know you don’t want to mess with him.
10. SAND PEOPLE ATTACK
Before Luke meets Obi-Wan Kenobi and joins the rebellion, he faces his first major scare down on Tatooine, when he and his new droids are attacked by Sand People, also known as Tusken Raiders. Luke and C-3PO are in the landspeeder searching for R2-D2, when suddenly a strange, cloaked figure jumps into view, looking down at Luke from high above. A music cue tells us this is not a friend as he aims a gun down at Luke.
But the Raider’s friend has a better idea. They climb upon a giant beast, a bantha, and move with great haste. Back down in the valley, Luke and Threepio have found Artoo, who ominously warns them that several creatures are approaching. But, just when Luke spots two banthas and a Tusken with his viewfinder, we get a nice jump scare, as a Tusken pops up in front of them, uttering a terrifying grunt with his spiked weapon held high, about to attack. We get our first good glimpse of these nasty creatures. Their faces are wrapped in some kind of cloth, with odd scopes where their eyes should be, giving them a terrifying, unrelenting stare. He knocks Luke out and he and his friends drag Luke off. Is this already the end for our young hero? Fortunately, the Tuskens simply ransack the landspeeder and Obi-Wan arrives for the first time to help awaken Luke.
9. THE MYNOCK “CAVE”
Here’s a scene that’s carefully crafted for scares. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han expertly pilots the Millennium Falcon into a dark, spooky cave in order to check the status of its failing hyperdrive and evade Imperial TIE fighters. Nobody has said, “I have a bad feeling about this”… yet. But maybe they should have. Entering a spooky cave is a trope straight out of a horror movie. Once they’ve landed, the ship mysteriously lurches forward, just after C-3PO warned of the asteroid’s instability.
There’s snarky, flirtatious banter between Han and Leia, much as you’d see teens doing in a dark, scary place in a horror movie. Suddenly, some sort of two-eyed suction cup of a creature latches onto a window near Leia, totally freaking her out. As they’d say in a horror movie, she tells Han, “There’s something out there.” And he responds like a dude in a horror movie, deciding to go outside and check it out. Once out there, they notice creepy things like the ground feeling strange and there being a lot of moisture. Finally, Leia utters the oft-used “bad feeling” line. Han recognizes the flying suction-cup creatures as mynocks, implying they’re more a nuisance than anything else. But there’s a bigger problem, Han realizes. They race back into the Falcon and speed out of the cave, which turns out to not be a cave at all, but the mouth of a giant space slug intent on eating them.
8. ANAKIN SLAUGHTERS THE YOUNGLINGS
Anakin Skywalker has been convinced by Palpatine, now having revealed himself as Sith Lord Darth Sidious, to join the dark side. He’s officially been christened Darth Vader and Sidious gives him his first order: kill all the Jedi in the Temple.
So off Anakin goes with an army of clone troopers, taking down every Jedi they see. But once he’s disposed of all the adult Jedi, he moves on to the Jedi Academy. All the younglings are scared out of their minds, clearly aware that something terrible is going on, and they’re hiding behind chairs. One brave little soul approaches the dark-cloaked newly-christened Sith, hoping for help from a young man he’s always viewed as a respected elder. But Anakin silently glares murderously at the child, igniting his lightsaber as the kid draws back in shock and fear. We don’t see the slaughter, but we know it happened, and that’s scary enough.
7. ENTIRE PLANETS ARE DESTROYED
Both A New Hope and The Force Awakens (which, of course, mirror each other in many ways), feature the unspeakably awful destruction of entire planets. In A New Hope, Leia is brought before Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin on the Death Star. As scary as Vader is, Tarkin is a different kind of scary, with his gaunt complexion, high cheekbones, and cold-eyed glare. With malicious mock congeniality, he invites Leia be his “guest at a ceremony that will make this battle station operational.” And he goes on to tell her that the ceremony constitutes a test of the station’s power on her home planet of Alderaan. Sure enough, we (and Leia) watch as a green beam is fired at the planet, which blows up before our eyes.
While we didn’t get to see the horror of the threat of imminent Armageddon on Alderaan in A New Hope, that addition made the destruction of planets even more horrifying in The Force Awakens. After General Hux’s Nazi-esque rally on Starkiller Base, we’re quickly shown the power of the Base, which is even more awful than the Death Star. The force of the blast even stirs terrible winds on the base itself, as a gigantic red beam shoots across the sky. It’s visible from other planets too, as Finn watches in horror from the Resistance base. But then folks on the planets it’s intended for see it approaching. We see the desperation on their faces, hear their screams of terror, as their sky turns red and they’re engulfed by the bright light of destruction.
6. LUKE IS ATTACKED BY A WAMPA
In the early moments of The Empire Strikes Back, we see Luke riding on his tauntaun across a vast land of ice and snow. Suddenly, his peaceful tauntaun starts making whining sounds, like it’s scared. And scared it should be, because seconds later we get a nice jump scare as the head of a ferocious-looking snow monster, a wampa, suddenly fills the screen, roaring and baring its massive, sharp teeth.
Its terrible claw knocks Luke off his tauntaun, then takes the tauntaun down as well. Both are out cold and the wampa drags Luke away. When you first watch this turn of events, especially as a kid, it’s horrifying. Luke is everyone’s favorite young Force user from the original film. Is he dead? Is he going to be eaten by this terrible beast? It certainly seems like that’s what’s in store in the next wampa sequence. The air is filled with frightening tension as we see Luke hanging upside down, his feet frozen to the ceiling of a bone-filled cave. The wampa is eating something… the tauntaun? Luke is surely next. Fortunately, he’s just barely strong enough with the Force to will his fallen lightsaber into his hand, cut himself free, slice off the wampa’s arm, and run back out into the blizzard.
5. HAN IS FROZEN IN CARBONITE
In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader takes Han Solo as his prisoner and has him frozen in carbonite so he can be easily transported by Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt, and also so Vader can test this barbaric carbon freezing chamber for later use on Luke. The whole scene is set up with intense dread by director Irvin Kershner. We see the chamber from below, intimidatingly looking up from the spookily steaming pit at Vader and his stormtroopers.
Han is led in, through more spooky steam, with his friends, as though being walked to execution. After all, nobody really knows if this is going to work on a person; if Han will be able to live through it. The iconic “Imperial March” theme plays slowly, mournfully. The lighting is dark, with a fiery orange glow. Slowly, as his friends watch helplessly and with horror in their eyes, Han is lowered into the chamber. Once at the bottom, Han’s head suddenly juts up and the entire chamber overflows with steam, completely covering him. A giant mechanical claw lowers down into the chamber and pulls from it a grey, seemingly computerized slab with Han’s face and hands tragically, horrifically sticking out. He’s trapped in there. We’re told he’s alive, but we can’t help but imagine how it must feel to be trapped, frozen in carbonite.
4. THE RANCOR BATTLE
If fans thought the wampa from The Empire Strikes Back was a scary monster, George Lucas had an even more terrifying creature in store for fans in Return of the Jedi: the rancor. Luke arrives at Jabba’s palace to try to negotiate his friends to safety. But the giant slug isn’t having it, ominously telling the young Jedi, “I will enjoy watching you die.” Suddenly, the floor drops out from under Luke and a Gamorrean guard and they fall into a dark, grimy dungeon.
A heavy metal gate opens up, revealing massive, pointy claws, as Luke’s friends watch in horror. We cut back to the dreaded unveil behind that gate and see a gargantuan, wrinkly-faced, drooling creature with a seemingly endless supply of deadly, pointy teeth jutting out every which way. The reveal of the rancor is scary enough. Then it grabs the guard and sucks him back like spaghetti, before facing Luke, who has only a huge bone to protect himself in a battle to the death. In a sequence that emphasizes the terror with blaring trumpets, with Jabba’s bloodthirsty cohorts cheering and horror in Luke’s eyes, our hero finally traps the monster in a gate, killing it.
3. REY’S VISION
The Force Awakens is in many ways about unraveling just who Rey is; this mysterious new character who echoes the young lives of both Luke and Anakin Skywalker. We still don’t know a lot about her, but her disturbing vision after touching Luke’s lightsaber filled in a few blanks, while at the same time providing some mysteriously creepy imagery.
Even before she touches the lightsaber, the scene is set up with a creep factor. She’s down in a dark basement, alone and hearing strange, disembodied voices. When she touches the hilt, there’s a jump scare as we loudly hear the sound of a lightsaber igniting and Darth Vader’s breath – it even scares Rey – before the lights go out and the room morphs all around her. There are moaning sounds and suddenly she’s in the rain, watching a soldier get impaled by a red lightsaber. There’s a group of mysterious men led by Kylo Ren (the Knights of Ren), who seems to approach her before the scene cuts to a moment from Rey’s childhood when (presumably) her parents leave her. And it ends with foreshadowing her battle with Ren in the forest, followed by Obi-Wan’s voice mysteriously whispering, “These are your first steps.” The whole thing is unsettling, but fascinating.
2. LUKE’S VISION ON DAGOBAH
Like the Wampa attack and carbonite freezing, Luke’s vision on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back is another one shot by Kershner like a horror movie. For the most part, though, this one’s more about creepy ambience and wondering what’s lurking in the fog than about hardcore visual scares… until the final reveal.
Yoda starts by telling Luke that what’s in that creepy, foggy, vine-wrapped jungle is “only what you take with you.” This is so vague and, along with the setting, creates an air of mystery. The unknown fills us all with a sense of dread. Making his way down a hole into the dark jungle, Luke suddenly hears some twigs cracking. Someone is coming. But who could it be? It seemed they were alone on this godforsaken planet. Then, around the corner in slow motion comes the dreaded Darth Vader! “How can this be?” we wonder. Luke is forced into his first-ever lightsaber battle. After a few saber-buzzing slashes each, Luke catches Vader with his red weapon down and slices off his head in a flurry of explosive sparks. The dark lord and his helmet crash to the ground in two. Again, we’re left wondering how this can be. It can’t be that easy. Luke is equally shocked as he stares at the helmet, which suddenly bursts open. But then Kershner cuts to a close up of the helmet, revealing Luke’s dead-eyed severed head inside. The impossibility of this signifies that it’s some sort of dream or vision, but the whole sequence is quite disturbing for the audience– and for Luke.
1. ANAKIN’S HUMAN BODY IS MUTILATED
Revenge of the Sith is definitely the darkest movie among the prequels, and arguably the darkest of the entire series. And we’re going to tell you that the darkest, most terrifying scene in all seven Star Wars movies happens towards the end of Revenge of the Sith, as we watch Anakin complete his turn to the dark side with an epic battle against his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Eerily surrounded by the bursting lava fields of Mustafar, Anakin kicks off the festivities by darkly warning Obi-Wan, “Don’t make me kill you.” They spark up their lightsabers and off they go. We know it won’t end well, and we know that it’s more than likely to end badly for Anakin. As Star Wars fans, we know Obi-Wan survives through to A New Hope, but Anakin winds up in a life-preserving suit. But how?
The entire battle is insanely intense, from the music to the swordplay. Finally, Obi-Wan gains higher ground, but an overconfident Anakin leaps toward him and finds his left arm and both legs horrifically lopped off by Obi-Wan in mid-air. As Anakin looks up from the ground, groaning in agony, his face has changed, his eyes are ringed and yellow, his complexion is grey. He monstrously screams, “I hate you!” He slips down toward the lava and the stumps that were once his legs burst into flames. Then the fire spreads to his entire body in a scene that really is straight out of a horror movie. It’s haunting.
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.