So, you may or may not be aware that we have a new Star Wars movie coming out soon. Seriously, in less than a month. Although Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn’t part of the main saga, its trailers promise incredible cinematography, memorable characters, and even some cameos from familiar faces. Hopefully, this new entry into the lore will live up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessors. Star Wars has given us some of the greatest moments in movie history throughout its nearly forty-year span. This got us thinking… Which of these iconic scenes are the best of the best?
Prequel trilogy and Force Awakens haters beware, this list includes at least one scene from every live-action film so far. For the sake of brevity and fairness, we’re separating parts that occur simultaneously in the movies; the climax of Return of the Jedi, for example, would be counted as three different scenes. There are far too many incredible scenes, but we’ve narrowed it down to twenty. Without further ado, here are the 20 Greatest Scenes In The Star Wars Saga!
20 The trash compactor scene (A New Hope)
Kicking off our list is the scene from Episode IV where Han, Luke, and Chewie have just rescued Princess Leia from her cell on the detention level of the Death Star. In tune with the bad luck of most of the saga’s protagonists, our heroes get ambushed, and are pushed back into a tiny hallway as wave after wave of Stormtroopers descend on them. Leia shoots the cover off of a trash chute and tells everyone to get in.
The trash compactor scene in A New Hope is great for numerous reasons. It’s the first time we ever get to see Han and Leia interact, with him asking her, “What the hell are you doing?” and the princess retorting that “somebody has to save our skins!” It’s a wonderful taste of what’s to come from their relationship. Then there’s the actual compactor itself, where the group encounters a mysterious tentacle monster and are almost crushed by the compactor’s closing walls while using everything they can to stop it. Add in some hilarious dark humor by showing C-3PO’s perspective of the situation, and you have a classic Star Wars scene.
19 The death of Shmi Skywalker (Attack of the Clones)
Attack of the Clones is a great example of a film with a bunch of cool ideas, but poor execution. A lot of the plot points, like the assassination plot on Senator Amidala and the futuristic Obi-Wan detective story were things that, in theory, should have been awesome. Even the idea of a bunch of Jedi facing off against an army of robots was something so cool that it should have been fantastic! But no. Instead, we got a convoluted mess of a plot that had a few interesting scenes here and there.
Perhaps the best of these scenes is the death of Shmi Skywalker. When Anakin has a premonition that his mother is in danger, he and Padme return to his home planet of Tatooine to find her. After much investigation, he discovers that a band of Tusken Raiders had kidnapped his mom, and that she was presumed dead. Anakin goes off to find his mother and finds her beaten and tortured inside of a Tusken Raider camp. She has just enough time to give her son a heartfelt message before she passes away in his arms. In a fit of rage, Anakin taps into the Dark Side and we get our first real taste of Darth Vader. As he tells Padme later, he slaughtered every single Raider; the women, the children, and even the animals weren’t safe from Vader’s rampage. It’s a dark scene that foreshadows what is to come from the troubled Jedi Knight.
18 Obi-Wan explains the force (A New Hope)
Upon first watch, the lore of the Star Wars universe might seem a little confusing and complex. Thankfully, new fans had the expositional rants of Obi-Wan Kenobi to help make things clear. Much like a first-time saga watcher, Luke Skywalker was completely oblivious to the Force in A New Hope; although he shows no skepticism towards the teachings of the Jedi, even he realizes just how little he knows about the all-powerful Force.
Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Luke engages in a Force training exercise led by Master Kenobi in which he must deflect blaster bolts with his lightsaber. At first the young Padawan is pretty awful. Then, Obi-wan instructs him to let go of his feelings and fight through the Force; he places a visionless helmet upon the boy’s head and tells him to continue. Lo and behold, Luke is able to block every single blast! This scene gives us our first true look at the power of the Force as well as an elegant explanation on how it works. On top of this, we get to see Han Solo’s skepticism at the idea, which makes it all the more sweeter down the line when he admits that it was true. All of it. We also can’t forget the famous, “Let the Wookiee win” line that comes from Threepio during Chewie and R2’s board game!
17 Rey finally accepts her destiny (The Force Awakens)
During the marketing campaign for The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams teased us with images of Finn wielding Anakin Skywalker’s blue lightsaber. This raised many questions about the character. Was he a Jedi spy for the Resistance? Was he force sensitive? How did he get the lightsaber that was seemingly lost on Cloud City? As audiences watched the events of Episode VII unfold it became clear that Abrams had once again pulled the wool over our eyes; Finn wasn’t a Jedi or (seemingly) Force-sensitive at all. This became extremely apparent when he gets owned during a fight with Kylo Ren at the film’s climax.
All hope appears to be lost. One of our beloved heroes is dead, Finn is defeated, and Kylo reaches out to reclaim his Grandfather’s lightsaber. The lightsaber shoots past him, going into Rey’s hands as she tells Kylo to “come and take it.” Rey had been fighting her destiny up until this point; she refused to take Luke’s lightsaber in Maz’s castle and she kept telling everyone that she just wanted to go home. To see her finally embrace the power and responsibility of the Jedi in the darkest hour while the iconic theme plays in the background never fails to send chills through our body.
16 16. Lando’s betrayal (The Empire Strikes Back)
Ah, Lando Calrissian, you ol’ scoundrel. Whether he was on the side of good or evil, the famous Administrator of Cloud City always seemed to have a trick up his sleeve. Even Han, who had known the man for years, told Leia that he wasn’t to be trusted when the group first arrived. He seemed to sway their opinions by providing Han, Leia, and Chewie with excellent hospitality and smooth-talking Leia into trusting him. But then he proves their worst fears correct when the door of the dining room opens and Darth Vader is standing there.
This scene proved Han’s earlier warning true and showed just how far Lando was willing to go to protect the city he was responsible for. Then there’s Han Solo’s reaction to Darth Vader; the most powerful force user in the galaxy is standing right in front of him. The most feared man in the galaxy has just appeared, and what does Han do? Without hesitation he pulls out his DL-44 and starts shooting. It shows a lot about how far Han has come as a character in Empire. Also, it provides us with the only instance in the entire saga that Han and Chewie interact with Vader. So much character development in one scene, and that’s not even mentioning the awesome way the Sith Lord just calmly deflects the blaster bolts and asks if the heroes would join him for dinner.
15 Yoda’s prophetic speech to Anakin (The Phantom Menace)
Say what you will about The Phantom Menace. It was a disappointment of epic proportions to Star Wars fans when it came out in 1999. But that doesn't mean everything about the movie was bad. Despite the inclusion of this abomination and the over-use of CGI, The Phantom Menace had a few great scenes-- one of which comes near the middle of the film, when a young Anakin Skywalker is brought before the Jedi council for assessment.
Yoda asks the boy if he is afraid. Anakin promptly responds with a nervous nod, confirming the Jedi Master’s concerns. Then, Yoda delivers one of the greatest lines in the entire saga; “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate… leads to suffering.” It’s a prophetic line that perfectly sums up Anakin’s eventually fall from the light. Plus, it explains why the Jedi are trained to let go of their emotions and forbid attachments. It also sets up the conflict for Mace Windu and Anakin down the line, as we see that Windu is skeptical of the boy even early on in his life.
14 Anakin Skywalker once more (Return of the Jedi)
Supposed to be the final Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi ended on a high note and wrapped up all of the saga’s loose ends. Although many fans feel that is the weakest of the original trilogy, it added so much to the lore that it is still highly regarded by audiences everywhere. At the end of the movie we get a touching scene where Luke desperately tries to save his father as the second Death Star is about to explode. Just moments earlier, Vader had turned on his master, throwing the Emperor down a large pit while taking the full brunt of Sidious’ force lightning.
Luke lays Vader down at the foot of an Imperial Shuttle, and his father asks him to remove the sinister mask upon his face so that he may look at his son with his own eyes for the first time. Luke, realizing that this action will kill his father, somberly obliges. The mask comes off, and we see the face of Anakin Skywalker for the very first time. “Now… go, my son. Leave me,” Anakin begs. Luke responds by claiming that he can’t because he must save his father. “You already have… Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister… that you were right,” Anakin says as he passes away. We’re not crying, you’re crying!
13 The Jedi Steps (The Force Awakens)
Speaking of Star Wars endings, Episode VII continued in with the long tradition of these movies delivering amazing conclusions. At the movie’s end Rey, Chewbacca, and the newly-rebooted R2-D2 fly off in the Falcon in hopes of finding the missing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. They end up on the hidden planet of Ach-To, a world made up of a series of green islands in a vast ocean.
John William’s score slowly begins, and builds as Rey exits the ship and ascends a set of stairs. Along the way we get some beautiful views of Act-To’s scenery as she passes a small set of eating utensils indicating that she is on the right path. When she finally reaches the top, we see a hooded figure as the music crescendos loudly. The figure turns around and slowly removes his hood to reveal Luke freaking’ Skywalker! Rey extends the legendary Skywalker lightsaber as Luke looks on in bewilderment and awe. After almost thirty-three years of waiting, Star Wars fans got to see their hero on the big screen again. It was well worth the wait, and a part of TFA that gets just about universal praise from moviegoers everywhere.
12 12. Sail Barge Assault (Return of the Jedi)
Luke’s plan to save Han from Jabba the Hut in Return of the Jedi definitely didn’t go as planned. It ended up with the Jedi Knight having to face the Rancor, Han Solo temporarily blinded, and Leia, Threepio, and R2 all held as slaves. Or… maybe it did? As Luke, Han, and Chewie all stand above the Sarlacc Pit, Skywalker gives the signal to R2.
He jumps off, does a complete 180 turn in the air, flips back up, and snatches the lightsaber that his droid launched across the pit. Luke ignites it, and it’s green! That alone blew our minds as children. He then goes about hopping across the sail barges, beating the snot out of all of Jabba’s henchmen. Luke’s not the only one who gets in on the action; Boba Fett gets (quite hilariously, we might add) taken out by Han, Lando and Chewie get into some Sarlacc-related shenanigans, Leia strangles Jabba to death with her slave chains, and even R2 and C3P0 have to deal with Salacious Crumb. The sail barge assault is one of the best action sequences in the entire saga, and John William’s score just adds to the perfection of the scene.
11 11. Han and Leia’s first kiss (The Empire Strikes Back)
No list of Star Wars scenes would be complete without one of the many romantic moments between Han and Leia. There are seriously so many to pick from, but we just have to go with the couple’s first kiss in The Empire Strikes Back. Up until this scene there had been a love/hate relationship between the two, with layers upon layers of romantic tension building up across the first two films. Leia even pulls one of the most disgusting moves of the whole saga when she decides to kiss Luke (her then-unknown brother) just to make Han jealous!
In this scene, Han finds Leia fixing a part of the Falcon (what else is new?) and tries to reach around her to help. The princess doesn’t like this “subtle” act of romance and shoves Han away. They banter back and forth, with Han telling Leia that “sometimes you think I’m alright” and Leia telling him that he is “when he’s not being a scoundrel.” Han takes Leia’s hand, which she pulls away and says “Stop that! My hands are dirty.” As Han leans in close he says, “my hands are dirty too. What are you afraid of?” and points out that the princess is trembling. He seductively lowers his voice as they continue to banter and he continues to get closer, culminating in the two tenderly locking lips… And then C3PO barges in and ruins the moment. This scene has everything— humor, romantically-charged bickering, a kiss, and a brilliantly fitting score.
10 Duel of the Fates (The Phantom Menace)
Something from The Phantom Menace in the top ten? Say it ain’t so! As much of a disappointment as Episode I was, there is no denying that the Duel of the Fates scene was incredible. Yeah, people have nitpicked at the fight, claiming that it’s more acrobatics and less swordplay. But who cares? Star Wars is so memorable because of its iconic characters, awesome futuristic weapons, and badass action. This scene has all of the above.
As our group of heroes (minus the Gungans, but we’re not going to talk about them) make their way toward the final confrontation with Viceroy Gunray, they are met by a small army of Trade Federation robots in the hangars of Naboo. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn make short work of the droids and prepare to move on. Suddenly, the hangar doors open, revealing the hooded figure of Darth Maul. Queen Amidala and her posse “take the long way” as the Jedi ignite their lightsabers. Not wanting to be outdone, Maul ignites his double bladed red lightsaber and prepares for battle. Holy cow, did everyone go crazy at this scene! If that wasn’t enough, the ensuing duel was unlike anything we’d ever seen in the saga before; this was two Jedi in their prime facing off against an acrobatic Sith Lord. On top of all this, there is John William’s brilliant "Duel of the Fates" playing in the background. Prequel haters be damned, this is an awesome scene worthy of Star Wars.
9 The Trench Run (A New Hope)
If you want to get your adrenaline pumping, look no further than the climax of A New Hope. Luke Skywalker and the band of Rebels go in to make their final assault on the Death Star before it can fire upon Yavin IV, destroying the planet and what remains of the rebellion. One by one, Rebel X-Wings are taken out by the Empire until finally a small band of fighters is able to make it to the trench. Suddenly, Vader appears in his TIE Advanced and starts annihilating the remaining Rebels. All hope appears to be lost.
Luke, the final remaining pilot, hears the familiar voice of Obi-Wan telling him to use the Force rather than his targeting computer. As Red V approaches the exhaust port, Vader finally gets him in his sights. Then, one of the most exciting moments in all of cinema occurs; The Millennium Falcon, thought to be long gone by now, comes out of nowhere and sends Vader spiraling out of control. Han tells Luke that he’s all clear and Luke uses the Force to shoot proton torpedoes into the port, destroying the Death Star. If you ever want to get chills of pure fandom, listen to the audio from inside the theater when A New Hope premiered, especially this scene. It’s as incredible today as it was back in 1977!
8 Han confronts Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens)
Harrison Ford has made it no secret through the years that he wanted Han Solo to die. He pushed for the character’s death back during the filming of Return of the Jedi and rumor has it that he would only return for Episode VII if the famous smuggler finally met his demise. Well, the actor got his wish in the form of by far the most emotional and impactful scene of TFA.
After an emotional reunion with Leia, Han is asked to bring their son back home. He finds the perfect opportunity when Kylo Ren and a squad of Stormtroopers track Chewie and Han to the power core of Starkiller Base, where the duo have just planted explosives. Kylo walks out on a bridge, and Han follows suit. The villain seems to be sympathetic and in great inner turmoil as he listens to his father’s pleas for him to come home.
It seems like Han has gotten through to Ben, but then the sun goes out and the music grows more ominous. Kylo seems to grasp his lightsaber tighter and delivers the biggest gut punch of the entire saga, stabbing Han through the heart and killing him. The scene becomes even more powerful when it shows the tear-jerking reactions of Chewie and Leia. Han uses his dying breath to reach out and touch his son’s face one last time. This is by far the most tragic scene in the entire saga, made all the more powerful by an excellent score and beautiful cinematography.
7 The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise (Revenge of the Sith)
This entry may not be a great action scene or one with great emotional impact, but the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise from Revenge of the Sith does something that few other Star Wars scenes fail to do—It builds upon the lore of the universe in a natural way. Most of our exposition to the Star Wars universe comes in the form of somewhat straightforward monologues; Obi-Wan did it in A New Hope, Han did it in The Force Awakens, and Qui-Gon did it in The Phantom Menace. They got the point across, but they were about as subtle as a freight train.
Anakin meets his mentor, Chancellor Palpatine, at a sort of space opera. Seemingly out of the blue, Palpatine asks the Jedi Knight if he has ever heard the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise. The Chancellor starts the story about the Sith Lord who could create life and became so powerful that all he feared was losing his power, until one fateful day when his apprentice killed him in his sleep. Unbeknownst to Anakin, Palpatine is actually telling him the story of his training as a Sith and subtly offering to train the Jedi in his ways. He knows what Anakin wants and completely uses this story to manipulate his fall to the dark side. There’s no hammy overacting. There’s no flashy lightsaber battle. But in this one scene, we see Darth Sidious shine through in a way we’ve never seen before.
6 The Cantina Scene (A New Hope)
You wanted iconic? You can’t really get much more iconic that the Cantina in A New Hope. Heck, this was such a great scene that J.J. Abrams copied it in the form of Maz Kanata’s castle in The Force Awakens (along with a few other things that we won’t go into!). For the full effect of this scene, imagine being a movie goer in 1977. You hear about this new crazy film called Star Wars, and want to go see it for yourself. You go sit through the first twenty minutes of the film already spellbound by what you see on the screen. Then Obi-Wan and Luke go to the Cantina.
There’s upbeat, catchy music. The camera pans around to show a bunch of alien creatures, the likes of which you never thought possible in movie effects. You get your first glimpse at a lightsaber in action when Obi-Wan uses it to cut off the hand of Luke’s potential assailant. Then you get introduced to Han Solo and Chewbacca for the first time, with Han getting the jump on Greedo (Han shot first!) and hyping up his ship, the Millennium Falcon. Then you also get a peek into Han’s true character when the other two walk away and tells Chewie about how much they needed the money. It may only be number six on our list, but this one is just about as good ol’ fashioned Star Wars as you can ask for.
5 Boring conversation, anyway (A New Hope)
There’s a reason so many people claim Han Solo as their favorite Star Wars character. He’s a smooth-talking, tough-guy scoundrel on the outside with a heart of gold on the inside. Solo is also probably the funniest character in the series, always hilariously trying to talk his way out of situations and adding snarky remarks whenever something goes wrong. Han’s personality is epitomized in this scene from Episode IV.
Han, Luke, and Chewie head towards the detention level disguised as Stormtroopers (and their prisoner) in order to save the princess being held there. When they arrive, the Imperial personnel immediately ask them to state their business and say they were not notified of any prisoner transfers. As they approach the heroes, Chewbacca throws off his cuffs and a massive shootout occurs. Alarms are beeping, smoke is filtering through the room, and bodies line the floor as Han tells Luke to go get Leia and that he’ll “hold them off.” He does this by hilariously BS-ing over the communicator, coming up with excuse after excuse for why everything is actually okay and that the Empire doesn’t need to send a squad to their location. When the Imperial on the other side asks for Han’s identification number, he shoots the dashboard and exclaims, “boring conversation, anyway. Luke! We’re gonna have company!” In one short and sidesplitting scene, our favorite smuggler’s entire character is personified.
4 4. “I Know” (The Empire Strikes Back)
There’s a lot of Han Solo on this list. Why not? Harrison Ford portrayed the character amazingly, so much so that it’s going to be hard for audiences (and a difficult task for Alden Ehrenreich) when the new Han Solo spinoff comes out. Ford was notorious for improvising lines of dialogue throughout the series, and his greatest improvisation is the one that just about everyone who’s ever watched Star Wars is familiar with.
Vader appears to be victorious. He has captured all of Luke’s friends and has set a trap for Skywalker himself that the young Jedi seems to be walking right into. Of course, to ensure that Skywalker will survive the freezing process, he decides to test it out first on Han Solo. The Stormtroopers bring Solo towards the chamber and Chewie tries to save his old friend. However, even Solo realizes this is in vain and tells the Wookiee to stand down. He shares one last kiss with Leia before he is dragged away. Leia exclaims, “I love you!” and Han coyly responds, “I know.” He never takes his gaze off Leia as he is lowered down into the chamber and put into carbon freeze. It’s an incredible scene that we really, really, really wanted to be our number one, but alas, we have three that we felt were more important. Honestly, you could put any of our top four in any order and we’d accept it!
3 3. Palpatine denied victory (Return of the Jedi)
Where do we even start with this one? In Return of the Jedi we see Luke finally confront Emperor Palpatine, who spends all of his scenes maniacally gloating about how Skywalker is going to fall to the dark side and how all of his friends were going to be killed. Luke eventually gives in to Palpatine’s taunting and tries to strike him down, only to have his father stop him and engage in lightsaber combat. Luke defeats Vader by using his rage to knock him down and cut off his hand.
Palpatine gleefully approaches the scene, laughing and telling Luke to finish his father off so that his journey to the dark side will be complete. In a moment of realization, Luke stares down at his robotic hand and sees that he is following the exact same path as Vader. He tosses away his lightsaber and turns to face the Emperor. “You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me,” he explains. In this moment, the audience sees Darth Sidious as they have never seen him before: defeated. The Emperor looks completely bewildered by Skywalker’s refusal of “UNLIMITED POWA” before bitterly uttering, “So be it… Jedi,” and shocking Luke with force lightning. Vader cannot stand to see his son in so much pain, and heroically tosses the Emperor down a shaft, killing him once and for all. Much like the Rey scene earlier in this list, this one never fails to give us goosebumps.
2 “You were the chosen one!” (Revenge of the Sith)
Now hold the phone, you may be saying right now. Revenge of the Sith, at number two?! Blasphemy! Well, hear us out on this one. Yeah, Episode III isn’t the best Star Wars movie. There are even those that claim it’s not the best prequel movie. However, Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi is universally praised as one of the best things to come out of Episodes I-III, and this scene shows us why.
At the climax of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan and the newly-converted Darth Vader have an epic duel on Mustafar. Although their duel was a lot less cool the second time around, it was awesome to see the fight that had been talked about by so many Star Wars fans throughout the years. At the end, Obi-Wan gains the upper hand and cuts off Anakin’s right arm and both his legs. As his former apprentice lays before him, writhing in pain, he goes into a tearful monologue; “You were the chosen one! It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!” he cries. Vader screams out “I hate you!” before Obi-Wan begins to leave him to burn. As he walks away, he turns around one last time and says, “You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.” McGregor’s incredible acting makes this scene, and perfectly expresses thirty years’ worth of pent-up emotions in a few short lines.
1 Darth Vader’s revelation (The Empire Strikes Back)
Yep. This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Vader’s revelation at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is such a legendary scene that even people who have never watched as single Star Wars film can quote the line. Do we even need to go any further?
After an intense one-sided battle between Luke and Darth Vader at the movie’s climax, young Skywalker is completely on the ropes. Vader disarms him (literally) and forces him out on a hanging generator. Instead of killing the boy, the Sith Lord extends an offer: if Luke joins him, Vader will complete his training and together they can bring peace to the galaxy. Of course Luke refuses, prompting Vader to mockingly claim that Obi-Wan never told Luke what happened to his father. “He told me enough!” Skywalker screams, “he told me you killed him!” Then Vader drops one of the biggest bombshells in movie history; “No… I am your father.” The Imperial March plays in the background as Luke refuses to believe the story and Vader continues to tempt the Jedi with the dark side.
What can we say about this that hasn’t already been said? It was such a secret at the time of filming that only Mark Hamill and James Earl Jones themselves knew about it. At the premiere of the movie, Harrison Ford allegedly reached forward and asked Hamill why he didn’t tell him such an important moment. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees that this isn’t the greatest Star Wars moment of all time.
So, what do you think? We couldn’t get everyone’s favorite Star Wars moment on here, so sound off in the comments to let us know what we missed!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters on December 16, 2106.