NOTE: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars 7
It may be hard to believe, but, at long last, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is here.
Arriving with it are not only a whole host of answers that we’ve been hoping for – and, obviously, even more new questions to start asking while we count down the time until Episode VIII arrives in May of 2017 – but, also, a collection of new indelible scenes that, we think, will prove to live right up there alongside the likes of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) staring at the twin sunsets or the Duel of the Fates in the pantheon of classic Star Wars moments.
Join us as we count down our 10 Best Star Wars: The Force Awakens Scenes, and be sure to share your own in the comments below.
10 Finn’s in charge now
John Boyega has an everyman, in-over-his-head charm about him as on-the-lam Finn, a certain dopiness tinged with Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford) self-preservation wrapped around a certain noble bravery. It makes him a terrific supporting character throughout this film (and, one would imagine, throughout the entire trilogy), but, in many ways, it all feels like setup for one specific scene.
When returning to Starkiller Base to retrieve the captured Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn, Han, and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) take the mysterious Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) prisoner and force her to lower the base’s shields. During the confrontation, Finn can’t help but get in his former commanding officer’s face, shouting about who’s in charge now – and while it rides the line very closely about being too contemporary or out of place for a Star Wars picture, it’s easily one of the comedic highlights of Force Awakens.
(It also, perhaps, has a bit of character foreshadowing for Phasma: the supposedly hard-as-nails CO crumples without giving too much of a fight, possibly sketching out a possible avenue of character growth in Episode VIII.)
9 The Millennium Falcon’s reveal
One of the biggest responsibilities that director J.J. Abrams faced in helming the next generation of Star Wars was, in addition to laying out all the new characters, storylines, and themes, reintroducing all of the classic characters that viewers have grown to love and adore over the past four decades.
While the filmmaker nailed the task – Han’s “Chewie, we’re home again” is one of Episode VII’s little gems – perhaps the best entrance for any of the returning heroes isn’t a character at all. The Millennium Falcon is spotted off-screen by new protagonists Rey and Finn in their search for transport and is summarily dismissed as being garbage – then the camera pans over and audiences everywhere erupt in cheers.
Capping the intro is the surprise nature of the reveal: the ship is on a planet that viewers would never expect, with Han Solo and Chewie nowhere to be found. In a film filled to the brim with twists that no one would ever expect (Han and Leia Organa [Carrie Fisher] are no more, Luke is missing, the Jedi are [still] extinct), the Falcon ends up being one of the best – and one of the best delivered.
8 BB-8’s “thumbs up”
It’s not that surprising that a little ball can be made into such a distinct character – after all, Lucas pioneered that trick with R2-D2 (a cylinder) all the way back in 1977 – but that, nonetheless, doesn’t ruin the pure gold that BB-8 routinely spins all throughout Force Awakens’s two hours. Whether it’s trudging forlornly through the sand, interacting with droid stalwarts R2D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), or electrocuting a duplicitous Finn, it’s hard for BB-8 to not steal the show. (He even gets his own obligatory action shot, when he fires grappling cables to stabilize himself in a topsy-turvy Millennium Falcon.)
But, by far, the highlight of BB-8’s scenes is when he is clearly torn between his newfound compatriots Rey and Finn and, having decided to trust the ex-stormtrooper, returns his thumbs up with a welding torch simulating the digit he doesn’t have. It’s such a simple touch, but it’s a deft one, and it instantly steals audience’s hearts.
7 Rey’s flashback – and flashforward
There is, surprisingly, precious little backstory in The Force Awakens: who are the Knights of Ren? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis)? How did Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) receive the map that contains Luke’s secret location?
This dearth of background detail helps to make the sequence where Rey finds Anakin Skywalker’s (Hayden Christensen) lightsaber all the more memorable, but the rapid-fire montage of scenes certainly doesn’t need that extra context to be one of the most striking parts of the film. By showing the Knights of Ren (the only time they appear in the movie!) destroying Luke’s fledgling Jedi Order (at least, we think that’s what’s going on) and Rey being dropped off on Jakku some 14 years before by persons unknown, audiences get the only real exposition that the narrative has to offer – but then it’s capped by the glimpse into the future, of Rey’s cataclysmic, life-altering confrontation with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Both the flashbacks and the flashforward are the only times in Star Wars history that such devices are employed, and yet they never feel out of character.
6 Learning of R2-D2’s mourning
Learning of Luke Skywalker’s decades-long absence in the opening crawl is nothing short of shocking – as previously mentioned, it’s an unimaginable twist, and it also provides for an intriguing premise for the movie and the driving force behind everyone’s actions both. But discovering R2-D2’s similar self-imposed exile halfway through the story takes everything to a whole new level: rather than being plot-based, it’s very much character-centric, delivering a solid little tug on the heartstrings. Has there ever been a single greater display of affection in the entire saga to date?
Given all this, the moment would rank higher on our list, but there’s a flipside to this touching character beat: towards the end of The Force Awakens, for no discernable reason whatsoever, R2 suddenly powers back on, chirping away about the location of his former master. Why? The audience has no clue, and it may very well be that the filmmakers don’t, either.
5 Discovering Kylo Ren's true identity
This is, in some ways, the most interesting of all the scenes, as the bombshell revelation is delivered so subtly, arriving with zero fanfare and, at the time, little reverberation. But the disclosing of the would-be Dark Lord of the Sith’s identity is a multi-step process that is handled at various stops across the entire film: Lor San Tekka starts the ball rolling by saying that Kylo’s background – and family – is steeped in the Light Side; Supreme Leader Snoke reveals who his father is; Rey gets him to take off his mask for the first time; Leia discloses his past (or, at least, a tiny fraction of it); Han reveals his name.
Given the other big revelation of the film (Luke’s whereabouts) – not to mention the one that is strongly hinted at (Rey’s parentage) – it’s smart for J.J. Abrams to tackle this particular twist in the fashion that he does. It’s also nice for some of the smaller, quieter, dialogue-driven scenes to be the recipient of such narrative importance – unlike a number of other Hollywood productions, Star Wars (still) doesn’t feel that everything needs to be overt or bombastic in order to be effective.
4 Finding Master Luke
The beauty of the planet that Luke Skywalker has made his new, monastic home on (actually the island of Skellig Michael, located in Ireland), the silence of the sequence, the closing camera shot – all of it combines to create a fitting, visually arresting, and tonally resonant finale for this first installment of the sequel trilogy. Of course, it also ends on something of a cliffhanger, which is quite unusual for the Star Wars saga – only Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back had a similar conclusion (or lack thereof).
And then there’s Luke himself, looking resplendent in his long-awaited Jedi robes. (Isn’t it interesting that, before his failure at recreating the lineage of the Jedi, he wore all black, but now, afterwards, he’s transitioned to one of the lightest of all Jedi outfits seen in the franchise?) Though Mark Hamill has no lines of dialogue in the film at all, his bearing tells all that needs to be said – especially considering that it may very well be his daughter standing opposite him.
J.J. Abrams has thrown the gauntlet down, and it’ll be interesting to see how Rian Johnson, the director of 2017’s Episode VIII, will respond to the challenge.
3 Kylo talk to Vader’s helmet
Kylo Ren is, in the finished film, an interesting character. On the one hand, he is nowhere near as dynamic in design or presence as either Darth Vader or Darth Maul (Ray Park); on the other, he is realized by a strong performance from Adam Driver and an intriguing character arc, which sees him being seduced by the Light Side instead of the Dark – an innovative twist on tried-and-true material (to say the least).
All of this is punctuated by Kylo’s scene with Vader’s burnt and disfigured mask. “Help me, Grandfather,” the man formerly known as Ben Solo says, “I feel the pull of the Light Side.” It’s a wicked turn on ancestor worship (and what passes as grandfatherly advice), and it foretells of character growth in the next two installments that could see what momentum has already been attained exponentially increased.
For the first time in the Star Wars series, it may very well be the villains (well, one of them, at least) who outshine the heroes in terms of their conception and development – no small feat.
2 Rey vs. Ren
In some ways, the climatic final showdown between Rey and Kylo Ren is one of the weaker lightsaber duels in all seven of the Star Wars films – its choreography isn’t as refined as, say, Episode I: The Phantom Menace’s Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Lord Maul duel, and its musical score isn’t anywhere near as primal as Luke and Vader’s in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
But there’s so much else going on for it. The environment is most unusual for a fight scene – not to mention one of the most beautiful, as well. The rawness of the performances is both different and superb, and the use of it for actual character development – Rey is forced to both pick up the lightsaber and trust in this brand-new Force thing she’s just discovered – has never been handled better.
If this is how well duels are handled when the opponents involved are still at the novice stages of their combat training, it raises an exciting specter of what’s to come by Episode IX’s grand finale.
1 Han's death
None of these points, of course, can compare to the death of Han Solo by the hand of his very own son.
Harrison Ford’s performance is understated, and Adam Driver’s is stoic – was he really tempted to go over to the Light Side and be reunited with his family, or was it just a ploy the whole time to kill his father up close and personal? The use of light in the scene (tying the storyline in with that of Starkiller’s imminent destruction of the Resistance) is poetic, if a bit on-the-nose, and the reactions of all the other principal characters involved, of course, only serve to seal the deal.
But perhaps best of all is where the development leaves Han’s character (figuratively, not literally). In the first entry of the previous two trilogies, it was a Jedi Master, individuals wise in matters both metaphysical and mundane, who ended up having his life taken for the greater (narrative) good; that callous, atheist Han would end in a similar place is, arguably, the best send-off audiences could ever hope to have for him.
What do you think of our selections – and our rankings? Do you have your own additions to insert into the list? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.