So by now, everyone who is vaguely interested in sci-fi is probably aware that a new Star Wars film is out, Rogue One. With us approaching the end of the year, I thought I would do a countdown with a difference.
Star Wars was the first film I ever saw at the cinema and it’s latest iteration is the most recent film that I have seen. I’m not generally a fan of the prequels in any way shape or form so whilst they do feature, they don’t play a big part of my 25 Greatest Star Wars moments….sorry younglings!
So without further ado… Bootini!!!
25. Padmé in the Geonosian arena (Attack of the Clones)
Yoda’s lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker’s whining, the dreaded fireplace scene: Episode II can be a bumpy ride. However it is not a total lost caust because for the first time ever in the prequels there is a scene that feels like classic Star Wars. Padmé Amidala, Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi are chained to stakes in a gladiatorial pit, at the mercy of various fantastical monsters – until the princess takes the initiative. The scene has humour, peril, terrific costumes and creature design, and characters that reveal themselves through action: it’s the essence of the original trilogy.
24. The Endor Speeder Bike Chase (Return of the Jedi)
Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia weave through Endor’s groves on their stolen speeder bikes at 120 mph while Imperial scout troopers jostle them on all sides. Those cheek-flapping first-person shots were achieved with hand-held cameras on steadicam mounts: operators walked through the forest, very smoothly and carefully indeed, at capturing just three frames of film for every four seconds of movement. When the footage was sped up to 24fps, the result was the greased-lightning forward motion with impossibly accurate side-to-side jinking that makes the sequence such an armrest-gripping thrill.
23. Duel of the Fates (The Phantom Menace)
A rare highlight in the washout that is The Phantom Menace. Get rid of the CGI characters and back to humans with a bit of jeopardy then even this film can produce a few good scenes.
It’s in the brief pause between the igniting of the first and second blades on Darth Maul’s dual sabre that you realise you’re in for a treat. The most elaborate lightsabre battle in the entire Star Wars franchise pits Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn against an enrobed devil-figure from the Jedi’s worst nightmares.
Compared to the original trilogy’s emotionally wrenching duels, the sequence feels very clean and choreographed, but the stakes become suddenly palpable in that moment of calm near the end, when an array of laser gates briefly separate the three combatants. Qui-Gon meditates, while Maul snarls and paces, and Obi-Wan looks on in horror. We all know it is going to have an epic conclusion, we just don’t know how.
Nevertheless, Darth Maul never quite came close to being the massive figure that we were led to believe he was from the pre movie advertising.
22. Star Destroyer fly-past (Star Wars)
I remember seeing this opening shot at the pictures. I was all of 3 years old and it was 7.30pm and it was one of the most amazing moments ever. It’s hard to imagine how the shot that begins the entire Star Wars franchise could be bettered – both in terms of raw spectacle and as a swaggering statement of intent. In deep space, a tattered Rebel Alliance blockade runner soars into view from the top of the screen – and is immediately followed by the knife-like hull of an Imperial Star Destroyer that just keeps…on…coming. The contrast between the two ships, in terms of both looks and scale, immediately sets out the terms of the conflict, while the awestruck low angle lets us know as an audience, we’re in for the ride of our lives.
21. The tragedy of Darth Plagueis (Revenge of the Sith)
I really don’t like the prequels, not just the awful tone but the inconsequentiality of much of it. I wanted the story to start pretty much at this moment and did not and still do not care about 7 year old Ani or the whinings of his teenager self. The last half of Revenge of the Sith though is really quite good.
The prequel trilogy really trowels on the Messianic overtones of Anakin Skywalker’s story, but this skin-prickling sequence between Hayden Christensen and a never-more-sinister Ian McDiarmid is thrillingly subtle. During an evening at the theatre, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine sews the seeds of betrayal in his young charge’s mind with a story about a Sith Lord who harnessed the Force’s power to create life and conquer death, but was then killed by his ambitious apprentice – who may or may not have been Palpatine himself. It reflects Obi-Wan’s claim in the original trilogy that Vader was “seduced” by the Dark Side, and frames Anakin’s impending fall as a parallel tragedy.
Interestingly, at least to me, the background music here is almost identical to the background music of Snoke in The Force Awakens. Could Snoke be Darth Plagueis and about to show that he is even more evil and powerful than Senator Palpatine? I noticed this on my first viewing of The Force Awakens, mainly because I always liked the musical theme from Revenge of The Sith.
Somebody who agrees with me but spends a little too much time talking at the beginning of the video below has created a comparison…. what do you think?
20. Bombs in the dark (Rogue One)
Rogue One has lots of new planets to unveil, but one of them – the Imperial outpost Eadu – remains tantalisingly enshrouded in rain and darkness. Jyn and her team arrive in the dead of night and the middle of a storm: all that’s to be seen are the flanks of steep mountains, a clifftop path and a metal landing pad, barely visible through the indigo murk. Suddenly, a Rebel bombing run descends: pinpricks of pink light in the sky and earth-cracking explosions, but still no clear view.
Rogue One’s heroes work in the shadow-space between right and wrong, so it’s apt that Eadu should be the place where Cassian bucks his orders to assassinate Galen Erso, even though he’s in his sights. Meanwhile, the expressionistic gloom leaves an unexplained vastness out there for us to ponder: unlike the more painstakingly realised backdrops of the prequel trilogy, this one beckons our imaginations in.
19. Mos Eisley Cantina (Star Wars)
I can’t be the only one who can do a perfect recittal of the music that the band played in the Mos Eisley Cantina. This wretched hive of scum and villany is memorable for so many reasons but it truly does give us an insight into what life is like and how many alien species there might be that call this place home. We’ve all been to pubs that are a little bit shifty but few where one can lose your arm from a lightsabre.
18. Kylo Ren’s Temper Tantrums (The Force Awakens
Going into this scene one might expect that Kylo Ren might end up using The Force to choke his unfortunate underling when he is informed of the escape of Rey and BB8 from Jakku. But instead, Ren ignites his lightsaber and slashes at the control panel behind him in a blind rage.
It’s a playful sucker punch for fans, but also provides a vital flash of insight into this new-generation villain: Ren is a callow fanatic and a loose cannon, wildly dangerous in his own way, but wholly different to the self-possessed Dark Lord he reveres.
17. No, I Am Your Father! (The Empire Strikes Back)
One of the most quoted and memorable lines in not just Star Wars but movie history and if you watch it in context and the original trilogy’s climactic scene retains every ounce of mythic drama and emotional force that stunned audiences in 1980. That’s partly thanks to the gruelling lightsaber duel that precedes it – a swiping, smashing battle of attrition, swathed in steam and shadow – but also Mark Hamill’s astonished and astonishing reaction: as Vader’s words sink in, you can see young Skywalker’s soul being torn in two.
16. Escaping Jakku
There’s a certain rhythm to the very best Star Wars set-pieces – a syncopated, almost jazzy flow of action jolts and great character moments – that mixes humour and excitement in a dangerously addictive ratio. There are two all-time-great examples of this at the very top on this list (slots five and one, if you’re the type to skip ahead), but The Force Awakens’ electrifying first-act climax gets the formula dead on.
From Rey’s indignation over Finn’s well-meant hand-holding, to the almost casual reveal of the Millennium Falcon (“The garbage’ll do!”), and the ensuing dogfight in the Starship Graveyard, there’s barely a second to catch your breath. That instant classic trailer line – “Chewie, we’re home!” – comes courtesy of Han Solo soon afterwards, but by that point, we don’t need him to tell us.
15. Darth Vader as we’ve never seen him before (Rogue One)
It sounds a shade sadistic to describe the mowing down of hapless Rebel footsoldiers as the Darth Vader scene you’ve always been waiting for, but watching the Dark Lord of the Sith on the frontline of combat against enemies light years beneath his pay grade sheds an excitingly nasty new light on a character you thought you already knew inside out.
The scene wouldn’t have a fraction of its impact, though, without an earlier sequence at Vader’s lair on Mustafar where he’s met by Orson Krennic. When we first see him he’s in a restorative bacta tank, Edwards frames him to emphasise his physical bulk, planting the seed of a capacity for cruelty and physical domination that pays off shatteringly later.
14. Han Solo Frozen In Carbonite (The Empire Strikes Back)
It was only written into the script because Harrison Ford wasn’t sure whether he’d come back for a third Star Wars film – but the carbonate freezing scene, in which Han Solo is put into cold storage in front of Leia’s eyes, gave The Empire Strikes Back a second tragic climax to match the Vader/Skywalker showdown. In Lucas’s original script, Solo’s reply to Leia’s “I love you” was a simple “I love you too”, but on set, Ford suggested changing the line to “I know”. A perfect example of the actor knowing his character better than the one who created him as well as being a perfectly timed moment of lightness in the dark.
13. The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One)
Harking back to the amazing Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, It’s wildly inventive and full of stunning images – X-Wing wreckage skittering across the surface of the Imperial force field, TIE fighters flocking like seabirds departing a cliff-top – yet at every tumultuous moment you’re exactly clear on where each key player is, and why.
Better still, it’s completely fearless, silhouetting both the Rebellion’s tragic heroes, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, against an explosion that makes the Death Star’s A-bomb parallels vivid and wrenching. You go into Rogue One knowing exactly how it ends, but it still has the power to surprise you.
12. Lightsabres In The Forest ( The Force Awakens)
A surprisingly satisfying showdown towards the end of The Force Awakens. It feels somewhat like a dark European fairy tale with the crisp snow, the forest and the wonderfl lighting. At the end of this incredible and dazzling fim, it comes down to a confrontation between good and evil in the shape of a passionate Rey and Kylo Ren.
11. The Rancor Pit (Return Of The Jedi)
Though one might not expect a creature called The Rancor, held in dungeons beneath Jabba’s Palace to be kindly in disposition, nothing can prepare you for the sight of the hulking, extravagantly be-clawed monstrosity that lurks under Jabba the Hutt’s throne room. A 1.5-foot-tall rod puppet filmed at high speed to add the illusion of enormous weight, the Rancor looks incredible. The poignant aftermath of the scene, in which the creature’s flabby human keeper unexpectedly bursts into tears, is a perfect, blackly comic flourish.
10. The Emperor plays off Luke against Darth Vader (Return Of The Jedi)
It’s the Rebels’ last stand against the forces of the Empire: a starship battle in the skies above Endor, and guerrilla warfare in the forests below. Luke watches helplessly from the throne room on the Death Star II. The Rebel fleet looks certain to be crushed. The Emperor, sensing his chance to turn Luke to the Dark Side, leaves his lightsaber unguarded.
“You want this, don’t you?” he purrs. “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed.” The action cross-cuts between three thrilling scenes here, but Mark Hamill and Ian McDiarmid’s confrontation has a Shakespearean grandeur that leaves you in no doubt where the stakes are highest.
9. Darth Vader Unveiled (The Empire Strikes Back)
In the original Star Wars film, Darth Vader is a straightforward bad guy – a powerful Jedi turned to the dark side, and a figure to be feared. But early in The Empire Strikes Back, we see the first chink in his iconic black armour – and though it’s a quiet moment, its power resonates throughout the entire original trilogy.
Sitting in his life support pod on board the Super Star Destroyer, Vader is interrupted by an underling with the latest news on the hunt for the Rebels. As the camera tracks past the pod’s tooth-like outer shell, we briefly see the back of Vader’s human head as his helmet is lowered into position. It’s clear the General is unsettled by this – it’s a private, even vulnerable moment. But it gives us a glimpse of Vader’s deeply buried humanity, and with it, the flickering possibility of redemption which will eventually play out over the remainder of the trilogy. With the benefit of hindsight and though it causes be to shudder, it also fits in with the Prequels. Doesn’t mean I have to like them though!
8. Breaking out Princess Leia (Star Wars)
Right from the moment Han Solo, blasts the intercomm after his boring conversation with Death Star security, we know that we’re going to have the mother of all escape sequences for our heroes to get back to their ship.
When the stormtroopers arrive and Leia works out that this is some rescue party that might just get them all killed, she takes the unique approach of blasting through the walls and leading them all, who knows where.
“Get in there you big furry oaf, I don’t care what you smell!” With that immortal Han Solo line, which which Chewbacca goes tumbling after Leia down a Death Star garbage chute, the single best on-the-ground action sequence in the franchise gets underway.
This has everything that makes Star Wars great: zinging comedy (“One thing’s for sure, we’re all going to be a lot thinner”), terrific Han-Leia chemistry, magnificent creature design (nightmarish glimpses of thick tentacles and a single eye on a stalk), and one thrill stacked on top of the next.
7. Yoda fights Count Duckoo (Attack Of The Clones)
Sir Christopher Lee was wonderful as the evil Count Duckoo or Count Duckula as I often joke (obscure UK cartoon character alert) and brought much more gravitas to the prequels than they ever deserved. I’d actually rate him as one of the best Dark Side characters in any of the films and he more than made up for the let down that was Darth Maul.
What really made this scene memorable though was that after decades of waiting, we finally get to see Master Yoda fight in his prime and I think it caught almost everyone by surprise.
6. Yoda vs Darth Sidious (Revenge Of The Sith)
Battle of the ultimate Masters. That’s what this fight is, as it moves from precise lightsaber combat to an awesome back and forth display of Force wizardry. The Emperor revels in unleashing his power, gleefully tossing Senate pods at the Jedi Master and cackling as he blasts his “little green friend” with Force lightning; Yoda is calm and determined, able to evade the attacks and absorb Sidious’ dark side powers. As a meeting between arguably the two most powerful beings in the galaxy, this battle does not disappoint. And it reinforces what we learn in Return of the Jedi, which is that the Emperor wants to fight, as the fight is where he thrives — Yoda learns this the hard way. While he holds his own with the Sith Lord, even the ancient Jedi cannot outright defeat him.
5. Mace Windu vs Darth Sidious (Revenge Of The Sith)
Teased to great effect in the advertising for Revenge of the Sith, this fight was something fans have wondered about for years — even before Mace Windu’s debut. How exactly did the Jedi try to deal with Palpatine? How did Palpatine reveal himself to them? The answers are given here, and they’re awesome: Mace Windu and three other Jedi show up in Palpatine’s chambers, ready to arrest him after the revelation that he is indeed the mystery Sith Lord they’ve been searching for.
After some of Palpatine’s usual superficial pleasantries, Windu states plainly why the Jedi have come. With a dark, guttural scream and the ignition of a crimson blade, we get our first true glimpse of Darth Sidious. He welcomes the combat. Enjoys it. And quickly dispatches Windu’s support. The sequence is full of close-ups — Windu is grim, Sidious hisses and scowls — showing what’s at stake for both men. The ending continues to be debated; Windu seemingly has Sidious beaten, unarmed and cowering. But was this all planned to get Anakin to come to his defense? Either way, it doesn’t end well for Mace.
4. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Anakin Skywalker (Revenge Of The Sith)
The most highly anticipated of any Star Wars fight scene, and a marvel of choreography and visual effects. With Anakin lost to the dark side and having killed countless Jedi, Obi-Wan reluctantly agrees to find and kill his former apprentice. The two meet on the lava planet Mustafar, with Anakin clearly deluded and power hungry (“If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.”). The former friends square off in a blistering, kinetic sequence, epic in scale and scope unmatched by any other entry on this list.
They battle in interior corridors of a mining facility, balance and duel on a narrow pipe above a lava river and then along a giant collection arm, and continue face to face on a small hovering platform. And then there’s the tragic, numbing end. To go from the shiny exterior of The Phantom Menace to the hell of Mustafar in just three films is an amazing thing, illustrating (on the surface, at least) just how far Anakin has fallen. It’s the one lightsaber duel in which the dangerous surroundings are a factor and a major threat to both combatants. Ultimately, while the sequence dazzles with its grand spectacle and unmatched swordplay, the biggest testament to its success is the fact that while we already knew the outcome, it was still shocking to behold.
3. Take Evasive Action
Han Solo decides on a slightly suicidal course of action by actually attacking 4 Imperial Star Destroyers. The Imperial Fleet are as shocked as us viewers as the Millenium Falcon out manouvres. I love the surprise of the Imperial Commanders and the klaxxon that bellow out as the massive ships give their all to avoid colliding into each other.
Then with Tie-Fighters on their tail, the Millenium Falcon treats us to an incredible chase through an asteroid field which is still a sight to see today.
2. The Attack on The Death Star (Star Wars)
I pondered whether to put this at number 1 or not. It certainly deserves it for the original attack on the Death Star is like nothing before and little since. With the audience fully aware that the Death Star is armed to the teeth and well able to destroy the planet on which the Rebels are based. Against all the odds, it is left to a fleet of skilled experienced pilots and a farmboy gifted with The Force to blow it to kingdom come.
1. The Battle of Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back)
From the first sighting of an AT-AT walker’s enormous foot crunching down into the snow to the Millennium Falcon’s last-ditch escape just as Darth Vader’s troops arrive in the Rebels’ hangar, The Empire Strikes Back’s first-act climax is ten minutes of sustained, high-stakes excitement on a grander scale, and with more ingenuity – the tow-cables! – than anything in the original Star Wars movie. A sequel has never shown it meant business more effectively than this. It put the war into Star Wars.
I know I’ve left out plenty of good moments such as Darth Vader with the Bounty Hunters, Han Solo firing his blaster at Darth Vader who then uses the force to block the lasers before claiming the weapon for himself, The Pod Race, Yoda using The Force to left up Luke’s X-Wing or the definitive space battle between the Millenium Falcon and the Tie Fighters as they flee the Death Star. Which is yours?