Star Wars: Top 20 Moments
Scott McKenzie risks fanboy rage and picks his top twenty Star Wars moments
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
After sixteen years of waiting for the next movie in a series that millions of people grew up with, the only thing more certain than George Lucas making bucket loads of cash was that he could never meet everyone’s expectations. After all, ever since we learned about Roman numerals, we’ve all allowed our imaginations to tell us what should happen in episodes I, II and III. It just so happens that the development of the technology Lucas was waiting for to deliver the first half of his epic story came at the same time as widespread use of the internet was becoming the norm so if someone didn’t like The Phantom Menace, they could voice their opinions to anyone and everyone around the world.
So is Episode I a bad movie? Not in my opinion, but I agree with the widely-held view that the exposition-heavy movie is the weakest in the saga. After all, it’s supposed to introduce us to the universe, the characters in it and their situations. However, there are two moments that reminded us why we love the original trilogy and gave us hope for the next two parts.
1. The pod race
We knew Anakin Skywalker would eventually turn into the ‘the best starfighter pilot in the galaxy’, so it was important to show this as early as possible in the first episode. But how can you show this when he’s only a little nipper? Lucas decided to do this by having him build his own pod racer and enter the most dangerous race in the galaxy. We’ll never know if Ani could have managed to do the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs, but this scene certainly introduced him as someone who could do things no other human could.
We know he’s going to win the race from the minute we hear him say that he’s going to enter, but that’s not important. What’s important is that this is the first real opportunity for Lucas to show off the new digital technology that he (and the rest of us) had been waiting for. Was it worth the wait? Maybe. What’s certain is that we’d never seen a race sequence quite like this one. You can really feel the speed of the pod racers and anyone with a surround setup will tell you how great those machines sound.
2. Darth Maul gets his lightsaber out
Meet Joe Black was a very lucky movie. It was lucky enough to have the first theatrical trailer for Episode I showing before it and attracted plenty of Star Wars fans, eager to see any footage available of their most eagerly-awaited movie. Probably the most memorable image from the trailer was that of Sith badass Darth Maul taking out his lightsaber and lighting it up. But wait a minute—it’s got two blades!
At that moment every fan’s imagination was all aflutter, dreaming of what could happen next. What does happen next is one of the most energetic lightsaber duels in the whole saga and the only complaint I have with the whole scene is that we kiss goodbye to one of the best baddies in the series and without a doubt the coolest Sith lord in the whole prequel trilogy. The acrobatics and choreography set the tone for the fight sequences in the rest of the trilogy and easily maintains audience attention while the young Skywalker is gooning around in a spaceship.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
After the characters were introduced in Episode I, we were all eager for them all to get down to business as usual in the Star Wars universe, with plenty of action and the promise of the grown-up Anakin starting to turn to the dark side. Episode II, with B-movie title Attack Of The Clones, is a lot more action-packed than its predecessor and follows an unexpected mystery structure in the first half. However, once we get the mushy stuff between Anakin and Padme out of the way and Obi-Wan and Jango Fett do battle on Kamino (a scene that just lost the cut into this feature), it’s action pretty much all the way to the end.
3. Ass Yoda kicks
The final battle is separated into three sequences. First of all there’s the Gladiator-style fight to the death between our heroes and a collection of nasty creatures. Then when all seems lost, the Jedi arrive to save the day and we get the first full-on fight from the Jedi army. This leads into the full-scale battle between the new army of clones and the separatists, which ends with Obi-Wan and Anakin taking on Count Dooku as he tries to make his escape. Just as he’s about to get away after chopping off the first of several limbs Anakin would have to get used to living without, a little green guy limps round the corner…
The moment Yoda opens his cloak and takes out his lightsaber using the force, we know we’re in for something special. For the previous episode and the whole of the original trilogy, we were used to Yoda being relatively immobile, so seeing him jumping around like Sonic the Hedgehog is the one moment in the prequel trilogy that makes you want to jump out of your seat, punch the air and shout ‘Yes!’ Unfortunately Lucasfilm broke the rule of never showing your best moment in the trailer by selling the film on it once the movie had been in cinemas for a week, but it remains the stand-out scene in an entry in the saga that’s good but very rarely great.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
This is the one we’d all been waiting for. Finally the Clone Wars would end, the Jedi would be all but wiped out and Anakin would don the famous black suit. The opening battle in space above Coruscant is exciting and shows off ILM’s ability with CGI but in this, probably the best-written prequel, there are subtle touches in addition to the big action set-pieces.
4. Grooming the young Skywalker
Right from the start we knew that Senator Palpatine was a bad egg who would convert Anakin to the dark side. This is the scene where he turns on the charm and uses Skywalker’s visions of a dying Padme as leverage to convince him to betray the Jedi. The combination of his compelling words and the strange music from the show they are watching make the whole sequence very unsettling. Our investment in the emotional state of Anakin depends on us believing he could be turned to the dark side and whether it was a conscious decision or not, it is better that the scene hinges on Ian McDiarmid’s performance rather than Hayden Christensen’s.
5. Order 66
In the most brutal sequence of the whole saga, we see the Jedi—who are leading the clone troops in battle against the separatists on different planets around the galaxy—gunned down following the order from Senator Palpatine. Following the death of Mace Windu and the naming of Darth Vader, the tone of the movie turns to the dark side and it’s only a matter of time until Anakin is murdering Jedi children (is there a word uglier than ‘younglings’?) in the temple. There are some noble deaths for fan-favourite Jedi knights and a close escape for Yoda, who gets the wobbles from all the disturbances in the force.
6. Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan round one
After flying to Mustafar and failing to convince him of the error of his ways, Padme is cast aside by Anakin and Obi-Wan takes on the man who was supposed to bring balance to the force. Although Vader doesn’t actually fall into the lava as we were told in the first description of his back-story in the Star Wars magazine in 1978, the end of Anakin Skywalker is gruesome enough for us to believe he would have breathing problems for the next three movies. Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan, frustrated at the demise of his friend and one-time apprentice, lends the scene an emotional punch that is generally lacking from Lucas’ screenplays for the prequels.
There’s also a nice blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of Obi-Wan picking up Anakin’s lightsaber, which he will eventually pass on to Luke. Of course, all this is going on at the same time as Yoda smacks down two Imperial guards and tries to take on Palpatine with the line ‘Oi Emperor, stitch this’ (or something like it), but he’s already had his moment in the sun so that duel doesn’t quite make it into this list.
7. Vader gets a new wardrobe
If there was just one moment I wanted to see in the whole prequel trilogy, it was that of Anakin being reborn as Darth Vader, complete with the black suit and a voice that makes him sound like King Jaffe Joffer from Coming to America. Contrasting the construction of Vader’s suit with the birth of Luke and Leia adds weight to the tragic scene, which shows that Padme died because he turned to the dark side (although her death is never adequately explained) and there was nothing he could do to save her.
Lucas made Vader’s helmet too heavy to purposely make Christensen’s first steps in the suit awkward and it almost tips the scene into a parody of Frankenstein. I think it comes down on the side of neat reference but for those who aren’t big Star Wars fans, it probably looks a bit silly. However, if you’re not a Star Wars fan, why would you sit through the whole movie and more importantly, why would you read this far down this article? Jeez, you Star Wars haters don’t have much to do in your spare time, do you? Anyway, for the rest of us, it’s onwards and downwards to the original trilogy…
Episode IV: A New Hope
If there’s one movie I could attribute my movie geekness to, one movie that shaped my love of film and appreciation of science fiction, this is it. I was born in 1978 so I was a prime member of the target market for everything Star Wars-related in the early 80s. My collection of Star Wars toys was the envy of our street and when I wasn’t listening to the read-along story cassettes, I was round a friend’s house watching the movies (we didn’t have a VCR in my very early years) so it’s safe to say that the first episode in the original trilogy has a special place in my heart. As a result, my view of the original trilogy is incredibly biased. I think one of the main reasons that the prequel trilogy gets such a hard time from those in their twenties and thirties is because we’re not kids any more. Our lives no longer revolve around watching the movies at every opportunity and having pretend lightsaber fights in the playground. We’ve got bills to pay now and it’s not fair, dammit!
8. Star Destroyer opening
I was ready to leave my last paragraph behind but the opening shot of Episode IV makes me think of another reason why I prefer the original trilogy. It’s only a little thing but it makes me think that more thought went into tying episodes IV, V and VI together. All three movies open with shots of an Imperial Star Destroyer, whereas there is no consistency with the opening shots of the prequel trilogy. This may sound like a real nit-pick but consistency breeds familiarity and makes the episodes of the original trilogy feel more like they were part of a cohesive whole.
The opening shot of the blockade runner being chased by a Star Destroyer looks great on DVD, but I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to see it on the big screen in 1977, where there had really been nothing like it ever before. The Star Destroyer goes on forever in a shot that has been spoofed many times, most notably in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. The combination of the stunning visuals and John Williams’ score surely make this one of the greatest opening shots in movie history.
9. Enter Darth Vader
Only moments later, we have one of the best entrances in movie history. Darth Vader doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t need to. He’s the baddest of all badasses in the whole galaxy and he knows it. The plans for the Death Star have been stolen by the Rebel Alliance and he’s not going to stop until he’s got his hands on them. The image of Darth Vader, flanked by Stormtoopers, is iconic and with the only dialogue up to this point spoken by droids, we know without a doubt that we’re in a galaxy far, far away and the man in black is kicking ass and taking names.
10. The shot of Luke against the suns
Bypassing Harrison Ford’s theory that ‘you can type this shit but you can’t say it’, one of the most poignant and emotional scenes in the whole saga takes place without any dialogue. The young Luke Skywalker, nephew of a moisture farmer, longs to join the academy and leave the desert planet of Tattooine behind him. His uncle frowns on any mention of Luke’s father but Luke knows deep down inside him that he is destined for so much more. There is no better way to show a man’s longing to leave the world he grudgingly calls home than by watching him looking up at the stars, which look so far away. But we know that it won’t be long until he’s jetting off into the galaxy and life will never be the same for him again.
11. Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan round two
The circle is complete. With the events of the prequel trilogy now a distant memory, Darth Vader, now officially the baddest badass in the galaxy, takes on his old master in their second and final duel. The look on Obi-Wan’s face as he capitulates to Vader’s attack is given more impact by the final conversation between Obi-Wan and Yoda in Revenge of the Sith. He knows that even after death he will be able to communicate with Luke and guide him in the ways of the force. The first lightsaber duel in the saga may not be the most technically impressive, but Obi-Wan’s sacrifice is given added meaning by the plot device established in Episode III and is one way that watching the prequels adds to the experience of the original trilogy.
12. Death Star explosion
In 1977 there hadn’t been a pay-off anything like this. The explosion of the Death Star is both the physical and emotional climax of Luke Skywalker’s journey from farm boy to starfighter pilot. It’s also important to our understanding of the character that it’s the first and only time he uses the force in anger in Episode IV. Remember that very few people close to Lucas thought this movie would be a success so it would have been easy for him to blow his load on the finale by turning Luke into a Jedi master and praying for someone to give him the money for a sequel.
Even George Lucas thought the destruction of the Death Star was so good that he used it again in Return of the Jedi, which he was criticised for but it is actually a realistic possibility. Faced with having to start from scratch, the only option the Empire would have would be to go back to their original plans rather than start again. At the end of Episode IV, the only Star Wars movie at the time, the development of Luke’s character is pitch-perfect and that is why the destruction of the Death Star is such a powerful moment. Without this planet-sized explosion, we wouldn’t have special effects extravaganzas with huge pay-offs like Independence Day, Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. It is this moment more than any other that is the reason for the torrent of summer blockbusters ever since.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Fate can be terribly cruel, conspiring against the righteous at every turn. No, I’m not talking about the revelation at the end of Episode V, I’m talking about the fact that I failed to see The Empire Strikes Back until Christmas 1988, when I was the ripe old age of ten. Our inability to watch pre-recorded movies at home (which would probably be grounds for a child to divorce their parents in 2007) and the fact that I was a bit too young to see it at the cinema upon its release in 1980 meant that opportunities to catch the best movie in the saga were few and far between. Back in days before multiplexes, our leisure centre showed a double-bill of Episodes V and VI, but unfortunately I was too ill to go. The illness itself is lost in the mists of time but the pain remains.
I’m not usually one for making black-and-white generalisations but you probably noticed that I referred to The Empire Strikes Back as the best movie in the saga in my trip down memory lane. The ‘best’ anything is of course down to personal preference but for me, Episode V sits high above the rest because it sets the emotional tone for the whole saga. The whole prequel trilogy was made because we all wanted to know how Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader and it wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the complexity of The Empire Strikes Back.
13. You will go to the Dagobah system’
After closely escaping the clutches of the creatures of the Hoth, Luke is lying in the snowy wilderness, just moments from freezing to death. The vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears before him and tells him to go to the Dagobah system, where he will learn from Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed him. This scene is important because it is Luke’s first step down the path to becoming a Jedi master and it’s also the first time we see the ghostly apparition of an ex-Jedi. The Empire Strikes Back contains the darkest moments of the original trilogy, for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in particular and this scene signifies the change in tone between Episodes IV and V.
14. AT-AT attack
The major good guys versus bad guys battle happens surprisingly early on in The Empire Strikes Back. After Mr Bronson from Grange Hill blunders his way into the Hoth system, the Empire have no option but to mount a ground assault on the Rebel Alliance as they try to make their escape. We’re then treated to a mechanical David and Goliath battle as the Rebel Snowspeeders try to trip up the Empire’s massive AT-AT walkers with their harpoons and tow-cables. The special effects for this scene were notoriously hard to piece together. Mapping model shots onto the darkness of space is a forgiving process because rough edges easily blend into the black background. The exact opposite is true of trying to superimpose clips onto a background of white snow. However, the effects still hold up today (just about) and give us an exciting sequence to kick off the movie before we get down to the real emotional stuff.
15. Luke vs. Vader in the cave
Against the wishes of Yoda, Luke ventures into cave on Dagobah that is strong with the dark side of the force. He takes his lightsaber with him and encounters a vision of Darth Vader. Luke chops off Vader’s head and beneath the mask he sees his own face. This scene is the closest we get to the supernatural in the whole Star Wars saga. Filmed in jerky slow motion, the fight is confusing and cryptic, foreshadowing the announcement of the relationship between Vader and Skywalker and Luke’s transformation into a Jedi master who is part man, part machine.
16. ‘I know’
Han Solo had to have a moment in this list and the logical choices were either this scene or blowing Greedo away in Mos Eisley. While the brutality of him shooting first in Episode IV shows us just what an maverick he is, his response to Leia’s ‘I love you’ before he is frozen in carbonite sums up his love for the princess in two words in the way that only a scoundrel can. This is another example of what is lacking from the prequel trilogy. Had this scene featured Padme and Anakin, the exchange would probably have been an endless stream of ‘No, I love you more’ until a stormtrooper whacked them both over the head. Han Solo’s presence gives every scene an edge and adds a factor of unpredictability to the script. In that situation, every other character would have replied with ‘I love you too’, but the scruffy-looking Nerf herder is the only man in the galaxy who could get away with his reply.
17. ‘I am your father’
The Star Wars saga had already cemented its place in movie history with the exciting adventures of Episode IV but this scene, and in particular that line, is the reason why the movies are thought of in such high regard and why this episode in particular is generally regarded as the best of the bunch. Episodes IV and VI are ripping yarns indeed but Darth Vader’s revelation that he is Luke’s father turns an exciting adventure series into a tale of father-and-son redemption. Everything that has gone before has an extra weight and this bombshell increases the stakes in the battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
The only problem with this scene now is that it’s no longer a twist. In 1980 the audiences didn’t see it coming but any newcomers to the saga are in no doubt about the family relationships by the time they’ve made it through about ten hours of the saga. The significance of this line has changed with the release of the prequel trilogy because upon the original release of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is the character that the audience sympathises with. However, now that we know all about Darth Vader’s back story and we’ve seen him as a little boy, we can also sympathise with the thought of a father looking for his long lost son.
18. The closing shot
With Han Solo frozen in carbonite on his way to be handed over to Jabba the Hutt and Luke trying to take in the fact that his dad is the baddest badass in the galaxy, the good guys are well and truly at their lowest point. It was very brave to end the sequel to one of the most popular movies of all time on a cliff-hanger. Will they get Han Solo back in one piece? Will Luke turn to the dark side? Sorry, you’ve got to wait three years to find out. The shot of Luke, Leia and the droids staring out into space as the Millennium Falcon flies into the distance neatly sums up the downbeat end to this chapter of the story and forces the audience to wonder what might happen in the final episode.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
It’s been a long journey to this point and I salute you if you’re still reading this article. As for the movie, Return of the Jedi is a story in two parts, both action-packed climaxes to the main storylines of the trilogy. If you wanted the character development and quieter moments of Episode V, then you’ve come to the wrong place I’m afraid. It’s laser guns and lightsabers all the way from beginning to end and with the exception of a set of little furballs, it’s pretty much the perfect science fiction adventure movie. Needless to say, those little furballs don’t make an appearance in the last two entries in my list...
19. The Sarlacc pit
Showdown #1. Luke, Lando, Leia, the droids and Han Solo (with dodgy vision) take on Jabba the Hutt and his band of hideous cronies after he tries to dump them in the pit of Carkoon, where they will be digested by the almighty Sarlacc. Luke is forced to walk the plank but a nice piece of acrobatics and coordination with R2-D2 mean all hell breaks loose, which ends with the death of Jabba the Hutt and the great Boba Fett going out like a punk. This is the only action sequence in the original trilogy that features all the main good guys blasting, swinging and wise-cracking their way to victory.
20. Luke vs Vader round two
Showdown #2 in Return of the Jedi is also the second face-to-face between Skywalkers junior and senior. There’s only one way this can go and the tables are turned when Luke chops Vader’s hand off. The look on his face as he looks at his own mechanical hand tells us that he knows he is slowly turning into his father and lays down his lightsaber, refusing to join the dark side. After two movies of Darth Vader being top dog, he’s now playing second fiddle to the Emperor, but the Dark Lord of the Sith is allowed his redemption by stopping his boss killing his only son. As Vader lies dying, he and Luke share their only father-son moment and for some reason a sinister-looking Hayden Christensen is reborn as a Jedi ghost, even though the man in the mask looked nothing like him. Oh well, I’ve managed to get this far without moaning about George Lucas’ fiddling so I’m not going to start now.
There we have it. Twenty moments from the Star Wars movies that sum up the saga for me. You’ll probably agree with some of them. Some of them you won’t agree with. That’s what we’ve got a comments section for. So what are your favourite Star Wars moments?
Editorial by Scott McKenzie
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