Back in 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm and reinitiated the Star Wars cinematic saga. Since then, many fans and common moviegoers alike have been eagerly anticipating the new stories and characters with each new film.
Arguably the most popular franchise in film history, Star Wars benefits from a highly vibrant fan base. These pop-culture aficionados have identified with the fascinating characters within these stories, and remain inspired by the saga’s evocative world-building and startling philosophical and spiritual themes.
With the upcoming release of the new Solo spinoff, now is a good time to review the entire Star Wars cinematic saga up until The Last Jedi. Here are just 15 scenes that paved the way for this epic franchise. May the Force guide us in our choices!
15 Order 66 - Revenge Of The Sith
After completing Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side, Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) contacted clone legions dispatched all across the galaxy. Once that was done, he initiated Order 66. The clone armies, trained to follow orders without question, then proceeded to coldly turn on the Jedi Knights who had been leading them into battle.
The loss was so powerful that even Yoda, who led the clone army out on Kashyyyk, felt it. The whole scene is a gut-wrenching lament for the fallen Jedi and one of the redeeming scenes in the Prequel Trilogy. This moment in the film was paired with a melancholic soundtrack and vivid cinematography. Everything together spectacularly underlined the climax of Darth Sidious’ treacherous rise to power through the destruction of the Jedi Order.
Across rain-soaked mining facilities, lush forests, and canyon-side cityscapes, the Jedi are taken by surprise. One by one their forces are overthrown by troops they once trusted. Although the Prequels are known as some of the worst of the franchise, this scene is one of its redeeming moments. A scene that powerfully projected the collective anguish and loss of many characters.
A vital moment for the end of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. The initiation of Order 66 remains on of the most gripping scenes in the Star Wars cinematic franchise.
14 The Battle of Scarif - Rogue One
At the climax of this darker, more visceral spinoff, the Rebel commando, led by Jyn Erso and her friends, arrives on the oceanic planet of Scarif. Their goal? To infiltrate the high-security Imperial database and steal the plans for the Death Star.
A tremendous battle soon ensues, with the Rebel guerilla forces facing down the Imperial battalions and walkers on the planet’s lush jungles and sandy beaches. At the same time, Rebel and Imperial starfighters engage in battle all across the planet’s clear-blue atmosphere.
Not only does this scene include some heavy subject matter, but it looks beautiful. With evocative tropical imagery and gripping camerawork, it really brings the audience into the tense realism of the battle. The sequence often looks like it could have been drawn from memory by someone who had just endured the war in Vietnam.
Shots of stormtroopers exchanging fire with the Rebels amidst jungle brush and palm trees. Rebels fighters who are running down the beaches while firing at the walkers that are looming above them. Although this film is relatively new, it is has easily become one of the saga's grittiest battle images.
One thing is for sure: never before has the word “wars” in the franchise’s title been truly reflected in such a realistic set-piece.
13 Death Star II Battle - Return Of The Jedi
Some fans might criticize the climax of Return of the Jedi for being too similar to the iconic ending of Star Wars IV. Nonetheless, the sequence remains a spectacular space battle. Set in two stages, the scene moves on from a tense dogfight around the still-unfinished Death Star to a high-speed run into the station’s labyrinthine conduits. With Lando Calrissian at the helm of the Millennium Falcon, the Rebel fleet reaches the Death Star. Yet, the relative stillness surrounding the Imperial station creates an unsettling ambiance. This leads into the Emperor’s revelation to Luke, who stands inside the Imperial throne room.
Despite its somewhat shabby appearance, the Death Star, is actually fully operational.
Then, the Imperial forces suddenly unleash their full power against the Rebels. Admiral Ackbar’s famous line “It’s a trap!” depicts the Rebel commanders’ shock at this unexpected turn of events. Once the Imperial shield generator is brought down, the Rebel ships are able to enter the Death Star’s inner conduits all the way to the main reactor. The Millennium Falcon finally destroys the reactor before flying away, and the station quickly explodes from within. If that doesn't sound epic enough, then imagine it with John Williams’ stirring music! It certainly adds to the dynamic camerawork of the starfighters running down the Death Star's ductwork. It's safe to say that this scene remains an exhilarating final scene for the original Star Wars trilogy.
12 The Battle of Takodana - The Force Awakens
The First Order has reached the forest planet of Takodana. after being informed that BB-8 was spotted rolling around that area. Accompanying the droid are an older Han Solo, Chewbacca, Rey and Finn.
Rey has run off into the forest, distraught by the visions she felt upon touching Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber. Meanwhile, Finn, Han and Chewie have been captured by stormtroopers and are now being held at blaster-point.
Things look bleak for our heroes. That is until the stormtroopers look up and spot a squadron of Resistance X-wings skimming across a huge lake towards the castle. A squadron of TIE fighters soon appear, engaging the X-wings in an epic dogfight across the skies of Takodana. In the meantime, Han, Finn and Chewie grab some weapons and face down the stormtroopers amidst the wreckage of the castle.
The sequence is a stunning first demonstration of a double-front battle taking place on land and sky simultaneously. This has now become an iconic type of scene in the new Star Wars trilogy. As starfighters can now confront one another in a planet’s atmosphere rather than only in space while there's an epic land battle occurring at the same time. The combat dynamics of the saga have become considerably more intricate and exciting.
11 The Sarlacc Pit - Return Of The Jedi
Concluding the first act of Return of the Jedi, the Sarlacc Pit sequence is an exhilarating scene of swashbuckling action. It's like watching space pirates duke it out! It also manages to wrap up a major plot point left in place by the cliffhanger ending left behind by The Empire Strikes Back. Luke, Leia and the rest of the gang have managed to free Han Solo from his carbon confinement in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. But the Tatooine crime lord and his minions capture and take them to the Great Pit of Carkoon.
Once they get there, Luke, Han and Chewbacca are sentenced to be fed to the vile Sarlacc that lives in that pit.
Leia, R2-D2 and C-3PO, who have been enslaved by Jabba, are condemned to watch. However, as R2 propels Luke’s lightsaber out of its body and towards him, our heroes’ death sentence turns into an epic fight. Luke fends off Jabba’s minions with his lightsaber, while Han and Chewbacca plow them down and save Lando from falling into the pit. Leia also manages to strangle the Hutt with her own slave-chain! Justice. All in all, the sequence is a highly exciting action set-piece that remains true to the saga’s fantasy essence.
10 The Battle Of Crait - The Last Jedi
Never before has the fate of the galaxy’s freedom fighters (whether in the form of the Rebel Alliance or the Resistance) been so close to being utterly wiped out. The Resistance has retreated to an abandoned Rebel outpost on the remote mineral planet of Crait. Their entire fleet has been destroyed by the First Order.
All that's left is a very small group of survivors led by Leia. A bunch of dusty, old and rickety speeders are their only tools they have to face down their enemies.
In a set-up that's reminiscent of the iconic Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, the First Order advances across the planet’s salt flats. In the background, the sun eerily sets down in the horizon. The Resistance speeders skim across the vast expanse of salt covering the planet’s red-colored soil. Unfortunately, our heroes get overthrown with ease. The First Order's immense siege cannon then manages to breach the Resistance fortress.
As all hope seems lost, Luke Skywalker miraculously appears before the Resistance. He exchanges a touching goodbye with Leia and a quick wink at C-3PO before facing down the First Order by himself. The scene soon escalates into a gripping lightsaber duel between Luke and his old apprentice Kylo Ren. Done with remarkable framing and vivid use of light and color to depict their final showdown, Luke’s final act of heroism could not have been more astonishing.
9 The Podrace - The Phantom Menace
This is one of the Prequel's greatest moments purely for its visuals. The Podrace scene encapsulates the thrill of classic racing scenes in films. A lot like the iconic chariot race from the movie, Ben-Hur. Qui-Gon Jinn has waged young Anakin Skywalker’s freedom from the junk trader, Watto, in the Podrace. His bargain also includes the hyperdrive parts they need to repair Queen Amidala’s starship and reach Coruscant. The stakes are very high right from the start. Racing against pilots coming from all corners of the galaxy, Anakin has to navigate his small, hand-crafted Podracer over three perilous circuits.
While the race is going on, Tusken raiders fire at the contestants.
Mechanical mishaps briefly overtake Anakin’s engines, and most of the other racers crash over the desert or into jagged canyons. This all adds up to create an exhilarating set-piece from start to finish. John Williams’ music appears very selectively, highlighting key moments of the scene. Yet, it is Ben Burtt’s mesmerizing sound design that dominates the soundscape. Gripping mechanical hums and the vivid streaking sounds of the Podracers dashing across the landscape bring this whole scene together. Complementing the high-speed digital cinematography and tense rhythm of the sequence, this technical prowess comes together to deliver a stunning spectacle.
8 Rey VS Kylo Ren - The Force Awakens
Night has fallen on the planet-wide Starkiller Base. Rebel starfighters face down the First Order’s TIE fighters in an attempt to blow up the base. Rey and Finn tearfully move on amidst the cold, snowy forests on the outskirts of the base. The two have just witnessed the tragic downfall of Han Solo at the hands of his own son, Kylo Ren. They are now lost in the night, without the former Rebel veteran to guide them.
Kylo Ren soon catches up to our two young heroes. He brutally knocks out Rey, then engages in a lightsaber duel with Finn, wherein Ren clearly holds the upper hand. Finn sustains a terrible injury in the fight and passes out before Ren can finish him off. But then, in an extraordinary moment, a fully conscious Rey seizes the lightsaber by using the Force, revealing her powers to a bewildered Ren.
On one side of the duel, a formidable, yet deeply unstable enforcer of the First Order. On the other side, a scavenger from Jakku who, despite having never held a lightsaber before, seems to instinctively understand how to wield it. This first duel between Rey and Kylo Ren is a pivotal and highly atmospheric moment in Rey’s discovery of the Force.
7 Attack On The Blockade Runner - Star Wars
The unforgettable opening shot of the entire saga presents an Imperial star destroyer engaged in a jaw-dropping pursuit of the Rebel blockade runner high above Tatooine. This shot is followed with the star destroyer capturing the runner in search of the stolen Death Star plans. Rebel troopers run down the white hallways as the iconic “Star Wars alarm” goes on throughout the ship. The troopers pass by the bewildered C-3PO and R2-D2 and take their positions near the runner’s front hatch. They wait in cold silence while the alarm continues to blare on. An eerie silence settles within the ship, until the hatch is finally breached.
Here, the audience get their first look at the Imperial stormtroopers.
John Williams’ atmospheric music, coupled with the first instances of the now-iconic blaster sound effects, add a lot to the sequence’s element of surprise. As the stormtroopers move on inside the runner, and the Rebel troopers stand their ground despite being clearly outnumbered, the audience are introduced to Darth Vader for the very first time. Vader is revealed in a gripping wide shot, as he enters the runner and ominously looms over the bodies of the fallen Rebels. He leads his Imperial troops further inside inside the ship, an air of authority surrounding him. This is when the audience got a taste for what kind of antagonists they'd be dealing with for the rest of the trilogy.
6 The Battle Of Hoth - The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire discovers the location of the Rebel Alliance on the ice planet of Hoth through one of their probe droids. They subsequently lead a full ground assault on the ice fields surrounding the Rebel base.
Yet, as the audience discovers through the binoculars of one Rebel commander, the Empire did not only send legions of snowtroopers to take over the base. Mainly, it is an army of fearsome AT-AT walkers that slowly yet ominously make their advance.
The Rebels quickly dispatch their fleet of snowspeeders. Luke leads the speeders against the walkers. At the same time, Rebel soldiers fire away at the Imperial forces from their trenches at the front of the base. With a startling battle terrain of stark ice fields and distant mountains, the sequence is a striking conclusion to the first act of The Empire Strikes Back.
The Rebels bravely attempt to halt the walkers while snowspeeders bring them down to the ground with their harpoons and tow cables. Luke grapples on to one walker and tosses a grenade inside of its hull. However, the Imperial forces eventually outmatch the Rebels, who have to evacuate as the walkers break their defenses. The scene dramatically ends as snowtroopers enter the base under Darth Vader’s ever-ominous command.
5 Anakin VS Obi-Wan and Yoda VS Sidious - Revenge of the Sith
On Coruscant, the Jedi Order has been eliminated and the Republic has fallen, with the Galactic Empire rising from their ashes. On Mustafar, Padmé lies in critical condition, gravely injured by Anakin's rage. In this somber climax to the Prequel Trilogy, Anakin, now rechristened as Darth Vader, faces off against his former friend and master. At the same time, Yoda confronts Darth Sidious in the now-abandoned Senate. Most fans seem to remember the first duel more vividly than the second one. Yet, the sequence packs a lot more punch.
Especially when placing the duels of Obi-Wan and Yoda against their foes parallel to one another.
These two battles serve as the Jedi’s ultimate act of defiance against the victorious Sith before going into exile at the end of the film. The visceral duel on Mustafar moves from the ominous Separatist base to scorching lava flows. Then to the rocky terrain where Obi-Wan maims Anakin and leaves him to perish. The duel at the Senate, on the other hand, literally shows the fall of the Republic. Sidious viciously hurls senators’ pods at his opponent from his towering perch. This dual confrontation, both epic and deeply affecting for the audience, brings the prequels to a spectacularly action packed finale.
4 Luke Skywalker VS Darth Vader - Return of the Jedi
On the forest moon of Endor, Han Solo and the rest of the gang are fighting to take over the Imperial base and destroy its shield generator. Meanwhile, the Rebel starfighters led by Lando Calrissian face off against the Imperial fleet. They're left waiting for the shield generator to be brought down before attempting to take down the Death Star.
Yet, the moment that packs the most gravity in all of the film’s climax might be Luke’s ultimate duel with Darth Vader in the Emperor’s throne room.
Determined not to turn to the Dark Side, Luke resists the Emperor’s taunts. He gets dangerously close to attacking the Emperor upon realizing the trap his friends have fallen into. That's when Vader challenges his son to a final duel. Luke fends off his father and rejects the Emperor’s orders to strike down Vader, believing there is still hope for his father to redeem himself.
Luke finally unleashes his anger and attacks his father after he threatens Leia. Yet, he ultimately refuses to end his life. This prompts the Emperor to furiously attack Luke with Force lightning. Upon seeing his son suffer at the hands of his dark master, Vader hurls the Emperor down the Death Star’s reactor shaft, proving his redemption to Luke.
3 Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan VS Darth Maul - The Phantom Menace
Aside from the Podrace scene, this is arguably the coolest sequence in The Phantom Menace. The lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul set the standard for the Prequel Trilogy’s duel sequences. At least in terms of choreography and movement across the fighting space. The scene is visibly more fast-paced and intricate than in the Original Trilogy, where duels were defined by a more tense and methodical type of swordplay. There is a stronger emphasis on action rather than atmosphere this time around. The duel epically moves from the hangar of the Naboo Royal Palace to the palace’s vast generator area.
The musical score adds to the vibrant imagery of energy conduits and the seemingly endless size of the fighting space.
The fight itself is marked by dynamic and highly precise combat that is somewhat reminiscent of a chess game; each opponent has a limited time and space to strike or block an attack. it only makes it better knowing that the guy who played Darth Maul is a choreographer who did his own stunts for this scene. Eventually, the duel moves on to the generator area’s isolated reactor shaft. Maul fatally wounds Qui-Gon, as Obi-Wan is separated from his master and unable to defend him. Obi-Wan then engages Maul in a one-on-one fight, and ultimately defeats his opponent. Despite the intense criticism many fans hold against The Phantom Menace, this scene has always earned high praise – and rightfully so.
2 Death Star Battle - Star Wars
At the climax of the first film in the saga, the Rebel Alliance finally learns what the Death Star’s weakness is. It has a very small thermal exhaust port, in which Rebel starfighters could propel their proton torpedoes to blow up the entire station.
A small yet determined fleet of X-wings and Y-wings set off from the planet towards the Death Star. What follows is an exhilarating dogfight that confirmed the franchise’s taste for spectacular space battles. It was executed with an ingenious mix of sound design, editing, special effects and great music.
The first part of the scene involves the Rebel starfighters facing down the Empire’s TIE fighters around the Death Star, with the station’s cannons also firing at the Rebels. The combination of the striking music, dynamic editing and superb special effects makes this scene an awe-inspiring treat to watch. Even more than 40 years after this movie was first released, this scene is still exhilirating.
Yet, the most epic part of the sequence has to be the trench run. As the tense camerawork and intricate editing add to the Rebels’ high stakes in blowing up the Death Star, Luke receives Obi-Wan’s spiritual guidance. With high-speed combat and exhilarating tension, (especially once Darth Vader shows up in his own TIE fighter), the climax of the first Star Wars film will never lose its timelessness.
1 Luke Skywalker VS Darth Vader - The Empire Strikes Back
"I am your father.” Perhaps no other plot twist in film history has shocked and confused audiences in such an epic and atmospheric way. The fight leading to Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke remains unmatched in terms of its ambiance and gravity.
Smoke permeates the fighting space. Bright red lights loom all above the carbon-freezing area. Shadowy catwalks are barely visible from the smoke in the background. Vader stands fearsomely before Luke, and the two soon engage in a highly stakes duel.
In the end, Luke is still not powerful enough to defeat Darth Vader. The villain startles Luke with Force-hurled debris and surprise attacks from the shadowy, smoke-filled corners of Cloud City’s lower sectors. Eventually, Luke gets his hand severed by Vader’s lightsaber, losing his own lightsaber in the process. He defiantly hangs onto a sensory platform out in the city’s central air shaft. As Vader tries to persuade him into joining the Empire, Luke hangs on for dear life and refuses him.
It is then that Vader reveals the unbelievable truth about Luke’s father. This sets the stage for the rest of the tragedy that has defined the Skywalker family. Science fiction, and cinema in general, has never been the same since then.