With the imminent arrival of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the film series’ main narrative will come to a close. But the story will live on not just in the inevitable spinoff material, but in the memories of audiences affected by the films’ fantastical adventures, visuals, key lines, and ideas. Some of these moments are deeply ingrained in the culture, reshaping the very language, while others earned their power from infamy (oh, hey there, Jar-Jar) or, like Willrow Hood’s escape from Cloud City, needed time and the Internet to acquire their status. But which moments rank supreme? We’ve considered the eight Skywalker Saga films thus far and the two Star Wars Story films for a comprehensive look at the moments we expect to stand the test of time and end up as the best of Star Wars for decades to come.
38. Yoda vs. Count Dooku – Attack of the Clones
While co-opted for an unfortunate “Yo da man!” ad campaign for Attack of the Clones’ home video release, this fight was a genuinely unexpected thing when the film premiered, and an inkling of what might be possible for Yoda (Frank Oz) in Episode III. He takes on a Sith apprentice nearly three times his size by transforming into a lightsaber-wielding whirling dervish. It’s a strange scene, but also a demonstration of the Jedi master’s power in his prime.
37. The Destruction of Jedha City – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This is a moment built on the quality of the filmmaking. The composition of shots, editing, and music tell the tale of the Death Star’s test-fire in a way far more sophisticated and affecting than one might guess from the previous scenes in the film. Even simple ideas like depicting the space station “upside down” gives it a unique and oddly contemplative mood just before the weapon fires and utterly annihilates the city below. The feeling quickly switches to dread as the film’s heroes race to escape the wave of destruction.
36. Rey Flies The Falcon Off Jakku – The Force Awakens
If The Force Awakens is a film about fans taking control of the Star Wars toy chest, then this scene is a visual representation of that transition of authority. Finding the Millennium Falcon in a junkyard, flying it through the carcass of a Star Destroyer, and defending it from TIE Fighters all feels like a fantasy a fan would’ve had in 1983 immediately upon exiting Return of the Jedi. It’s the kind of fan-film energy we can definitely appreciate.
35. The Train Heist – Solo: A Star Wars Story
Unique in the live-action Star Wars canon, the train heist from Solo: A Star Wars Story should be its opening moments. From the notion of the gravity-defying fuel transports to Beckett’s (Woody Harrelson) plan, to all the ways it goes wrong, it feels like a proper introduction to these characters (even Thandie Newton’s doomed Val). It also feels like such a natural part of Star Wars that we wonder how it went so long without a high-speed heist scene like this.
34. “That’s Not How The Force Works!” – The Force Awakens
Han’s (Harrison Ford) indignant response to Finn’s (John Boyega) wishful thinking is a refrain nearly every Star Wars fan has heard during some heated late-night discussion. While funny, it also reveals just how far Han himself has come since dismissing the way of the Jedi as a “hokey religion.” It’s a fact of life for him, but it’s not as magical to him as some would like to believe. His viewpoint has that lived-in quality the films always strive to find.
33. Poe Takes On The First Order Fleet – The Last Jedi
Some may find Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) radio chatter with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) a little too modern, but his actual assault on the First Order fleet is the sort of space warfare computer effects were created to deliver. There are good explosions, a spirited defense of the planet below, and even some emotion, thanks to Paige Tico’s (Veronica Ngo) sacrifice. Sure, the whole thing is a tragic waste of the Resistance’s limited resources in the end, but it’s a great way to open a Star Wars film.
32. “Lapti Nek” (The Original Song In Jabba’s Palace) – Return of the Jedi
Star Wars has yet to pull off a truly successful musical sequence — unless you count The Star Wars Holiday Special‘s “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye” — but “Lapti Nek” from the 1983 version of Return of the Jedi comes pretty close. Performed on screen by the surprisingly cuddly but mostly immobile Max Rebo Band, its hilarious 1980s vibe (“Lapti Nek” means “Work It Out” in Huttese) has aged better than the replacement “Jedi Rocks” from the 1997 Special Edition. The music and the muppet-ness of the original band give a certain authenticity even as it remains one of the cheesiest things in the Original Trilogy.
31. Tarkin Takes Credit for Krennic’s Work – Rogue One
Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is a wonderful view into the way the Empire truly operated. Dogged and relentless, he proves the Death Star’s main weapon will work after years of delays only to see Grand Moff Tarkin (a CGI Peter Cushing) assume command and take the credit. His composure melts as he screams about “my work” to an unimpressed gaggle of moffs and generals. It might be Mendelson’s talent for playing officious middle managers, but Krennic became one of our favorite Imps in this moment.
30. Bail Organa Gets Involved – Revenge of the Sith
From his appearance in Attack of the Clones, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smitts) is a nameless anomaly in a film comprised of awkward introductions. But he makes his mark in RotS by investigating a fire at the Jedi Temple. In doing so, he becomes a leading figure in the Rebellion and the adoptive father of one of its most important heroes. His actions prove to be quietly heroic, but have far reaching effects.
29. Leia Strangles Jabba the Hutt – Return of the Jedi
Among the chaos Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sowed to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt, he left dealing with the gangster to the capable hands of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). In using the very chain Jabba employed to make her his pet, she made a statement at least one member of Jabba’s retinue understood before the end. Never shy to make statements, it is one of Leia’s most impressive and direct scenes of action in the Original Trilogy.
28. Han Fails To Fool The Empire – Star Wars
Though known for his swagger, Han’s dopiness keeps him from being an insufferable character. And this may be the greatest example of his dopiness getting the best of him. Thanks to his time in the Imperial Army, he should know the proper procedure to keep the Imps at bay during the jailbreak, but the ruse collapses thanks to a hasty “how are you?” It’s funny, character-revealing, and a great way to ratchet up the tension.
27. Leia Senses Luke Is In Trouble – The Empire Strikes Back
While it is clear Lucas decided to make them siblings after Empire was released, it is almost impossible to read this late moment in the film as anything but foreshadowing of Luke and Leia’s true relationship. If you can see it another way, it reveals Leia as someone who may not be Force-sensitive, but attuned enough to receive Luke’s telepathic call. Or, as it now text, she is also strong in the Force, but untrained. In any of these readings, it is a powerful moment for Leia with a nice slice of comedy at the end thanks to Lando Calrissian’s (Billy Dee Williams) reaction to her orders.
26. Palpatine vs Yoda – Revenge of the Sith
The better of the Prequel Trilogy’s two Yoda battles, this one derives its power from actor Ian McDiarmid going full cackling Republic serial villain. He has the high ground and relishes it with each laugh and each Force-push of a delegate conveyance. The symbolism of Palpatine smashing the Senate might be a little too on the nose, but he’s not worried about subtlety here. He’s won, which also makes Yoda’s retreat surprisingly poignant and their fight all the more important.
25. “We Would Be Honored If You Would Join Us.” – The Empire Strikes Back
In a film stuffed with reversals, Darth Vader’s (voiced by James Earl Jones) dinner date with Leia, Han, and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is one of the best. Lando’s duplicity is revealed. Boba Fett proves Han cannot escape his grasp. And in their only direct confrontation, Han learns he’s definitely no match for a Sith Lord. It’s quick, it’s punctuated by blaster fire and Chewie’s growls, and it’s just a great scene.
24. R2-D2 Reactivates The Hyperdrive – The Empire Strikes Back
Throughout most of the saga, astromech droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) has had plenty of chances to save his humanoid friends. Without him, the Naboo delegation would never have made it to Tatooine. But this may be his most heroic action because of the stakes involved and C-3PO’s (Anthony Daniels) nagging about his leg. Without R2 reconnecting one cable, the history of the galaxy might be very different.
23. Luke Finds Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s Remains – Star Wars
The most gruesome scene in Star Wars overall is also one of its most pivotal. According to the principles of screenwriting, Luke has refused the call to action. He needs a powerful motivator to accept the call and go on his adventure. In this case, it is the sight of his uncle and aunt’s charred remains among the blasted ruins of their homestead. It is a shocking moment worthy of its unsettling imagery. Short of a bloody arm a few minutes later, Star Wars films would never do something this graphic again.
22. Rey Pulls The Lightsaber Through The Air – The Force Awakens
In a film filled with fan wish-fulfillment, this may be most fans’ fondest – to reach out with the Force, pull a lightsaber through the air, activate it, and hold their own against a Sith Lord. Yes, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) may not be a true Sith – and Rey (Daisy Ridley) is no Jedi here – but that’s beside the point. This is a moment every Star Wars fan has played out in their backyard, schoolyard, or imagination, and it suddenly lives inside a Star Wars movie.
21. Boba Fett’s Entrance – The Empire Strikes Back
“No disintegrations.” With this directive from Vader, bounty hunter Boba Fett became Star Wars’s greatest man of mystery. Surrounded by intriguing bounty hunters like IG-88, Bossk, and Zuckuss, Fett stood out – and not just because he was an early release Empire action figure. His response, “As you wish,” suggests disintegrations have been a problem in the past, or something Vader specifically hired Fett to do previously. Either way, it gave Fett a mystique so powerful, it rivals Vader’s.
20. Vader Promotes Piett To Admiral – The Empire Strikes Back
Many fan theories online suggest Admiral Ozzel (Michael Sheard) was revealed as an Alliance spy as a way to explain his gross negligence in the search for Luke. But whether an enemy saboteur or a grossly incompetent Imp who peter-principled his way to the admiralty, his death is both hilarious and disturbing thanks to the reaction of his junior officer, Captain Piett (Kenneth Colley), who Vader immediately elevates to command the fleet. We like to imagine Piett spent his entire career waiting for his superiors to anger Vader so he could accept these quick promotions. Call it the Piett Principle.
19. Vader Attempts To Board The Tantive IV – Rogue One
Vader as Jason Voorhies. A late addition to the film during its infamous reshoots, Vader’s attempt to secure the Death Star plans from the Rebels as they raced to the blockade runner Tantive IV is the best example of what the Sith Lord looked like to rank-and-file members of the Alliance. He’s a horror movie slasher with a laser sword and magic powers. But most importantly, he’s unstoppable. Consequently, it is one of the most effective scenes in the film despite the lack of the entire main cast.
18. Obi-Wan’s Debut – Star Wars
First, he convinces the Tusken Raiders that a Krayt Dragon is nearby. Then he attends to the unconscious Luke. When R2-D2 comes out of the shadows to investigate, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) removes his hood and offers a warm, bemused “Well, hello there.” With each expansion of the character’s past, this moment – and the following scene with Luke – takes on more meaning, but these three words offer so much of the character: his wisdom, his playfulness, and the prototype image of a Jedi we use to this day.
17. Vader Force-Chokes General Motti – Star Wars
While Obi-Wan made the Force sound amazing a few scenes earlier, Vader gave it its visceral power with this moment. As Lucas would later claim, this is Vader’s lowest point. He is below Tarkin in the Imperial power structure and faces a gaggle of disbelieving generals like Motti (Richard LeParmentier), who mocks the Sith Lord’s “sad devotion” to the Force with every muscle in his face. Vader chokes him from afar and the soundtrack offers a haunting rumble. And in that moment, every kid wanted to wield the power of the Force.
16. Lando’s Introduction – The Empire Strikes Back
Feigning anger at the arrival of the Millennium Falcon in Cloud City proves a key thing about Lando Calrissian: he is a shrewd sabacc player. It makes Han feel at home and sets up Lando’s later betrayal when Vader reveals himself to the rebels. But it also reveals Lando’s playful side. More than any other character in the Original Trilogy, he wants to have fun. Even if he has to sell out a friend, he will find a way enjoy it. Well, at least until the deal is altered.
15. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul – The Phantom Menace
As the first glimpse of Jedi and Sith in a live-action duel, this was one of The Phantom Menace’s defining sequences. Maul (Ray Park) meets his match in Ewan McGregor’s Padawan, who uses his anger to counter the Sith Lord. But Maul is ultimately unprepared for Obi-Wan’s awareness of the environment around him – the “Living Force” Qui-Gonn wanted him to be mindful of at the start of the film. Between the great choreography and the story point, it proves to be one of the best fights in the whole series.
14. Luke Brushes Dust Off His Robe – The Last Jedi
For all the might the Force gives a Jedi, there was always the suspicion a true master could defeat his enemy with just a few gestures. This is that moment for Master Jedi Luke Skywalker. The boy who sought swashbuckling adventure was always destined for the sort of composure and interior strength required for this sickest of burns. It puts his opponent off his footing and allows the Resistance to escape – the real victory to be found in this confrontation.
13. “Judge Me By My Size, Will You?” – The Empire Strikes Back
Yoda’s view of the Force was proof there was more to it than lifting rocks. But it would take this dramatic moment, in which the Jedi Master raises Luke’s X-Wing from the muck, to prove the energy field binding the universe defies all underlying perceptions about reality. A hyperdrive-capable snub fighter is no heavier than a pebble to one truly allied with the Force. That this lesson is offered by one of Star Wars’s smallest characters gives this line of thinking its exclamation point.
12. “This Is How Liberty Dies … To Thunderous Applause” – Revenge of the Sith
Palpatine’s first public appearance as Emperor is filled with strange moments. He looks like bleached hamburger. He calls out the Jedi as would-be usurpers. He announces the Republic will be “reorganized” into the First Galactic Empire in lieu of a complete change in the government. And he promises a more “secure society.” Despite the odd framing and phrasing, it is a genuinely chilling moment punctuated by Padme’s comment: a warning of just how easily republics can fall.
11. “It’s Time to Let Old Things Die” – The Last Jedi
While Kylo’s speech to Rey could still be a dodge about her true parentage, his repudiation of the Jedi and the Sith in that moment speaks to anyone who sees the absolutism of those philosophies as the root of the galaxy’s problems. Sure, the Jedi are generally in the right, but they did nothing to alleviate slavery in the Outer Rim. And that surely contributed to Anakin Skywalker’s (Hayden Christensen) fall as much as any of his own actions. Outside of the film, it is also a call to the future of Star Wars – provided they stick the landing with The Rise of Skywalker.
10. Luke And the Emperor’s Verbal Sparring Session – Return of the Jedi
Luke’s “Your overconfidence is your weakness,” immediately followed by Palpatine’s “Your faith in your friends is yours” may not only be the best exchange in Episode VI, it may also be the key to understanding the difference between the Sith and, well, everyone else. Evil in the Star Wars galaxy is about being uniform even though it proves to be the very reason the Sith and the Empire fall. A sense of fellowship, meanwhile, allows the Alliance to thrive. Luke and Emperor become the embodiment of these philosophies and it is ultimately Anakin who must choose between them.
9. Leia Saves Their Skins – Star Wars
Presuming her to be a damsel in distress, Luke quickly learns Leia just needs a blaster and a window of opportunity to save herself. Oh, and she helps out these dopes who barged into the Death Star detention block. And much to Han’s dismay, she takes immediate control of a situation he thought was his. It may have led to the garbage smasher, but it was still a successful strategy. Also, her quick wit and quick thinking prove why she will always be our princess.
8. The Alliance Attacks Scarif – Rogue One
The concluding fight above Scarif is, without a doubt, the best space-fight realized in a live-action Star Wars project thus far. Taking all of the techniques learned since 1977, it brings us back to that general look, but ups the ante with colliding Star Destroyers, callbacks to both Red and Gold Leaders, and a cameo by key Star Wars Rebels spaceship the Ghost. All the while, terrific photography and editing give it an exceptional verisimilitude. In many ways, it is the battle kids who grew up with Star Wars have been dreaming about since the 1980s.
7. Palpatine Tempts Anakin In the Opera Hall – Revenge of the Sith
The most accomplished scene in the film centers on Sheev Palpatine tempting Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) with the power to save Padme (Natalie Portman) and teasing the audience with the answer to Anakin’s parentage. Told as a parable on the dangers of Sith power, McDiarmid is at his subtlest – even if Sheev is a cartoon villain – as he relishes a well-written speech. It is also here that we finally see the seductive allure of the Dark Side Yoda eventually warned Luke about.
6. The Trench Run – Star Wars
A triumph of model work, editing, score, and scripting, the original Star Wars trench run is the battle scene from which nearly all other Star Wars space fights derive. Itself inspired by battles in World War II movies (and footage from the conflict itself), the sequence also proved Luke was a more accomplished pilot than his father. Although, viewers just wouldn’t know it for twenty years.
5. “You were my brother, Anakin! I Loved You.” – Revenge of the Sith
While the long-awaited duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan fails to be one of the great fights, its immediate aftermath may be the most emotionally resonant moment in the whole Prequel Trilogy. Obi-Wan watches, heartbroken, as Anakin succumbs completely to the Dark Side. Slding toward a lava flow, the tortured Anakin shouts “I hate you!” And just before the heat sets Anakin aflame, Obi-Wan reminds him of their bond. In a literal sea of CGI lava, it is the most human moment to be found in the first three episodes.
4. “I Know.” – The Empire Strikes Back
Harrison Ford’s well known skepticism of Star Wars dialogue gave rise to Han’s best moment of swagger. Facing the carbonite freezer, he breaks away for one last kiss with Leia. She finally admits her love to him and instead of telling her to remember that (as scripted), Ford uttered the swagger-filled “I know” during one take. It impressed director Irvin Kershner and cemented Han’s cool factor for generations. It also gets a worthy callback when Leia says it to Han in the next film.
3. The First Jump To Light Speed – Star Wars
As an early critic of the film noted, Star Wars brought speed to science fiction. Previously, spaceships lumbered slowly across the screen, but here they darted at impossible speeds. Thankfully, the Industrial Light & Magic geniuses were able to visualize this sense of velocity with one of the greatest visual effects in all of cinema; it propels the viewer as much as it takes the Falcon to hyperspace and became the only way for the rest of us to imagine lightspeed.
2. The Mos Eisley Cantina – Star Wars
For as much as Star Wars is about the Hero’s Journey and the creation of a modern mythology, it is also about exotic creatures. Before Lucas realized he could sell that imagery to kids in the form of action figures, he and the talents at ILM worked long and hard to sell this first major reveal of aliens from a thousand worlds. Backed by composer John Williams’ now-classic “Cantina Band” song, it offered viewers their first glimpse into a larger world.
1. “No, I am your father.” – The Empire Strikes Back
Not just the best Star Wars moment overall, but one of the great twists in all of cinema. The entire Skywalker saga revolves around this moment in which Vader tells Luke the truth about his paternity. And Luke responds in the exact way we would: an ugly cry. In terms of classical screenwriting, it is the protagonist confronting his lowest point. But the emotion involved – including the sense of betrayal involved – speaks to people at a genetic level. It is the single greatest Star Wars moment for a reason and we doubt it will ever be topped.