I love Star Wars (1977).
My recent re-watch might have cemented it as my favorite in the series.
It possesses a combination of depth and simplicity that allows for engagement with the material and leads nicely into the Extended Universe, plus there’s no denying it as a technical masterpiece that has inspired filmmakers worldwide. The characters, story, and certain lines of dialogue are landmarks in media. But you already know all of this, and that’s why you’re here; if you’re reading this you probably already know and love Star Wars.
Here are the most profound scenes in perhaps the most profound film in modern cinematic history.
Honorable Mention: The Destruction of Alderaan
Grand Moff Tarkin’s apparent role in the Galactic Empire became warped with time – while he seems to be in charge of Vader in Star Wars, subsequent films portray Vader as the number two guy in the Empire. Nonetheless, Tarkin’s stern manner and penchant for brutality make him a fantastic villain in the original film.
His best scene comes when the Death Star destroys Alderaan.
Vader brings a bound Princess Leia to Tarkin, and after a fun exchange of antagonistic banter Tarkin invites Leia to watch the first test of the Death Star’s full potential. He says they’ll destroy Alderaan, unless there’s another target she’d prefer… perhaps the location of the Rebel base? Despite Leia giving a (false) answer, Tarkin proceeds with the operation. Alderaan is destroyed and now no star system would dare oppose the Empire, lest they meet the same fate.
This planet destroyer of imperceivable power is now on its way to destroy the Rebel base. While we’ve already seen Vader take Leia, and Stormtroopers kill Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, those pale in comparison to Alderaan’s grim fate. Suddenly the vastness of the Empire’s reach is recognised, the threat to our heroes pressed upon us. This scene’s impact on the story, characters and universe is almost incomparable, and is certainly worthy of a mention among the film’s most profound moments.
5. Mos Eisley Spaceport
This scene is profound for two reasons: it’s Luke’s first introduction to the power of the Force, and since 1997 has held the extradiegetic signs that even the people that liked Return of the Jedi were going to be disappointed with the prequels.
Luke, Ben and the droids descend into the wretched hive of scum and villainy only to encounter the very Empire they’re trying to avoid. Though Luke capably lies about the droids, he is still nervous as he goes to produce his identification. Old Ben will be having none of that, though. He waves his hand and tells the Stormtrooper they don’t need ID, that these aren’t the droids they’re looking for. Obi-Wan goes on to explain that the Force has a strong influence on the weak-minded.
The Jedi Mind Trick would be featured in later films. Luke uses it in Jedi to make Bib Fortuna bring him before Jabba, Qui-Gon tries it twice in The Phantom Menace (where we learn Toydarians are immune to the power), and Obi-Wan uses it to make a death stick dealer go home and rethink his life in Attack of the Clones.
While our exposure to the Force and its effect on later films is a plus, there’s still the huge downside of the CGI creatures inserted into the scene in the series’ remasterings. When technology caught up to Lucas’ original darkest desires, he added CGI wide shots, comical droids, dewbacks, rontos and scurriers to the scene. It’s all incredibly distracting (a ronto walks right through the frame as Luke’s speeder approaches the Stormtroopers) and looks terrible because the CGI is so dated. It doesn’t make the film more cohesive with the prequels either; TPM Tatooine scenes take place in Mos Espa, not Mos Eisley, so there’s no reason the two can’t look different. Fans who were unfortunate enough to watch the Special Edition in theaters got a chance to peer into the abyss before the dark times, before the prequels.
4. Han Shot First
I was pretty lucky to have the last non-Special Edition VHS release of the Original Trilogy. One day, I ran across the “Han shot first” meme on the internet, and I was confused because I’d only ever seen Han shoot. If you’re unfamiliar, Han is heading to the Falcon when he’s confronted at gunpoint by the bounty hunter, Greedo. It’s clear that these characters have a history from the dialogue, and it gives us a chance to learn more about Han’s background. Han had dropped a load he was smuggling because of the appearance of an Imperial cruiser (it’s unclear if his ship was boarded, or only could have been), and now Han owes Jabba a lot of money for the lost cargo. He says he has the money (he doesn’t), but Greedo doesn’t care – Jabba has put a huge price on Han’s head and Greedo is more than happy to collect the bounty. As they go back and forth, Han reaches for his blaster and shoots Greedo under the table. In the Special Edition, Greedo shoots before Han does, but he misses and Han still kills him. It was later altered further to have them shoot at roughly the same time, though Greedo still fires first.
When I first learned about this I didn’t really care, but upon further reflection I agree with the naysayers that think this is an egregious change. The original scene further establishes Han’s character before his change, and it highlights the lengths to which he practices self-preservation. Han is ruthless when he has to be, doesn’t hesitate, and his cool, collected execution puts him on par with The Man With No Name for the award of best on-screen anti-hero. While Han still shoots and kills in the altered scene, it seems like reflexive retaliation rather than a first resort. Han isn’t just a thief with a heart of gold, he’s a capable, cold-blooded killer, and taking that away from the character fundamentally changes the real impact of his reform. On top of all this, the draft scripts available to us prove that Greedo didn’t shoot at all. Han shot first, and any revision to that fact is apocryphal, Doylism be damned.
This important moment, and one of the most character-driven in the whole movie, wouldn’t be so hotly disputed all these years later were it not for how profound of an impact the scene (and its subsequent changes) have had on people’s assumptions about one of the greatest film characters of all time.