50 Greatest Star Wars Moments

45. Introducing Lando Calrissian

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

There are many great characters in the Star Wars film franchise, but few are as cool as Lando Calrissian. As Han Solo and Princess Leia go on the run from the empire, Solo and Chewbacca must visit “old friend” Lando Calrissian at his Cloud City as a refuge. After a few anxious moments of anticipation, the group of rebels are met with open arms by this charismatic key figure. An icon is born.

A lot of Star Wars is foreboding, and this character introduction is perhaps the best example. The anxieties of Han Solo and Chewbacca are seemingly confirmed when they’re met by the coldness of Lando’s initial approach. But then Calrissian turns on the charm. His friendliness passes from Han to Leia, reverting his nice façade into threat once more, albeit a romantic one. This scene is almost the perfect mirror of Lando’s arc in The Empire Strikes Back – embracing old friends, betraying them, attempting to help them – and acts as an unmissable introductory scene that Billy Dee Williams delivers with all the charisma the character is now known for.

It is credit to both Williams’ performance and the scripted buildup to his debut that this relatively small side character has managed to survive so many decades as a fan favourite. To stand out in the midst of arguably the most iconic film of all time, filled with moments that defined the franchise, cinema as a whole, and even contemporary western culture, is a credit to every element of the filmmaking. Star Wars flourishes on the back of rich world building, and Lando Calrissian may be the best example of a character introduced mid-way through any of the trilogies. (JW)

44. “I Am the Senate!”

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Finally revealed as the Sith Lord who has been manipulating events within the Galactic Republic for over a decade, Chancellor Palpatine is confronted in his office by a team of Jedi led by Mace Windu intending to arrest him. Sneeringly dismissing the idea that he will be found guilty by a justice system he controls (“I am the Senate!”), Palpatine produces a lightsaber from his sleeve and spins into battle, effortlessly dispatching all Jedi but Mace Windu.

It took five films, but we finally got to see Palpatine/Sidious use a lightsaber – we waited even longer than we did before seeing Yoda fight. As an audience who knows Palpatine and his tricks, we’re expecting a more subtle manipulation of the situation, or him resorting to Force lightning like he had previously. But here, the mask has irreversibly slipped and there is no retreating back to the shadows for this dark lord, with ultimate governmental control in his grasp or not, and so he must resort to demonstrating how deadly he can be in close quarters.

To be kind, McDiarmid didn’t take to the action particularly convincingly, but a combination of stunt doubles, effects to enhance what was in-camera, and the Scottish actor’s deliciously maniacal expressions and line-readings convince you that the soon-to-be-Emperor can hold his own against even the powerful Mace Windu. (SSP)

43. “These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For.”

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

As Luke Skywalker and old Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi approach the town of Mos Eisley, they are intercepted by stormtroopers on the search for droids C3P0 and R2D2. As Luke panics, Obi-Wan simply waves his hand and tells the stormtroopers “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” The stormtroopers repeat his lines and consequently our heroes are allowed safe travel to the Mos Eisley Cantina and beyond.

This is the moment in the original Star Wars movie that first introduces us to the mind-controlling powers of the force. Whilst Darth Vader has been seen using the force for ill-will and physical torture before this point, we haven’t seen what kind of psychological manipulation the force is capable of. With a simple wave of a hand, Obi-Wan demonstrates this, and in doing so he becomes all the more powerful in our minds.

It has become such a cultural phenomenon of a scene that it is now known as a meme even by those who might never have seen Star Wars, but don’t let its comic use detract from its importance. This is a moment of distinct simplicity, played with barely any motion, that acts simply to illustrate the mythology that underpins the entire Star Wars fictional universe. It’s simple but effective filmmaking that helps to engross all of us during our first journey into a galaxy far, far away. (JW)

Recommended for you: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

42. General Grievous vs Obi-Wan Kenobi

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

As Obi-Wan Kenobi searches the far reaches of the universe for further information about an apparent plot to overthrow jedi rule and plunge the universe into a dictatorship, he finds the biggest piece of the puzzle in General Grievous. Grievous is a ruthless jedi-hunting cyborg who wields four lightsabers. As he and Obi-Wan come into battle, the aging cyborg’s human qualities (his hunched posture and repetitive cough) contrast his machine speed and deadly accuracy, making him a formidable foe for our talented and experienced hero.

“Hello there!”

The action is somewhat difficult to follow here – likely a result of green screen flips and sword-wielding having to be cut alongside CGI landscapes and enemies – but the general premise is such an enticing one that it hardly matters. Obi-Wan is a Jedi we’ve seen flourish under terrible circumstances, a man we’ve seen mature from young protégé to teacher and guardian. As his student Anakin Skywalker is met with bigger and bigger moral and psychological challenges, Obi-Wan is met with growing physical challenges, and after ousting Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, it is therefore only natural that he ought to face a foe with four lightsabers as opposed to a foe with one two-sided one.

Grievous is not a Jedi or a Sith, and Obi-Wan uses this to his advantage here, Force-pushing the cyborg to rid his opponent of his weapons and gain the upper hand. It is a useful tool for outlining how lightsabers are most powerful in the hands of Force users, and that without the Force they are simply swords. This moment also outlines the growing intellect of our would-be Jedi master, and it contrasts the fight against the mostly robotic Darth Vader in the next film in the central timeline, The Empire Strikes Back. (JW)

41. Anakin Skywalker Wins the Pod Race

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

9-year-old Anakin Skywalker is tasked with winning Tatooine’s famous pod race to earn his freedom from slave master Watto. The deadly race, comparable in violence and underhanded tactics to any chase in Mad Max, presents Anakin fighting through sniper rifle fire, alien interference, and his own pod’s lack of equipment and power to become the youngest ever winner of the race and earn his freedom.

Such a large portion of The Phantom Menace is dedicated to this Formula One-adjacent race scene (complete with F1 car noises) that it can be overlooked for its importance to the plot and its overall cultural impact at the time of release. Anakin’s skill in a pod helps to explain both Darth Vader’s otherworldly navigation of space craft in the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), but also explains Luke Skywalker’s natural inclination for the same thing. It also, vitally, suggests the force powers within, and positions the would-be supervillain as a simple child we want to root for against bigger, meaner enemies (at least for the time being).

Culturally, the pod race took on a life of its own in the form of crossover media, ‘Star Wars: Pod Racer‘ for the Nintendo 64 becoming a cultural phenomenon that has since been re-released on the Nintendo Switch, and the wider universe of Star Wars was expanded naturally by the creatures, the technology, and the vehicles present throughout this important franchise moment. (JW)

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