50 Greatest Star Wars Moments

15. “Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re My Only Hope.”

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

The Star Wars universe’s call to action is a simple message from a Princess and leader of the Rebel Alliance to one of the greatest Jedi to ever live: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” It’s the message to launch a thousand ships (both figuratively and literally in this case), with the entire plot and all of its deeply rooted meaning being launched into action.

Any call to action is bound to make a list of great moments in great films, but this one is so cleverly conceived. It introduces us to no fewer than five characters – Leia, R2D2, C3P0, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi – and causes us as an audience to ask many questions. Why is Obi-Wan her only hope? Why is she down to her last hope at all? Why did she trust these droids? And how is Luke going to be involved? It’s all terrifically brought to life by the visual effects, too, which introduce us to the enhanced technology of the Star Wars universe through her holographic appearance.

It is one of the most recognisable and often quoted lines in cinema history, delivered with aplomb by an actress about to reach legendary status. We all needed a nudge into caring about the Star Wars universe and its many moving parts, and this provided us with it. If not for this, we may never have had an entire Saga. (JW)

14. The Death Star’s Test Run

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Despite intimidation and torture at the hands of Darth Vader, Princess Leia valiantly resists all coercion; the location of the rebel base remains close to her chest. Seen by her fearlessness in the face of the terrifying Vader, it is evident that Leia is willing to be a martyr for her cause. Hence, it comes to the turn of the far more devious Grand Moff Tarkin, who willingly accepts massive collateral to get what he wants. The previously tight-lipped Leia is found blurting out the name of a random planet as she recognises the terrible threat the Death Star poses as it points in the direction of her home planet, Alderaan. Leia’s quick lie is transparent to the villainous Tarkin whose final punishment for the Princess is heralded by an eloquent “You may fire when ready.” The Death Star’s destruction of Alderaan creates a huge shock wave through the force, with Obi-Wan sensing the massive loss of life despite being light-years away.

The introduction of the Grand Moff Tarkin illuminates the terrifying truth that the evil Darth Vader is just the henchman, a snarling dog on a leash. The more that is learned about the Death Star, the more you realise how complex the machinations of evil are entrenched throughout the galaxy. The rebels’ fight is not about toppling one person but overturning the entire system. With the clipped, British-accented, nonchalant order that destroys Alderaan, it is obvious the cause of the Rebel Alliance in general is haplessly outgunned – hopeless.

In the decades since the release of the original Star Wars (1977), particularly in the years following the prequel trilogy, it has become fashionable amongst fans to tout the theory that the Empire was right. It is, however, always satisfying to remind such fans that the Empire put a considerable amount of effort into creating a space station with the sole purpose of destroying planets, which it would gladly use to kill millions of innocents. Grand Moff Tarkin’s wilful destruction of Alderaan is the ever-present reminder of the Empire’s ideological nature. (KD)

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13. Kylo Ren Kills Han Solo

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

As the new heroes of the resistance seek a way to destroy the planet-killing technology of the First Order from within, Han Solo confronts his son Ben Solo, now Sith Force user Kylo Ren. “Ben” he shouts into the cavernous battle station, pausing Ren in his tracks. Face-to-face, Han tells Kylo Ren that Ben Solo still exists, but Ren isn’t so sure. They exchange a few meaningful words, Ben/Ren admitting “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it”. He asks, “will you help me?” and then plunges his brutal and less-refined lightsaber through the chest of his father. “Thank you,” he says. Han places his palm on his son’s face and then plunges into the depths.

Just as Ren has been bathed in black and red the entire film, we see the red wash over his face as he unmasks for his father. There may be hope, but the evil is growing, the dark side is luring, and Kylo Ren is torn. In a Saga all about choice, this is the first major choice of the Sequel Trilogy; will Ren forgo his darkness to return to the light now that his father has returned? It’s a question that lingers over every word spoken and every note of the score. When Kylo Ren eventually turns, striking through the body of his own father, Rey, Finn and Chewbacca stand in for each of us as they cry. Poetically, Solo’s last service for his son is to receive him with love, placing a hand on Kylo Ren’s cheek before plunging to his death.

Han Solo is a character of monumental importance to Star Wars, and a particular fan favourite. His death was seen as monumental, though this moment was undoubtedly more about his son that it was about him (Han Solo’s loving farewell coming two films later in The Rise of Skywalker). This moment left us all with questions about whether Ren was capable of good, whether his father knew his fate in that moment, and whether Han’s death was fated to happen. It was a monumental story beat towards the end of a film that brought the special Star Wars feeling back, and it remains an unmissable part of the franchise to this day. (JW)

12. Darth Vader’s Debut

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

When the American Film Institute ranked their 50 best villains of all time, Star Wars’ Darth Vader came in at number 3, beaten only by Norman Bates of Psycho at 2, and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs at 1. Despite the nomination being for his appearance specifically in The Empire Strikes Back, Vader as a cultural figure is impossible to underestimate, and his entrance in the first film, A New Hope, set that up right from the get-go.

The music swells. In a pristine white corridor, surrounded by white stormtroopers, enters Darth Vader from the smoke of fighting, at this moment nameless. He’s all in black. He towers above everyone else. He looks around, surveys the damage on the battlefield, considers, and walks on. Nothing is said, but everything is said at the same time. All he does is give that muffled, mechanical breathing. He is human, but distorted. A shadow of a man. A literal embodiment of fear and all that is inhuman. There are no prizes for guessing who our bad guy is for this film, and what an entrance he makes.

Everything is told in just a few simple shots. From his striking appearance to the contrast of white on black and the way David Prowse embodies him physically, every filmmaking element works to set him up as the ultimate menace. All these years later, even knowing that Emperor Palpatine is really behind everything, working the strings, it is Darth Vader that is known. Anyone who knows nothing about Star Wars knows who Darth Vader is. Without this entrance, a moment which still manages to terrify to this day, he might not have climbed to the height of cultural significance that he has. (KJ)

11. Duel of the Fates

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Padmé Amidala and the forces of the Republic are confronted by Darth Maul, causing jedi Qui-Gon Jin and protégé Obi-Wan Kenobi to step in. The three force users remove their cloaks and prepare for battle as blaster bolts are fired between forces of good and evil. Maul removes his lightsaber, activates it and, with the score rising to a new height, activates the other side. It’s a double-sided lightsaber, the first we’ve seen of its kind. The battle commences, Maul a seemingly incomparable physical presence, his athleticism and poise second to none. They fight through doors and across platforms, eventually being separated by alternating energy fields. Maul prowls from side to side as Qui-Gon Jin calmly kneels, illustrating their differences in technique and beliefs, the fight resuming to a fatal end.

This scene is one of many great Star Wars scenes that combines ideas with script and all the filmmaking elements that come together to make those ideas and words mean something altogether more powerful on the screen. First, it’s the double-sided lightsaber. The shock of Maul wielding such a concoction seems to instantly elevate his threat and the entire final act, while the visual presentation of Maul is monstrous in a way we hadn’t seen in the Original Trilogy. These things, coupled with actor Ray Park’s unique physical performance and the all-important John Williams score, make sure we know just how monumentally important this character is, this battle is, and thus how important it may become in the grander scheme of Anakin’s life.

Darth Maul was just a small footnote in the Skywalker Saga, but his presence is defined by this one piece of filmmaking mastery. It is one of the most epic moments in 1990s cinema, and certainly one of the most impactful moments from the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy; a monumental achievement in all filmmaking elements. (JW)

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