Few film franchises have had the cultural impact of George Lucas’ Star Wars. Its cinematic legacy spanning 42 years, 9 episodes and a range of spinoff films and TV shows. Its stories and characters embedding themselves into modern pop culture like no other saga in film history. While it’s new worlds and visual artistry furthered cinematic storytelling and imagination. Encouraging multiple generations to dream of a galaxy far, far away through film, toys, role play and video games. Ultimately creating a cinematic force like no other, changing the very fabric of technology, sound and the big screen experience. While creating moments of joy, imagination and excitement that live on forever in the minds of every person who has visited its worlds.
So as we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of what is undoubtably one of the finest science fiction films ever made: The Empire Strikes Back. Join us as we take a look back at the greatest moments of Star Wars on screen. From the opening crawl of A New Hope through to the Anakin and Obi Wan’s final conflict in Revenge of the Sith. These are the moments that created a legend, while ensuring Star Wars became a film saga like no other.
May the Force be with you – Neil Baker (Editor)
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Opening credits / enter Darth Vader
It could be argued that every film has 10 opening minutes to captivate its audience and glue them to the story to come. If this is indeed true, then Star Wars provided us with the finest film opening ever made. As the brand new Dolby Stereo sound mix belted out the new John Williams space anthem. While yellow lettering faded into the distance setting the scene for the space opera to come. However, Lucas was far from done as a titanic star destroyer engulfed the cinemascope screen, dwarfing the audience and the ship it was chasing. This was a new era in cinema, a new era in effects and a new era in film scores rolled into one epic opening.
But it’s possibly the entrance of one of cinemas best loved villains that tops this slice of pure wonder. His black cape and gleaming armour sweeping through the smoke, death and destruction. While James Earl Jones voice booms out from beneath the eerie ventilator sound of a half man, half robot powerhouse of strength.
A boy eager for adventure
As sand swirls around him, and teenage life comes second to the mundane work of keeping droids in good working order. Luke Skywalker embodied the frustrations of teenage life, the eagerness to escape and need for adventure. While equally reflecting the sense of isolation many young people who are adopted experience in their teenage years. Never quite knowing their place as they strive to find the history and heritage behind their own life.
The droid double act
Ever since the dawn of science fiction filmmaking, droids and robots had been used to instil fear in audiences. And even when protective of humans, such as in Lost in Space, they were stilted and mechanical in nature. Therefore the entrance of C3-PO and R2-D2 was truly revolutionary in droids on screen. With this backing pair single handily reinventing the image of the robot. As their ultra human personalities, and comedic relationship helped Star Wars rocket to success.
“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi”
After triggering a strange message held in R2D2’s memory from a girl dressed all in white. Luke and the droids go looking for the hermit Ben Kenobi. Encountering a group of violent Tuskan Raiders on route, with Ben saving them all. The scene that follows not only hits the start button on our young heroes galactic adventure. But also sets in place the story of the entire trilogy and Skywalker saga. Pricking the audiences interest while ensuring Star Wars could expand and develop.
The rogues cantina
There was one moment when Star Wars cemented in place in science fiction history. And surprisingly it was not in the opening credits or the droids bickering in the sand? It was in fact in a rough bar where the rogues of the galaxy came to trade and gamble. The sheer imagination of this scene showed that Star Wars was not just interested in space and battles. But also in new worlds, characters and cultures. This single moment stamping its belief in providing the audience with a sweeping intergalactic adventure. One that could take you from the cockpit of a fighter to the seedy bars of a distant world. And of course its here where we meet the ultimate anti hero and rouge Han Solo, and his Wookie sidekick Chewbacca. Both blazing a trail of dept, smuggling and adventure across the galaxy.
Alderaans final moments
Far more than just a big moon shaped toy for the Empire, this scene ensures we understand just how despotic the Empire is. As the controlling and ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin decides to destroy Leia’s home world while she watches. Meanwhile, Vader stands at the sidelines learning from Tarkin’s genocidal behaviour.
As our intrepid heroes finally assemble in the corridors of the Death Star, it is the magnetic, humorous and loving bond between each of them that shines through. The on screen relationship of Hamill, Fisher, Ford and Mayhew transcending the science fiction landscape that surrounds them. And when this is coupled with thunderous energy of John Williams score and the humour of C3PO and R2D2 Star Wars leaps from the screen and into the heart of the viewer.
The death of Obi Wan
I a scene of pure Shakespearean tragedy we witness Obi Wan give his life to ensure the young heroes escape. His job done in finally bringing them all together in fighting the Empire. This scene carries even more weight given the events of the prequels. An ending that is in many ways already foretold but carries with it a deeply important narrative arc of the old order being replaced by ‘A New Hope’.
Stay on target
There was no better way to end Star Wars than in the birth of a rebellion who just might stand a chance in defeating the Empire. A message of hope and belief in a better universe that tied to a generations belief in change. This was the galactic version of David vs Goliath, in a battle to destroy an object of death and destruction. And this final space battle still has the power to send a shiver down the spine over 40 years later.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Wampa’s and Obi Wan’s return
The start of The Empire Strikes Back broke every rule in the sequel handbook before single handedly re-writing it. Opening is story with action normally reserved for a films climatic end. While layering this with effects that not only built upon its predecessor, but surpassed anything ever seen on screen prior to 1980. But, as we build up to the battle for Hoth, one moment in particular holds huge relevance in the story to come. As a wounded Luke lay freezing in the snow after a run in with a hungry Hoth Wampa. Only to be visited by Obi-Wan, before being rescued by Han.
The Imperial march
As John Williams Imperial March thunders in the background, and we gain sight of the titanic super star destroyer. Irvin Kershner ratchets up the power and control the Empire wields. As Darth Vader fully takes the reins held by Grand Moff Tarkin in the first film. His iron grip dispensing with any officers who dares to fail him in a neck crunching embrace.
Battle for Hoth
AT-AT versus Snowspeeder in the best land battle of the entire Star Wars saga. So what more is there to say, other than buckle up for a spectacular ride.
“Would it help if I got out and pushed?”
As Han, Leia, Chewie and C3-PO make their escape from Hoth, Leia sums up her frustration in one single cutting remark. Meanwhile, an Asteroid field marks the gangs best hope of outrunning Imperial fighters in a stunning set piece of model work.
There had been a smouldering sexual tension between Leia and Han ever since her Death Star rescue. But it was The Empire Strikes Back that finally allowed this desire to take flight. In what is both a beautifully written and performed romantic rendezvous.
The introduction of Yoda was a huge risk for Empire Strikes Back, placing a key component of the story in the hands of a puppet. With Muppet veteran Frank Oz taking the helm in bringing the pint sized Jedi master to life. However, what may have started as a huge risk for Lucas and Kershner, ended up one of the films most memorable moments. As Luke impatiently learns, while also facing his darkest fears in the jungles of Dagobah.
There is another
Just as Luke hurriedly leaves his training due to his friends predicament on Cloud City, Yoda drops a quiet bombshell. Allowing a brief taster of what is to come, while expanding the Star Wars story with just three words ‘There is another”.
Everything seemed to be going so well when the gang first arrived on Cloud City. However, things quickly began to unravel, as C3-PO was found in pieces, and lunch was served. With one Lord Vader at the head of the table. Cementing the pain of Lando’s forced betrayal as the rebellion faced their darkest hour.
One of the greatest improvised lines in movie history beautifully reflects Han and Leia’s turbulent love affair. As they both take what could be one final and loving look at each other.
Luke vs Vader
We had waited for this moment, and it doesn’t disappoint, as our heroic young Jedi meets his match in the towering Lord Vader. This is less a duel and more a public humiliation of young Luke, ending in one of the greatest twists in cinematic history. A single line of dialogue that changed the Star Wars trilogy and left a 1980 audience in total shock.
A glimmer of hope
Let’s face it, The Empire Strikes Back is extremely dark. The optimism of A New Hope turned on its head in a film that thrives on disaster. However, despite this its ending is full of hope, providing a faint glimmer of what is to come, while leaving the audience both exhausted and desperate for the next chapter. And when coupled with John Williams sublime musical score, it is both epic, delicate and full of emotion.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
As the Star Wars trilogy begins its final epic instalment, we are taken back to where it all began on Tatooine. But this time Luke is no longer the farm boy we met in 1977, his long black cloak hiding some impressive Jedi skills. While his friends hatch an audacious plan to free Han Solo from a den of inequity, gambling and corruption that shines with originality, creativity and humour.
Not all rescues go fully to plan, and Han’s defrosting is undoubtedly one of these. With the team finding themselves on Jabba’s sail barge above the mighty Sarlacc Pit. And boy is that pit hungry!. Luckily R2-D2 has more than just drinks to serve as Luke walks the plank.
Since his first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda had gone on to become an iconic character. His figure one of the most desired and difficult to find in the Kenner range, his face plastered on posters and placemats. Therefore, nobody was full expecting his return in the final instalment to be so brief. But despite being brief it is also one of the most emotional and tender scenes in the Star Wars trilogy.
The Speeder Bike chase
In part one we praised the pure energy and speed of the pod race in Phantom Menace. But years before the prequels, the speeder bike chase set the ground work. With a high-octane slice of action that is beautifully staged. With both intricate model work, physical effects and green screen use in an era long before CGI.
Finally the truth behind the Skywalker journey is unveiled, allowing Han and Leia to come together and give birth to the sequels.
Okay let’s start with the elephant in the room; not all people like the Ewoks or believe they could or should have helped bring down the mighty Empire. Well to all those people we joyously give you the finger!. The Ewoks are in fact brilliant, and reflect a deep truth of rebellion. That all creatures no matter of size and strength have the power to bring down a tyranny. So Ewoks we salute you.
“It’s a trap”
Never underestimate the ability of the Empire to pull you into an unescapable trap. In the final battle to destroy the un-finished Death Star MKII the rebellion find themselves up against insurmountable odds. But never fear the Falcon is here.
Meet the Emperor
Hidden in the shadows since The Empire Strikes Back, the Emperor finally appears in all his evil glory. His deformed and wisened figure hiding the power of Darth Sidious, and the fate of both Anakin and Luke.
This is what the prequels and original trilogy led to: the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. By the time the epic duel on board the half completed new Death Star is complete. Darth Vader, is already injured. His own memories rendering him unable to complete the mission of converting his son to the dark side. But as Palpatine takes over in bringing Luke down, Vader finally makes a choice. Sacrificing himself in place of his son, and as Luke drags his body towards a shuttle, we finally see his mask lifted and Anakin re-appear from the armour of his imprisonment.