It’s hard to believe that the Star Wars saga turns 40 later this month. Harder still to believe that this is only the fourth year Star Wars was officially celebrated on May the Fourth. (Yeah, we too were heartily sick of the pun three years ago.)
So while the attention of the entire internet is on the beloved franchise, let us take a moment to come together and remember the true meaning of Star Wars. It isn’t about ads or marketing or bad jokes on morning TV.
No, the true meaning of Star Wars is fighting like crazed battle droids over which of the movies are better than the others.
This year I offer a controversial spin on that endless argument. I’ve picked 11 scenes that aren’t necessarily the best or have the most jaw-dropping special effects. Some are unremarkable on the surface. But I argue that these are the most important scenes in the saga.
Without these moments, the story we know and love simply wouldn’t exist. And we’re sorry, prequel haters, but that includes scenes from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and one of the galaxy’s most important characters, Jar Jar Binks.
Here are the scenes in episode order. You may disagree with the list, and I will be glad to meet you in the lightsaber arena of your choosing.
1. Artoo comes through (The Phantom Menace)
R2-D2 is the luckiest, most important droid in the universe. Seriously: George Lucas once revealed that the entire Star Wars saga is actually being told by Artoo, who is dictating it to the keeper of the Journal of the Whills a century after the events have taken place.
That would explain why the astromech is forever saving the day and appears in every single film. Nowhere in the saga does he put a tripod foot wrong. And Artoo’s luck holds right from his very first appearance, in this scene from Episode I where he saves Queen Padme Amidala’s ship.
Had Artoo suffered the fate of those two other droids, had he not been noticed by Padme, none of those later day-savings would have happened.
Then again, perhaps his absence would have killed young Anakin Skywalker and prevented the Empire from rising in the first place.
2. Jar Jar makes a huge mistake (Attack of the Clones)
What’s that you say? Jar Jar Binks ruined the galaxy far, far away? You’re right literally. Without this one butterfingered Gungan, the Republic would not have fallen.
Here he is in Episode II as a dumbass stand-in Senator proposing the powers that allowed Palpatine to become a tyrant.
The entire U.S. Congress should be forced to watch this scene, both as a warning and as a punishment.
3. The death of Mace Windu … or is it? (Revenge of the Sith).
This was the closest that Sith Lord Palpatine ever came to defeat in his grand scheme to destroy the Republic. Jedi Master Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson) had him over a barrel well, over a lightsaber handle, at least.
But then Anakin Skywalker intervened. With this act, before he’s even taken the Sith vow, he is Darth Vader.
Sam Jackson, by the way, would like you to note that we never see Mace’s body. “The Jedi can survive falls from incredible heights,” he said in a special video greeting to George Lucas at Star Wars Celebration last month, not-so-jokingly angling for his own spin-off movie.
4. The death of Padme (Revenge of the Sith)
With a galaxy of medical technology at her disposal, why did Luke and Leia’s mother have to die at their birth? Was it a “broken heart” at the fact that her significant other just became Space Hitler? Was it actually part of Palpatine’s devious plot, as one fan theory has it?
Or was it simply lazy writing from George Lucas, who may have forgotten that Princess Leia said (in Return of the Jedi) that she remembered her real mother?
These questions are still fought over by hardcore fans today. Whatever the answer, though, her death is clearly one of the main pivot points of the saga. With Padme still alive, her children would not be orphaned, the Rebellion would have grown stronger faster, and Star Wars would have been a very different movie not to mention Rogue One.
5. That corridor scene (Rogue One)
OK, no one’s going to argue with this one. Here we have one of the most impressive-looking scenes in all of Star Wars history one that almost wasn’t shot and it happens to be aligned with the moment that the Death Star plans were at their most vulnerable.
Vader isn’t just a badass here, he literally comes within a few inches of shutting down the Rebellion altogether. His failure to retrieve those plans sets in motion the entire plot of Star Wars.
6. The Bad Motivator (Star Wars)
The luckiest break in all of Star Wars, and once again it benefits Artoo. Many a fan has lain awake at night wondering: What would have happened if that red R5 droid hadn’t had a bad motivator?
7. The Death Star assault (Star Wars)
The destruction of the first Death Star: not just a pivot point for the entire galaxy, but one of the greatest examples of editing in history. It builds, builds, builds and finally releases tension like some kind of cinematic orgasm. And for that you can thank the greatest editor to ever work on the saga: Marcia Lucas.
8. Luke cuts class (The Empire Strikes Back)
Proving himself almost as dumb as Jar Jar Binks, Luke Skywalker makes the fateful decision to drop out of Jedi school. He’s decided to take Vader’s bait and try to save his friends, though it will yield only a lost lightsaber, a lost hand, and a very uncomfortable piece of family news.
9. Luke meets his dad (The Empire Strikes Back)
The most famous scene in all Star Wars is also, in some ways, the most mystifying. Why did Vader choose this moment to reveal himself to his kid?
And could he perhaps have picked a better time to suggest a family reunion than just after he chopped said kid’s hand off?
10. Vader kills his boss (Return of the Jedi)
Never mind! It only took a whole other movie, a whole new Death Star, and a whole lot of Force Lightning for Vader and son to end up on the same side.
The death of the Emperor is clearly an important moment, but it’s not quite as fateful as the blink-and-you-miss it bit where Palpatine tells his Imperial Guards to “leave us.”
If only he’d said “stand by that guard rail, someone might fall” instead. Sad!
11. Rey has a vision (The Force Awakens)
Mystery, the driving force behind the entire Star Wars saga, began anew in The Force Awakens. We still don’t know why Rey had her Force vision the moment she touched Anakin Skywalker’s old lightsaber, or what it portends.
But this spectacular series of images did set in motion Rey’s hero quest and led her to bring that same lightsaber back to Luke Skywalker.
When The Last Jedi hits theaters this December, it’s a fair bet the most important scene will also involve Rey. Judging by the movie poster, she stands at the crux of whatever awakening the Force has just had.
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