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It's the most wonderful time of the year! And by that, of course, we mean that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nearly upon us. And everyone gets to be a kid again as they can't wait to open J.J. Abrams' present for all of Star Wars fandom.
So, in reflection, we're looking back at George Lucas's saga and remembering what we loved the first time around. Here are some of our contributors' favorite scenes from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
"I guess I'm going nowhere."
Luke walks off from the dinner table, walks out onto the homestead on the Lars moisture farm to stare at the lonely desert skies: Tatooine's two suns, one hanging high as the lower red sun falls below the skyline, both bright against the hazy purple sunset. With a sense of longing, we get a perfect shot of his face, looking and not seeing the beauty in front of him, as "The Force Theme" starts to swell. Of course Luke is going somewhere; the music insists on the power of destiny, of The Force. But the journey Luke finds brings deep, profound loss; the world of adventure he wants will disfigure him, will rob him of his family. But it also gives him a new family, gives him purpose in the galaxy, and gives him a belief in The Force. It's destiny, but destiny hurts. This moment is the scene which the audience best believes in that struggle, in Luke's story as an actual story.
This is certainly the shortest moment in any of these descriptions; it's plotless, mute, inactive. But this moment is Luke's motivation for the rest of this movie; it's why he doesn't give up and go home. Luke believes that he deserves a slice of the universe, a chance to really do something, and it's not just out of a sense of naive childishness. The sunset itself is alien, majestic, and creates a sense of a universe where great things happen. - Alex Lovendahl
The Death Star Trench Battle
It's rare for my favorite part of a movie to be a big battle with pew-pew lasers everywhere, but Star Wars is unique in this and so many respects. In a movie full of nostalgia, the battle in the Death Star trench is the part I look forward to most. From the minute the X-Wings take off over Yavin IV's jungle-covered pyramids to the sight of Darth Vader's curved-wing TIE fighter spinning off into the void, I am wholly arrested. Aside from being a fine bit of cinematic action - you generally know where people are and what's around them - I think the strength of the sequence is partly a factor of its isolated novelty. It's almost a movie within a movie; at the outset we meet a whole slate of new faces, the Rebel pilots, and by the end we've said goodbye to most of them as they blew up one after another (RIP Porkins). Every surface in the battle, from the gray Death Star bristling with gun turrets to the grimy Rebel vehicles (this is our introduction to the iconic X-Wing), was constructed just for this scene. The vehicles' quaint, Atari-like computer overlays feel right for this long ago place and time, and I dread the slicker, pseudo-hologramatic versions we may get in the forthcoming third trilogy. The practical effect explosions, especially the theatrical version of the Death Star kaboom, are beautiful, cold, pale firecrackers, so different from the garish, mini-A-bombs that heroes walk away from in most modern action films. For pure visual excitement, the high point of the Star Wars saga is, paradoxically, a trench. - David Conrad
The Battle of Hoth sets the tone for The Empire Strikes Back (and consequently raises the bar for the whole original trilogy). It is an icy skirmish in which the power shifts out of the hands of the victorious rebels (who recently destroyed the Death Star) and back into the hands of the Galactic Empire, whose troops have scoured every corner of the galaxy seeking revenge. The secret rebel base has been found and is under attack. The Imperial forces guide their giant robots to march steadily across the harsh white terrain. It is only a matter of time before the power generators are destroyed, the shields are shut down, and the rebellion is silenced. The outlook for the rebels is as bleak as their environment. But the rebels fight with ingenuity and courage, and despite being overmatched, they pilot their snowspeeders into harm's way and manage to slow down the attack just long enough to allow the transport ships to escape the grasp of the Empire (and the rebellion lives to fight another day). The action is brisk, and the images of the battle are striking (it is no surprise that The Battle of Hoth has been recreated in many video game versions over the years). Despite the balance of power shifting towards the Empire, the battle showcases some heroic efforts on the part of Luke and his fellow rebels and represents a small victory which sets in motion elements for future confrontations. - Ben Shoemaker
Luke Meets Yoda
The initial reveal of the diminutive, lime-hued Yoda is one of the riskiest, boldest, and ultimately most effective scenes in the entire Star Wars saga.
Up to this point in the story, we only know that Obi-Wan's ghost spoke to Luke and instructed him to meet a Jedi Master named Yoda on Dagobah. It's obvious now, but for unspoiled audiences (and for those who had no prequel exposure), the idea that this strange, frog-like being could be the one Luke was destined to encounter seemed nearly impossible.
We're introduced to so many things at once with Yoda; his backwards-diction, his playful humor, and his cantankerous, old-man wisdom. We're also completely sold on how real he is by the master puppeteering and voicing of Frank Oz.
This initial introductory scene encapsulates all of what I love about Yoda.
I love how he completely disregards Luke's mission to "find a great warrior" to check out his lunch instead.
I love how he fights with R2-D2 for a tiny lamp and proceeds to beat him with the cane - and he struggles to even reach the cane to fend off R2. He's a JEDI MASTER, and yet he knows it's smarter to feign frailty to this stranger.
I love how Yoda susses out exactly why Luke's there and decides to hide the truth until Luke discovers it on his own. This allows Yoda to test Luke without him even realizing he's being tested.
Mark Hamill's performance is also laudable. His complete acceptance of a felt Muppet's authenticity is bolstered by the mix of impatience and worry in his expressive eyes.
The Dagobah set is incredible, too, with its misty grounds and scraggly, far-reaching tree vines visually entangling the characters together.
There're few scenes in all of Star Wars with a better combination of perfected performance, design, and storytelling. - Nathan Chase
Yoda Lifts the X-Wing
To me, Yoda lifting Luke's X-Wing out of the Dagobah swamp is the quintessential Star Wars moment. Everything Star Wars wants to tell us –about its universe, about its worldview, about Luke Skywalker, about us, and about life – is in this scene. Luke’s X-Wing is stuck in a swamp after a crash landing, and in this scene, it becomes completely submerged. Luke’s doubt and disbelief take center stage here: “Now we’ll never get it out,” he exclaims in his signature whine. “So certain” is he that it cannot be done. We can't really blame him for his skepticism. After all, there is a spaceship stuck in a swamp. Sure, it’s on the smaller side for a ship, compared to the Millennium Falcon or, even bigger, an Imperial Star Destroyer. But still, it’s a spaceship. It is larger than anything he – or the viewer – has seen a Jedi or anyone else lift using the Force until this point in the films. And like Luke, we are skeptical. Surely, Yoda cannot expect Luke – a guy who just started his official Jedi training, like, five minutes ago – to use the Force to lift a spaceship out of a swamp. How could anyone do it? As Luke says, “Moving stones around is one thing, this is totally different.” But it’s not, and that’s the lesson we – and Luke – must learn.
So, he decides to “give it a try.” This, of course, prompts one of Yoda’s most famous lines of dialogue, “No. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” When I was younger, this line always baffled me. Isn’t there such a thing as trying? Luke “tries” to lift the X-Wing, and he can’t do it. Of course, the older I got and the more I watched this movie, the more I understood this line. When you “give something a try,” you are going in expecting that there is some probability you will not succeed. This is one of the main messages of Star Wars, and it is Yoda’s lesson in this scene: if you think you might fail, you are going to fail. Luke’s self-doubt and lack of belief doom him to failure before he even begins, because he is unable to “unlearn what he has learned.” And so he is unable to move the X-Wing. He can’t lift it because, he claims, “it’s too big.” And what is Yoda’s response? “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?” Maybe we do. Maybe Luke does. Completely defeated and discouraged, Luke expresses to Yoda what most of us probably would in his situation: “You want the impossible.” So, Yoda, being the Jedi Master that he is, decides that the best way to teach Luke, in this moment, is simply to show him. To show him not just what he is able to do through the Force, but what Luke could do if he could throw off his own self-doubt and preconceived notions about what is and is not possible. And then we see it: Luke’s X-Wing being moved, ever so carefully, by a tiny, unassuming, green frogman. It is a sight to behold, and as John Williams’ magnificent score swells to a glorious crescendo, Yoda places the ship down gently on dry land. And then, we get to the crux of the scene. Luke, astounded by what he has just witnessed, exclaims, “I don’t believe it!” Yoda simply and calmly declares,“That is why you fail.”
You see, sometimes people miss the point of this scene. It’s not about Yoda being some super powerful Jedi. It’s not that he is “stronger in the Force” or more powerful than Luke. He simply knows that he can move a ship, just as he can move a rock, because they – along with everything and everyone else – are surrounded and bound by the Force. It is not Luke’s lack of power that fails him in this scene; it is his lack of belief. And when he succeeds – when he defeats the Emperor, resists the dark side, and redeems his father – it is not because of his power, but because of his belief. - Matt Ray
Han is Frozen in Carbonite
My childhood fondness for this movie came from probably a different place than most of my blogger counterparts. You see, my 11-year-old self was madly in love with Han Solo. At that point in my life, I'd never had a crush on anyone I knew in real life, but I went all kinds of gooey over Harrison Ford's wisecracking rogue, and his scenes were always my favorite. Of all of them, though, this is the one I still enjoy most as an adult. The now-iconic exchange of "I love you," "I know," strikes the perfect chord - it's such a satisfying moment in Han and Leia's love story - and watching him being slowly lowered down to his possible doom is a beautifully quiet moment of solemnity in the midst of a trilogy full of lightsaber battles and blaster-firing spaceships. But I also love the tension of that quiet moment being interrupted. Before Han has totally disappeared out of sight into the hole beneath him, the icy fog blasts up from underneath with an ugly hissing sound, obscuring our view of him. And then, when the air clears, a magnet mechanically picks up his frozen body, which then gets dropped unceremoniously on the ground. The block of carbonite barely even looks like him, and I remember that giving me chills every time I saw it, making me feel like he was really gone (even though after my first viewing, I knew he was coming back). There's something wonderfully theatrical about the whole scene, and even though Han Solo may not be my idea of the perfect man anymore, this scene still stirs up all the emotions and remains my favorite scene in the whole saga. - Hannah Keefer
There are seemingly no wrong answers to this question, so I simply chose the first thing that popped into my head. Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars movie when I was a kid; I adored everything about it, from Jabba's Palace to the Ewoks to the final showdown between Luke and Vader, and everything in between. The speeder bike chase, however, is a remarkable piece of action filmmaking. It displays a kinetic energy that so many action movies these days aspire to, yet fail to achieve. It's a scene full of visceral speed that doesn't (because it couldn't) over-rely on cartoonish digital trickery, and never loses track of what's happening, where characters are, or what they're doing. (Contrast that with modern, mind-boggling "shaky-cam".) Never mind its feasibility: Just how does anyone pilot something that fast through a forest that dense without smacking into the first obstacle they come across? It doesn't matter; when you're eight years old and envisioning yourself zipping through the trees at breakneck speed, you are invincible. This is the kind of rousing escapist action sequence that brings out the kid in us all. - Nigel Druitt
I never really grew up with Star Wars. I saw the films when they were re-released in the 90s and I was slightly excited to see the prequels when they came out, but as a kid, I never played Star Wars or really cared all too much about sci-fi in general. I blame this all on a kid I grew up with, who would plaster his school books with pictures of slave Leia and would practice his lightsaber moves during lunch. Later on, he would walk around downtown, lightsaber in hand, and go by his Jedi name "Seraph Nightshade." Frankly, I didn't care about Star Wars in general, but having this walking reminder of the worst of Star Wars that I constantly saw every day only reiterated how much I didn't care.
When George Lucas sold the rights to Star Wars, I started to become interested in what would be done with the franchise. Every step after that sale seemed right in my wheelhouse. As a lover of Lost, I was completely on board with J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII, and when the first cast photo from the first read-through was released, it was filled with actors I love - Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, etc. - with more to come after.
When the first teaser was released - Black Friday of 2014 - I remember returning to my car after a shopping binge to see my Facebook feed filled with excited reposts of the first footage from The Force Awakens. I put my headphones on and watched the minute and a half video on my iPhone - hardly the best screen to watch the most anticipated trailer in years. I sat there in growing excitement by the first minute, with John Boyega panting in fear, BB-8 rolling around and Llewyn Davis himself flying around. But as soon as the Star Wars theme came on, the anticipation had built so much and my joy at finally seeing a Star Wars film that I could call my own, the trailer made me cry.
For me, the teaser for The Force Awakens was my first realization of what everyone else saw when they saw the Star Wars films. I even loved several of the films, but more in admiration than as a film that meant something to me. But watching The Force Awakens trailer, I became aware that Star Wars was no longer something that was owned by Seraph Nightshade, it was a thing of the people, that meant so much to so many different people. It was a cultural icon, a form of media that will be remembered for centuries to come, like The Beatles or Catcher In the Rye. Star Wars was ingrained in our world. I've only seen the series a handful of times, but I can still name as many planets in that universe as I can name in my own, or I can tell you the names of minor characters, some of whom don't even say a single phrase of dialogue.
The Force Awakens showed me the importance of this franchise, the culmination of what people have wanted for over thirty years: a direct sequel to the original trilogy. I saw the realization of dreams coming true, of the seemingly impossible becoming possible and happening soon. And I saw myself among those people for the first time, excited about the future, excited about adventures with light sabers and Jedis and the force. The Force Awakens - in only a minute and a half and a year before it came out - did what no amount of rewatches and nerd outrage could get me to do: care about a galaxy long ago and far, far away. - Ross Bonaime
What's YOUR favorite Star Wars scene? Let us know in the comments below!
An avid Flickcharter since 2009, Nigel is a self-described fanboy whose Top 20 is dominated by the likes of Indiana Jones, Frodo Baggins and Marty McFly. Nigel is the Canadian arm of the Flickchart Blog, but try not to hold that against him. You can find him on Flickchart as johnmason.