or more than 46 years, Star Wars has impacted movies, pop culture, and individual lives. The series’ effect is immeasurable, and its influence cannot be overstated. On this “May the Fourth,” we here at Youtini celebrate the long history of Star Wars by looking at its 10 most iconic moments. These moments have shaped not only the saga itself but have also changed cinema, the media, and the lives of millions of fans.
In all honesty, we could have listed 20, 50, or even 100 iconic moments. But to narrow it down, we ranked these moments off of three criteria items: recognizability, influence, and impact.
Recognizability considers whether casual and non-Star Wars fans know about the moment described. Influence asks whether the moment described changed cinema, either in how movies are made or the stories told. And lastly, impact asks whether the iconic moment in question changed the direction and future of Star Wars, taking the mythos down a new path. All 10 of these moments meet or exceed these criteria.
10) Yoda Raises Luke’s X-Wing Out of the Swamps of Dagobah
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back introduced audiences to the wisened, whimsical, and powerful Yoda, a character that teaches Luke much about himself, his family, and the ways of The Force. In the few scenes where Yoda trains Luke, he describes the Force in religious and mystical terms that define it for the series going forward. Luke’s training reaches its highest point when Yoda raises Luke’s fallen X-Wing out of the waters of Dagobah. Luke’s doubt and lack of belief is a failure that haunts him all the way up until The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a moment that shows the small green hermit’s true power and strength, making us never question his abilities again.
The iconic image of Luke’s X-Wing coming out of the water, covered in moss, water, and sludge, is ingrained in the minds of many Star Wars fans and casual viewers. Accompanied by John William’s blaring horns as the X-Wing lands in front of Luke, it demonstrates the nature and the power of The Force. And for future filmmakers, the scene’s cinematography continues to inspire today. The sheer scale and breathtaking practical effects are still impressive even by today’s standards. With the scene’s visuals, character building, and execution, it’s a reminder for all of us to “do or do not; there is no try.”
9) Order 66
Three words changed the Star Wars galaxy forever. Three words sealed the fate of thousands of Jedi. Three words helped shape the story of Star Wars from a swashbuckling adventure to a story about great tragedy.
Execute Order 66.
Those three words sealed the Jedi Order’s fate, established the Empire, and completed Anakin’s fall to the dark side of the Force. There cannot be great hope without great tragedy.
Order 66 is iconic for many reasons: the Emperor’s fateful words, the tragic death of many beloved Jedi, and the fact that it was such a daring choice to put a rather brutal and heartwrenching scene in what is still considered to be a series for kids. The phrase is widely known among Star Wars and casual fans, bringing back painful memories whenever spoken. But more importantly, “Order 66” touched upon the depressing and violent elements of Star Wars that haven’t been seen as much until then. It allowed future creators to touch upon themes of loss, death, and failure in a way that still reverberates today. It’s no wonder that Star Wars creators keep returning to it in video games, animation, books, and comics.
8) The Force Awakens Within Rey
The hype and anticipation were palpable with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Many questions floated around its release such as the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the new trilogy’s villain, and who would take up the mantle of the Jedi. Many were expecting John Boyega’s Finn to be the next up-and-coming Jedi, with many posters and trailers showing him wielding Luke’s lightsaber. That’s why it was all the more surprising when it was Rey who was the one to lift the blue lightsaber out of the snow in her battle with Kylo Ren.
This surprising moment helped to shape the entire trajectory of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. It made the scavenger from Jakku the main focus. Not only that, but this moment was iconic for many Star Wars fans, especially young girls who now had a female Jedi in live-action to look up to.
7) A Princess to the Rescue
1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope was trailblazing for many reasons — much of which we’ll cover later. But for many, Princess Leia was the original strong female protagonist before Rey and Padmé Amidala. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Leia taking over her own rescue is iconic for many reasons: her scathing quips, the intense laser fire, and, last but not least, the formation of a legendary trio.
Leia escaping her jail cell is the birth of a feminist icon. Many female characters at the time weren’t portrayed in such a light. However, Leia broke the mold: a courageous fighter, a fearless leader, and someone who could more than keep up with her male counterparts. Carrie Fisher’s fiery attitude made lines like “into the garbage chute, flyboy!” memorable. Carrie’s Princess Leia was — and always will be — a fierce pioneer for the series and for cinema as a whole.
6) Battle of the Heroes
Even as the Prequel Trilogy neared its end, there were still a lot of moments and events that had to occur in order for the series to transition into the Original Trilogy. Anakin still had to become Darth Vader, Obi-Wan still had to go into hiding, and Luke and Leia had to be separated at birth. All those moments are tragic in their own way. Still, none of those moments are more tragic and depressing than Obi-Wan having to confront his former apprentice, now-turned-villain, Darth Vader.
Memorable for many reasons – Nick Gillard’s fight choreography, Mustafar’s insane backdrop, meme-able lines – the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan was also a pioneer in digital special effects. It helped usher in the age of visual-effect spectacle climaxes that became the backbone of major blockbuster films. It was also a perfect sendoff for the Prequel Trilogy, giving the filmmakers, actors, and performers one last “hoorah” before ending the trilogy. Emotional, action-packed, and jaw-dropping, the Battle of the Heroes ushered out the Prequel Trilogy and planted the seed for a new hope.
5) Duel of the Fates
If there’s one lightsaber duel that reigns supreme above all others, it’d have to be “Duel of the Fates.” The legendary duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn against Darth Maul was a big “first” in many ways. It was the first debut of a unique lightsaber, the first time audiences saw the Jedi and Sith at the peak of their powers, the first major battle to use high-flying flips and acrobatic martial arts, and the first musical track in Star Wars to include a complete choir behind it. These “firsts” became pillars of the saga’s greatest lightsaber battles.
It was a hard tossup between “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle Over the Heroes” for the most iconic lightsaber fight. And while we all may have our personal preferences, we had to go with the one that started it all. To many, Star Wars is known for its highly-choreographed and elaborate fight sequences, primarily thanks to “Duel of the Fates.”
4) Imperial March
The “Imperial March” is one of the most iconic music tracks in all of cinema. Easily hummable and widely played in school bands, the “Imperial March” first played in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. In this particular scene, Darth Vader looks out into the black starlit galaxy aboard the Super Star Destroyer. Only the reflected light off his helmet and his sleek silhouette separated him from utter darkness. The combination of this striking imagery alongside the loud and brutal hard-hitting brass of “Imperial March” cemented Darth Vader and the Empire as the galactic oppressor we’ve come to know it as.
In the Original Trilogy, Darth Vader had less than 35 minutes of screen time. But with The Empire Strikes Back, and with the help of John Williams’ “Imperial March,” Darth Vader went from being Grand Moff Tarkin’s lackey to being the coolest and most powerful Dark Lord of the Sith that we all know and love. Darth Vader and the Empire wouldn’t be the same without the iconic and earth-shaking brass of “Imperial March.” It’s a testament to what powerful visuals and sound can do for a character, completely changing how we view them.
3) Binary Sunset
In a galaxy full of bounty hunters, strange aliens, exotic-looking robots, menacing Sith Lords, and wisened old spiritual leaders, why do we still care about Luke Skywalker — a human being in the middle of nowhere? The answer lies in our pick for the third most iconic moment in Star Wars movie history, “Binary Sunset.” In this moment, Luke looks out at two suns setting on the horizon while “The Force Theme” plays in the background. The movie doesn’t tell us that Luke feels despondent, trapped, and knows his destiny is just beyond the horizon. Instead, the film allows us to feel it. It’s a somber and contemplative moment that every human being has experienced at one point in their life.
The scene is a testament to what simple editing, composition, and sound can do – one many aspiring filmmakers have surely studied. Even with such simplicity, the impact and recognizability of the scene are unquantifiable. The shot of the two suns, Luke’s heartbroken look, and the French horn solo of “The Force Theme” culminate in a masterpiece that has impacted and changed the lives of individuals. It taught us that no matter who we are or where we come from, we can always look to the horizon and know that a better future lies beyond.
2) “I Am Your Father”
We couldn’t list the most iconic moments in all of Star Wars without including one of the most iconic lines in history: “I am your father.” With this line, the conflict between Luke and Vader becomes personal. It becomes a family affair.
What else can we say about this moment that hasn’t already been said? It’s a shocking and unexpected twist never done before, and frankly, one without a rival since. Constantly spoofed, parodied, and somehow always misquoted, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the line. It somehow has had such an effect that it even made its way into our English language, where anytime it's said, it’s assumed to be referring to Star Wars (although, to be fair, there aren’t many instances where we can say that line without referring to Star Wars and not come off weird).
1) Introduction to ‘A New Hope’
In two minutes, a multi-billion dollar franchise was born. Starting with the 20th-Century Fox Fanfare, then transitioning to the deep silence of “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…,” then the gargantuan blast of the on-screen words, “STAR WARS,” and the first-ever opening crawl, this opening-sequence is one we will never forget. Everyone remembers where they were when they first experienced this moment.
It’s hard to overstate how influential and iconic this moment was on the cinema landscape. These few shots helped to usher in a new age of special effects. Movies began to skip the opening titles and credits, jumping straight into the action. And spectacle coupled with prominent and sweeping soundtracks became the keys to a powerful blockbuster. In fact, many argue this was the first “blockbuster.” If it wasn’t for these opening shots, alongside the introduction of iconic characters and figures like C3PO, R2D2, Stormtroopers, and Darth Vader, Star Wars may not be the series we know and love today.
That’s our list of the top 10 most iconic moments in Star Wars movie history. Of course, the Star Wars franchise is full of big moments. Be sure to tell us your favorites in our Discord community. Also, check out our videos and guides, including “The Best Star Wars Movie Order”. May The Force be with you, and happy May the Fourth!