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Star Wars is many things to legions of fans, but “scary” isn’t one of them. At least, not at first blush.
Throughout all nine films in the Skywalker Saga — and the other live-action Star Wars stories surrounding it — George Lucas’ most popular creation never shied away from giving audiences a reason to clutch their pearls or gasp in shock. From the jump-scare Leia has during her close encounter with a Mynock in The Empire Strikes Back, to the disturbing way Anakin dispenses with Younglings in Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars is full of beats, characters, and moments capable of scaring us s***less.
In honor of Revenge of the Sith’s 15th anniversary and Empire's 40th anniversary this month, here are 12 memorable scenes that prove everyone can hear you scream — or at least beep in fear, Artoo-style — in that galaxy far, far away.
01. Vader interrogates Leia in A New Hope
An intimidating AF Darth Vader. A very nervous Princess Leia. And one interrogation droid with a big ol' needle.
A short-but-unforgettable moment from A New Hope, this unnerving sequence further establishes how formidable a threat Vader is. The most effective part of this scene, however, is what we don’t see. Vader wants her highness to reveal to him the location of her Rebel base — and he’s going to use that droid to get it. Once the door to Leia’s cell slams shut, we’re left to imagine how far Vader and his oversized needle will go to get the intel — which is far scarier than anything that could have ended up on the screen.
02. The Wampa cave in The Empire Strikes Back
Being hung upside down like a human icicle while a flesh-eating space Yeti wants to make you his meal is nightmare fuel whether you’re a Jedi or a Sith. Sadly, Luke Skywalker had to endure this next-level traumatizing event on top of witnessing his loyal Tauntaun get Freddy Kruger'd.
As strong as the Force is with Luke, surviving this encounter feels like a long shot — even for the moisture farm boy who took out a Death Star with a Hail Mary shot into its one vulnerable spot. Credit goes to the sequence’s slow-burn tension; on first viewing, we don’t know exactly where it’s going to go.
But, thanks to Luke’s inventive use of the Force, he’s able to summon his lightsaber into his hand and use it to sever the Wampa’s arm. (Similar to how his late mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, used the Jedi weapon to remove an angry alien from his arm in the Mos Eisley cantina in the previous film.)
03. The Force cave sequence in The Empire Strikes Back
40 years later, this iconic scene from The Empire Strikes Back still gives us chills.
It kind of comes out of nowhere — hence its extra creepy factor. Luke, despite Yoda’s protests, goes off exploring a curious tremble in the Force (because reasons) and ends up in a slow-mo, Freudian battle with his father, Vader. The encounter ends with Luke decapitating his dad and needing therapy for days (or months, or maybe even years) when Vader’s helmet self-destructs to reveal (gasp) Luke’s own visage staring up at him.
Like we said: Creepy AF.
04. C-3PO gets blasted in Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars' equivalent of a jump scare, C-3PO’s first trip to Cloud City comes dangerously close to being his last one ever.
While touring Lando’s impressive facility, C-3PO ambles off to where he doesn’t belong and, despite his protests, gets blasted by off-screen Imperial troops. It’s a shock in a movie full of them, leaving audiences to watch the rest of the film with the only certainty being how uncertain the fates of their favorite characters really are.
05. The Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi
Only in Star Wars could you find a mouth full of tentacles and teeth in the middle of the desert. And, of course, an oversized slug/crime lord uses as his personal garbage disposal.
At least six different types of disgusting and unnerving, our first glimpse of the Sarlacc Pit permanently etches itself into our nerd brains — as does the belching sound it makes after swallowing Boba Fett whole.
This creature design is one of the high points of the original trilogy’s final chapter, one that has arguably yet to be rivaled by any Star Wars creature since.
06. Enter the Rancor in Return of the Jedi
The only weirder collection of aliens and scum in Star Wars outside of the Cantina is on the floor of Jabba’s Palace. But under that is one of the scariest and grotesque beasts ever: The Rancor. This towering brown beast with spears for teeth makes Jabba’s celebratory licking of his chops after eating a space frog seem like a golden age. Luke’s epic showdown with the monster, complete with the Rancor snapping a humanoid bone with its jaws like it was a toothpick, is as exciting as it is unsettling.
07. The Emperor’s everything in Return of the Jedi
Emperor Palpatine isn’t the evilest thing ever, but he’s definitely its cousin.
Shrouded in black, surging with Force Lighting, and sporting a grotesquely pale, sallow face — complete with jaundiced teeth and sunken eyes — the Emperor is set to a permanent nine out of 10 on the Scary-Creepy villain scale. He cranks it up way past 11, though, when he cackles while shooting purple electricity out of his hands and into Luke. That’s as frightening as the Emperor is annoying with his repetitive threats and hoarse, maniacal laugh.
08. Anakin vs. Younglings in Revenge of the Sith
While the prequels are largely considered a flawed and disappointing endeavor by many fans and critics, credit must be given to George Lucas and his team for taking big-ish swings and pushing Star Wars to places the original trilogy wouldn’t go. Like, for example, the future Darth Vader murdering children in cold blood.
The slaying occurs off-screen, obviously, but that and the lead up to the scene is what makes it so disturbing. It wasn’t that long ago that Anakin was around the same age as the Force-sensitive child that looks up at him in confusion and apprehension when the Sith’s newest member greets the boy he has come to kill.
The sound of a lightsaber igniting never sounded more intense.
09. Anakin’s fiery end in Revenge of the Sith
One of the darkest moments in any Star Wars movie, Anakin’s demise pushes the franchise’s PG-13 boundaries.
Following Obi-Wan and Anakin’s inventive lightsaber battle on Mustafar, on and over valleys of lava, Obi-Wan manages to get the high ground after severely maiming his former friend and Padawan. As Kenobi screams “I trusted you!” at his snarling enemy, what’s left of Anakin — basically his torso — sparks and slowly burns.
But that’s not the scariest part.
No, it’s when Obi-Wan just stands there and watches as the once and future Darth Vader screams and wails as he burns alive. Haunting.
10. Kylo Ren interrogating Poe in The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens establishes Kylo Ren as an anger-fueled, petulant Force-sensitive threat unlike any fans have seen before. He coolly freezes a blaster beam in mid-air before ordering an entire village to be massacred in cold blood. So, he’s the last Sith-adjacent person you want to mess with.
It's a lesson Poe learns the hard way, unfortunately, in a chilling scene in which Lord Ren — menacing behind his mask — uses his Force prowess to painfully extract some much-needed intel from a screaming Poe. *shudder*
11. Rey vs. Snoke in The Last Jedi
It’s a short but incredibly unsettling moment in Rey’s journey from “no one” to galactic hero.
Caught literally between Snoke and Kylo Ren in the former’s throne room, Snoke overpowers Rey with the Force, suspends her in mid-air, and compels her head back in a tear-inducing scream that will raise all of the hairs on the back of your neck.
12. That weird Sith cult in The Rise of Skywalker
Never mind how or why there’s a massive colosseum full of cloaked Sith-slash-Palpatine worshipers in the bowels of Exegol, their mere presence is arguably the greatest disturbance one could feel in The Force.
The mysterious cult undulates and chants in unison as Palpatine resurrects himself and his penchant for really convoluted — and poorly thought-out — plans to conquer the galaxy. Unfortunately, the cult is relegated to CG background extras that get wiped out as quickly and unceremoniously as they were introduced. But their brief screen presence left a lasting — and frightening — impression.