It's been 32 long years since we last saw our heroes on the big screen in Return of The Jedi. But on Dec. 18, one of the most -- if not THE most --famous franchises in movie history is returning to theaters in the much-anticipated next chapter of their story with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Over the next 20 weeks, we will celebrate the franchise by looking back and ranking the best of the best moments in Star Wars history
Though we usually associate Star Wars with space battles, lightsabers and soaring John Williams themes, death has been an important ingredient since the beginning. After all, death is what separates Luke and Leia Skywalker in the first place, and death is what ultimately saves the galaxy from the grasp of the Empire. Death creates alliances, forges friendships, changes directions and shapes futures. Star Wars is built on a great mythological storytelling pattern, and that pattern would go nowhere without a number of very meaningful deaths. To commemorate the place of a good death scene in the saga, I went in search of the 25 best ones, and here's what I found.
Note: When I say "death scene" I mean a scene in which we actually witness a character death, so anyone killed offscreen (sorry, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru) does not count.
25. PADME AMIDALA SKYWALKER (Revenge of the Sith)
I've given this a lot of thought, and this death scene is my least favorite part of the prequels. It's worse than Jar Jar. It's worse than Midi-chlorians. It's worse than Vader yelling "Noooooo!" When we first meet Padme, she's the elected queen of a whole planet, and Anakin Skywalker is just an uneducated slave from Tatooine. By the second prequel, she's a senator who's prepared to fight a war for the sake of what's right. By Sith, she's still fighting the good fight, but at the end of the film she's a wilted person who's "lost the will to live" even as she's about to give birth to two children. I just don't buy it. It feels like she's being stuffed in a refrigerator in the worst way, and like she's being shoved aside in favor of other story points. The Padme I came to know would've gone down fighting in a much more productive way, and that's why her death is the most annoying in the whole of the Star Wars saga.
24. JANGO FETT (Attack of the Clones)
How do you follow up the underwhelming death of a bounty-hunting Star Wars icon? By introducing his father as the origin of all of the clones, then having that father figure die after only a couple of minutes of fighting at the hands of a Jedi Master. Honestly, Jango's death is not nearly as pathetic as that of his son, but it's still pretty pathetic. You'd think at least one generation of this family would be able to avoid falling all over themselves in the moments before their demise.
23. BOBA FETT (Return of the Jedi)
In fairness, neither George Lucas nor his collaborators knew that Boba Fett would turn out to be such a big deal, but come on. A big part of this death scene is built upon Han Solo realizing that Boba Fett is present during the fight, and kinda freaking out about it. You see Harrison Ford's eyes express surprise. You see that this guy is Kind of a Big Deal, and then he dies like that? Comedic value aside, that's a sad way to kill off the series' most recognizable bounty hunter.
22. ADMIRAL PIETT (Return of the Jedi)
Piett survived other commanders who got Force-choked out of commission, only to be the key commander of the Imperial Fleet during the Battle of Endor. Then a stray fighter cost him his life. It's one of the most amusing Star Wars deaths.
21. ZAM WESELL (Attack of the Clones)
Wesell barely appears in Attack of the Clones, but her death represents a layer of George Lucas' prequel saga running that remains fascinating. Her death at the hands of Jango Fett is a remarkably interesting glimpse into the Star Wars underworld that we were only starting to see, and that makes her intriuging to this day.
20. GENERAL GRIEVOUS (Revenge of the Sith)
You have to admit a robot spinning lightsabers like helicopter blades to defeat his Jedi enemies is kinda awesome, even if he ends up being more visually impressive than effective in the story. But it still doesn't change the fact that we're essentially watching a CGI character kick the bucket, which is not all that gripping.
19. COMMANDER GREE (Revenge of the Sith)
We don't get to see Yoda kill people very much, but he didn't hesitate to take Gree down, because at the moment there was no room for hesitation. It comes very late in the saga (in terms of film releases, anyway), and we've already accepted that Yoda is awesome by this point, but the Grand Master's ability to sense his own impending death, and then prevent it, remains compelling.
18. BIGGS DARKLIGHTER (A New Hope)
17. KIT FISTO, AGEN KOLAR, and SAESEE TIIN (Revenge of the Sith)
I'm still frustrated that it took so little time for Palpatine to reduce these three Jedi Masters to Dead Meat (My friends and I used to yell "Kit Fisto, noooooo!" during this scene, because we're idiots), but still, this is an important moment in the saga. We get to see how utterly powerful Palpatine/Sidious is, and we experience the first pangs of the Jedi Purge in rather epic fashion. This scene hit me harder than many of the more weighty death scenes in the series, if only because it happened so quickly.
16. ADMIRAL OZZEL (The Empire Strikes Back)
We'd certainly seen Darth Vader deal relentlessly with those who disappointed him before, but Ozzel's death was a clear message in the opening act of Empire: This guy will not put up with your failures, and you'd better fall in line. It's a moment that makes you wonder just how many Imperial officers Vader's killed in the past, particularly when you see how quickly Piett just deals with it (hey, the guy did get a promotion out of this). We saw Vader's might on display in his very first appearance in the saga (more on that later), but this added the exclamation point.
15. PLO KOON (Revenge of the Sith)
Fans of The Clone Wars know that Plo Koon's story gets fleshed out, and his potential gets fulfilled, by that series, but his death in the midst of the Great Jedi Purge carris plenty of meaning despite how little we see of him in the actual films. The prequels are full of Jedi moments that we wish we had more of, and Plo Koon's death only serves to amplify that. These guys were titans, and watching them go so mercilessly and suddenly is hard.
14. AAYLA SECURA (Revenge of the Sith)
Secura gets a bit more of a moment than Plo Koon during the Purge, but not much. Her death is harder for me, though, because she was a rare female Jedi Knight (at least, in terms of what's depicted onscreen), and not just a Jedi, but a leader of men. I wish we'd seen more of her, and that means that when she goes, the loss is greater.
13. KI-ADI-MUNDI (Revenge of the Sith)
We saw him in The Phantom Menace on the Jedi Council, then saw him again fighting in Attack of the Clones. Then, he served as one of the most poignant examples of the Jedi Purge. Ki-Adi-Mundi fought hard when the Clone Troopers turned on him, right up until the moment he couldn't, and the betrayal of his troops still hits me where it hurts.
12. SHMI SKYWALKER (Attack of the Clones)
There's a lot about Attack of the Clones to hate, but when it comes to the death of Anakin's mother -- even if it feels quite contrived -- there's an emotional weight that can't be ignored. Shmi's death precipitates one of the most interesting themes in Revenge of the Sith: Anakin's fear that he can't protect the ones he loves. Because of that, her final moments really work with the overarching emotional punch of the prequels. You can hate Hayden Christensen's acting all you want, but this death really meant something.
11. PONDA BABA (A New Hope)
One moment, one ornery cantina customer, and we've established that the Jedi are absolute badasses. It's a very brief exchange, but Obi-Wan Kenobi makes the power of the lightsaber clear in a matter of seconds, and no one will ever forget it.
10. COUNT DOOKU (Revenge of the Sith)
Count Dooku's somewhat convoluted role in the saga aside, his death serves as an important waypoint in the transformation from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. Even if it is a little On-The-Nose, he's a key figure in the evolution of the prequels' central character, and his death only means more when you put it in context with the rest of Darth Vader's victims.
9. QUI-GON JINN (The Phantom Menace)
A couple of technicalities aside, perhaps, Qui-Gon is the first Jedi Knight we have to watch fall in the saga, and it's a fall preceded by mentoring not one, but two of the most important Jedi in the galaxy. Qui-Gon is a man with a deep faith in the prevalance of good, a man who doesn't play by the rules, and a man who finds a way to live on well beyond his physical survival. That means his death carries more weight than most in this franchise. Also, Liam Neeson was the best part of The Phantom Menace. That is a Science Fact.
8. GREEDO (WHEN HE SHOT LAST) (A New Hope)
Aside from being the source of one of the franchise's most famous debates, Greedo serves as a character who exemplifies Han Solo's ruthless cavalierism. He's barely in the saga, but when you witness his death, it serves to underline just what kind of person we're dealing with when we talk about Han Solo. It's not that he's a bad guy, but we know right from the start that he's not a guy you cross, and that matters. Huge portions of the internet have been devoted to this very moment for a reason.
7. JABBA THE HUTT (Return of the Jedi)
Jabba's death comes not at the hands of the Master Jedi Luke Skywalker, or the Master Smuggler Han Solo. No, he dies because of Leia Organa Skywalker, a woman who's been wronged, who's had it with where she's been placed in this story, and who rises up and defeats her captor. It's one of the more powerful moments in the saga, even if we don't all realize it at first, and that we still talk about it so much only underlines how important it is.
6. CAPTAIN ANTILLES (A New Hope)
5. MACE WINDU (Revenge of the Sith)
4. YODA (Return of the Jedi)
3. PALPATINE (Return of the Jedi)
We'll talk more about the redemption of Darth Vader later, but in the meantime it's important to reflect on just how dazzling this death scene is, particulary when you look at all six movies. Palpatine seems indestructible. This is a guy even Yoda can't beat, and by the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, even if you haven't seen the prequels, he's built up as an impossibly dominant force. Then, the power of fatherly love manages to beat him. That, plus a visually stunning final moment, makes this one of the best Star Wars deaths ever.
2. OBI-WAN KENOBI (A New Hope)
One of the first and most important deaths in the Star Wars saga was preceded by the immortal words "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine," and a meditative pose. Obi-Wan is the first all-important mentor death in the saga, which means a lot if you consider the formula George Lucas originally applied to his story, but he's also the first indicator -- if you're a kid watching these movies -- that Star Wars is a story of loss and redemption, and that Obi-Wan is an exemplar of both.
1. ANAKIN SKYWALKER (Return of the Jedi)
Speaking of loss and redemption...when it comes to Star Wars, it doesn't get more potent than this. At its heart, the original trilogy is about a son's journey to save his father, and in the final moments of Anakin Skywalker's life, Luke Skywalker achieves that. Parse all of the Star Wars moments you want, but it doesn't get more powerful than Anakin saying "You already have" when Luke pleads that he has to save him. Any other problems we all might have with this franchise aside, that is endlessly affecting and powerful.
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