Welcome to the final chapter in Eleven-ThirtyEight’s 20 Most Memorable Moments of the New Star Wars Canon, as voted on by our entire staff! If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out Part I and Part II as well. Before we get to the main event please enjoy the last of our Honorable Mentions—moments that came up in voting but didn’t make the cutoff.
Honorable Mention: Hera’s Code Switch, Star Wars Rebels (Mike Cooper)
I remember very clearly how strange it was when Aayla Secura first appeared in The Clone Wars and for some reason known only to the Creator, she had a French accent. It wasn’t just her, though—it was all Twi’leks, at least all that we got to see. I don’t know if it was intended to give the Ryloth arc a Les Miserable vibe or just a random whim on Lucas’s part, but having a distinct cadence—even one transported whole cloth from Earth—quickly set the Twi’leks apart from most alien species in Star Wars, who typically sound totally normal, totally alien, or, um, uncomfortable.
But Star Wars accents, even at their best, are almost always just for flavor, and trying to make sense of them is a fool’s errand. So when we met Rebels’ Hera Syndulla and she spoke with a normal American accent I thought very little of it—even after she was confirmed to be the daughter of French-sounding Cham Syndulla—and certainly never expected it to be addressed in the story. But late in season two they did just that, and Rebels was richly rewarded for it.
Cham finally made his way onto the show for a two-part arc in which our heroes attempt to forge a relationship between their own Phoenix cell and his Ryloth-based rebels. The arc was a great window into the growing pains of the eventual Rebel Alliance—do we fight the bigger fight or concentrate on our own backyards?—and Hera’s upbringing in particular. The well-worn nature of this debate becomes clear when, during a heated exchange with her father, Hera slips back into her native accent.
I still get emotional thinking of Vanessa Marshall’s familiar voice, flush with emotion, gradually giving way from the voice we knew to the one we suddenly realized she was born with: “I help people. I lead ships into battle. I am part of something bigger!”
This kind of thing wouldn’t be the same in print, and the movies, as much as I’d prefer otherwise, simply don’t have the real estate for it. But just because Star Wars doesn’t need to sweat these details doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained from them. This small moment shows that even the most bizarre little bits of color, when taken seriously and thought through, can flesh out the characters and cultures of this universe, make them feel as real as any here on Earth, and elevate the drama beyond simple metaphor to something that we just get in our guts. Something bigger.
Honorable Mention: The World Between Worlds, Star Wars Rebels (Sarah Dempster)
The thing that has always drawn me to Star Wars is the Force and the spirituality that surrounds the story. It is, after all, why Star Wars is a space fantasy and not sci-fi, and it’s what sets Star Wars apart from other space franchises. The Force is more than just lightsabers and telekinesis, and whenever we get to delve more into it, it inevitably means we’re going to have a wonderful and weird journey.
Dave Filoni is the master of exploring just how weird the Force can get, and long before we had Luke Skywalker telling Rey that it’s more than just Jedi and Sith we had Filoni pushing the limits of just what the Force is and what it can do. The World Between Worlds is an excellent example of taking what we already know about the Force and expanding it even further. From the callback to the “Mortis gods” (thus hinting that the events on Mortis are still something not yet fully understood) to taking Rey and Kylo’s Force connection to a logical extreme by linking together near infinite moments and places in time and space, it’s a breathtakingly weird journey we take with Ezra.
It also offers the ultimate test. Access to pivotal moments in time is a temptation far grander than any faced in the real world. It’s Anakin’s fear of loss writ large; of course Ezra is tempted to reach back in a portal through time to save his master! To be faced with the option to correct the past…well, it’s incredibly tempting. A lesser Jedi probably would’ve succumbed to that attachment, and who knows what devastating effects that would’ve wrought? It’s the biggest glimpse of the ultimate power offered by the Force that we’ve yet seen. And that’s ultimately why the World Between Worlds (and Filoni’s penchant for Force mysticism in general) works so well. It’s far more interesting to get esoteric and cerebral with the Force and continue to explore and experiment. It’s intriguing to think that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what the Force is and what it can do. Otherwise the Jedi and Sith are just telepathic karate guys with light-up swords, and that’s boringly limited.
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5. Yoda’s Final Lesson, The Last Jedi (Mike Cooper)
Decades before the release of The Last Jedi, a different long-dead Jedi Master appeared to Luke Skywalker with a final message. One of Heir to the Empire’s first orders of business was to cut Luke off from his immortal support system, with Obi-Wan Kenobi claiming that “the distances separating us have become too great” for any further tutelage, but that Luke had done well and had much more growth ahead of him.
Yoda’s spectral visitation in The Last Jedi could not draw a stronger contrast between the Expanded Universe and the new canon. Before, Luke was resting peacefully “in his suite in the Imperial Palace”, the spoils of a largely successful campaign against the remains of the Empire. In the new canon he has no taste for spoils, no interest in acclaim. For more than a generation, the old masters had seemingly left him to his own devices, and Yoda now finds Luke a failed teacher, a failed uncle, and an exile from galactic society.1
Why didn’t Yoda and his pep talk show up sooner? For one thing, the nineteen years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope have demonstrated that these things happen in their own time and Yoda is perfectly content to wait for the right moment. What makes this the right moment? Rey, of course. We may not have the full story of her origins just yet, but Yoda not intervening in Luke’s exile before now suggests there is more to Rey’s destiny than the defeat of Kylo Ren, because Luke could have done that years ago.
Luke was waiting as well, though he may not have realized it himself. He could have burned the fancy tree and/or jumped off a cliff at any point—but something always stopped him. One last attempt at the former finally prompts Yoda’s arrival, and Luke’s relief is clear: finally, an omniscient narrator has come to confirm what he’s always known, that the Jedi really must go on.
Then Yoda burns the damn tree for him.
“It is the pattern of all life to move on,” Obi-Wan tells Luke in Heir to the Empire. “You, too, will face this same journey one day.”
Yes, Rey had already taken the books, but their knowledge isn’t pertinent here. This moment is about wisdom—the wisdom not to become a prisoner of one’s mistakes. True balance is a personal journey, not of excising one’s failures, but of learning to accept them, and moving forward anyway. In this, Luke becomes an example not just for Rey but for the entire galaxy.
In a franchise rife with bumper sticker life lessons, “the greatest teacher, failure is” is the closest any one Star Wars film comes to a self-contained thesis statement. Frankly, it’s the moment that makes the rest of The Last Jedi—Poe and Holdo, Canto Bight, the whole concept of Luke’s exile—work at all. The result is a complicated film with no shortage of detractors, but one that confidently flings The Rise of Skywalker into bold new territory, and will hopefully elevate the sequel trilogy from a simple epilogue story into one that truly has something new and vital to say. Rian Johnson’s work here may be done, but he left us with a narrative that can and should grow beyond him. That is the burden of all masters.
4. The Rebel Fleet Arrives at Scarif, Rogue One (Nick Adams)
Rogue One has become a true fan favorite and its presence in these top scene rankings is felt on many levels. There are many epic moments in the film, but the one I am honored to write about is in many ways one of the best. The arrival of the Rebel fleet at Scarif is about as quintessential a “fanboy/fangirl” moment as possible. It literally has everything. Music building to a crescendo. Fast starfighters and massive capital ships bursting onto the scene. New characters and surprising cameos from old ones. Thematically, it’s also a watershed moment. The nascent Alliance to Restore the Republic, on the verge of fracturing just days before, is now united in common purpose. The cheers I heard in the theater on opening night during this scene still give me chills.
A brief personal story. I invited some of my family, including my mother, with me to opening night. My mother, more than anyone else, has fostered my love of the franchise. She was an eighteen-year-old woman in 1977 when she saw A New Hope. Like many other moms and dads, my mother probably watched or listened in the background for hundreds viewings of the original trilogy on VHS when I was younger. As a result, my mother is more well-versed than a casual fan. I will forever cherish the moment that Gold Leader and Red Leader (using unused archival footage from ANH) report in during the arrival at Scarif. As I felt chills of excitement run up my spine, I turned to my mom with a huge grin. “Did you see that?” I asked. She smiled and nodded. “Those were the original pilots!” she said proudly. I wouldn’t trade that little moment for anything.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the Fleet Junkie eye candy in this scene. It was brilliantly composed by ILM and contained an awesome mix of old and new designs. Starships from all three OT films appear. X-wings, Y-wings, and Corellian corvettes from ANH. Nebulon-B frigates and medium transports from The Empire Strikes Back. Even the easy-to-miss Dornean gunship from the background of Return of the Jedi gets a rousing appearance. Not only that, but in a case of true canon connectivity, Hera Syndulla’s Ghost and several Hammerhead corvettes from Star Wars Rebels also appear! Paired with new designs like the mighty MC75 cruiser Profundity and the U-wing, this symphony of ships is performed like a masterpiece.
For these reasons and so many others, this scene will forever be one of my true favorites and has a special place in my heart.
3. Ahsoka and Sabine’s Journey Begins, Star Wars Rebels (Ben Wahrman)
Ah, the Rebels finale and its epilogue. Rarely has so much fan fiction bait been tossed out to an eager crowd all at once. The epilogue is full of bits and pieces of stories that have left people foaming at the mouth for more, from the mere existence of Kanan and Hera’s son Jacen to Zeb and Kallus traveling together to the Lasat homeworld. But it’s the fate of Ezra Bridger, and his friends’ quest to find him, that has left everyone the hungriest.
The last we see of Ezra, he plunges himself and his nemesis Grand Admiral Thrawn into the void of space on an unknown and uncontrolled course, seeking only to get the Empire as far away from his home planet as possible. And then, we cut to years later. The status quo has changed, and the Empire is gone. Peace has come to Lothal. Yet, Ezra has still not returned home. So Sabine, having spent all of that time watching over Lothal in his absence and now restless in a time of peace, decides to leave the planet in search of him.
Sabine is my favorite character from Rebels, so having this last little tidbit tossed out that her story isn’t over with the show’s finale is delightful. We saw her grow up over the course of the show as much as we did with Ezra, thrust through heartbreak and trials and coming out stronger on the other side. She’s become a strong, confident warrior and protector, a soldier for peace in a galaxy defined by war. But what makes it even more exciting is that Sabine is not making the journey alone.
Ahsoka’s transformation from eager Padawan into a reluctant mentor and now a wandering mystic is one of the biggest character stories of the new canon. Back when Rebels reintroduced us to Ahsoka Dave Filoni likened her to Gandalf, a wandering wizard who went where she was needed. Rebels did not end her story either, and indeed she and Sabine are leaving together to go and find their lost friend somewhere beyond the known regions of space. Her teaming up with Sabine has a certain poetry to it considering her many dealings with Mandalore and its people in the past and has the potential to be the same sort of friendship/mentorship we’d sort of seen with Sabine and Hera earlier in the show.
More than anything though, it’s the mind-boggling number of possibilities of where their story can go from here that makes this moment so memorable and key. It’s an ending, yes, but it’s also a beginning to a story that has yet to be told. It’s the perfect sort of And the Adventure Continues… ending that helps keep fans like me in ready anticipation of when and where they will show up next.
2. Obi-Wan and Maul’s Final Duel, Star Wars Rebels (Abigail Dillon)
I doubt I’ll ever comprehend the full scope of “Twin Suns”. I spent a year and a half putting it through intense scrutiny, and I’m still discovering new layers. There’s a majesty to this episode that uplifts the entire canon. If you feel I’m getting too hyperbolic, please recall that this episode opens with a walking corpse monologuing to himself, using the name of his archnemesis as punctuation. I think I’m allowed an itty-bit of melodrama.
Seeing as the votes of the staff here weren’t for the whole episode, let me narrow my focus to our scene of choice: the duel.
On a technical level, it’s brilliant. How the camera tightens in on Maul while holding Obi-Wan at arm’s length during the standoff. The tracking shot, how Maul dominates the frame even as Obi-Wan lands the fatal blow. The elements of Kurosawa, the lighting, the soundtrack blending elements of the Force Theme, Duel of the Fates, and Maul’s own theme from Rebels. Five hundred words could not do it justice. Four thousand words could not do it justice.
However, all those technicalities would ring hollow if they weren’t character- and story-driven decisions. With minimal dialogue, Obi-Wan and Maul’s history is carried in their tones of serenity and bitterness. Each action is a deliberate tale of character growth or stagnation. Obi-Wan’s three poses alone are a story about a general fighting the wrong war, the Jedi who found his path again, and the Padawan who is about to surpass his own master.
Then there’s The Catch.
Maul takes a knee, and Obi-Wan steps in to cradle him before he can hit the ground. It’s the most poignant gesture of compassion we’ve had in Star Wars. Forgiving not a son or father lost, nor an enemy-turned-ally, but an unrepentant foe. Every element of Obi-Wan and Maul’s rivalry begs for the former Sith to pay bitterly for all his deeds. Yet Obi-Wan steps in with gentleness, and ensures that Maul can pass on in peace.
It’s a moment whose poetry spans the entire breadth of the saga. It’s not just the oft-mentioned deaths of Qui-Gon and Satine that we see reflected here. It’s Ezra’s forgiveness of Tseebo. It’s Satine comforting a Death Watch terrorist. It’s Maul losing Savage. It’s Luke reconciling with Anakin. Even the sequel era, currently lacking an equivalent to the catch, has a duel deeply reflective of “Twin Suns” in visuals, themes, even dialogue.
There’s also something to be said for the level of weirdness necessary for this moment to exist. This is the backstory to someone we knew for years (1977-1999) primarily as a ghost. It requires a devil-man coming back from death-by-bisection though sheer anger, giant spider legs, and Transylvanian accents. And that’s just skimming the surface of both characters’ stories.
“Twin Suns” is born from weird, and uses it to paint a poignant tragedy that ends on a note of hope. Is there anything more quintessentially Star Wars than that?
1. Rey Catches the Lightsaber, The Force Awakens (Sarah Dempster)
No other moment in a Star Wars movie caused as much cheering as the first viewing of The Force Awakens and watching Luke’s lightsaber zoom past Kylo Ren and into the waiting (and shocked) hand of Rey. At a moment when things seem their darkest (both literally and figuratively) Rey finds the power within herself to keep fighting. At this point we already knew Rey had a connection to the Force, but it’s one thing to watch her using it to unconsciously push back against Kylo’s mental assault and another to see her use it to quite literally snatch the legacy Skywalker lightsaber out of his hands.
But perhaps my favorite part of this moment is what happens immediately after: while Kylo looks on in utter disbelief, she slowly ignites the saber with a look of fearful determination. She’s got no idea what she’s doing and she’s going up against someone with years of training, but that’s not going to stop Rey from defending Finn and doing her absolute best to stop Kylo, who seems hellbent on starting his own reign of terror. And it’s no coincidence that the music cue during the moment is the very same one that plays during A New Hope when Luke discovers his home burned and his family murdered. Just as that moment was a major turning point for Luke, setting him on the path to his ultimate destiny, so too is it a decisive moment for Rey. At that moment she ceases to be the scavenger waiting for her family on Jakku and becomes someone whose fate is inextricably bound up in the fight of light against dark.
It’s a monumental moment not just in the context of the story but on a meta level too. That was the moment it became clear that Rey was the star not only of this movie but of the whole sequel trilogy. For the first time the Star Wars mythos was focused around a young woman. Not only that, she’s got the Force and is using a lightsaber! Though Ahsoka had been a staple of The Clone Wars for many years at this point, never before had the movies shown a female Jedi as anything other than a glorified extra, let alone as the leading protagonist (because even Ahsoka had to share main-character status with Anakin and Obi-Wan). And furthermore, nothing makes a pop-cultural impact like the movie arm of the Star Wars franchise, and with this lightsaber catch Rey instantly became a hero for a whole generation of children, especially girls. Because now we can see that girls can use the Force and fight with a lightsaber just as well as the boys.
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And that’ll do it! Didn’t see one of your own favorite moments? Think our ranking is bad and we should feel bad? Leave a comment below and let us have it!