The Worst Scene in ALL of Star Wars (and 9 that Make up for it)
2019 brought closure to that wonderful galaxy far, far away. It was quite the thrill ride with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. What started out as an epic Romance in the truest tradition became something of a soap opera. While it is a shame that the series fell in the direction it ultimately did, you can’t deny the fun you had on the journey; the exciting action of the prequels, the adventure and character of the originals and the sweet nostalgia of the sequels. The series explored basic philosophy in a safe way, presented it through archetypal characters and breathtaking action and tapped into narratives so base-level and primal that some treat this franchise with so much reverence that it almost becomes their religious philosophy. Some filmmakers who helmed the franchise really got what George Lucas was trying to say and others really seemed to miss the mark. This is something that became blatantly obvious in what is easily the worst scene in the entire franchise, and unfortunately it is the final scene of the Skywalker saga.
The scene is there to bring the audience back to where it all started. We are shown iconic imagery; a Sandcrawler combing the desert, a familiar ‘Otayni!’ shouted from a Jawa (the first alien creatures we met all those years ago), the home of a young farm boy who dreamed of being a war hero, and finally the rising of the twin suns. The musical cues swell the emotion and the credits hit. Can you feel that sweet nostalgia being tapped directly into your veins?
But the scene rings hollow. We see the burying of Luke and Leia’s lightsabers, then Rey ignites her own lightsaber, signaling a sort of passing of the torch. She stands tall. A wanderer asks who she is. She says Rey, then (awkwardly) looks off camera to the force ghosts of Luke and Leia before saying Skywalker. This scene is somewhat noble in its approach but fails to understand any of the characters in the scene and steals away Rey’s agency as a character. It exists, not for story or character, but only for audiences to get one final goodbye from their old friends. Let us explore more, shall we.
The image of the twin suns setting is arguably the most iconic shot from the franchise. Luke, looking longingly to the future. It is poignant. It shows him holding himself back from taking that next step, which we as an audience knows he eventually takes and becomes the greatest Jedi. There is so much meaning packed into that imagery, which is why one would want to call back to it. But what is really happening in that original scene is that Luke wants to escape Tatooine. He wants off the planet; one he feels shackled to. He wanted nothing more than to leave and be the force of change he eventually became. Leia spent, at most, a handful of days on Tatooine and they were spent as a slave (plausibly a sex slave no less) to a giant slug that she eventually strangled to death. Burying Luke and Leia together, surely has meaning, but burying them on Tatooine makes no sense in character.
Chris Terrio, Oscar winning screenwriter of Argo…and not so Oscar winning screenwriter of Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice and Justice League said in an interview that the scene righted a wrong that should never have been made and that is why Rey buried the sabers together on Tatooine. He was referring to the splitting up of the twins. Sure, there is faux meaning in this corrective action, but it misses the point and fails to listen to the wants of the characters. Not only would Luke and Leia not want Tatooine as their final resting place, but Terrio failed to recognize that it wasn’t Luke’s lightsaber that was buried. Luke’s lightsaber was his green bladed one from Return of the Jedi. He constructed it and wielded it himself. He became a Jedi with it and saved the galaxy by choosing when and when not to use it.
The lightsaber that was buried on Tatooine was Anakin Skywalker’s. Remember him? The slave boy who dreamed of being freed and becoming a Jedi, the character who once said the immortally awful lines, ‘I hate sand. It’s coarse and rough and it gets everywhere.’ That’s whose blade got buried with Leia’s. That is definitely not where Anakin would want to be (symbolically) buried. Sure, you could make some argument that his blade is now buried in the same soil as his mother, so all Skywalkers are together, but I promise that that thought never entered the minds of the filmmakers. No, the authorial intent of that scene was never to bring closure to the Skywalkers, but to bring closure for the audience as a means of bookending the opening and closing stories. It is a move that is both emotionally manipulative and bad storytelling.
The film slams the nail in the coffin of narrative by then disgracing the character of Rey. The film went to great lengths to tear Rey down as a character. The vociferous (and often misguided) fanboys—so called purists of the original films—spent years calling Rey a Mary Sue (a term used to criticize a character for being too perfect to the point of being boring). ‘How is it that she is so powerful? She did nothing to earn that power!’ they would cry to the hate tank that is the internet. Terrio used J.J. Abrams built-in quandary of who Rey’s parents were to retcon info already given to us in The Last Jedi and strip her character of any natural power and revealed that she was *gasp* a Palpatine. As if giving someone a powerful and familiar lineage gives understanding of power. It was a move that has taken a lot of criticism (deservedly so) and I won’t get into that here. I already detailed my issues with that in my original analysis of The Rise of Skywalker.
Rey Palpatine is the answer you get for why she is so gifted. Why couldn’t she just be gifted? It’s as if giving someone a name with power behind it justifies power. When will people learn that recognizing one’s power does not diminish your own? Anyway, at the end of the film, after Rey has symbolically buried the Skywalkers she is asked who she is. She answers ‘Rey.’ The wanderer asks, ‘Rey who?’ She sees the visage of Luke and Leia and replies ‘Skywalker.’ It is a sweet line in the context of the moment but a flawed one. She knew Luke for a couple of days, max. She fought with him for most of that time. She grew close to Leia, but Leia was an Organa and never took the Skywalker name. It is just weird that Rey would call herself Skywalker. It is a move as vapid as Han and Leia naming their son Ben (after Obi-Wan who Han knew for a collective day and Leia never actually met but had heard stories of). The point of doing it is for audience sentimentality, not for any character reason. A better response would have been for her to say ‘Rey. Just Rey.’ That way she maintains any form of agency the film tried to build for her and would have given her ownership over herself. No family lineage, just herself…kinda like Yoda.
These decisions stem
from lack of vision. Abrams was tasked
with making Star Wars movies that play only to nostalgia and escapism but
failed to make any sort of artistic statement. I think this is because he is a filmmaker that has no actual vision of
his own. His cinematic achievements are the
admittedly fun Mission: Impossible 3 (that plays like a marital drama, not
unlike True Lies or Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Star Trek (a movie about a blond haired,
blue eyed farm boy who dreams of space adventures to fill the shoes of a long
dead father, but is befriended by an old man who knew his father and is trying
to stop a planet destroying device from taking control of the galaxy; he remade
Star Wars), Super 8 (an homage filled love letter to the works of Spielberg),
Star Trek Into Darkness (a reworking of The Wrath of Kahn) and The Force
Awakens (a soft remake of Star Wars with the genders reversed). He is a rehash artist, and worse yet is that
he doesn’t even put his own spin on his rehashing. It is easy to call Quentin Tarantino a rehash
artist as well, but no one questions his vision or artistry. His movies are statements with exclamation
points. Abrams’ are quotes without
This is made more perplexing when looking at who brought Star Wars into being in the first place; George Lucas was one of the filmmaking pioneers of the Auteur Theory. The Auteur Theory came about in the late 60’s/early 70’s and maintains that the director is the author of their art, one who has a center focused control of their work (even in a collaborative atmosphere). They are authors with a vision and full authorial intent. Their work are statements. Spielberg is another pioneer of the Auteur Theory and his films are about Wonder and Obsession. Those are the two primary themes of his films. George Lucas focuses his films on the concept of Taking the Next Step. THX 1138 and American Graffiti (his best film, you should check it out) are both about the main character wanting to change their station in life but fearing to Take that Step. Both films are purely about that singular narrative and both end with the main character choosing to Take the Next Step or choosing not to. Star Wars (A New Hope) is the story of what happens when you do Take the Step, something that happens early on in the film. The Phantom Menace is also about this but then weaves in the theme of destiny vs choice. Attack of the Clones follows Anakin having Taken the Step but then choosing to act in line with his choices or to engage his inner darkness. Revenge of the Sith is about Anakin having to Take the Step down the dark path and circles back to destiny vs choice. His films follow a central theme and offer a clear vision of it. Rian Johnson (director of The Last Jedi) also fits into the Auteur Theory. His films are about subverting genre and often have a slant towards social commentary. Abrams has no authorial intent other than to evoke a feeling of seeing movies he cherished when he was young, establishing that feeling and making the audience live in that feeling. The Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker feel, unmistakably, like Star Wars but both films feel hollow because they don’t really offer anything the audience hasn’t already seen or felt. Hell, the climax of Rise of Skywalker is lifted almost directly from Avengers Endgame.
Abrams and Terrio both love Star Wars. That much is obvious. They want you to feel how much Star Wars means to them. They just don’t understand Star Wars outside of how it made them feel. There is no philosophy underpinning the story. There is no sense of theme that was not already present in Episodes 4-6. There was almost no thought into who these characters are beyond how they behaved in 4-6 and the new characters get short shrift because they are just recharacterizations of previous characters rather than original characters in their own right. The Last Jedi at least tried to send all the characters in new directions that gave them agency, but this film backpedaled that film to offer up something more familiar and in doing so the narrative died, buried in the sands on Tatooine.
The Scenes we Love
As unfortunate as it is that the final scene of the saga missed the mark by so much, it is important to pay recognition to the scenes that got it right. These are the scenes that made us fall in love with a story about space wizards, space pirates, furry aliens and bickering droids. Every movie has at least one moment of genuine greatness. Let’s pay respect to the scenes we love.
The Phantom Menace – The first Prequel film received a lot of criticism because it simply didn’t feel enough like Star Wars. This is true. The classic Romance and heroes’ journey was not at forefront, but rather we got a highly political film about how a Republic falls. An argument can be made that the complexity of the Prequel films may lend to a more thoughtful and provocative narrative, but it is inarguable that the movies simply lacked the infusion of fun that was so present in the Original films. The Phantom Menace is a film that gets a bit of a bad rep because it is slow and only touches the overall tragedy of Darth Vader, but if you set aside the baggage you bring knowing it is a Star Wars film, this is a very visually inventive, incredibly imaginative film that plays nicely as an independent fantasy film—not unlike Willow in space.
The one thing people seem to agree on is that, while the film is slow, the action makes up for it and this film has two great action set pieces. The Pod Race is fun and unlike anything ever seen in Star Wars, but it is the climactic lightsaber duel that offers the best The Phantom Menace has to offer. Choreographed like a vibrant and aggressive dance, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul and his double-bladed lightsaber is still as effective and cool today as it was in 1999. A fair amount of thought was put into it to represent character in the fight style. Darth Maul is aggressive and always provoking response, almost like stoking flames. Qui-Gon is reactive and dignified as he fights and Obi-Wan is still learning. He is sloppier but tries to end the fight swiftly. The addition of the force-field to separate the characters, while making no sense, adds a moment for the audience to breath and builds tension in an otherwise tensionless movie. This is a fantastically directed scene and Ewan McGregor sells the ‘NOOOO!’ that many in the franchise could not.
Attack of the Clones – In a film that is probably the worst Star Wars film can be found one of the strongest scenes of the Prequel Trilogy. The scene in question has Anakin, back in Tatooine, searching for his mother who has been kidnapped by Sand People. Needless to say, he finds her, and she dies in his arms. This scene is the first we see of the villain within Anakin truly lash out and bring rise to the Vader we know. Hayden Christiansen is often criticized as a bad actor (he is not, see Shattered Glass to be blown away by this dude’s talent) and in most of the movie he is relatively stone faced and wooden but here we get to see a bit of genuine emotion from him and watching the anger flare up is quite effective. John Williams’ score (which went unmentioned for Phantom Menace, but he did a great job) is super effective at setting the emotion of the scene. After her death, the strings scream to signal the turmoil within Anakin. It is a great scene. Most of the Tatooine stuff in the movie really gels, but none more so than this exact moment.
Revenge of the Sith – This is the Prequel film that gets the most love and it is a love that is deserved. It has the strongest screenplay of the Prequels, manages to find balance between political plotting and mythic storytelling and has solid performances from all cast members, with Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid being stand outs. The action is spectacular and evokes emotion and sensation. Mace Windu’s confrontation between his crew of Jedi and Palpatine is wicked cool and brings rise to Darth Vader in a scene that is effective and believable. The confrontation between Obi-Wan and Anakin (which people had waited 30 years to see) is grander than anyone could have expected and is probably the best lightsaber duel of the series. The scene where Palpatine declares the Republic as the ‘First Galactic Empire’ is weirdly emotional and offers the film’s best quote when Padme says, ‘So, this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.’ The scene where Yoda confronts Palpatine in the senate chambers and Palpatine starts dismantling the senate by throwing the senate chairs at Yoda offers strong visual symbolism. As cool as all this action is, it is a scene with two people talking at an Opera that is the strongest of the film. When Anakin is told the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise by Palpatine we are shown how effective at manipulation Palpatine is. It is a scene where McDiarmid showcases his excellent talents. He hits a balance of subtlety and over-the-top that is perfect for genre films and rivals the performance work of Alan Rickman in the Harry Potter films. The scene is also visually engaging and the music—so soft and seductive—lures you into Palpatine’s story. In a film full of spectacle and sensation, it is remarkable that the quiet talkie scene is the strongest moment.
A New Hope – There is not a moment in this film that isn’t engaging. It is easy to point to the strongest moment as the Trench Battle sequence at the end, and I do think that that is where the film fires on all cylinders, but the strongest chunk of the film happens twenty minutes before on the Death Star. When people think of Star Wars, they often think of these scenes; the dynamic established in the rescue of Princess Leia and how she rescues her rescuers during her own rescue. Leia is at her best in this film. Gloria Katz did some uncredited punch ups of Leia’s dialogue and her character is pitch perfect in this film. The fact that the tension builds as problems mount is what sells all the Death Star scenes. First the Millennium Falcon is captured, then the heroes have to evade capture themselves, and then they discover the Princess is on board and mount a rescue, and then they are cornered during the rescue so they escape through a garbage chute, and then there is a monster in the garbage room, and then the walls begin to collapse and then they escape only to be cornered again by an army of Stormtroopers and then Obi-Wan confronts Vader and becomes one with the force and then they actually escape. It is perfect adventure filmmaking.
The Empire Strikes Back – For many, this is the best Star Wars movie and it is hard to argue against this. This film put the characters in track in the way we most love. Luke showed great emerging power, Han was still a badass but started to show a little more humanity and became the unexpected romantic lead of the series, Leia continued to showcase her leadership skills but lowered her defenses and offered up her own human side, Chewie got more to do, 3PO and R2 continued as comic relief, Yoda was introduced and brought a new level of philosophy to the series and Darth Vader became the coolest Big Bad in all of cinema history. There is not a moments weakness in the film. The asteroid scene is still incredibly fun, the training of Luke is powerful, Cloud City is gorgeous, and the freezing of Han is emotional, but it is the confrontation between Luke and Vader that makes for the best scene. The fight is shot perfectly. Irvin Kershner brought a great visual language to the film and this film has the best use of lighting in all of the franchise. The big reveal that Vader is Anakin is powerful and still holds effect. Watch this movie with a four-year-old who does not know the secret and the reaction is almost Luke’s verbatim. This is inarguably the most important scene of the series.
Return of the Jedi – The conclusion to the Original Trilogy is something of a talking point. As a younger viewer, I loved this film. It was my favorite one. Back when there was only three, in fact, it was Empire that was my least favorite. But then I grew and as I did, I sort of grew out of Jedi. Don’t get me wrong, the film has some of the highest highs of the whole saga. The opening stuff on Tatooine (while making no sense; like seriously, try and break down Luke’s plan, it is insane) is thrilling and offers a series of great moments. The stuff with the second Death Star (while being a little lazy) is incredibly engaging and cathartic. It is the middle section that drags. As more and more Star Wars content came out, the Endor criticism seems to have taken a stronger hold in the minds of a lot of viewers. It is true that this offers a nearly perfect conclusion to the stories of 4, 5 and 6 but it is also true that it is one of the more flawed films in its pacing, its general visual blandness, and the fact that it plays rather predictably. That being said, the film is full of genuine emotional moments, two of which were the toss up for the best scene of the film. The scene where Yoda passes is incredibly powerful and the strength of writing in the dialogue is palpable. When he says to Luke, ‘Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall,’ I tear up every time. Frank Oz’s voice work is at its strongest. All the storytelling and character work in that scene is masterful.
And, then there is the final fight of Luke and Vader. The moment that Luke edges to the brink of tipping his anger into primal rage and then pulling back and tossing the saber to declare himself a Jedi is one of the most emotional moments in the series for me. Mark Hamill grew as a performer in these films and this is the moment where he really shines from the Original three films. The scenes that follow are equally powerful. Vader confronting Palpatine and the funeral play extraordinarily on the heartstrings. When Jedi is good, it is near perfect but when it lags, it is as plodding as a Prequel film
The Force Awakens – This was an incredibly disappointing film for me. The laze in the screenplay really hurt, as I dissect in my original review from opening day. That said, there are moments of greatness and it is the film’s opening and closing twenty minutes. Kylo’s introduction is spectacular and him catching the blaster bolt is possibly the coolest moment in the series. The closing battle between Kylo Ren and Finn that gives way to Rey vs Ren is fabulous. I love that the battle is clumsy and fully of passion. And could the shot of Rey catching the saber be any cooler?
The Last Jedi – The most divisive Star Wars film also has some of the strongest scenes. It is easy to point to the section on Canto Bight and say that it was unnecessary. To some extent it is. I have defenses for that section, but it is the weaker of the three plot lines in the film. Looking past that section is a series of near perfect scenes. The screenplay for this film is extraordinary. This film goes to great lengths to build character and establish motivation. More than that, Johnson really understands Star Wars in the fashion that George Lucas had originally envisioned it. He takes the franchise, dissects it and embraces it with love. The film’s subversive nature makes it hard to embrace if you just want a film like The Force Awakens that gives you familiar things in an inviting and completely unobtrusive way. But, if you are not being challenged by a film, why watch it? Empire challenged its audience in the same way this film does and is hailed as the crown jewel of the franchise now.
There are so many great scenes that it is hard to choose just one as the greatest. The scene where Holdo blasts into lightspeed through the First Order is stunning, the scene where Luke kisses his sister goodbye always makes me cry, the scene where Yoda imparts one final lesson onto Luke is nothing short of profound, the scenes where Rey and Kylo are connected and we get a Rashomon-style thread of information as to why Ben Solo turned to the dark side is rich in meaning and offers the importance of perspective, the scenes of Luke and Rey training are insightful, the scene where Poe understands the value of running and the scene where Rose saves Finn from Poe-like foolhardy sacrifice escalate character growth, the scene where Rey and Kylo team up on Snoke might be one of the best lightsaber battles of the saga, and the confrontation between Luke and Kylo brings a perfect conclusion to Luke’s character arc, so much so that he gets to watch the twin suns set knowing that he accomplished what he set out to all those years ago as a young farm boy on Tatooine. But the scene that really gets Star Wars is the first lesson between Luke and Rey. All their lessons are spectacular, but the first one understands the force in a way that it hasn’t been understood since A New Hope really. The editing is exceptional, the dialogue perfect, and the performance work exquisite. I am kind of stunned that Hamill did not receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination that year because it was a powerful and raw performance. This is Star Wars.
The Rise of Skywalker – I will forever argue that The Rise of Skywalker has the worst screenplay of any Star Wars film, but that doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t offer up a few moments of greatness. It is impressive how Carrie Fisher was woven into the fabric of the film. The scene where Chewie learns of her death is emotional. The fact that Adam Driver so perfectly channels Harrison Ford in the finale is impressive. The scene where Han and Kylo Ren make up in sweet and well-acted, but it is the battle between Rey and Kylo on the broken Death Star that is the best scene of the film. The action is great, and it offers a neat visual nod to the fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin with water replacing the lava. It is not lost on me that the best scene in both of Abrams’ films are ones that are far more actiony and visually motivated rather than character driven. There is some character work in this scene, but it definitely plays second to the spectacular action that leads up to the character stuff. That said, this scene manages to understand its characters far better than the film’s final scene does and is the absolute highlight of The Rise of Skywalker.