Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Star Wars Edition - The Part-Time Critic

Friday, April 17, 2020

Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Star Wars Edition


Without a doubt, the Star Wars franchise is one of the most influential and iconic film franchises of all-time. I enjoy the series, but I wouldn't consider myself a fan. I think The Empire Strikes Back is the best film of the bunch and there is a significant drop-off after that. For the purposes of this post though, I thought it would be fun to take my desire to analyze and my love of action sequences and turn them loose upon the franchise that, at least for the time being, isn't going to put out another major entry. What follows below is my own personal ranking of the 54 major action sequences spread across the eleven live action films (I am not counting the animated ones). Before we get going, a couple of things to keep in mind.

Singling out action sequences and comparing them to each other is an inherently unfair and subjective process. It's unfair because many of these sequences only work within the context of the full story or are intercut with other plotlines and don't hold up as well when viewed in a linear fashion. Other sequences, like the lightsaber fights in the original trilogy, aren't really played for their action as much as they are played for drama. Thus, if you see a beloved lightsaber sequence rank low, it doesn't mean the scene wasn't a good scene, it's merely being ranked as an "action" scene. If you'd like to read a bit more about my philosophy on action scenes click here. If not, you can see the list below with some commentary to follow.

54-41

54. “Padme and Anakin Stuck in Conveyer Belt Hell” -E2: AOTC  *Officially the worst!
53. “Kessel Spice Mine Heist” -Solo
52. “Luke vs a Rancor in Jabba's Palace” -E6: ROTJ
51. “Rathtars Attack!” -E7: TFA
50. “Finn & Rose Escape the Supremacy and Phasma” -E8: TLJ
49. “Lightsaber Fight: Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader” -E4: ANH
48. “Trade Federation Attempt to Assassinate Obi-Wan & Qui-Gon” -E1: TPM
47. “Lightsaber Fight: Palpatine vs. Mace Windu” -E3: ROTS
46. “Finale: Breaking In to Take the Viceroy Out of the Naboo Palace” -E1: TPM
45. “Rescuing Amidala and Escaping Naboo” -E1: TPM
44. “Alliance & Empire Battle on Planet Eadu” -Rogue One
43. “Kylo leads a Fighter Attack on the Resistance Convoy” -E8: TLJ
42. “Finale: Naboo Fighters Take on Federation Fighters and Starship” -E1: TPM
41. “Lando Helps Leia and Chewbacca Escape Cloud City” --E5: TESB

40-31
40. “Finale: The Battle of Exegol” -E9: TROS
39. “Speeder Chase in the Desert” E9: TROS
38. “Finale: Final Fight with Dryden” -Solo
37. “Lightsaber Fight: Ren & Rey Takes Out the Knights & Palpatine” -E9: TROS
36. “Making the Kessel Run to Escape the Empire” -Solo
35. “Opening: Resistance vs. Dreadnought” -E8: TLJ
34. “Finale: Gungan Army vs. Droid Army” -E1: TPM
33. “War on Geonosis: Clones vs. Droids” -E2: AOTC
32. “Opening: Speeder Chase to the Spaceport” -Solo
31. “Shootout and Fight in the Streets of Jeddha” -Rogue One
30-21
30. “Millennium Falcon Chased by the Empire to an Asteroid Field” -E5: TESB
29. “Lightsaber Fight: Kylo vs Rey on the High Seas” -E9:ROS
28. “Finn & Poe Escape from the First Order in a Tie Fighter” -E7: TFA
27. “Lightsaber Fight: Obi-Wan & Anakin vs. Dooku” -E3: ROTS
26. “Chancellor Palpatine vs. Yoda” -E3: ROTS
25. “Rebels and Ewoks Battle to Destroy the Generator” -E6: ROTJ
24. “Finale: The Battle of Crait” -E8: TLJ
23. “Monsters, Droids, and Jedi's Battle in the Geonosis Coliseum” -E2: AOTC
22. “Lightsaber Fight: Skywalker vs. Vader and the Emperor” -E6: ROTJ
21. “Battle of Takodana: Resistance vs. First Order” -E7: TFA

20-11

20. “Obi-Wan and Jango Fett Dogfight in an Asteroid Field” -E2: AOTC
19. “Rescuing Princess Leia & Escaping from the Death Star” -E4: ANH
18. “Utapau Showdown: Kenobi Takes Out Grievous” -E3: ROTS
17. “Obi-Wan and Jango Fett Fight in the Rain on Kamino” -E2: AOTC
16. “Escape from Jakku” -E7: TFA
15. “Lightsaber Fight: Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” -E3: ROTS
14. “Lightsaber Fight: Kylo Ren vs Finn and Rey” -E7: TFA
13. “Battle Over Endor: Rebels Take on the Death Star & the Imperial Fleet” -E6: ROTJ
12. “Lightsaber Fight: Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader” -E5: TESB
11. “Speeder Chase Through the Endor Forest” -E6: ROTJ

10-1

10. “Speeder Chase through Coruscant for an Assassin” -E2: AOTC
9. “Lightsaber Fight: Rey & Ren vs the Supreme Leader's guards” E8: TLJ
8. “Destroying Jabba's Pleasure Cruise & Escaping the Sarlac Pitt” -E6: ROTJ
7. “Lightsaber Fight: Duel of the Fates” -E1: TPM
6. “Coruscant Space Battle: Rescuing the Chancellor” -E3: ROTS
5. “The Battle of Scarif” -Rogue One
4. “The Battle of Hoth” -E5: TESB
3. “Coaxium Train Heist” -Solo
2. “Pod Race on Tatooine” -E1:TPM
1. “Finale: The Death Star Run” -E4: ANH

The only Star Wars action sequence I would give an unqualified "A" grade too is the Death Star run in the 1977 original. It is the most iconic and influential action scene from the entire franchise for good reason. First, it isn't intercut with a bunch of other plotlines. Somewhere along the way, the franchise got into this "we've got to have one group turning a shield/generator/homing device/whatever macguffin" off while another group is in the sky with their aerial battle. This intercutting of sequences really hurt the finales of Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and none to greater effect than what it did to Rogue One's Battle of Scarif.

The "Battle of Scarif" had all the making of an all-time action sequence, but we end up going from some of the most dynamic and beautiful aerial dogfighting to a lame quest to retrieve a hard drive (oh know, where is it?...oh no, the retrieval arm doesn't work...oh no, I have to climb to the tower!). Due to the intercutting, all of the big money shots and kinect action in the skies lack a genuine flow and connection that would have kicked the entire sequence up a notch. The Battle of Hoth in Empire benefits from a very linear presentation. Could you imagine if the majority of the AT AT sequence was intercut by several 3-4 minute sequences of Solo trying to scramble codes at a computer?

Thankfully, the entire "take the shields" down sequence in A New Hope is taken care of previous to the final action sequence. Once the sequence begins, it becomes a mini-movie all to itself. Anyone looking to recapture the "spirit" of what makes Star Wars great should re-watch this scene. Everything comes together in this scene - Leia as leader, Luke as the pilot at home who finally learns to listen to the force, and Han the mercenary sticks his neck out for friends. All of this is done without having to craft multiple subplots - but it keeps us locked in for an extended dogfight sequence complete with its own three act structure.

This quality of providing an extended sequence where important character traits come to the forefront is what makes the pod racing sequence stand out as well. Yes, it's a gorgeously produced racing sequence that would be the highlight of any film. In fact, the visual effects are so good, they could be placed in a blockbuster film today and I don't think anyone would blink an eye. However, it's the ability to take the extended time to tell an entire mini-story within the pod racing sequence that bumps it up iconic status. We get to see the reflexes, quick-thinking, and spontaneous nature of Anakin in this scene (and then it's mostly negated in the finale sequence, but that's another story).

So what does Star Wars have to offer that other franchises don't? Having looked over the entirety of action sequences, I think when Star Wars is as its best, it is offering extended action sequences that feature fast pace travel, substantial odds, and characters that get frazzled, overwhelmed, frustrated (often comically), and beaten down, but endure it with hope, gee-whiz wonder, and fellowship. Put all of that in an adventurous and exotic science fiction/fantasy space setting and you have the foundation of what Star Wars offers that others franchises don't. I for one hope those at Disney don't forget it.



*For those who are just interested in the lightsaber fights, I've placed them in their own list below for convenience:
All the Major Lightsaber Fights Ranked

13. “Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader” -E4:ANH
12. “Palpatine vs. Mace Windu” -E6:ROTS
11. “Ren & Rey Takes Out the Knights & Palpatine” -E9:ROS
10. “Anakin, Obi-Wan, and then Yoda vs. Count Dooku” -E2:AOTC
9. “Kylo vs Rey on the High Seas” -E9:ROS
8. “Obi-Wan & Anakin vs. Dooku” -E3:ROTS
7. “Chancellor Palpatine vs. Yoda” -E3:ROTS
6. “Skywalker vs. Vader and the Emperor” -E6:ROTJ
5. “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” -E3:ROTS
4. “Kylo Ren vs Finn and Rey” -E7: TFA
3. “Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader” -E5:ESB
2. “Duel of the Fates” -E1: TPM
1. “Rey & Ren vs the Supreme Leader's guards” -E8:TLJ

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