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

*Last Updated 5/21/2022

Without a doubt, the Star Wars franchise is one of the most influential and iconic film franchises of all-time. I do enjoy the series, but I wouldn't consider myself a big fan. 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 58 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. First, how would I rank the the eleven main entry films? Here's a glimpse into the entries I enjoyed and the ones I didn't.

11. Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker (D+) 2019
10. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (C+) 2017
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story (C+) 2018
8. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (C+) 1999
7. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (C+) 2015
6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (C+) 2002
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (C+) 2016
4. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (B-) 1983
3. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (B) 2005
2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (B+) 1977
1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (A-) 1980

After viewing the entire franchise (many times), what do I think Star Wars has to offer that other franchises don't? 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. Unfortunately, as you'll soon discover, despite having the budget and access to the best creatives in the industry has found it difficult to provide action sequences that aren't flawed in major ways. Of the 58 major action sequences, I wouldn't put even 20 of them over a 'B' rating. I for one hope those at Disney can get past their vices it as they consider new entries.

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.

All Star Wars Action Scenes Rated and Ranked
GRADE: C-
58. “Canto Bight Escape: Rose & Finn Find a Con Man” -Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Commentary: Rose nd Finn come to the casino planet of Canto Bight to find a guy who can help them hack into the First Order's security system. Unfortunately for them, they parked they spaceship in the wrong place and they are arrested. Seriously, that's a thing. While in prison they meet a con man who they accept as the guy who will help them and they escape prison. Along the way they release the imprisoned Fathiers (think horse like creatures) who are being forced to race for rich peoples pleasure. Finn and Rose ride these animals on a stampede through the casino and then into the wilderness, up a rock wall, and then are able to hitch a ride on their con man's spaceship. I hate this sequence so much because I honestly feel 1) It's an oddly shoehorned moral message (about animal abuse) in a film series that isn't known for such things 2) It makes Rose out to be this flat and moralistic character "Now its worth it" 3) This 2.5 hr movie has time for such a silly tangent. I just can't stand this sequence.

57. “Finale: Naboo Fighters Take on Federation Fighters and Starship” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: There's a clip of behind the scenes footage with George Lucas watching a first cut of this film and saying something like, "I think I may have gone too far in some places." The finale for The Phantom Menace is something like four or so different action sequences all cross cut. It was a poor decision. I think it's best to consider each major strand as its own sequence for rating purposes. For instance, why let this horrible strand detract from the incredible 'Duel of the Fates' lightsaber fight? Nowadays, people watch the fight as a standalone sequence already. Makes sense to me to do it this way. Easily the worst part of the four-strand finale is Anakin's shoehorned "oopsy I hit a button" flight to space and destruction of the Trade Federation's space station. First, the space battle itself is lame. A couple nice visuals and "it's shields are too strong" are not a structure. Second, Anakin literally lucks himself into victory. He accidentally hits a button that takes him to space, crash lands in the perfect spot, and accidentally/unkowingly hits the big weak spot for the ship. He then escapes perfectly. It's annoying, shoehorned, and one of the worst space battles in the entire franchise.

56. “Kessel Spice Mine Heist” -Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
- Commentary: A fairly lengthy sequence that lacks style, looks ugly, and is filled with meaningless and unenjoyable distractions. Beckett's crew needs to steal some unrefined coaxium from the Kessel spice mines and they play the (now cliche in film) I've got prisoners routine to get in. The problem is that the setting isn't that interesting, the heist is pulled off without cleverness or difficulty, and the most distinctive parts have nothing to do with the action sequence itself. For instance, the main droid connected with Lando L3-37 has this thing where she enjoys freeing robots. She frees one or two and then an all-out rebellion breaks out. I don't know what to think about this - it's strange and odd and when combined with Lando's odd relationship with L3 and how they "upload" her consciousness into the Millennium Falcon - is the film trying to make some transhuman like statement about robots and life? I don't know - the whole sequence feels unengaged, boring, and not quite cohesive to me. What are they doing here?


GRADE: C
55. “Finale: The Battle of Exegol” -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
- Commentary: The writers of the ninth entry into the main canon of Star Wars films think it's a good idea to have a big space battle where the rebels just need to locate a main weakness to take the entire villain fleet out. This time, a fleet of a million Star Cruisers uses one little tower for their navigation. Oh you think that's old and played out, well the writers had the bad guys notice the resistance was going for the tower and they transferred the navigation controls to a central ship! So there! So get this, one of the ships provides the navigation help I guess for everyone who can't leave without that help...lolololol...I mean...it's one thing that this film resurrected Palpatine, it's another level that somehow he conjured up like a million star cruisers (with crews!), but to believe they all need this one thing for navigation control is just unforgivable. How stupid do they expect their audience to be? Anyways, in an attempt to bring some originality and give Finn and his new girl something to do, they land a troop ship on the navigation ship and plan to lead an charge on the navigation tower on the ship. Another problem with this space battle is that it's intercut heavily with the Rey/Kylo vs. Palpatine stuff. These creatives want to emulate anything successful from the original series but the one thing they have rarely done is give us a basically linear space battle finale like A New Hope did. Seriously, ever since then cut up every space battle into pieces with other threads - sucking any momentum out of it. There's more problems, but there's also due to money and competency alone some decent space battle stuff as well. Too bad it's just dumb dumb dumb on a grand scale. 

54. “Rathtars Attack!” -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: After Han and Chewie pick up their old Millennium Falcon they are visited by a Guarvian Death Gang. While it's nice to see Iko Uwais get some work in a big Hollywood film, it's a shame he's just a background guy meant to die from a random "Rathtar" attacks. This sequence feels alot like an establishment action sequence where the writers need to establish the action/character credentials so they imagine something to demonstrate to the audience who the characters are. The best establishment scenes feel organic and natural. This one feels  arbitrary and rushed - where our characters rather than being established, feel inconsequential to the action of the Rathtars. Ultimately, besting them just means pushing some buttons and then running away to the Millennium Falcon. Because of that lack of development, this feels like this was just the writers way of getting Hans back in the Falcon along with Rey and Finn. The coincidences here just keep adding up in unsatisfying ways.


53. “Padme and Anakin Stuck in Conveyer Belt Hell” -Star War Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Commentary: A completely unnecessary action sequence that feels shoehorned into an already action-packed third act. We learn in this action scene that Anakin is just not powerful enough to overcome his biggest enemy - an automated factory. Seriously, watching our two heroes struggle to act against blue screen enemies and imagine whatever CGI factory things they are being told is surrounding them is painful. That the sequence is so bad and unnecessary must make everything doubly painful. I even feel for the CGI artists who spent so much time and effort on this sequence polishing what they knew to be a turd.

52. “Luke vs a Rancor in Jabba's Palace” -Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Commentary: This is a tough one to rank because it is so short and simple. I get why, the Rancor is incredibly difficult to animate and outside of maybe an animated film or using modern day CGI - every second of this sequence is enormously cumbersome to produce. Still, I'm here to rate the final product and though we get a really cool idea, setting, and monster - the way in which Luke brings the monster down is too quick and anti-climactic for me. I just don't find this one very engaging despite the great setup.

51. “Finale: Breaking In to Take the Viceroy Out of the Naboo Palace” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: The second worst strand of the four strand Phantom Menace finale has got to be the non-descript shootout between the Trade Viceroy's forces and Amidala's forces. Other than some blaster vs. blaster moments, shot in a flat and boring way, we get an okay diversion that allows Amidala to get the upper hand on the Viceroy. It's pretty run of the mill stuff and other than the location/backgrounds, this kind of sequence is run of the mill television action. Just mediocre stuff here.

50. “Opening: Trade Federation Attempt to Assassinate Obi-Wan & Qui-Gon” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: The anticipation of The Phantom Menace for die hard Star Wars fans must have been off the charts. We all know the frustrations that greeted the fandom when the film arrived, but I anticipate that their worries about these new Star Wars films must have begun with the very first action sequence of the prequel trilogy. We being with Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon and Ewan MacGregor's Obi-Wan boarding a space station as "ambassadors" to negotiate a trade dispute. First, the context of the politics are muddled and unclear to the audience after that scroll and the setup - What are Jedi Knights doing here? Second, this is our chance to see what real Jedi Knights can do since the original trilogy was an age basically without Jedi until the rise of Luke. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are detained in a room and gas is let in, but I guess we learn that Jedi's have incredible hold your breath abilities. They escape the room and quickly take care of droid guards by reflecting their blaster shots with their lightsabers and also using the force to push them back. This is neat at first (a new sight!), but they handle it so easily that it's not really a challenge. Then Qui-Gon uses his lightsaber on blast doors to try and enter the bridge of the station while Obi-Wan holds off droids. Eventually some Droideka's show up that have stronger blasters and their own shield system. These are apparently too much for the Jedi's to handle so they head out. This is strange, why can't Obi-Wan just use his established force powers to knock them over? Anyways, we also see a new power, the Jedi's run away very quickly, like almost superhuman speed. The films never really follow up on this power in a serious way. The Jedi's then escape on some transport ships. It's clear from the first action sequence that Lucas is still feeling out what he wants to do with the Jedi and while its interesting, it's just not that engaging action-wise.

49. “Arresting the Chancellor: Palpatine vs. Mace Windu” -Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Commentary: One of the issues with providing such amazing choreography in battles like the Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace is that every lightsaber fight before and after will be compared with it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when the choreography returns to more of the practical swing/thrust medium shot nature of the original trilogy it can feel a little silly. When the Chancellor is confronted by a group of Jedi including Mace Windu here, Palpatine takes out a few Jedi with a couple simple thrusts - he makes them look like simple cannon fodder. It's strange. At least Windu gets a bit more back and forth, but it's all so unathletic and closely shot that we immediately recognize it as lesser work.

48. "Opening: Tantive IV is Boarded and Droids Escape" -Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
- Commentary: It doesn't get a 'C' because it's bad. It's just a short, quick, and workmanlike sequence with a natural rating ceiling the way it is written. That opening shot of the Tantive IV (I had to look up the name) being captured is great and the opening shootout isn't bad as the Empire boards the ship. After the hyperactive filmmaking of later episodes it's nice to sometimes watch these early ones and the vibe being more paced can feel like a completely different franchise at times. 

47. “Message Exchange & Light Speed Skipping” -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
- Commentary: This introductory action sequence sees Poe and Finn getting an important message from a resistance ally on an ice kind of planet. It leads to a Millennium Falcon chase sequence against tie fighters that is serviceable but very run of the mill until they start "light speed skipping" and the tie fighters are chasing them as they do it. It's one of those odd moments in a franchise that is now 11 films in where the writers decide "oh, we can do this now because we want them to". It makes no sense in the universe they have set up, except as a new gimmick by desperate creators. Love the idea, but throwing it at viewers without showing us the discovery or development of it is lazy. LAZY stuff here.

46. “Kylo leads a Fighter Attack on the Resistance Convoy” -Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Commentary: "We need to get out of range of the star destroyers and the fighters will fall back"...this is the kind of nonsense one has to put up with in the action scenes of the sequel trilogy. The Kyle led Tie fighters are wrecking the Resistance ships but apparently if they get out of range of the Star Destroyers then because "they can't cover you" they have to return? Protect them from what? They were wrecking balls, they had the Resistance nailed down. Look, unless the visuals are absolutely crazy good (and they are good) then you need so much more to register as a great action scene. Everything in space looks great in 2017 basically. This little sequence feels like writers working - in particular - they needed a Kylo/Leia moment and they got it and everyone is back to status quo after. Count me also in the camp that views the Leia force flying through space as a step a bit too far. Nothing we've seen so far in the major films is meant to make us expect or accept that.

45. “Rescuing Amidala and Escaping the Naboo Blockade” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: The same issue the opening action sequence on the trade federation station occurs here - the Jedi's are just too powerful for their droid enemies that it makes any action sequence between them really underwhelming. There's nothing wrong with sequences taking out large number of goons to make good guys look powerful, you just have to do it with style. Unfortunately, the Jedi's here are so laid back and zen that they barely break a sweat and rarely do something in a way that's iconic or cool...so why should we care that much. Anyways Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon rescue Queen Amidala and her entourage from custody and escape on a ship together. This is the "too easy" part. Thankfully they encounter a blockade around the planet that damages their ship requiring at least a bit of drama and allows for the introduction of our favorite R2 unit who goes out and fixes the damage just in time. It's just enough visual spectacle and drama to raise the sequence up beyond bland.

44. “Supremacy Battle: Finn & Rose Escape Phasma, Holdo Maneuvers” -Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Commentary: Oh man, after a pretty darn good lightsaber battle, this film just goes downhill from there. First, Finn and Rose are meant to be assassinated by Phasma, but instead she decides to humiliate them (giving Holdo more time). Second, Vice Admiral Holdo performs her now infamous light speed destruction maneuver where she essentially suicide bombs the Supremacy ship by going to light speed right through it. Count me as someone who both admires and hates this idea. They executed the moment really well - it looks and sounds great. However, the more you think about it the more you realize that this is a maneuver everyone should be doing then. Why not just build smaller ships that could go lightspeed and are drones and tear apart any Star Cruiser of size? I don't quite get it. It's kind of like Kylo stopping the laser blaster in that opening scene of The Force Awakens and never using that level of power ever again. Just mind boggling. Anyways, this throws off Phasma and that group enough for Finn to get a weapon and take on Phasma for about a minute with the ship crumbling around them. Of course, Phasma isn't seen dying she just falls down some crumbling floor and out of sight. Very unsatisfying. Rose and Finn then hook up with BB-8 who is operating a walker and they head out of the ship. 


GRADE: C+ 
43. "Finale: Attack on Starkiller Base" -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: Here we are, we've come to it, the biggest flaw in Disney's sequel trilogy opener is doing the SAME OLD THING again. The fact that Return of the Jedi repeated the "destroy the Death Star" concept from A New Hope was already troubling and suspect, but The Force Awakens creating a third "destroy the Death Star" finale is just bonkers stuff that got a lot of criticism but not enough. Not only is it trying to recreate the original feeling, but it never even comes close to realizing what made that original sequence so compelling. First, they are missing the originality. Second, and this is a HUGE one, they are missing the linearity. This finale is interweaved to death. It's hard to get that interested in the various storylines here. Third, the characterizations are unclear and hazy. Kylo (despite getting the Han death moment), Rey, and Finn are mostly still mostly mystery boxes by the end of this - clay for the writers to choose their eventual direction. At the end of the trench run in A New Hope, Luke, Han, and Leia had essentially completed their character arcs. Even the major uptick in visual effects capability hasn't added anything of substance to this finale. Too long, not substantive enough.

42. “Lightsaber Fight Finale: Ren & Rey Takes Out the Knights & Palpatine” -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
- Commentary: There's some neat ideas here. I like Kylo and Rey teaming up and Rey somehow force sending a light saber to Kylo. I like the idea of Kylo taking on the Knights of Ren. Unfortunately, though the franchise was given three films to do it, the Knights of Ren never really amounted to an interesting sub-villain here - they are just random goons to take out. When Kylo and Rey do take on Palpatine, it's not that interesting. We eventually get the same old canard about "strike me down and become like me" crud that wasn't that interesting and believable well back in Return of the Jedi. At least other finales in the series had an interesting setting like Crait to give eye candy - this one is just dark and looks like it was nothing but a green screen. Anyways, she eventually does kill him and nothing happens anyways. It's all dumb all the way down. This is easily the worst film in the series and the dual finale of this fight and the Battle of Exegol going on show why. 

41. “Finale: The Battle of Crait” -Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Commentary: On paper and just visually, this sequence is pretty darn good. I love the idea of a salt planet where when you kick up the salt it leaves this red trail - it's such a visually engaging idea. I get how it's a kind of a play on the Battle of Hoth with the AT-AT walkers on salt (not snow!) and instead of speeders it is these broken down fighters. On top of that you have Rey piloting the Millennium Falcon through these crystalline salt caverns - just visually gorgeous stuff. This should be in the B level range as far as action goes. The real problem with this entire sequence is how they handle the Finn and Rose stuff. After the AT-AT's take out most of the resistance fighters, Finn is told to go back and "not be the hero" - supposedly some "lesson" Poe learned earlier in the film (which I didn't agree with either). So Finn decides to sacrifice himself by ramming the big death star like gun that's about the blow the door open on the resistance base. Then right before Finn hits the cannon, Rose knocks him down to save him. First, the hit Finn takes from Rose could have killed him. Second, what's wrong with him sacrificing himself for the greater good? Isn't that exactly what Holdo just did to great acclaim? It's such an obviously idiotic and stupid "moral" lesson that I just can't let it go. It ruins the sequence. After Rose says to Finn  "I saved you" we see the cannon fire against the door and fail to open it. However, what if it blasted a huge hole and everyonoe died? Would it have been a good deed of Roses? Just dumb. To top it off, Luke's projection has a showdown with Kylo (to buy time I guess) and Kylo is made to look like an emotional idiot too. Seriously, the writing in this film has a way of making everyone do stupid things. Anyways - great ideas on paper here - until we get to the "point" and climax where it can't be forgiven. Sorry.

40. “Making the Kessel Run to Escape the Empire Blockade” -Solo: A Sar Wars Story (2018)
- Commentary: After escaping with coaxium from the Kessel spice mines, Han and the rest of the gang on the Millennium Falcon have to escape an Empire blockade. A few tie fighters emerge from a Star Cruiser and the chase is on. Han brings the Falcon into a maelstrom that's supposed to kill them, but it ends up being just a kind of asteroid field plus storm. Han seems able to mostly navigate it. There's a bit of a chase, shootout, and chance for Han to show his skills. This stuff is just alright, but everything is so dark and hard to see that it really loses something in the action. When the group encounters a giant living creature, a giant gravity well, uploads a robot's consciousness plus spikes their reactor with raw coaxium, and then jumps to hyperspace through a closing hole - it feels like we are jumping the shark to me. I just never buy it and with each new upping of the stakes it feels more and more like a writer's manipulation to make sense of "I made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs" than an organic sequence. 

39. “Cloud City Finale: Lando Helps Leia & Chewie Escape the Empire” -Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Commentary: This is the side plot of the finale and it's pretty meh as a culminating shootout and escape to be honest. I like that we get to run around Cloud City a bit and there's a nice bit of visual effects in the final chase of an Imperial cruiser against the Falcon, but other than that - it's a lot of just point and shoot, run to a door, point and shoot, run to the ship kind of stuff. Still, it's engaging stuff and brings all of our heroes together, sans Hans.  

38. “Finale: Final Fight with Dryden” -Solo: A Sar Wars Story (2018)
- Commentary: The convoluted "who can you trust" ending of Solo brings us a fight sequence between Dryden Vos, Han, and Qi'ra. It's short and sweet with one or two nice looking moves, but there's an odd central flaw here. There's a moment where Han gets the drop on Dryden and is going to shoot him with a blaster and we ::gasp:: see Qi'ra stop Han. We soon learn this is to just get Dryden's trust so that she can surprise attack him. The problem is that her surprise attack isn't a surprise and just ends up in a normal fight with Dryden which he ultimately wins. That's right, she stops Han from a sure win so she can then surprise Dryden and get him in a normal fight. That's at least how the scene plays out - dumb. 

37. “Ren's Cruiser: Resistance Rescue Chewie & Get the Dagger” -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
- Commentary: Another sequel trilogy action sequence with fundamental flaws. First, it's serviceable action. There's some decent shootouts here and there's a decent "force connection" saber fight between Rey and Ren. However, the flaw is that this is the umpteenth time a resistance has easily boarded a Empire/First Order ship, snuck around, rescued, and escaped. It's redundant and our heroes roam around like security is paper thin. They eventually get caught so the writers can spring another flaw on us - General Hux as a spy/traitor. It really means nothing as his character was all but assassinated in The Last Jedi.

36. “Jedha Streets: Shootout and Fight with Stormtroopers" -Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
- Commentary: Although the tone of the film is conflicted, there's a tone/genre goal reminiscent of World War II espionage/resistance films where there's no trust between factions of rebels facing a dominant empire/army. You can feel that tension as Jyn Erso, Cassian, and K-250 walk the streets and look for a way to contact Saw Gerrera. In the streets they happen upon a Gerrara led attack on an Empire tank/transport and a shootout occurs. It's decent action wise, but nothing special. They eventually escape for a beat and then encounter more stormtroopers but are saved by Donnie Yen's blind Jedi worshipping Chirrut and Wen Jiang's gun toting Baze Malbus. I'm obviously a big fan of Donnie Yen and love that he even gets a somewhat bit role in this film - but his character is just groan worthy - blind, wise, and spouting off trust in the force. At least they let him do some moves - even if it doesn't make much sense when everyone has blasters. Anyways, its just an okay scene, but there's some strange edits and structure here that betray that this section of the film was probably a lot more lengthy and different at one time in the script. At least they were able to salvage something serviceable.

35. “Battle of Naboo Finale: Gungan Army vs. Droid Army” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: The third major strand of Phantom Menace's four-strand finale is this decent fantasy war sequence between the Gungan army and the Droid army of the Trade Federation. Time has not been kind to this sequence. While it still wasn't a great battle sequence when it came out in 1999 due to its lack of characters we are rooting for and stories within the battle, at least it had the sheen of "shiny new visual effects" going for it. The effects have not held up and would be an embarrassment for any "fantasy war" video game with today's visual standards. It's too bad because you can tell a lot of thought and effort went into this sequence. The arrival of the droid awesome is smart and visually creative. I'm sure someone really thought through how these droids could be folded up, put into transports, and effectively deployed. The Gungan army has some unique features (there visual effects are the biggest eyesores here) that stand out as well. We get some nice war visuals here, but the lack of realistic elements, whether human characters or vehicles, just makes this look like a video game cut scene when viewing it today. When you combine the fact that Jar Jar Binks essentially lucks himself into killing droids and in another finale strand Anakin lucks himself into taking out the space station, what do you really have to root for here on repeated viewings?

34. “Eadu Base Assault by the Alliance” -Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
- Commentary: This is one of those sequences I wanted to so badly love and rate higher. I love the setting of the Eadu Base among the rocky mountains and the rainy nighttime atmosphere. Despite some nice little visual effect/action pops of X-Wings attacking Eadu base and the Empire firing back with artillery and a couple tie fighters, it's clear that the film isn't interested in making this a real action set piece. I love what we get here, but it's just too short and focused on other things to rate higher here.

33. “Finale: Darth Vader Narrowly Misses the Plans” -Rogue One: A Sar Wars Story (2018)
- Commentary: Look, it's short, but this is really are only chance in the entire franchise to see Darth Vader just be a butt kicker. Everything else is a one on one battle or intimidation of subordinates. This little coda on the end of the Battle of Scarif is like a nice little cherry on top. Getting to see Vader take out a hallway full of guys is something we never had and never realized we really wanted. It's simple but the intense focus is what makes it work so well, it all does one thing: Pump up Vader to look amazing.

32. “Deathstar Ruins Fight: Kylo vs Rey” -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
- Commentary: Here lies another victim of the general rule that all the sequel trilogy action sequences have to have some kind of undermining flaw that won't let you fully enjoy them. There may not be a better candidate than this one - I mean the setting for it is incredible. In the ruins of the death as giant waves wash around it we get a technically impressive fight between Kylo and Rey. It all looks fantastic. There's just three major problems: we don't really know why they are fighting each other. The emotion isn't there because after three movies of revisions and revisions, we don't really know what these characters want and how killing each other actually gets it for them. Second, we've seen Kylo and Rey fight several times already - it's okay - but neither have a ton of charisma as swordsmen. Third, the gimmick of Leia breaking in (allowing Rey to get the upper hand) and Rey healing Kylo just smack of ad hoc storytelling. So much of this feels like the result of a confused writing room that had to do a million edits and re-writes over the course of this trilogy. It's too bad because they clearly spent a gazillion dollars on making this stupidity look amazing.

31. “Corellia Opening: Speeder Chase to the Spaceport” -Solo: A Sar Wars Story (2018)
- Commentary: I love the idea of a young Han Solo racing around some place called Corellia with the love of his love trying to get free - I mean it's like a Bruce Springsteen song right? The problem is that the Corellian setting is really ugly - like some random factory alleyways slightly decorated to look a bit foreign. The speeder chase isn't bad per se, but it just never gets past serviceable. There is no great skill or clever idea that Han gets. There's no major destruction going on or awesome visual effect. It's just a decently shot speeder chase around an industrial area.

30. “Opening: Resistance vs. Dreadnought” -Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Commentary: The follow-up to The Force Awakens performs a kind of reset on the ending of that film. Instead of triumphant over the First Order, they are scrambling for survival and trapped on a planet by First Order Star Cruisers and eventually a "Fleet Killer" dreadnought. To buy time for the resistance forces to escape, Poe Dameron pulls a hail mary idea off - distract General Hux (who is made to look like an absolute rube in this film) with some prank call and then take out the surface cannons to make way for a bomber run. There's a nice visual look to Dameron's attacks and even to the bomber runs, but I'm just someone who does struggle with the idea of bombs "dropping" while in space. I get shooting missiles and lasers, but dropping bombs without gravity is a bit too far. I'm also a little tired of all the convenient "hit them here in this one place" weaknesses of every major vessel. The drama of the last second bombing is nice, but we've seen this tactic too many times by now- its so very redundant.

29. “Lightsaber Fight Finale” -Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Commentary: Do you think anyone other than die hard Star Wars fans can identify exactly who Count Dooku is and what role he actually played in advancing this story? Despite that, he's the big villain here in the end and he's given the honor of besting not just Obi-Wan, but Anakin, and even Yoda as well! One might think that with that kind of credibility they would make him a bigger villain, but nope, he's dispatched at the beginning of the next film pretty quickly. I don't quite understand that logic (a problem with much of this franchise), but that shouldn't distract from this pretty good fight sequence. We get a couple of nice back and forths between Dooku (or at least the stuntman with Christopher Lee's face placed on him) and Anakin and Obi-Wan until they are ultimately bested. We then get a moment I'm still conflicted about - Yoda's lightsaber skill. On one hand, it is so cool to see Yoda get the chance to flip and twirl and just look a beast with a lightsaber. On the other hand, he hobbled in on a cane. The incongruency of that makes it so hard to enjoy. Anyways, his showdown with Dooku begins with a force battle with questionable CGI and ends when Dooku distracts him by forcing him to save Anakin and Obi-Wan. It's inconclusive - which feels like the biggest sin here. Still, there's some nice choreography and I think(?) it's cool to see Yoda get to do his thing.

28. “Opening: Attack on Tuanul Village” -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: After a ten year break in Star Wars films, this is our first action sequence Disney's attempt at starting a new trilogy for the franchise. The primary goal here is to introduce the status quo to the audience and give us a sense of the film's goal. On that end, this does a pretty good job. We are introduced to Poe Dameron who is getting vital information for the resistance from an old man. It's not long before First Order ships arrive. It feels like the director JJ Abrams guide for this sequence was a stereotypical "Americans burning a Vietnamese village for information on the Vietcong" sequence. The storm troopers shoot at civilians, light their huts on fire, and search for Resistance fighters. One trooper, who we will later know as Finn, doesn't seem to want to follow along. Eventually we get introduced to Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren who is shown to stop a laser blast with the force. That's a pretty darn cool moment that the rest of the trilogy will mostly ignore for some reason. As an introductory sequence to the characters, conflict, and aesthetic this is pretty good and economical. As an action sequence, it's just alright. 

27. “Battle of Endor Finale: Skywalker vs. Vader and the Emperor” -Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Commentary: I've removed this sequence from the space battle and forest battle phases because it feels disconnected from them action wise. The fight here feels a bit standalone, even if it is connected plotwise to the other moments. What neuters this sequence as an action sequence a bit is Luke's unwillingness to fight and strike down the Emperor or Vader in order to win his father over. This means he is playing defense a lot and just trying not to give into his emotions. I get the conflict they are going for here, but I just personally disagree with this entire "If he strikes me down he becomes like me" argument. There's plenty of moments in this franchise (and in life) where someone strikes another down out of self-defense or even out of a proactive sense of stopping someone from hurting others without become an evil person. I get the idea, I just think it's too simplistic and not well developed. Thus, this fight might be a dramatic high point of the film, when Vader turns, but it's not that great as an action sequence. To be fair, it's still held back by Luke's inability to be convincing as a swordsmen.

26. “Pasaana Desert: First Order Speeder Chase” -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
- Commentary: After being discovered by Kylo Ren at a festival on Pasaana, the First Order chase our heroes into the desert on speeders and jet packs. The chase has a couple of nice little action beats as the squad take out the soldiers chasing them down. Randomly a jet pack soldier shoots and takes out the speeder and lands our group in a sinking field where they end up in some caverns. It's a decent short pop of action that doesn't really get a chance to breathe and make more of a passing impact.

25. “Asteroid Field Chase: Millennium Falcon Chased by the Empire after Hoth” -Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Commentary: After the incredible Battle of Hoth, the grouping of Han, Leia, Chewie, and the Droids are being chased by Imperial tie fighters. Since hyperdrive isn't working on the Millennium Falcon, Han is forced to take the chase into an asteroid field. We get a couple short beats of flying past Imperial star cruisers, then the asteroids, and finally they take shelter in one of the bigger asteroids where they will be for the next chunk of the film fixing the Falcon. It's a short and sweet action moment that looks good and must have taken the effects team weeks/months to do.

24. “Lightsaber Fight Finale: Kylo Ren vs Finn and Rey” -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: This is a tough lightsaber battle for me to rate. On one hand, I think it captures the beauty and intensity of what a lightsaber is better than almost any other fight in the franchise. Kylo's saber sizzles and when he gets it close to Finn's shoulder you feel just how dangerous the saber is. The nighttime snowy forest also allows for the colors of the sabers to really shine here and give off an ambient glow that adds an aesthetic I find very beautiful. All that said, I can't stand the plotting and characterization in these fights. It begins with Finn, an ex-stormtrooper, wielding Luke's saber against Kylo and getting some decent back and forth beats against him, but ultimately failing. Based on what we know, Kylo should absolutely own in like 2-3 moves someone like Finn. I don't get it. Next, Rey comes to and uses her force skills to get Luke's lightsaber and she fights with it for the first time. She's untrained and she stands toe to toe with Kylo, even getting the best of him once. Wut? It's just a strange back and forth that doesn't seem to make sense of what we all know about lightsaber battles. The end of the battle occurs when the planet parts RIGHT BETWEEN Kylo and Rey forcing them apart. HOW CONVENIENT! This feels like your favorite legendary wrestler going against an up and comer (who management likes and is getting a force PUSH) and the new person no sells all the offense, is about to beat the legend, and then the time limit is called. Count me as one of those who think the writers made Rey too powerful too quickly - same with Finn for that matter. It nearly ruins the whole sequence. 


GRADE: B-
23. “Battle of Takodana: Resistance vs. First Order” -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: After a load of exposition and wishy washy character decisions (man I bet the writer arguments over these sequences were intense) we get the First Order attacking a temple/cantina run by Maz Kanata for "a thousand years". The First Order strike first with their tie fighters raining down lasers and stormtroopers closing in on the ground. There's a strange moment where Finn gets Luke's lightsaber and essentially begins wielding it which is odd because I thought it was a Jedi weapon that required force powers. First Order catch Han and Finn but the Resistance shows up in X-Wings and we get some nice X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter action beats around the geography of the area. Rey also meets Kylo but is quickly outclassed and captured. With this the First Order retreats and the sequence essentially ends. Visually beautiful (the whole film is), but a bit of a mess when it comes to the story and characters.


22. “Senate Smackdown: Palpatine vs. Yoda” -Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Commentary: All of my issues with Yoda all of a sudden becoming the swiftest of foot in a lightsaber battle that I brought up for the finale of Attack of the Clones still applies here. However, if I could put that aside, it's hard not to acknowledge and celebrate the pure spectacle they pull off here. Using the Senate chamber for this fight sequence is the perfect choice and I love the sword fight transitioning into a force battle with the Senate planet pods being used as weapons against each other. The Emperor is now in full mustache twirling villain mode here and it surprisingly works well. Given the credibility and status of Yoda and the general string of defeats that our heroes continue to get in this movie (I know it has to setup A New Hope) it's disappointing for yet another major showdown to essentially end up in a withdrawal. On visual spectacle alone, this sequence still engages and entertains despite its flaws.

21. “Finn & Poe Escape from the First Order in a Tie Fighter” -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: This is a fun little sequence that really raised my expectations for the rest of the film (that were ultimately a bit dashed). Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is captured by the First Order and just so happens to be escorted to his cell by a Finn, a storm trooper who wants a new life and to get out of the Order. I love that we get to see how the Tie Fighters are stored and when Poe and Finn first try to exit the Star Cruiser, they are still tied down. This allows them to blast soldiers and the command center in the docking bay. There's some great effects here and the damage looks great. They fly along the cruiser avoiding and taking out cannons. The interactions between Finn and Poe here are fun and exciting as they get to know each other and share the emotion of escaping the First Order. The sequence ends with the First Order firing ventral cannons and causing them to crash land on Jakku. Short and exciting stuff here.

20. “Lightsaber Fight Finale: Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” -Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Commentary: 
They tried so hard to make the most definitive and epic lightsaber fight that they ended up becoming a parody of a great lightsaber fight. Put aside the clunky setup of "Only the Sith speak in absolutes!" (this is something Star Wars fans have become used to) and we have a pretty decent lightsaber fight for the first half or so as they battle from the landing bay into the planet control center. There's some nice visuals and fight beats here - it's clear both actors are really giving it their all but they both have such similar styles that the fight ends up becoming a little rote and they often just look like they are performing their choreography that sometimes looks too similar to really make it obvious who is who. They end up going outside and the lava of the planet becomes the main backdrop. We get one really cool iconic shot, but once they go outside the control room things get so silly and over the top that it's really hard to enjoy the scene. From swinging on ropes to flying around on lava droids, this is a perfect example of trying too hard. We also get a similar disappointing ending as we get in the Duel of the Fates fight where one Jedi tries to jump over another - this time the right result occurs though. There's a lot of work here and some epic shots and I really want to like this scene more, but in the end it just becomes too over the top and silly to dismiss. A real missed opportunity here.

19. “Asteroid Dogfight: Obi-Wan vs. Jango Fett" -Star War Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Commentary: It isn't very long after their first encounter on Kamino that Obi-Wan and Jango get to face-off again - this time it is in a dogfight through an asteroid field over the planet Genosis. I can't really explain it, but I feel like this sequence embodies well the "cartoon series" plotting and action structure vibe that Attack of the Clones has. What I mean is that the plot kind of takes its time just slowly unfolding and rather than giant action set pieces, we get these nice little action sequences dotted along the way. Hopefully that makes sense. The visual effects of this chase through an asteroid field hold up wall with the exception of the texture work on the asteroids themselves - that feels like work out of the late 90's. Two things stand out here to me: first is the nice little battle of smarts between Jango and Obi-Wan that began in their rain fight. This is a bit deeper than just shoot and run. Second standout feature here is the incredible sound work. Their interpretation of a seismic charge is impossible to forget and calls to mind the visuals as soon as you hear it. I used to work at Best Buy I remember this scene playing on repeat as a way to sell TV's and sound systems. To me, unless a filmmaker is trying to create a larger and more consequential action set piece - this is exactly the kind of memorable and engaging action I like. 


GRADE: B
18. “Battle of Geonosis Finale: From the Coliseum to War” -Star War Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Commentary: After Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme are captured on Geonosis they are put into a Coliseum battle against large and scary creatures. I'm not sure why, I mean Count Dooku surely knows what the Jedi are capable of. Anyways, we get are a couple minutes of some of the better CGI battles against creatures you could find in the early 2000's. It's not great, it does lack that grounded texture CGI lacked then, but at least there's some decent back and forth action beats until the Jedi show up in force and join the battle. This is really the first time we've ever seen this many Jedi on screen at once and Dooku unleashes a droid army and Jango Fett on them in response. The Jedi's get to slice through the simpler droids and we even get Mace Windu's iconic defeat of Jango Fett here. Eventually the droids are too many and overwhelm the Jedi's and that's when Yoda and his new clone army come to the rescue bringing us to an all out war that would become Battle of Geonosis. This finale action sequence of Attack of the Clones has multiple strands like Phantom Menace did, but it occurs in a much more linear fashion, which is certainly my preference. From the Geonosis Coliseum we then proceed to a battle between their clone army and the droid army. It's not a great battle if we are talking drama here, but if we are talking about pure spectacle - this is a nice little treat. In comparison to the Gungan war from Phantom Menace, it's nice that this battle isn't largely comic relief, filled with nothing but CGI, and is played seriously. The various shots of aerial battles and ground forces attacking are framed to be cool looking, intense, and epic. The CGI does have real Jedi mixed in and Yoda is commanding the Clone army. I much prefer this tone and aesthetic. Unfortunately, the battle does suffer from having a confusing context as the politics are still a bit fuzzy to me after many viewings and explanations. 

17. “Utapau Showdown: Kenobi Takes Out Grievous” -Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Commentary: For me at least, the best aspect of the prequel trilogy are the little science fiction/fantasy action gems like this one. We get this unique fantastical setting of Utapau - a kind of gigantic hole in the ground with layer after layer of civilization. We meet a unique race of people being held hostage and there's even some unique fauan in the way of a giant lizard like Boga that Obi-Wan gets a hold of and rides through the sequence. He drops in on Grevious and his forces and the battle really takes off when Grevious, a half robot/half creature thing, reveals he has four arms and lightsabers. Obi-Wan begins picking off his arms one by one in a fight and eventually the Republic's forces arrive and it becomes an all out attack. Grievous takes the opportunity to try and escape on a cool looking one wheel vehicle but Obi-Wan gives chase on his Boga. They go through some cool cave scenery and Obi-Wan ends up jumping onto Grevious' vehicle and they come to a crashing end on a lower launch pad. They end up in a 1 on 1 fight where Obi-Wan learns that kicking a metal opponent isn't a wise idea to hilarious results. Obi Wan ultimately defeats Grevious after he was able to open his chest protector and get an unprotected blaster shot at his heart causing him to go up in a fiery smoke. Little fantasy gems like these and fights with bounty hunters on an ever raining ocean planet,  tracking down an assassin on a speeder at night in a city that covers a whole planet, gigantic pod racing matches on a desert planet, or lightsaber duels with acrobatic enemies that wield two-sided lightsabers and look like the devil - this is the true contribution of the prequel trilogy for me.

16. “Escape through Jakku Junkyards” -Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: Once the First Order discover Finn, who has miraculously connected with Rey, on Jakku they order an attack on the area. Rey and Finn must outrun an aerial assault and get away, thankfully the Millennium Falcon is just sitting in a junkyard waiting to be boarded. The amount of coincidence in those two sentences alone should be cause for alarm in the writing of this film, but I'll leave it alone for now. They board the Falcon and take off with tie fighters hot on their trail. This is our first chance to see how, ten years after Revenge of the Sith, aerial space battles will look after new tech advances. What we get looks fantastic as the Falcon and a few tie fighters fly in and out of the desert wreckages of large star cruisers. There's some really dynamic camera movement here as Rey maneuvers the Falcon through some tight spaces and hairpin turns. It's good stuff that is slightly held back by some poor character development and coincidence. First, the coincidences I previously mentioned do weigh on the scene (oh, you can just steal a ship by getting in and turning it on?). Second, Rey starts the sequence barely able to get the Falcon up in the air as she scrapes the ground and takes out some buildings. A minute or so later she is outflying professional tie fighter pilots and doing incredible acrobatics through some tight spaces. It's odd and I don't know why she's so good at it. 

15. “Kamino Rain Fight: Obi-Wan vs. Jango Fett" -Star War Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Commentary: I've always loved this little showdown between Obi-Wan and Jango. In fact, I feel like Attack of the Clones had a serious cartoon series vibe with its plot and dotted nice little action sequences (not giant set pieces) like this one along the way. I like how it just kind of kick started out of nowhere, has the atmosphere of that perpetual overcast rain against a modern and slick looking station, and feels like a contest of more than just muscle, these were smart guys trying to outsmart each other. Obi-Wan surprises Jango Fett as he is leaving off one of the pads in the rain. A few blaster shots and then Jango uses his jet pack to hide high behind a large tower where he launches a missile at Obi-Wan and his son shoots laser blasters from his ship. Obi-Wan regathers and fights hand to hand. The two end up sliding down the wet side of the launch pad with Jango using a gadget to stop himself and Obi-Wan falling several stories down and needing to make his way back up. The whole confrontation is short, doesn't really break any new ground, but feels like a well-thought out fight that lacks filler and just throws their main weapons at each other right away. Again, for my tastes, unless a filmmaker is trying to create a larger and more consequential action set piece - this is exactly the kind of instant pop of memorable and engaging action I like. I could watch this one over and over. 

14. “Death Star Adventure: Rescuing Princess Leia & Escaping” Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
- Commentary: Obi-Wan, Luke, Han, and Chewie escape from Tatooine but end up in the remnants of a system recently destroyed by the Death Star. Soon they find themselves sucked in by a tractor beam and we get this great little adventurous action sequence where the gang has to avoid capture, rescue Princess Leia, and escape. There's a nice organic flow to this sequence because the characters are just kind of progressing from one scene to the next with circumstances leading them to the next perilous situation after another. For instance, once they escape the ship and enter a guard station they realize that Leia is being held there so they decide to go and rescue her. During their rescue they are cornered and must take a garbage chute to escape which leads to a scene in a trash compactor with a monster. Next, they have to get back to the ship undetected (when that fails, in a laser gun battle) and hope Obi-Wan has the tractor beam down. We get to see a lot of great character interactions along the way and the awesome set design. Of course, this sequence also features the lightsaber showdown between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. Admittedly, the showdown is simple and extremely dated - a bit of a letdown to be honest. Thankfully, it's more about the drama of Obi-Wan's willing death than the technicality of the fight. Finally, the group makes it back on the Millennium Falcon, gets away from the Death Star, and if forced to take out a few tie fighters that follow. It's a decent sequence where Luke and Han get to fire away from some ball turrets on the Falcon. If we are talking major action beats, there's nothing really special here. Instead, this sequence is about how it organically unfolds, begins to unveil the defining traits of each character, and escalates into Ben's dramatic death, laser gun battles, and ship shootouts.

13. “Battle of Endor Finale: Rebels Take on the Death Star & the Imperial Fleet” -Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Commentary: Taking up the last forty minutes or so (I'm separating the Vader/Emperor vs. Luke fight) of the film is a two part battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. The first part takes place on Endor where a shield generator protects a second Death Star. Leia, Han, Chewie, and the newly allied Ewoks fight to take down the generator against an Empire force that includes smaller AT-ST walkers. There's some laser shootouts here, but it's mostly a kind of "primitive" force meets sophisticated source gimmick here. At times it can be charming to see paragliding Ewoks dropping rocks on soldiers or a log trap exploding an AT-ST, but too often the Ewoks can be too childlike and irritating - especially given this is the culminating battle of a trilogy. The second part of this finale takes place in space with Admiral Ackbar and Lando leading the Rebel Alliance's spaceship fleet against the Second Death Star and the ships that protect it. As soon as the Alliance arrives they realize it is a trap, the generator is down, and the Emperor was expecting them. Most of the resulting space battles are really now just about surviving long enough until the shield goes down. There are a lot of great little space battle beats here - the visual effects have really come a LONG way from the finale of A New Hope, but since it all feels like they are spinning their wheels, they don't have the cumulative impact the sequences in ANH did. Those sequences felt like they were building and moving forward. These feel like they are waiting out other action sequences on Endor to play out. It does feel like it neuters the amazing visuals of the space battle a bit. Another small thing holding this one back for me is their decision to essentially re-run the idea of striking a weakness on the Death Star to get it to explode. The visuals here are amazing as the ships fly within the super structure of the Death Star, but it does feel like a re-tread to me. In summary, it's the best and most visually dense effect sequences that the original trilogy ever pulled off, but the bloated, multi-thread approach, lacks the urgency and linearity that made the first death star attack so compelling.

12. “Cloud City Finale: Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader” -Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Commentary: Many Star Wars fans consider this the ultimate light saber fight and while I find it a strong overall entry there are just too many drawbacks for me to rate it any higher than a 'B'. The main fault for me is the choreography. While the fight choreography has drastically improved from the stiff and simplistic fight between Vader and Obi-Wan, it still bears too many marks of being inauthentic. To be direct, Luke is just not that coordinated with a sword and though they try to keep him to one or two beats per shot, his inability to pull off someone at home with a sword just screams at anyone with a general knowledge of action cinema. "But he isn't supposed to be super polished!" is a possible counterpoint - but by the end of the second film, I do expect force powered Luke (If I'm supposed to be admiring him as something of a competent swordsman against Vader) to be more competent than Joe Bob who spends a few hours in his basement mimicking youtube videos. Thankfully, the serviceable fight choreography takes place on some great sets, is spaced out well, and climaxes with a wonderful dramatic twist. The interactions between Vader and Luke are also very engaging. The sum here is much better than the parts. For my money though, I like the "action" part of "action scenes" to be the standout features and I just can't get past moments like Luke swinging wildly like a traumatized child at just one or two objects being thrown at him by Vader. Those parts just haven't aged well.

11. “Speeder Bike Chase Through the Endor Forest” -Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Commentary: I love how immediate and out of nowhere this sequence is. Han, Leia, and Luke land on Endor and have to make their way to a power generator when they come across some troopers. The troops get alerted and make a getaway on some speeder bikes. Of course they must be stopped because if they alert the rest of the troops than the rebel plans are over. Leia and Luke hop on the bikes to go after them and we get superlative (for 1983 anyways) visual treat. To show just how dangerous and high speed these bikes are we get a kind of high-speed footage through the forest where the bikes are narrowly missing all the big trees and stumps that litter their path. There's some clever and creative ways Luke and Leia take the speeders down, but its the visceral visual footage, often in POV, that really sell the intensity and danger of the scene.

10. “Lightsaber Fight: Rey & Ren vs the Supreme Leader's guards” -Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Commentary: For a franchise that is prominently known for its lightsaber fights, it is quite surprising that it really hasn't had many unqualified great ones. Unfortunately, this very good lightsaber sequence (second best in the franchise) does have some things bringing it down. First off let's talk about the good because I quite like the sequence. Rey and Kylo fighting side by to take out an elite group of Snoke's guards is a great concept and they basically nailed it in execution. The costumes and large throne room setting are nice decorations for the scene - especially once the curtains go up in flames revealing the space glass behind it. The choreography is also pretty good, though it's also where my complaints begin. In giving us several wide more than one beat shots, they really are asking a lot of the actors and the stuntmen. It looks visually great, but there are several moments where the elite guard just flail around or swing incredibly wide (giving the actors plenty of leeway) that put a sour note on an otherwise nice moment. The final complaint I'd have is the ending - it's so dramatically unsatisfactory for Kylo to make the decision to kill Snoke only to stay a complete baddy and ask Rey to join. It's literally just replacing one bad guy for another - it feels like the scene got us nowhere dramatically by the end. Like much of this film - it felt like a sequel writer's decision to get rid of a character they inherited from a previous film and didn't have any plans to do anything with - Snoke.


GRADE: B+ 
9. “Speeder Chase through Coruscant for an Assassin” -Star War Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Commentary: I think this is one of the more underrated action sequences in the franchise. Obi-Wan and Anakin are playing guard duty for Amidala when they sense a presence in her room. They burst in, Anakin kills the poisonous insects trying to kill her, and Obi-Wan dives through the window to grab the droid that dispensed them. I can see some logic complaints, but Obi-Wan's dive through the window with a blatant disregard for his own health is just a cool moment. It kicks off a really great looking chase through the city of Coruscant at night. The backgrounds are always visually interesting and they blend fairly seamlessly with the live action people. I think this stuff could still be passable today. Eventually, Obi-Wan is shot down off the flying droid by the assassin and Anakin, in a speeder, catches him. The two then chase after the assassin in and around buildings and through multiple layers of aerial traffic. Put aside the cheesy banter and there's some really fun visuals here. Eventually Anakin feels he has the jump on the assassin and literally jumps out of the speeder and falls down and onto the assassin's ship. She shoots at him and he tries to use his lightsaber but fumbles it. They crash land onto the streets and the assassin stumbles into a bar. Obi-Wan and Anakin corner the assassin there. This is a nice pop of good-looking action (yes with wince-inducing dialogue) that highlights some unique areas of the Star Wars universe we hadn't really gotten a good look at before. 

8. “Destroying Jabba's Pleasure Cruise & Escaping the Sarlacc Pitt” --Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Commentary: What a fun and memorable action sequence. The desert setting of this infamous Sarlacc Pitt with Jabba's pleasure cruiser and other little hover ships is instantly memorable as a backdrop for some great action. What we get feels a lot like Lucas is copying a bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Luke is walking the plank and we get a great action beat where he uses the plank to bounce in the air, capture his light saber being shot to him by R2-D2 and then begin fighting back. He releases Han and Chewie and takes out Boba Fett. All the while there is now pandemonium going on as Lando along with the released Han and Chewie are firing lasers and Leia is using her chain to choke out Jabba who is sitting on the pleasure cruiser watching. Luke jumps to another ship takes out more men, then jumps to the pleasure cruiser and lays waste to those on the deck. The pitt itself is this nasty looking creature and we get a nice moment where Lando is almost drawn in but is saved by Han. I think this sequence had a chance of being even bigger and better, but I'll take this little gem that we got. Lots of nice little moments that are clear and easy to follow. 

7. “The Battle of Scarif” -Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
- Commentary: My goodness. I both hate and I love this sequence. In a strange way, my hate for this sequence is mostly because I want to love it so much more and it makes some big mistakes that undermine it in key ways that I want to just throw my hands up in frustration. I absolutely love the tropical setting here and I think it is used to present one of the most unique and iconic battles in the entire Star Wars franchise. From ground battles in rows of palm trees to the lagoons surrounding the main vertical base and THEN to the shield gate hovering above the planet - there's no more visually stunning setting I can remember for a space battle like this. This battle had all the makings of an all-time action sequence, but it succumbs to the same issue so many other Star Wars films do - the penchant to end up with a finale that cuts between 3 or so different threads of action. It's the same problem holding the space battle in Return of the Jedi back. Inevitably they give the most boring thread to the central heroes and the coolest coolest action (the aerial space battles) end up becoming window dressing for minor characters. WHAT!? Why can't they learn from A New Hope? Why does everything have to get so convoluted in these films? Even the big Avengers finales learned to bring everything into one place and give everyone something iconic to do. What we end up with in this film is going from some of the most dynamic and beautiful aerial dogfighting EVER put on screen to a lame quest to retrieve a hard drive (oh no, where is it?...oh no, the retrieval arm doesn't work...oh no, I have to climb to the tower). Due to all the intercutting back and forth, all of the big visual effect money shots and kinetic action in the skies lack a genuine flow and connection that would have kicked the entire sequence up a notch. I wish we could have somehow got this sequence more in phases - with Erso and co. infiltrating the base, then some kind of ground action, and then the space battle as a finale or something. I get why that doesn't work for the characters, but is this the alternative? Heck at least make Erso a key part of the ground action while the space action is happening as well. I love the addition of the AT-AT walkers (they look so cool against the palm trees and lagoons), but I wish the ground action here was a bit more interesting than the alliance members being pinned down for most of the time and then Donnie Yen getting one of the most cheesy "I am with the force and the force is with me" dramatic moments in the series. There's no way to make his character the perfect infiltration man who can help you silently and stealthily take out character after character? I mean, you hired Donnie Yen and then make him shoot a blaster for much of the big action scene? I know they did major re-writes and re-shoots, but man, this is going to end up being one of my biggest "What If" sci-fi action sequences of all-time - "What if they were able to integrate the parts here with the mind-blowing setting and dogfights...what if?"


GRADE: A-
6. “Opening Battle of Coruscant: Rescuing the Chancellor” -Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Commentary: The opening shot (a 2 min. or so one-teak) of this battle is one of my favorite visual effects shots of all-time. Opening on a star cruiser over Coruscant we slowly follow two fighters as they pass the cruiser and reveal an incredibly crowded battle taking place with scores of ships and fighters in the their own little fights. It's such an incredibly dense shot, one that fans have anticipated ever since CGI took over model use, that it cannot help but feel deeply satisfactory. The effects are incredible for their time. Eleven years later in the Battle of Scarif from Rogue One they were finally able to one up these graphics (which do carry the whiff of still being obviously CGI) by melding the CGI look with that tactile model/miniature feel from the original trilogy. Still, in terms of complexity and density of action - this is probably unrivaled in the franchise. I love how the opening one take throws us right into this mess of action - giving us a nice geography and feel for what is happening - this is a massive war we are being thrown into. After that shot we realize we have been following Obi-Wan and Anakin in their fighters and they are trying to rescue the kidnapped Chancellor from one of the ships. A nice and clear goal (the why would get muddied of course) - a rarity for some of these prequel films. What comes next is perhaps the single best 6 minutes or so of a space battle the entire franchise would produce outside the first Death Star attack. To get to the Chancellor's ship, Obi-Wan and Anakin get some dogfights and then must tackle some buzz droids. It's clever, re-introduces us to their relationship, and the background action filled with giant ships doing battle is just epic. I love how at one moment Anakin tries to use his wing to destroy some buzz droids that are wreaking havoc on Obi-Wan's ship and he takes a few out, but one makes his way onto Anakin's wing and attacks R2. It's a clever little obstacle we've never seen before and by the time this sequence ends with them crash landing onto the General's ship - it feels like a satisfying sequence all to itself. Unfortunately, the entire sequence doesn't maintain this level of greatness, but it does provide another several phases of great entertainment. The weakest link by far is the next phase though - the two Jedi attempt to make their way to the Chancellor and have some stupidity with an elevator. The next phase is a nice lightsaber fight between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Dooku to rescue the Chancellor. It's serviceable, but acts more as an emotional beat with the Chancellor encouraging Anakin to behead Dooku - a nice bit of foreshadowing here. The group then runs to escape and gets caught in a ridiculous way (another elevator stupidity) and are brought to General Grevious' control center. From there we get the final phase and another peak of the whole thing - taking out Grevious and landing the crashing ship. Grevious and his droids offer a new challenge and visual look from anything we've seen before. I like their electric bo staffs and how Grevious escapes here - it's some nice beats. Anakin takes over and pilots the crashing cruiser. This is another bit of amazing visuals as the ships breaks apart, comes in for a landing (is met by emergency ships trying to put out its fires), and eventually crash lands safely. The entire thing is about twenty minutes and is easily one of the best extended action set pieces of the entire franchise despite some of its weak links. 

5. “Lightsaber Fight Finale: Duel of the Fates” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: The fourth strand of Phantom Menace's finale is easily, along with the Pod racing sequence, the best part of the film. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are escorting Amidala back to the Naboo Palace to take out the Trade Federation Viceroy when a door suddenly opens revealing the black cloaked Sith, "Duel of the Fates" plays on the soundtrack,  and the two Jedi's branch off from the group to confront Ray Park's Darth Maul. It's an iconic moment and it kicks off the single best lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. I really struggled to keep the pics/gifs above down to three - there's just so many visually interesting moments and shots here that narrowing it down was really tough. For my money, this sequence finds the best balance between emotion, grounded sword fighting, and cinematic sword fighting. On one end you can place something like Obi-Wan vs. Vader from A New Hope and the sword fighting there is so entirely un-cinematic but does pack an emotional wallop. On the other side, you place Obi-Wan vs. Anakin from Revenge of the Sith and they go so overboard on the cinematic stuff that it just mars the emotion and grounded sense. The fight between Luke and Vader from Empire comes close to the balance, but Luke is just not athletic enough to pull off the cinematic stuff well. Here we have actors/stuntmen who are really game to put together an iconic sequence and we get some really iconic choreography, visually stunning backgrounds, but we never quite lose the emotion. I love the use of of the force fields to keep Obi-Wan separated from Qui-Gon and Darth Maul. When Qui-Gon takes the moment to meditate and Darth maul paces as they await the force field to move the audience gets to catch their breathe and just imagine what might come next. When the fields part allowing Qui-Gon and Darth to connect, but keep Obi-Wan behind, we get to feel his frustration at being incapable of helping stop Qui-Gon's demise. When the field opens up again, Obi-Wan comes out swinging and we get a beautiful extended take of choreography - my favorite in the entire fight. Unfortunately, and I just gotta be honest fight fans, the ending puts a real damper on the fight for me (certainly puts a ceiling on its rating). I can't stand how Obi-Wan force jumps over Maul, gets the saber, and cuts him in half while Maul just kinda watches it all happen. I can't imagine what the stuntmen thought of this illogical finish on the set, but man does it provide a poor wrap-up to an otherwise incredible fight. Of course, to enjoy the fight you also have to ignore the idiotic crosscutting of other threads in the finale and the fact that Darth Maul is pretty underdeveloped as a villain. I am willing to do that because the quality of the fight demands it. This is iconic stuff.

4. “Coaxium Train Heist” -Solo: A Sar Wars Story (2018)
- Commentary: This is the best thing to come from Disney's attempt to create a young Han Solo franchise.   Han, having escaped from Empire prison with Chewie, has joined up with a heist crew led by Woody Harrelson's Beckett. The heist they are attempting to pull off is to steal a load of coaxium from off of a train shipment going through the snowy mountains. The heist idea is simple, board the train, hook up their ships cables, blow the tracks from under, and head out. It's a simple premise but the setting and the swiveling train and unique enemies give the entire heist a nice science fiction/fantasy twist. Three elements work really well in the heist: First are the incredible visual effects/setting. It's obviously a fantasy heist, but the characters all feel naturally living in the scene and on that tree - never once did it feel like a blue screen or effects extravaganza. Second, the action set piece plays out in one long sequence without cutting between multiple threads. Third, the scene is given time and structure. It begins with simplicity, ramps up when train security shows up with blaster, and gets even more complicated when a group called Enfys Nest shows up on speeder bikes looking to steal the coaxium from underneath those stealing the coaxium. Put it all together with good filmmaking and you have a classic little sci-fi set piece that is an engaging and unique spectacle. 

3. “Tatooine Pod Racing” -Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Commentary: While Phantom Menace largely underwhelmed many in the Star Wars fandom, there were a couple of sequences that were able to make its mark on pop culture and become iconic moments (for mostly positive reasons) - Pod-racing is one of them. First, let me acknowledge the major complaints about this sequence. Yes, the setup for it is shaky - the betting stakes are convoluted and this is likely far from the only way two Jedi Knights could acquire the parts for their ship. In other words, yes, this set piece is forced into the plot. Additionally, count me in the camp that finds Anakin's performance (all the kids in the film TBG) and dialogue cringe-worthy - it really does grate on every sequence he's required to act in.  That's why I can't give this sequence an unqualified 'A'. All of that said, I still think this is an action set piece worth praising and celebrating. Lucas has set up for us a "fantasy" take on racing using "pod racers" that go at high speeds and are incredibly dangerous. Lucas, possibly to the detriment of the greater film, let's this sequence play itself out fully - it is almost a mini-film within a film to be honest. We get a decent introduction and setup as we meet the racers and see some of the opening ceremonies. The race begins and rather than a montage, it feels like we get a full act structure as Anakin has to overcome several obstacles along his way to victory. Let me be really honest now, put aside the plot and context this is a gorgeously produced fantasy racing sequence. The settings look authentic, the geographical features they race through look photorealistic, and the pods themselves feel great.. In fact, the visual effects are so good, they could be placed in a blockbuster film today and I don't think many would notice. I can see others not being engaged here, but we are given many beautiful and long takes of racers dodging obstacles, rounding corners, overtaking each other, in stunning quality. The sound effects and sound really enhance the feeling of speed and danger here as well. Little details like Tusken Raiders taking pot shots, Jabba overlooking the proceedings, and Jeff Proop's commentators make this sequence feel like it's taking place in a real world with its own culture. In the end, whatever you think of the acting, the sequence also allows for Anakin's important character traits to come to the forefront. 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). In the end, this is an imaginative racing sequence that has some faults, but is still able to pulls off its world-building and spectacle through legendary visual effects and sound work.  

2. “The Battle of Hoth” -Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Commentary: The opening action sequence for one of the most anticipated movie sequels sets the resistance forces on the ice/snow planet of Hoth. After sending out multitudes of probe droids the Empire finally locates the rebel forces and moves to surround the planet and attack the rebel base. For a non-finale sequence, we actually get a really nice overview of the battle here - from the opening strategies of trying to cover their evacuation with artillery and ground attacks to Vader's turn to a Stalin-esque villain that is willing to blow through commanders who fail him to instill a fear of failure. While we get to see lines of rebel forces firing away and even small artillery laser blasters, the main event of the sequence are the flying rebel speeders taking on the AT-AT walkers on the open ice plains. Like the finale of A New Hope the emphasis here is on realistic cockpits, authentic sounding chatter among the pilots, and great visuals of the speeders weaving in and out of the landscape and the walkers as they attack. The visuals, even though it's obviously miniatures at times, still feel great and draw you in. When the speeders discover their blasters are too weak to penetrate the armor of the walkers and we lose Luke's co-pilot we feel the tide has turned against the rebels. Still, Luke works with the other speeders to harpoon and trip up walkers setting a template for victory. At one point Luke is shot down and then singlehandedly takes out an AT-AT Walker. All this time the resistance, being led by Leia and Han, are trying to evacuate. Eventually, the Imperial Forces with Darth Vader take out the main generator and enter into the base - but Han, Leia, and most of the resistance has just evacuated. Luke makes his own way out to Dagobah while Han, Leia, Chewie and the droids are being chased on the Millennium Falcon. The sequence works great not just as an action sequence but the fallout of the battle sets up the plotlines and groupings for the rest of the film.


GRADE: A
1. “Finale: Assault on the Death Star” -Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
- Commentary: The only Star Wars action sequence I would give an unqualified "A" grade to is attack run on the death from the 1977 original. It is easily the most iconic and influential action scene from the entire franchise and it is for very good reasons. First, the entire sequence plays out as one singular story that we follow for about 15 minutes: from the briefing to the destruction. The finale isn't intercut to death with a bunch of other plotlines happening alongside. We get one simple narrative. 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 while another is...you get the idea. 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 finale. The Battle of Hoth in Empire similarly 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. It all comes together in this scene: Leia as a leader, Luke as the kid pilot who gets his big shot and learns to listen to the force, and Han the mercenary who sticks his neck out for his friends. All of this is done without having to craft multiple subplots that eat up their own plotline in the finale. The special effects, sound effects, and music come together in an incredible mix that still engages and enthralls over forty years later. Instead we are locked in for an extended dogfight sequence complete with its own three act structure. The first act is the launch of the X-Wings and the first rush of their attack. This act does a great job of making the goal clear: take out the Death Star's one weakness in a short span of time or they will destroy the rebel base. I love how this phase introduces us to the pilots, assaults us with a rush of new sound (X-wings, pilot chatter, action score from Williams), and gives us our first glimpses of some attack runs on the Death Star. The second act begins as the Empire makes a counteract with Tie fighters. WE get to hear their iconic sounds and now get some really cool dogfighting beats (I'm one of those grateful for the new effects shots added by Lucas) between the two sides as Leia and the rebels follow closely on their base. With some tie fighters cleared, the rebels make their first run on the trench weakness. Here we see Vader enter the fray for the first time in his special Tie fighter and take them out. The final challenge is now introduced and we enter the final act of the finale.
Three minutes before the Death Star is able to take out the rebel base and after another group failed at the trench run, the task has become Luke's. He enters the trench and he's faced with the same two obstacles those before him did: getting clear of Vader's tie fighter and firing into the extremely small target. This is where the sequence really pays off. His cover exhausted and Vader on his tale, we get the return of Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon to make the iconic save. Now free to fire, Luke calms himself, chooses against using the targeting computers and instead channels the force to guide his shot right on target. Perfect hit! He pulls up just in time and makes the escape alongside the last of the rebel fighters and Han Solo as the Death Star explodes in the background. Perfectly constructed, perfectly executed. Are many of the effects old and dated? Yes, mostly, but not completely. There is a lot that still holds up and the stuff that doesn't is still quite charming in its practicality. Despite that, the editing, music, writing, and sound effects are so strong that it doesn't quite matter in the end. This was and still is a fantasy/science fiction masterpiece.


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


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