George Lucas changed the face of Hollywood forever with his classic 1977 space opera Star Wars. There are many reasons for Star Wars’ success – the lovable characters, the familiar fairy tale structure, the pure escapism – but a large part of it was the movie’s engaging action sequences, which audiences lined up around the block to watch again and again.
From the trash compactor escape to the Death Star trench run, the original Star Wars movie is jam-packed with riveting set-pieces that still hold up today.
9 Escaping From Docking Bay 94
After Luke and Obi-Wan hire Han to take them to Alderaan, he shows them the Falcon in Docking Bay 94 of Mos Eisley Spaceport. Just as Han is about to give Luke a tour of the ship, the tour is cut short as Stormtroopers spot the Falcon and open fire on them.
There’s always a lot of fun to be had with “pew-pew” laser shootouts in sci-fi movies, but this set-piece is a pretty straightforward gunfight that ends as soon as Han and Chewie manage to take off.
8 Luke Is Attacked By Tusken Raiders
After R2-D2 goes missing, Luke and C-3PO traverse the deserts of Tatooine in a landspeeder looking for him. When they finally find the little astro droid, he’s being harassed by Tusken Raiders.
As Luke is scoping out the situation with a pair of binoculars, there’s a fiercely effective jump scare when a Tusken Raider appears in the immediate foreground. The Tusken Raiders’ attack is tense and nerve-racking, but Obi-Wan impersonating a monster to make them go away is a little goofy.
7 Han And Luke Shoot TIE Fighters
Against all odds, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and the droids manage to escape from the Death Star. But they’re not out of the woods yet, as the Empire sends a fleet of TIE fighters after the Falcon.
John Williams’ antsy orchestrations sell the tension of the battle. When Luke brags about blowing up one of the TIE fighters, Han snaps back with the iconic quote, “Great, kid, don’t get cocky!”
6 Rescuing Princess Leia
Leia is often described as a “damsel in distress,” because she’s a princess who gets taken hostage and needs to be rescued by male heroes. But Lucas masterfully subverts the “damsel in distress” trope.
Han and Luke don’t have an exit strategy and attract the attention of nearby Stormtroopers, so Leia basically has to save herself. As soon as they spring her from her cell, she has to take charge.
5 Han Shoots First
Before Han can take Luke and Obi-Wan to the Millennium Falcon, he’s confronted at gunpoint by bounty hunter Greedo. This shootout in a dangerous saloon is ripped straight from a classic western. They sit in a shady booth at the back of Mos Eisley Cantina and Han distracts Greedo with one hand while he reaches for his blaster with the other, draws, and fires.
This scene doesn’t play out the same in the Special Edition, as Lucas added a shot from Greedo’s blaster right before Han fires – which means Han survived due to dumb luck – but Han still signs off with the perfect quip: “Sorry about the mess.”
4 Obi-Wan’s Rematch With Vader
This scene has a place in film history as the first lightsaber duel ever put on film. The swordplay between Ben Kenobi and his old padawan Darth Vader is much slower and less animated than subsequent lightsaber duels, but it plays beautifully as a tense standoff between a veteran hero and a veteran villain.
Lucas retroactively made this sequence a lot more heartbreaking by revealing how the former master and apprentice’s last duel went. With the context of the Mustafar duel, the emotions of the Death Star duel are a lot more resonant.
3 The Opening Space Battle
Star Wars has one of the most memorable opening shots in film history. A plucky little Rebel ship shoots across the cosmos, closely followed by a gigantic Imperial Star Destroyer about 100 times its size.
This sequence gets the movie off to a rollicking start, instantly immersing audiences in a galaxy far, far away and establishing the might of the Empire compared to the struggling Rebellion.
2 The Trash Compactor
After Leia saves Han, Luke, and Chewie from a Stormtrooper attack by blasting open the chute into the trash compactor, the quartet finds themselves in yet another deadly situation. The Imperial garbagemen turn on the trash compactor, threatening to crush the protagonists.
With the walls literally closing in, this sequence is a masterclass in nail-biting suspense. As Luke desperately tries to contact the droids to get the trash compactor shut down, Lucas expertly frames the heroes in narrower and narrower shots.
1 Luke Blows Up The Death Star
The Death Star trench run is the triumphant finale of the original Star Wars movie and it’s bigger, bolder, and more exciting than any of the set-pieces that came before it. As Luke sets about blowing up the Empire’s superweapon, Lucas ties up all the narrative threads: Han returns to shoot the TIE fighters off his tail (and complete his character arc) and Obi-Wan even appears as a disembodied Force ghost to give his padawan some last-minute advice.
Blockbusters inspired by Star Wars have been trying to top the glory of the Death Star’s explosion for decades. A few have come close, but none have managed to top Lucas’ spectacle.
NEXT: Ranking Every Major Action Sequence In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
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