Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in Cineworld on 19th December. Set to be the closing chapter in the Skywalker saga, this latest instalment in the intergalactic franchise will undoubtedly be one of – if not the – biggest films of the decade, and it’s easy to see why. After all, it’s Star Wars.
Ever since George Lucas brought this epic space opera to life back in 1977 with A New Hope (later ret-conned as Episode IV in the series), the universe he created has captured the imaginations of millions.
Snagging a whopping $6.8 million in its opening weekend, an unprecedented sum by the standards of the day, A New Hope has gone on to gross $775.3 million worldwide in the years since.
It’s a figure that’s since been dwarfed by the $2 billion-plus grossed by 2015’s The Force Awakens – even so, it reinforces there’s no escaping the impact of Star Wars on today’s popular culture.
As we look forward to the next J.J Abrams-directed entry in this mammoth series, here are seven awe-inspiring moments that defined Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon.
1. The Phantom Menace (1999) – Lightsaber duel
While George Lucas’s prequel trilogy may not be adored among fans or critics, there are nevertheless many moments scattered throughout that are emblematic of what makes Star Wars so popular.
One of these scenes is The Phantom Menace's three-way lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Darth Maul (Ray Park). The adrenaline-pumping soundscape of John Williams’s ‘Duel of the Fates’ is punctuated by the iconic sound of lightsabers clashing.
All this is combined with the sheer scale of the set design, the frantic choreography, and the gut-punch death of Qui-Gon, resulting in a sequence that will forever make us pine for our own lightsaber.
2. A New Hope (1977) – Death Star assault
The film that started it all, we could’ve picked any scene from A New Hope for this list and it’d be full of pop-cultural significance: the opening chase sequence, Obi-Wan’s (Alec Guinness) death, the cantina scene, and so much more.
But since we can only chose one, it has to be the exhilarating Death Star assault sequence. Showcasing ground-breaking special effects that still look great today, this climactic space battle stands as arguably one of best action set pieces in cinema history.
The tension is palpable as we follow Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on his mission to blow up the Death Star. It’s gripping and suspenseful, and that critical hit will always be satisfying to watch.
3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – "I am your father"
Often praised as one of the greatest sequels of all time, The Empire Strikes Back showed audiences just how dramatic Star Wars could be. It gave us meaningful character moments, dove deeper into its world and gave us bigger and grittier battles, including the confrontation viewers were waiting for: Luke vs Darth Vader (James Earl Jones).
Accompanying it was one of the biggest twists in movie history. Parodied and paid homage to countless times in the years since, the (frequently misquoted) line "No, Luke. I am your father" is one of the quintessential examples of Star Wars as a pop-cultural phenomenon.
4. Return of the Jedi (1983) – Darth Vader’s redemption
Although Darth Vader often takes the spotlight as the main villain in Star Wars, let’s not forget that he was the rank below the biggest of the bads: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, who’ll be reprising his role in The Rise of Skywalker).
Palpatine had remained in the shadows until 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and Luke’s climactic confrontation with the evil Sith lord was what fans had been waiting for. It didn’t disappoint thanks to the twist that saw Vader betray his master in order to save his estranged son.
Not only was this surprise moment indicative of the series’ character-driven drama, but it also helped further paint Vader as a complex individual, giving him the fitting end he deserved.
Of course, the big question we have now is this: how on Earth will Palpatine play a role in The Rise of Skywalker?
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5. The Force Awakens (2015) – Han’s death
When it was announced that there would be a new Star Wars trilogy hitting our screens in 2015, there was some scepticism as to whether it would hit the heights of the originals. And judging by the overwhelmingly positive critical reception and record-breaking box office, The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams, marked a strong return for the series.
One especially powerful moment that proved this new trilogy was just as much Star Wars as the rest was the death of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) at the hands of his son and new villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). A masterclass in visual storytelling ,as we watch Ren give in to his dark side, Han’s heartbreaking demise is something we never saw coming – and it still gets us every time.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – Enter Vader
The earth-shattering success of the Star Wars franchise doesn’t just extend to the main saga storyline. For proof, look no further than spin-off film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Intended as a prequel to A New Hope, Rogue One follows the group of rebels fronted by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as they embark on a mission to steal the Death Star plans, kickstarting the events of A New Hope.
Although the entirety of this film is a non-stop action thrill ride, it was the ending that blew moviegoers away when we saw Vader single-handedly storm the rebel’s ship, reminding us exactly why he’s the number one villain.
7. The Last Jedi (2017) – Death of Snoke
It may have been immensely divisive among fans, but The Last Jedi still made huge shockwaves across pop culture, with one of the biggest being the rug-pull moment that was Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) death. Introduced as the possible heir to Palpatine’s throne, Snoke was suddenly (and ironically) dispatched by Ren in order to save Rey (Daisy Ridley).
In the process, it adds further dimensions to the master/pupil relationship, allowing Ren to succeed Snoke as the new ruler of the First Order, and paving the way for The Rise of Skywalker. Even so, do we really believe the late Snoke’s revelations that Rey’s parents were nobodies?
Surely the ninth Star Wars movie will deliver the resolutions we were all expecting the first time around? Either way, the fact that millions of fans got so worked up is a clear sign of how much Star Wars is embedded in the collective psyche.
Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.