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Memorable ‘Star Wars’ moments

Up close and personal in a galaxy far, far away. By Wendell Wittler
/ Source: contributor

Every movie has its memorable moments, and with five movies going on six, the “Star Wars” series has a starship-load of them. From the grand scale of exploding Death Stars to the personal drama of Jedi training. Or how about the alien spectacles of Jabba the Hutt's lair and the Clone factory or the strangely banal threat of a giant trash compactor? From Obi-Wan's mystical death-without-leaving-a-corpse to the simple pleasure of watching a binary sunset on Tatooine, there's a lot to take in here, and everybody has their favorites.

Most Memorable for All the Wrong Reasons: The pod race (“The Phantom Menace”). While intended as an homage to the chariot race in “Ben Hur,” this sequence reminded me of something else: As various alien-looking drivers lined up in their well-worn disjointedly-modular vehicles it took me back to the Saturday Morning cartoon “Wacky Races,” with champion podder Sebulba as Dick Dastardly and young Anakin as Tom Slick (I know, that's a different cartoon, but there's no such thing as logic in podracing).

Throw in the two-headed bilingual track announcer from the planet NASCAR, close-ups of Anakin’s frozen Jedi gameface, sideline comments from Jar Jar Binks and a cameo appearance of Jabba the Hutt — who falls asleep during the race — and you have a panoramic view of everything that was disappointing about the first prequel. On the other hand...

Best Chase/Race Scene: The speeder chase on Endor (“Return of the Jedi”). Outer space dogfights are one thing, but when the cameras piggy-backed onto levitating Harleys weaving through a dense forest of massive trees at literal breakneck speed, it was one of the greatest thrill rides in movie history to date, a magnificently executed technical marvel for 1983 and still stands up. It also showed off the heroics of both Jedi Luke and Princess Leia, becoming the series’ least artificial “see, the woman can be strong, too” scenes.

Most Repeated Line: “I've got a bad feeling about this” (All Episodes). It's not what you’d call a classic movie line. It’s not unique to Star Wars like “May the Force be with you” or “Let the Wookiee win.” It was previously said in “2001,” in reference to HAL the computer. Lucas admitted “I liked using it whenever something really bad was going to happen” and thus it became the cinematic equivalent of a “Bridge Out” highway sign.

Luke said it the first time he saw the Death Star. Han Solo said it in the giant trash compactor, and when he was taken captive by Ewoks. Leia said it and C-3PO said it. Obi-Wan said it twice in the first two prequels, but when Anakin said it while chained to a pillar in the Geonosian execution arena, it became a classic case of Stating the Obvious. Considering the Jedi Knights’ psychic abilities, it’s surprising that it’s been used as frequently by non-Jedi characters. It would be disappointing not to hear it from Yoda in “Episode III.”

Most Repeated Image: Somebody's gonna lose a hand from that thing (every episode except “Phantom Menace”). We see several ways that lightsabers can damage a human body (beheadings, impalings, clean cuts in half), but there is a strange recurring theme in the severing off of a hand or arm.

In “A New Hope,” Obi-Wan cuts the arm off an alien tough guy threatening Luke in the Cantina. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke takes the arm (paw?) off a Wampa on the Ice Planet, but in his first battle between Darth Vader, it’s Luke’s lightsaber hand that’s excised. Fortunately, lightsabers cut real clean, preventing much blood loss, and we learn that robotic limb replacement is a simple procedure in this galaxy. When Luke returns the favor in the final battle of “Return of the Jedi,” he’s stopped in his tracks staring at Vader’s fully-mechanized arm on the floor.

“Attack of the Clones” sees Obi-Wan disarm (or dis-hand) a “female shapeshifter assassin” in a crowded bar (What is it with Kenobi in bars?), and the evil and powerful Count Dooku shows just how evil and powerful he is by cutting Anakin off at the shoulder (explaining why the arm Luke later cut off wasn't original equipment). And I couldn't help notice that it's always the right arm or hand (although I hear that may change in “Revenge of the Sith”).

Best Totally Non-Jedi Dialogue: “I love you.” “I know.” (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi”) Probably the biggest difference between the original trilogy and the prequels is the contribution of Han Solo. The injection into this mystically majestic saga of this un-Jedi anti-hero rogue/scoundrel/smart-ass mercenary was brought it down to earth — or whatever planet it got down to. And Han’s best moment was when he was about to be frozen in Carbonite, and Leia, who had been openly resisting his rogue/scoundrel/smart-ass charm for the whole movie, professes her love to him and he replies with those famous semi-last words: “I know.”

So, of course it had to be Leia freeing/defrosting him in the next chapter, and their first exchange of dialogue had to be a reversal of the two lines. He’s just that kind of guy and this is just that kind of relationship.

Most Shocking Moment: “I am your father” (“The Empire Strikes Back”). Spoken strategically by Darth Vader to try to recruit Luke to the Dark Side, those four words suddenly redefined the “Star Wars” series as a family saga. And as Luke tried to deal with the fact that he had just had his hand cut off by his dear old dad, Mark Hamill put out one minute of the strongest emotional performance in the entire series.

Strategically, it wasn't the Sith Lord’s best move as he watched his son, in an act of defiance almost as jarring as the revelation, take a flying leap down a bottomless shaft (those shafts seem to be part of the design of every large structure in the galaxy), and miraculously, yet somehow naturally, survive.

Most Anticipated Moment: Yoda in action (“Attack of the Clones”). I, for one, have been waiting ever since that annoying little creature in “Episode V” revealed himself to be a Jedi Master for a chance to see the 800-year-old, two-foot-tall hero show what he could do in a fight.

When he first appeared in the prequels 30 years younger but no more physically imposing, it was a disappointment, but when his fully CGI-realized form dropped his walking stick, pulled out his lightsaber and confronted Count Dooku, who had just defeated two younger Jedis, you just knew he was going to open up a pint-sized can of whoop-ass, and if not for Dooku pulling the cliched “make him stop fighting a moment to save his friends” trick, I’d have placed all my bets on Yoda.

The Ultimate ‘Star Wars’ Moment: “Use the Force, Luke” (“A New Hope”). It’s now a movie cliché: the hero eschews technology in favor of faith to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. But during the assault on the Death Star, when Luke Skywalker turned off his targeting computer and relied on the Force to guide his hand, it cast in stone the importance of “that quaint old religion” to the entire saga. Yet, the Force can’t take all the credit; this scene also featured the series’ happiest surprise when, just as Darth Vader had Luke’s x-wing in his sights, Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon came out of nowhere to join the battle, blasting the bad guys and bouncing Vader out where he’d live to fight again, while redeeming the rogue/scoundrel/smart-ass mercenary as a pretty good guy after all.

Among all of the “Star Wars” homages to filmmakers Akira Kurosawa and Ray Harryhausen, and the allusions to World War II, and all the recurring themes and foreshadowings (which the series’ out-of-orderness often made way too obvious), the most memorable moments in “Star Wars” are the ones that you could appreciate on more than one level. But the binary sunset was cool too.

is the alias of an online writer in Southern California.