While we all love Star Wars for its positive message, swashbuckling thrills, and seemingly endless amount of Cool Stuff (lightsabers, Jedi, X-wings, blasters, the list goes on…), it’s easy to forget that an essential part of the Star Wars mix is fear. It’s one of the tenets of the dark side, and as such, it plays a big role in the films. And while Star Wars obviously isn’t gore-filled, there are spooky moments, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and emotionally scary moments. Here’s a rundown of some the scariest scenes and moments from the Star Wars films.
THE INTERROGATION OF LEIA – A NEW HOPE
While this is a really short scene, it stays with the viewer. Vader enters Leia’s holding cell and coldly says, “And now, your highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden Rebel base.” Leia looks off-screen, visibly scared at what she sees: an interrogation droid, complete with a Really Big Needle. Vader looks back at Leia, and then, from the outside, we see the door slam shut. We’re left to imagine what happens, which makes it all the more scary. That, combined with Vader’s ruthlessness and the fear he inspires, makes it clear that in Star Wars, the villains are to be taken seriously and the heroes could be harmed.
THE WAMPA ATTACK – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
The opening of The Empire Strikes Back, on the ice planet Hoth, really sets the tone for much of the film: cold, harsh, and sometimes brutal. Almost immediately after our introduction to Luke, his tauntaun is spooked by something off-screen — which, if you’ve ever seen a Western where a cowboy’s horse gets frightened, you have an idea about what’s coming — and the two are quickly attacked by the yeti-like Wampa. The attack is fast and vicious (it helps that you don’t see much of the Wampa, making for a Jaws-style scare), and the icy nothingness of the snow-blanketed surroundings just add to the terrifying feel: Luke is alone and there is no one there to help him. As the beast drags him off to its lair, we have the most horror-movie-like opening of any Star Wars film.
THE CAVE – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
The training scenes on Dagobah all have a dreamlike, often eerie feel to them, but the scene in which Luke enters a cave and confronts a vision of Darth Vader — revealed to be himself after a beheading — is chilling. A lot of that is owed to Irvin Kershner’s masterful direction: the hazy, atmospheric look of the setting, Luke’s shiver before entering, and the look of dread on his face as Vader approaches, coupled with what has been building for much of the movie — the feeling that bad things were going to happen to our heroes. In this case, we caught a glimpse of what might be in store for the Jedi-in-training, and it was, to paraphrase Luke, like something out of a nightmare.
JABBA’S PALACE/THE RANCOR – RETURN OF THE JEDI
The Jabba’s Palace scenes in Return of the Jedi are downright weird, in the best sense of the word. Strange, grotesque creatures fill the screen; tentacled prisoners reach out from behind bars; Jabba snacks on live reptiles and licks his “lips” — the same as he does when pulling a repulsed Leia close to his huge, slimy body. But it all leads to Luke’s fall into the Rancor pit (which had been teased earlier via the screams of a dancer, dropped there as punishment for resisting Jabba), revealing possibly the most famous of all Star Wars monsters: a huge, hulking, brown thing, whose only reason for being seems to be emitting deafening roars and eating whatever is in its path. Exciting and scary stuff, and unlike anything we’d seen in Star Wars up to that point.
THE END OF ANAKIN – REVENGE OF THE SITH
The finale of Revenge of the Sith has the momentum of a runaway train (with lightsabers and Force lightning, of course): two duels between the most powerful beings in the galaxy, quickly interspersed, with everything at stake. But the final moment in the Anakin/Obi-Wan fight, when Obi-Wan gets to higher ground, putting him at an advantage, sets up one of the most pivotal moments in the entire saga. We know what’s coming, but when it happens, and we see it, it’s sad and stomach-churning. Anakin, far gone with pride and anger at this point, ignores Obi-Wan’s warning not to attack, and attempts to leap over him to continue the fight — only to lose his legs and an arm with one swipe of Obi-Wan’s lightsaber. Hearing Anakin’s guttural scream as he falls towards the lava bank, and then watching as he catches fire — the audience acts as witness to Anakin’s payment for his sins — makes for one of the most disturbing moments in all of Star Wars.
There are many, many more scary Star Wars moments, both in the films and other media, from video games to books. What are some of your favorites? Sound off in the comments below!