By Julie Catherine
With Halloween just around the corner and the spooky season fully into gear, it’s the right time to look at some of the best chills and thrills in the Star Wars universe. Although Star Wars is suitable for all ages, the series has plenty of dark moments that would satisfy any horror fan. In fact, fear is a theme commonly spoken of in the Star Wars films, especially in relation to how it leads to the dark side of the Force. Here are 10 of the scariest moments in Star Wars:
10. Everything with Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker
It would be easy to mistake Palpatine’s entrance in The Rise of Skywalker and all of his subsequent scenes as moments taken from a frightening horror film. The dimly lit throne room, the sudden bursts of lightning, and the chanting Sith cultists all add to a truly creepy vibe everytime Palpatine is seen in The Rise of Skywalker. And, despite previously seeing the infamous Sith lord in the prequel trilogy, The Clone Wars, Rebels, and Return of the Jedi, Darth Sidious has perhaps never been as scary as he is in The Rise of Skywalker. His dead eyes, decrepit skin, and haunting voice all affirm Palpatine’s scenes in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga as some of the scariest in Star Wars.
9. Rey’s Vision in The Force Awakens
At this point in her journey, Rey is only just beginning to discover the power within her – and where she comes from. This sequence begins with Rey grabbing the Skywalker lightsaber and a loud noise alerting the audience what is about to happen. The sound design is excellent throughout this vision as the audience can hear the voices of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Luke. Rey quickly finds herself surrounded by the Knights of Ren as bodies lay lifeless on the ground, a frightening site for the audience and the new hero. When Rey runs through the forest (foreshadowing the events on Starkiller Base), Kylo Ren quickly pops out behind a tree. This part of the vision in particular is directed like a horror film, as an unsuspecting Rey, along with the audience, is ambushed by a threatening villain. This scene is meant to scare and challenge Rey and the audience, and it certainly does that.
8. Tusken Raiders’ Attack on Luke in A New Hope
The sand people are some of the most frightening components of A New Hope, especially when they siege and incapacitate Luke. Luke speaks of these creatures as he looks around, not realizing that they were quickly approaching him. When the Raiders reveal themselves, it’s shocking. The deafening scream immediately alerts the audience to their presence, and provides a jump scare type moment. George Lucas’ directing allows the audience to see the moment from Luke’s perspective, who is laying on the ground helpless, which makes it even more frightening.
7. Darth Vader’s Onslaught in Rogue One
Rogue One has many incredible moments, but none seem to match the infamous Darth Vader sequence at the end of the film. The fear of the awaiting Rebels is palpable. The sound design is breathtaking, with the hectic preparation of the Rebels abruptly cutting out as they await the incoming antagonist. The soft sound of Vader’s breath humming in the total darkness as the Rebels wait still sends chills down our spines, even years after the film’s release. It’s difficult not to hold your breath during this sequence, especially when Vader ignites his lightsaber and Michael Giacchino’s haunting score kicks in. Once Vader’s tirade against the Rebels begins, the scene becomes even more frightening as we witness the Rebels scramble for survival. All in all, Vader’s onslaught is one of the most frightening sequences in the Star Wars saga.
6. Lair of Grievous
The Clone Wars was billed as a children’s show, but the tenth episode of the series’ first season definitely feels far from child-friendly at times. While some criticized Grievous as being a silly character in Revenge of the Sith, the Separtist general comes to life as a horrifying villain in Lair of Grievous. The episode sees Jedi Master Kit Fisto and his former apprentice Nahdar Vebb navigate Grievous’ castle, a location that is both unsettling and intimidating. Grievous’ appearances and his systematic slaughter of clone troopers are akin to a classic slasher film. The audience quickly learns to feel connected to Fisto and Vebb, which makes the threats to their lives at the hands of Grievous even more frightening.
5. “This is no cave…”
When Han, Leia, and co. landed in what they think is a peaceful cave, they had no idea what they were in for. Similarly, neither did the audience. Irvin Kershner’s directing and the set design make it shocking when the cave is revealed to be nothing of the sort. Instead, the characters were inside an Exogorth. They quickly escape, fearing that staying there any longer would result in them being eaten alive – a truly scary prospect. The crew cut it close as they fly out of the cave in a fist clenching moment full of intensity and fright.
4. The Dark Side Cave in The Empire Strikes Back
The second vision sequence to make this list still scares us to this day, despite the film’s 40th anniversary this year. Brilliantly crafted by director Irvin Kershner, the iconic scene begins with Luke’s entrance into the creepy cave on Dagobah and the chills continue to ramp up until the sequence’s dramatic conclusion. The scene is scary for a number of reasons. Kershner’s usage of slow-motion adds an off-putting, unsettling sense to the whole sequence. The dark, foggy vibe of the cave makes the entire scene feel like a horror film. And the cerebral horror of Luke seeing his face in Vader’s helmet elevates this scene to an even more frightening level.
3. The Rancor Pit in Return of the Jedi
The Rancor is perhaps one of the most frightening, disgusting creatures in the Star Wars saga, something that is emphasized in all of the Rancor Pit scenes in Return of the Jedi. The green twi’lek Oola’s death in Return of the Jedi is like a scene out of any of the scariest monster films. The horrors of the pit infuse audience members with a sense of dread about what it would be like to be stuck in an enclosed space with an imposing, violent monster. And the mere strength of the Rancor, highlighted by it easily snapping a bone, creates an exciting, yet disturbing feeling the best horror films achieve.
2. The Wampa Attack in The Empire Strikes Back
Another iconic scene with a horrific creature makes the list of the scariest Star Wars moments. Everything about Luke’s encounter with the Wampa feels like straight out of a nightmare. The Wampa’s entrance is shocking and perhaps the best jump scare in Star Wars history. Luke’s experience in the Wampa’s captivity is horrifying. Luke is beaten, bruised, and completely isolated, helplessly hanging from a cave’s ceiling waiting to be eaten. The brief shots of the Wampa eating add to the terror of the scene, showing the audience what will happen to Luke unless he can devise a miraculous escape. Three scenes from The Empire Strikes Back make our top 5, emphasizing how frequently and brilliantly Episode V breaches into horror territory.
1. Anakin’s Downfall in Revenge of the Sith
There’s few scenes scarier on multiple levels that Anakin’s transformation into the half-man/half-machine we see in A New Hope. For starters, the ominous aesthetic of Mustafar provides an apt, hell-like setting for Anakin’s horrific transformation. Anakin’s physical injuries and his burning in the lava is truly horrifying and evokes even the most gruesome of body horror films. Beyond visuals, however, this scene is psychologically frightening. The light in the former Jedi Knight had truly vanished at this point, and Skywalker is a shell of who he once was. John Williams’ excellent score tops it all off, making it the most haunting scene in Star Wars.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm & Disney+