When it comes to action scenes, the Star Wars franchise is known primarily for repeating two specific types: lightsaber battles and spaceship combat. We’ve already ranked the series’ numerous lightsaber battles from worst to best, but what about when it comes to the actual “Star Wars” in Star Wars? Everyone loves a good X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter battle, but there are definitely some scenes that hold up better than others. With that in mind, we’ve ranked every significant ship scene across all 8 Star Wars films to figure out which are the best and which are the worst. For sanity’s sake, we’re just counting scenes that feature some sort of significant moment featuring ships, so you won’t find any establishing shots or anything like that on this list.
19. Escape From Naboo – The Phantom Menace
Coming in at the bottom of the list is this relatively brief scene from A Phantom Menace, in which Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Queen Amidala, and the rest of their companions make a rather lackluster escape from the Trade Federation’s Naboo orbital blockade. For a scene that ostensibly depicts a daring escape, surprisingly little actually happens. The scene primarily consists of the Naboo Royal Starship being heavily damaged by enemy fire, prompting the dispatch of several droids to fix the shield generator. The twist is that one of the droids is none other than R2-D2, who not only fixes the generator but is the only droid not to be destroyed in the effort. After that, it’s smooth sailing as the Royal Starship makes an effortless escape.
Much like the majority of The Phantom Menace, there’s little in the way of riveting action to be found here but as an introduction to everyone’s favorite little Astromech droid, it gets the job done. Really, it’s the scene that follows, in which R2 is personally thanked by the queen for his heroism and bravery that makes the whole thing worthwhile, as it establishes that R2 has been a boss right from moment one.
18. Rebel Attack on Imperial Research Facility – Rogue One
This rather brief, one-sided aerial assault from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story sees a squadron of Rebel fighters and bombers attacking the Imperial research facility on the planet Eadu — the same research facility that Jyn Erso and her team happen to be infiltrating at the same time. As a whole, the scene’s significance lies more in what happens on the ground than in the air, as Jyn is reunited briefly with her father Galen before he succumbs to injuries sustained in the Rebel attack, but does a good job of showing just how lethal starships in the Star Wars universe can be when carrying out a coordinated attack against ground forces. The Imperial forces don’t stand a chance and are quickly destroyed, representing a small victory for the Rebel Alliance, with the unfortunate drawback of taking the life of Jyn’s father while also setting the stage for the more intensive guerrilla tactics employed by the Rebels during the Battle of Scariff later in the film.
17. The Battle of Naboo – The Phantom Menace
The second major starship scene in The Phantom Menace is significantly longer and more substantial than the one that precedes it and yet, the Battle of Naboo is still probably the worst ship-to-ship combat sequence in the Star Wars film franchise. The main reason for this is that the whole sequence is from Anakin’s point of view, no doubt in an effort to establish the character as a talented pilot even from an early age, while also giving him something to do during the film’s third act. Unfortunately, watching an 8-year-old kid stumble through a spaceship battle that ends with him getting super lucky and taking out the Trade Federation’s droid control ship isn’t half as thrilling as George Lucas must have imagined it to be.
It also doesn’t help that the three other conflicts that are happening at the same time down on Naboo’s surface are all more interesting (yes, including Jar Jar and the Gungans’ bumbling battle against the droid army). Still, the Battle of Naboo scores points for being the first Star Wars starship battle to feature CGI, which admittedly enhances the spectacle of it all. Plus, the yellow Naboo N-1 Starfighters are pretty cool looking, even if they don’t hold a candle to an X-Wing or TIE Fighter.
16. That’s No Moon Scene – A New Hope
Not every starship scene has to feature a battle to be considered entertaining, as evidenced by the classic moment in A New Hope when Luke, Han, and the rest of the passengers on board the Millenium Falcon first encounter the Death Star. The way the Empire’s massive superweapon is slowly teased out is an inspired bit of filmmaking, as we see the Falcon exit lightspeed near Alderaan … only to discover that there is no Alderaan. Han suggests that they came out of hyperspace too early and have entered some sort of asteroid field, but we know the terrible truth: that those “asteroids” are actually the remains of Alderaan and its millions of inhabitants.
The Falcon then discovers a lone TIE Fighter, prompting Han to give chase and Obi-Wan Kenobi to make the ominous observation that it’s a short range fighter and couldn’t reach deep space on its own. The crew then sees what appears to be a moon in the distance, leading to one of the film’s most iconic lines: “That’s no moon. It’s a space station.” As the Falcon is helplessly pulled in by the Death Star’s tractor beam, the disparity in size between the two vessels becomes increasingly apparent, until the Falcon becomes but a speck next to the moon-sized space station. Much like the film’s opening Star Destroyer reveal, this scene further illustrates the overwhelming power of the Empire and just how outmatched the Rebel Alliance is, making their eventual victory at the Battle of Yavin in the film’s final act that much more impressive and exciting.
15. Battle of Starkiller Base – The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens gets knocked around quite a bit for being a little too similar to A New Hope in terms of plot and structure, but nowhere are these similarities more evident than in the Resistance’s attack on Starkiller Base in the final act. It’s bad enough that the First Order’s superweapon is just a more powerful version of the Death Star, but the battle itself feels like it’s going over retrodden ground. The Resistance fleet, led by Poe Dameron, essentially have to do the same thing Luke Skywalker did during the Battle of Yavin: hit the target’s weak point while evading an overwhelming force of enemy ships.
From a visual standpoint, the attack on Starkiller Base is objectively more impressive but that comes with the territory of having nearly four decades’ worth of visual effects advancements (and a lot more money) at your disposal. Even the solution to destroying Starkiller Base is less creative than the Death Star run; whereas Luke had to fire a well-placed shot down an exhaust shaft in order to trigger a chain reaction, Poe and his team just shoot one spot a bunch of times until they start doing damage. Still, this scene has its moments; the need to finish the job before the nearby star can be fully absorbed not only gives the whole thing a cool lighting design, but is also an inspired twist on the familiar race against the clock trope. Plus, it’s just nice to see Poe getting to contribute in some way after being sidelined for the entire second act.
14. Cloud City Escape – The Empire Strikes Back
While this scene has the unenviable position of immediately following Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s first lightsaber duel, which ends with one of the greatest twists in cinematic history in Vader’s “I am your father” reveal, the Cloud City escape sequence is still a classic in its own right. The best moment arguably comes right at the beginning, when Luke telepathically reaches out to Leia, implying that she has a connection to the Force as well. After picking up an injured Luke, the real challenge begins as the Millenium Falcon makes it way back to Bespin’s orbit, only to discover Vader’s Star Destroyer lying in wait.
Like many scenes from the original trilogy that are set in space — no doubt to help reduce visual effects costs — the majority of this sequence’s action takes place in ship interiors, with Lando and Chewie desperately trying to get the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive to work. Meanwhile, Luke and Vader converse in a mental battle of wills, which only ratchets up the tension even more, as you know that if the hyperdrive fails, Luke will fall into Vader’s hands. Of course, everything works out and the Falcon makes the jump to lightspeed just before it can be pulled in by the Star Destroyer’s tractor beam and we’re left with the shot of Vader standing on the ship’s bridge, his son now firmly out of his reach.
The escape from Cloud City may pale in comparison to A New Hope’s iconic Death Star run, but it gets the job done and represents a small victory for our heroes after being death blow after blow by the Empire over the course of the rest of the film.
13. Battle of Geonosis – Attack of the Clones
Not so much a ship battle as it is an all-out war between the Clone and Separatist armies, the Battle of Geonosis still qualifies as a memorable starship moment in the Star Wars films simply because of all the cool ships we get to see take part in the action. Attack of the Clones is right up there with The Phantom Menace for the title of “worst Star Wars movie” but one area where it improves upon Episode I is in the action department. After nearly two hours of poorly-acted romances and saddling Obi-Wan Kenobi with the galaxy’s most tedious mystery, Attack of the Clones finally kicks things into high gear in the final act for a truly epic battle sequence.
Beginning as a desperate fight for survival as the Jedi are ambushed in an arena showdown soon escalates into a seemingly planet-wide battle between the Clone and Droid armies, complete with all sorts of ground and air units, including the memorable Clone troop transport ships. The battle itself becomes a secondary concern soon enough, as the focus shifts to Anakin and Obi-Wan’s confrontation with Count Dooku but while it lasts, the Battle of Geonosis makes a lasting impression (though it would have been nice to see some of the battle taken to space).
12. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Jango Fett Dogfight – Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones is pretty light on actual space scenes overall, but it makes up for this deficiency a bit by featuring the only true one-on-one dogfight across all the Star Wars movies. Tracking the bounty hunter Jango Fett and his son Boba to Geonosis, Obi-Wan engages in an intense cat and mouse chase with the infamous Slave I in a nearby asteroid belt. Both pilots display some skillful flying, with Obi-Wan deftly maneuvering through the packed asteroid field; a situation that becomes even more nerve-wracking once Jango starts dropping seismic charges.
Obi-Wan eventually gains the upper hand by attaching his Jedi Starfighter to an asteroid in order to avoid detection; the same trick that Boba Fett would use years later to track down the Millenium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. Easily the most visually-impressive ship combat scene in the franchise at the time of the film’s release, this battle loses some points for lack of originality.
11. Death Star Escape – A New Hope
If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to forget that the Millenium Falcon doesn’t immediately jump to lightspeed after Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the crew make their escape from the first Death Star. No, as Han tells Luke, they’re “not out of the woods yet” and have to deal with several attacking TIE Fighters before they can return to the Rebel base on Yavin IV. This leads to Luke and Han saddling up in the Falcon’s gun turret seats for some good ol’ fashioned target practice, resulting in the first true ship-to-ship battle in Star Wars history. And considering how outdated the effects are by modern standards, it all still looks pretty convincing!
The sequence is helped along by John William’s rousing score and the banter traded by Han and Luke (“Good job kid! Now don’t get cocky.”) as they shoot down the enemy ships. Overall, it’s a highly entertaining scene that offered viewers their first taste of space combat in the Star Wars universe and offered a tease of what to expect from the more epic scale Death Star battle to come later in the movie.
10. Poe and Finn’s TIE Fighter Escape – The Force Awakens
The first of many ship combat sequences in The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron and FN-2187, a.k.a. Finn’s escape from the First Order command ship orbiting Jakku may be brief but hits all the necessary beats to inject some much-needed action into the film’s somewhat meandering first act. That being said, the action itself really isn’t all that memorable; Finn and Poe destroy a gun emplacement or two and are shot down shortly after. The reason this sequence works like gangbusters is due to the natural chemistry between actors John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, and the fact that it’s probably the most intimate look fans have had at a TIE Fighter in the franchise’s history.
Really, Poe speaks for Star Wars fans everywhere when he exclaims excitedly that he’s always wanted to fly one and even though they could be blown up at any minute, it’s clear that the pair are having a blast. There’s a good reason why there’s a whole subsection of Star Wars fans who ship Poe and Finn as a couple and it has a lot to do with this scene. The only downside is that it ends in apparent tragedy, with Finn stranded on Jakku and Poe seemingly dying in the crash but fortunately, it doesn’t take too long for the pair to be reunited.
9. Opening Shot – A New Hope
Compared to many of the scenes included on this list, nothing much really happens in the opening shot of A New Hope but it’s that simplicity and reserved approach that makes it such an impressive bit of filmmaking. The shot of the Tantive IV being pursued by a massive Star Destroyer is one of the most iconic in cinema. It all starts with the way the shot is framed, as we see the Tantive IV pull into the frame first. On its own, Princess Leia’s ship looks to be of an impressive size but that notion is soon abandoned once the Star Destroyer begins slowly moving in, taking up more and more of the frame until it takes up every inch and seems to be of a neverending length.
Without a single line of dialogue, this scene conveys so much about the the conflict between the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire, as we literally see that it’s a David vs. Goliath type of matchup. Once the Star Destroyer starts firing on the Tantive IV, Star Wars as we’ve come to know it truly comes into focus and even though many scenes would top it in terms of scope and scale, this is the one that many fans point to as the scene that got them hooked on Star Wars in the first place.
8. Battle of Takadona – The Force Awakens
This scene earns a spot higher up on this list primarily on the strength of one shot in particular. The First Order’s attack on Maz Kanata’s castle looks pretty grim prior to the timely arrival of the Resistance; Han, Chewie, and Finn have all been captured by stormtroopers and Rey is being hunted through the woods by a determined Kylo Ren. In other words, all hope seems to be lost until we see a massive cloud forming on the horizon, which turns out to be a formation of X-Wing fighters readying their attack. As disappointing as it is that The Force Awakens largely eschews traditional space battles, seeing X-Wings flying over Takadona’s lake, mist rising as they make their approach is an absolutely gorgeous sight to behold, made all the better by the dogfighting that follows.
We get to see Poe Dameron demonstrate why he’s General Leia’s most trusted Resistance pilot, as he pulls off aerial maneuvers so impressive that Finn has little choice but to cheer him on from the ground below. The only real knock I can give this scene is that it feels undercooked, like the writers knew they needed a second act action set piece but didn’t quite know how to resolve it properly. The Resistance clearly rout the attacking First Order squadron, yet Kylo Ren is able to casually escape on his ship with no problems whatsoever. Still, as a proof of concept, the Battle of Takadona gets the job done and proves that watching X-Wings and TIE Fighters battle it out in aerial combat is just as thrilling now as it was four decades ago.
(Also, sorry about the video below. Couldn’t find a good clip of this scene that would allow for embedding.)
7. The Battle of Hoth – The Empire Strikes Back
The Battle of Hoth is one of, if not the greatest action setpiece in Star Wars (not counting lightsaber battles of course). So why is it only ranked 7th on this list? Well, as thrilling as the Empire’s assault on Echo Base is, it doesn’t actually feature much in the way of ship combat. The only ships we see are the Rebels’ T-47 airspeeders, aka snowspeeders, which only just qualify as ships because they can fly around and shoot things, as they are not spacefaring vessels. The real star of the show here are the AT-AT walkers, which somehow are terrifyingly imposing in spite of their laughably poor design. In a neat twist though, the snowspeeders and AT-ATs are actually perfectly balanced, as even though the speeders’ blasters bounce off the walkers’ hulls like pebbles, Luke Skywalker himself makes the brilliant discovery that wrapping their legs with the ship’s tow cables is the best way to take them down.
Outside of the Death Star run, it’s hard to think of a more iconic combat sequence in Star Wars than that first sight of a snowspeeder circling an AT-AT’s legs and taking the lumbering monstrosity down. In terms of ship combat, it’s true that the Battle of Hoth doesn’t quite measure up to the very best space battles Star Wars has to offer, but its winning mix of epic ground assaults and Snowspeeder vs. AT-AT action have helped solidify it as one of the beloved battle scenes in Star Wars history.
6. Escape From Jakku – The Force Awakens
Arguably the best action setpiece in The Force Awakens, Rey and Finn’s escape from Jakku aboard the Millenium Falcon is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride from start to finish. Though Rey transitions from struggling to get the “garbage” Falcon off the ground to pulling off deft maneuvers that would make the galaxy’s best pilots lose their lunch a bit too quickly for some peoples’ tastes, it’s a small suspension of disbelief price to pay when the results are this good. There are some seriously awesome shots in this sequence, as the camera flips around and keeps a tight focus on the Falcon as it evades a pair of attacking TIE Fighters.
With Finn struggling to get a grip on the ship’s weapons system, Rey has to get creative with her evasive maneuvers, which leads to her steering the ship through a derelict Star Destroyer at one point. The chase itself is thrilling but the best moment comes at the end, when Rey flips the ship over in order to give Finn a clear shot at the remaining TIE Fighter in a brilliant display of teamwork. Fun, fast, and frenetic, the Escape From Jakku is definitely one of the best ship sequences in all of Star Wars.
5. Battle Over Coruscant – Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith improves upon Episodes I and II in a number of ways, including its opening scene. Whereas both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones start off slowly and take a considerable amount of time to get going, Episode III starts off in media res, thrusting viewers right into the middle of a giant space battle between the Republic and Separatist forces. The cool thing about this scene is that the battle itself is really the backdrop for the main plot thread, as Anakin and Obi-Wan are in the midst of a mission to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from the clutches of General Grievous and Count Dooku.
Of course, it would be pretty boring, not to mention unbelievable if the two Jedi made it to their destination without some interference from the battle raging around them, so thankfully we get to see the duo engage in a variety of thrilling skirmishes with enemy ships and some annoying Buzz Droids. We also get the chance to see Anakin’s superior piloting skills firsthand and hear Hayden Christensen utter the phrase “This is where the fun begins,” one of the most cringe-inducing moments in the entire prequel trilogy.
Yeah, this scene is great.
4. Asteroid Field Evasion – The Empire Strikes Back
As good as Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda is, the scenes with Han, Leia, Threepio, and Chewbacca aboard the Millenium Falcon are arguably some of the best moments in not just The Empire Strikes Back, but the Star Wars franchise as a whole. While Luke somehow makes his way to Dagobah without any interference from the Empire, the Falcon crew are pursued by no less than three Star Destroyers, forcing Han to make the desperate decision of flying into an asteroid field in hopes of ditching the Empire.
Han gets to display some hotshot piloting skills — while also finding time to lay the charm on Leia and hurl insults at Threepio — while John Williams’ incredible score plays underneath the action. It’s a brilliant bit of action filmmaking on the parts of director Irvin Kershner and cinematographer Peter Suschizky, and arguably the best non-combat flying sequence in the series. That is, unless you count TIE fighters careening into asteroids as combat. I like to call that “death by galactic misadventure.”
3. The Battle of Endor – Return of the Jedi
With Admiral Ackbar’s utterance of the immortal phrase, “it’s a trap,” the Battle of Endor truly begins; an inverse of the Rebel Alliance’s attack on the first Death Star as this time, the Empire is expecting them. This sequence is a true classic, showing just how far the technical wizards at Lucasfilm had come since the release of A New Hope in crafting a showstopping space combat scene. With Y-Wings bombing capital ships and Star Destroyers crashing into each other, the Battle of Endor is much more ambitious and visually impressive than anything in A New Hope and from a thematic perspective, it’s all a bit hard to watch as the Rebels truly look like they’re going to lose right from the start.
Fortunately, Lando’s “ol’ buddy, ol’ pal,” Han manages to take out the Death Star’s shield generator from the forest moon below, prompting Lando to lead one last attack run on the space station that takes them all the way into its core. This scene still impresses to this day, so I can only imagine how stunning it must have been to witness in theaters back in 1983. That being said, for as good as the Battle of Endor is, it doesn’t quite top the list of Star Wars’ greatest starship scenes.
2. Battle of Scarif – Rogue One
Looking back on it now, Rogue One is a surprisingly tedious watch for most of its runtime, as the film simply drags for the first 90 minutes or so. However, once Jyn Erso and her team arrive at the Imperial facility on Scarif to steal the Death Star plans, the film doesn’t let off the gas until the closing credits, delivering scene after scene of thrilling action in a galaxy far, far away. While the Rebels deal with Stormtroopers and AT-AT walkers on the planet’s surface, an even more epic battle takes place in the skies above as the Rebel Alliance engages with the Galactic Empire in all-out, ship-to-ship warfare. The sequence plays out like a modern version of a space battle from the original trilogy, with hundreds of X-Wings and TIE fighters filling the screen.
That being said, the Battle of Scarif also scores points for delivering some inspired bits of space combat, most notably the ingenious maneuver pulled off by a corvette cruiser that steers a crippled Star Destroyer into other ships of its kind, creating a domino effect that leads to the planet’s shield gate being disabled. For Star Wars fans who grew up watching the original trilogy, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by this scene, as its so heavily reminiscent of the starship scenes that captured our imaginations as kids. Speaking of which …
1. The Battle of Yavin – A New Hope
Yes, I know I may be contradicting my last point a bit by ranking the Battle of Yavin in the top spot on this list. After all, the Battle of Scarif is objectively better from a technical standpoint, as it simply wasn’t feasible to fill the screen with hundreds of ships of various sizes back in 1977 before CGI was even a thing. Still, nothing in Rogue One can ever hope to measure up to one of the most iconic scenes in Star Wars history, as the assault on the original Death Star is what truly catapulted Episode IV: A New Hope from a scrappy indie sci-fi flick to an epic space opera and franchise starter.
It’s true that the Death Star run doesn’t quite pack the same punch it once did, but even with its outdated visuals and effects, it’s still an absolute barnburner. Nevermind that it’s the first time we get to see the iconic X-Wing in action, this scene also marks Luke Skywalker’s transition from daydreaming farmboy to galactic hero. Guided by the spirit of his deceased mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke makes his way to the end of the Death Star’s trench while his allies are taken out one by one and just before Darth Vader — yes, this battle is so important that Vader hops into a TIE Fighter of his own to handle things personally — can fire the kill shot, Han Solo’s timely arrival gives Luke the all clear so he can “blow this thing and go home.”
And with that, blockbuster filmmaking was changed forever.
Disagree with our rankings? Let us know in the comments what your personal favorite Star Wars spaceship scenes are!