Top 10 Saddest Star Wars Moments
Star Wars's Darker Elements
With an expansive world, memorable characters, and impressive soundtrack, Star Wars has delighted moviegoers for decades. And thanks to the timeline split (old material from the expanded universe is now part of a "Legends" timeline, while new canon falls into the Force Awakens trilogy), there's more of the epic saga to enjoy than ever before. But for every triumphant victory and rescued planet in the series, we encounter several disastrous missions and fallen heroes.
Although Star Wars is often seen as a kid-friendly franchise, these tragic elements remind us there's a dark side of the Force festering across the war-torn galaxy. To see what I mean, let's explore the top ten saddest moments in all of Star Wars! We'll encounter heart-wrenchingly familiar movie scenes as well as melancholy moments from Star Wars novels, shows, and even video games that will enlighten casual fans of non-film traumas.
Anakin Kills Count Dooku
10. Anakin's Execution of Count Dooku
Seen in: Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
After incapacitating Obi-Wan, Separatist leader Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyranus) duels Anakin in a fierce space setting reminiscent of Anakin's fight with Vader aboard the second Death Star. Just as his son would later do against him, Anakin falls prey to Dooku's taunts and in his anger overwhelms the Sith Lord, slicing off both his hands; ah, the classic Star Wars dismemberment. However, unlike Luke, Anakin succumbs to Palpatine's command of killing his defenseless opponent. Sure, Dooku was "evil", but in his own way he was actually trying to help the galaxy, thinking it needed to be freed from the corruption of the Republic. From a certain point of view, he ended up being right, as we soon see the noble Republic become the nefarious Empire—with thunderous applause.
Regardless, the moments afterward are awkward and unnerving as Anakin himself admits a Jedi shouldn't behead an unarmed (or unhanded) prisoner, not to mention a particularly elderly one. Yet even as we witness how easily Anakin strays from the Jedi path, he immediately refuses Palpatine's suggestion of leaving the unconscious Obi-Wan behind, stating "his fate will be the same as ours." Not only is this scene fillied with brilliant foreshadowing (all three characters die in the original trilogy, and Anakin holding Dooku's red lightsaber shows his shifting morality), it demonstrates just how devoted Anakin still is to his friends, making his failure all the more tragic.
Darth Maul Kills Qui-Gon
9. Qui-Gon Jinn's Death
Seen in: Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Though many dislike Episode 1 for mistakes like Jar-Jar Binks, I've always found Jedi Master Qui-Gon a complex and interesting character, kind and devoted but with a spark of disobedience to outdated Jedi tradition. Even the film's naysayers agree Qui-Gon and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi's duel against Darth Maul was a definite highlight (especially with Duel of the Fates playing), and the clash quickly turned from thrilling to tragic when Maul separates the two Jedi. Obi-Wan, blocked by an energy barrier only a few feet away from his Master, watches helplessly as Maul hits Qui-Gon with his saber's hilt, stunning him long enough to land a lethal blow.
Not only does this kill one of the series' best characters, it left Obi-Wan in quite the bind as he had to face his more-experienced foe alone. And because of Qui-Gon's death, Anakin's training eventually fell to Obi-Wan. Well-intentioned though Obi-Wan was, he was new at mentoring and his steadfast adherence to the rules poorly suited Anakin's rebellious nature. If Qui-Gon had lived to train Anakin as intended, maybe Darth Vader and the Empire would never have risen.
And heck, if you somehow weren't saddened by Qui-Gon's death, it was probably because you were saddened at Episode 1's lukewarm quality.
8. Romba Realizes Nanta is Dead
Seen in: Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi
This scene proves even minor characters can open our tear ducts. In the climatic Battle of Endor, where the Rebels on the forest moon of Endor are joined by the Ewoks in a battle against the Empire's finest legion, many Ewoks perish amidst the chaos. The most heart-tugging moment occurs when an Imperial AT-ST walker fires a laser salvo that knocks one Ewok, Nanta, and his ally Romba to the ground. Phased but unharmed, Nanta gets up and nudges his friend only to realize his ally is dead.
The Ewok emits a sad groan and leans over Romba's body in sorrow as John Williams's score emits appropriately sad music. Sometimes all it takes for us to cry is to realize the reality war has on the common man (or Ewok). Many Bothans may have died to bring the Rebels the shield generator's location, but even more Ewoks probably perished assaulting it. If you don't remember this short scene, go rewatch ROTJ's climax and prepare to weep like a newborn Porg.
7. Vice Admiral Holdo's Sacrifice
Seen in: Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi
"Then there's this girl from Gatalenta named Amilyn Holdo who is…let's say, a little odd."
"I trust your judgement, Leia, but don't be too quick to write people off. Sometimes they can surprise you."
―Leia and Bail Organa
This brief exchange between a young Princess Leia and her adoptive father Bail sums up Holdo's role in Last Jedi. After Leia is placed into a coma, Holdo assumes command of the hunted Resistance forces and is initially seen by both Poe and the audience as an ineffective, stale leader. After Poe's plan to stop the pursuing First Order fails, he realizes Holdo's patience has had a purpose all along and learns the value of faith and trust in his superiors.
After evacuating the Raddus's crew on transports, Holdo bravely jumps into lightspeed with her craft aimed directly at Snoke's command ship, the Supremacy, severing it in two and allowing her allies to escape. Of course, Holdo knew she wouldn't survive the impact, but never once had second thoughts about giving her life for a greater purpose, and her character arc reminds us to (as Yoda once said) not to judge by appearances.
6. Kreia's Betrayal
Seen in: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords (Xbox video game)
Thanks to Rey in the new trilogy, women are being given a bigger role with the Force, but for many years they were scarcely seen as either Jedi or Sith. Even when they were, the gals were often firmly cemented on one side of the equation, like Asajj Ventress's clear darkness compared with Ahsoka Tano's unyielding light, hinting at a fear of presenting a conflicted, morally-gray heroine. Enter classic Xbox video game KOTOR 2 (set thousands of years before the films), where your custom character is instructed by the enigmatic Kreia in the ways of the Force.
Throughout your journey, Kreia offers an interesting perspective on the nature of the Force, not entirely Jedi-like but not entirely Sith either. After you gather the remnants of the scattered Jedi Order, Kreia reveals her true identity as Darth Traya the Betrayer, kills the Jedi you amassed, and leaves you for dead. She reveals she's come to revile the Force for making humanity weaker as they grow more reliant on their Jedi protectors, and her goal seems to be the ultimate destruction of the Force. After a fierce battle, you defeat Traya, somewhat making amends with her as she ominously dies predicting the eventual rise of the Empire. Kreia was an interesting, well-voiced, and thought-provoking character who offered a surprisingly profound reflection on the Force's place in the galaxy far far away.
Oh, and some infamous deleted content implies she was not only Darth Revan's Jedi mentor, but also the Handmaiden's (one of your companions) mother, offering even more layers to her character.
5. Anakin Kills Younglings During Order 66
Seen in: Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
"Execute Order 66"
After Palpatine's decades-long plan is finally set, he enacts Order 66, a secret mission engraved into all Clone Troopers (soon to be Storm Troopers) to turn on their Jedi allies. The following sequence is one of Star War's saddest moments as we see Jedi after Jedi fall and witness Yoda's devastation as he feels his comrades die.
Even worse, a now-turned Anakin leads a battalion into the Jedi Temple, and they begin slaughtering everyone in sight. Anakin eventually encounters a room full of Younglings (children training to be Jedi) who, unaware of his new allegiance, ask him "Master Skywalker, what are we going to do?" Anakin ignites his blue lightsaber, the young boy who spoke takes a step back, and the scene cuts away. Although many viewers sympathized with Anakin's objective of saving Padme, this action (along with spotty acting) earned him the ire of many fans and proved how warped he was. After all, it's hard to defend massacring a room full of children.
4. Boba Fett Cradles His Father's Decapitated Head
Seen in: Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
Boba Fett may not see much screen time, yet his iconic armor and Batman-level powers (he fights Jedi without the Force) keep him a prominent figure in Star Wars lore. But before he became a bounty hunter, he was raised by his father Jango on Kamino—until events place them on Geonosis battling against Jedi. Jango has the misfortune of getting his jet pack trampled by a Reek (the red rhino-like beast Anakin tamed) at precisely the wrong moment, leaving him vulnerable to a decapitating blow from Mace Windu's purple lightsaber.
After the fighting ends, we see young Boba cradle his father's helmet and we know that the young boy is now truly alone in the galaxy. If you delve into the Legends timeline, you grow even more sympathetic towards Boba when you unearth his future traumas. He marries, but leaves his planet and wife after killing the man who raped her. Boba believed his departure could keep her dark secret safe and her reputation intact, sacrificing his own happiness to try and salvage his wife's. In the end, although Boba and Jango end up working for the "bad guys" in the movies, they're really just lonely soldiers who happen to be employed on the wrong side and are more human than their rough exteriors would initially show.
3. Jacen Solo Kills Mara Jade Skywalker
Seen in: Sacrifice (Book five of the nine-novel series Legacy of the Force)
For those unfamiliar with the Legends events after Return of the Jedi, Luke successfully starts a new Jedi Order but alters certain aspects (like enabling marriage) to make it the best Order yet. Serving as the Order's Grand Master, he also marries former Empire Assassin turned Jedi Master Mara Jade. Meanwhile, Han and Leia have three children, the eldest son being Jacen Solo (who bears many similarities to Kylo Ren, but that's a tale for another time). Chewbacca also tragically dies (hard to write for a character who can't talk), meaning Han really does have to fly the Millennium Falcon Solo.
Very long story short, Mara and Jacen were fan favorites who appeared in dozens of books and struggled to reconcile the darkness inside of them. After Jacen's younger brother Anakin Solo died in the Yuuzhan Vong war, something inside him snapped, and Jacen slowly succumbed to Dark Lady Lumiya's temptations of the dark side. Eventually, she convinces him he needs to sacrifice someone he loves to prove his selflessness and devotion, and he ends up killing his aunt in a climatic duel to the death. Not only did this event rob us (and Luke) of a beloved character and powerful Jedi, it cemented Jason's status as villain. He adopts the title Darth Caedus, making us realize that just like Vader, Jacen originally meant well but had quickly fallen beyond redemption. Mara Jade's death will forever leave a gap in the Force.
Ahsoka's Vision of Anakin
2. Ahsoka's Guilt Over Anakin's Fall
Seen in: Television show Star Wars Rebels, Season 2 Episode 16 - Shroud of Darkness
As polarizing as the prequel trilogy was, many fans loved the Clone Wars animated television show that fell between Episodes 2 and 3. Introduced in it was Ahsoka Tano, Anakin's Togruta Padawan apprentice, who offered a badly-needed female presence and youthful optimism to the stoic Jedi Order. Both Ahsoka and her debut series helped redeem the prequels, and most fans agree on the show's quality. Long story short, despite her close relationship with Anakin (and Obi-Wan), Ahsoka eventually leaves the Jedi after a moral disagreement, contributing to Anakin's sense of loss and discontent with the Jedi. Fortunately for Ahsoka, her departure would help her survive Order 66, as she was no longer a Jedi to target.
Years later, she would reappear in the show Star Wars Rebels, this time set between Episodes 3 and 4. Although fan reception to this program was more mixed, the Ahsoka segments remain a highlight of the series. In particular, the sorrow Ahsoka emits after realizing what happened to her former Master cuts our hearts to pieces. Check out the above scene to watch Ahsoka's vision of Anakin's spirit blaming her for his transformation into Darth Vader. Although Ahsoka could never have been predicted Anakin's fate, this brief encounter beautifully illustrates her feelings of guilt. As depressing as the moment is, fans can find comfort in the fact that Ahsoka manages to survive both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, and it's possible we'll see more of her in the future.
1. Rogue One's Entire Ending
Seen in: Rogue One, A Star Wars Story
Non-episoded film Rogue One begins right before the first Star Wars movie (in terms of release date), Episode 4: A New Hope, and showcases the Rebellion's struggle to steal the technical readout of the Empire's new superweapon: the planet-destroying Death Star. With its lack of opening credits and darker story, Rogue One edges into the more brutal elements of Star Wars, but does so in a hauntingly beautiful fashion.
Although we only had one film to get to know these characters, we grew to love the diverse crew, making their ultimate demise all the more tragic. From heroine Jyn Erso to blind monk Chirrut Îmwe ("I am one with the Force and the Force is with me) to wise-cracking droid K-2SO, this was a complex bunch who offered humor and camaraderie in the midst of a horrifying war. In various ways, our heroes are all axed off in their desperate mission, only barely managing to get the plans to Princess Leia (as Darth Vader brutally destroys an entire Rebel squad), setting the path to Luke's destruction of the Death Star and victory for the Rebel Alliance. Like Holdo would do much later, they died giving their lives for a greater duty, and Rogue One may forever remain Star Wars' saddest moment.
Which do you think is the saddest moment?
Future of Star Wars
Although not every film, novel, game, and show end on the same triumphant note, the threat of losses make the occasions where our heroes do win all the more spectacular. With almost ten films, two timelines, and dozens of novels and video games, our love for Star Wars has never been stronger—darkness and all. Heck, we've even had to deal with real-life loss with the death of Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) sure are getting up there in years, too.
But as Yoda once said, death is a natural part of life, and perhaps those departed are watching us from the stars above. Regardless, as we eagerly await the future of the Force, vote for your saddest moment and I'll see you at our next Star Wars countdown!
Questions & Answers
What about the non-canon Star Wars story "Into the Great Unknown"?
Glad you mentioned it! A sad story, but so ridiculous (and, as you say, non-canon) that it would seem out of place in the list.
For those who don't know the comic's plot is that (spoilers) Han and Chewbacca crash on an unfamiliar planet that turns out to be Earth, and Han is killed by the natives (humans). Years later, Dr. Indiana Jones, investigating rumors of Sasquatch (Chewbacca) find Han's remains but decides to leave them be.
For the unaware, actor Harrison Ford plays both Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and this comic was mostly a "for-fun" reference to the commonality. It also contradicts Star Wars's infamous "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" unless we're supposed to believe "a long time ago" means less than 150 years.
© 2018 Jeremy Gill