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Star Wars: Ranking Every Major Action Sequence In The Empire Strikes Back

After 1977’s Star Wars became the highest-grossing movie of all time and changed the face of Hollywood, it would’ve seemed impossible to follow the movie up with a satisfying sequel. But 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back was widely praised as one of the greatest sequels ever made, and arguably an even stronger movie than its predecessor.

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One of the ways that Empire managed to succeed as a sequel to Star Wars is with spectacular action sequences to rival the Death Star trench run from the first movie.

7 The Wampa Attack

George Lucas gets the Star Wars sequel off to a thrilling start when Luke is yanked off his tauntaun by a Wampa and dragged back to its cave. Standing at 10 feet tall with the blood of its victims smeared around its mouth, the Wampa is a terrifying movie monster.

Luke’s escape – summoning his frozen lightsaber and lopping off the Wampa’s arm – establishes the impressive Force powers he’s developed in the time jump since the previous movie. This sequence sets a high bar, but the rest of the movie’s action did its job and topped it.

6 Han’s Interrogation

When Han and Leia go to meet Lando for dinner on Cloud City, the door slides open to reveal Darth Vader and Boba Fett waiting for them. Realizing his friend has betrayed him, Han draws his blaster and fires at Vader, who effortlessly deflects each blast before Force-grabbing the gun from Han’s hand. This moment perfectly encapsulates Han’s character: he knows he’s hopelessly outmatched by Vader, but gives it a shot anyway.

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The Imperial forces arrest Han and bring him in to be interrogated. He’s put in a creepy torture device and the scene cuts away just before the pain begins. Han’s screams echo hauntingly through the prison cell where his friends are being kept. The off-screen horrors are much more disturbing than anything that could be depicted on-screen. When Han returns to the cell, he says, “They never even asked me any questions...”

5 Escaping From The Exogorth’s Mouth

While trying to outrun the Empire’s fleet, Han decides to land the Falcon in a nearby cave. However, as it turns out, it’s not a cave – it’s the mouth of a giant space slug. Irvin Kershner deftly builds to this reveal. C-3PO says the environment is “not entirely stable” and Han, Leia, and Chewie go out onto the foggy, rocky ground they’re parked on to shoot mynocks off the ship before they realize they’re in a “Jonah and the Whale” situation.

The shot through the window of the Falcon’s cockpit of the exogorth’s jaws clamping down, paired with John Williams’ anxious orchestrations, creates an unbearable tension that draws the audience to the edge of their seats. The Falcon escapes at the last second in time for a glorious wide shot of the exogorth emerging from the asteroid and snapping its teeth.

4 Lando Helps The Rebels Get Off Cloud City

Lando initially betrays the Rebels when they arrive at Cloud City. He turns Han over to Darth Vader to be frozen in carbonite and allows Stormtroopers to take the others away. However, when Vader keeps changing his deal with Lando, he realizes the error of his ways and helps Leia, Chewie, and the droids escape to the Falcon.

The escape sequence isn’t quite as exciting as the concurrent lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader, but there are some fun blaster shootouts between the heroes and the legions of Stormtroopers chasing them.

3 The Battle Of Hoth

Luke recovers from the Wampa attack just in time to fight in the Battle of Hoth. The Empire sends in AT-AT walkers to storm the Rebels’ snowbound base and the Rebels respond by sending a fleet of snowspeeders to trip them over with grappling lines.

The wintry landscapes of Hoth provide a breathtaking backdrop to the wholly unique action of floating speeders tripping up robotic, four-legged attack vehicles. The sequence builds to a thrilling climax when Luke crashes his snowspeeder and loses his co-pilot before blowing up the final AT-AT. So, Luke has to grapple up onto the walker, blast it open with his lightsaber, and toss in a bomb to finish it off.

2 The Asteroid Field Chase

In the second act of The Empire Strikes Back, the cerebral scenes of Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda are brilliantly contrasted with the action-packed spectacle of the Imperial fleet chasing the Falcon across the galaxy. In a bid to lose their pursuers, Han takes the Falcon through an asteroid field.

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C-3PO establishes the exact mathematical value of the stakes of this sequence when he warns Han that the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are 3,720 to one. Han hilariously replies, “Never tell me the odds!” and then defies those odds and successfully navigates the asteroid field. The TIE fighters on their tail aren’t so lucky.

1 Luke Vs. Vader

When Luke senses that Han and Leia are in trouble, he cuts his Jedi training short so he can confront Vader on Bespin. Yoda warns him that he’s not ready to face Vader, but Luke refuses to listen and flies down to Cloud City anyway. Luke brings a lot of passion to the duel, but his combat skills are virtually non-existent compared to Vader’s. As Yoda cautioned, Luke is nowhere near ready to face such a powerful enemy.

The budding Jedi apprentice is effortlessly defeated by the seasoned Sith Lord, who ends up chopping off one of his hands and revealing that he’s his biological father. This brutal standoff is a subversive climax for a big studio blockbuster. Not only does the bad guy win; it’s barely a challenge.

NEXT: 10 Ways The Empire Strikes Back Is The Star Wars Saga's Best Movie

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