Star Wars at 40 | 40 Memorable Moments in Star Wars: A New Hope

As the original Star Wars turns 40, celebrates 40 of its greatest moments.

This article is part of a special series in honor of Star Wars 40th anniversary today, May 25.

The world changed 40 years ago. The year 1977 altered the landscape of film and fandom in a significant way with Star Wars: A New Hope, as it opened the door to a galaxy so fantastic we longed for it to be real. Scene after scene made an impression, so much so that we’d still be talking about the original trilogy even if the franchise never had any new additions. (Thankfully, it has.) Here are 40 memorable moments that have become part of the cultural lexicon and kick-started our love of a galaxy far, far away.

The beginning of the opening crawl from Star Wars: A New Hope.

1. What a beginning.

“It is a period of civil war.” The first sentence of the opening crawl set the stage and filled us in about the state of the galaxy. We knew the situation was dire and that we were entering a universe in which the actions had high stakes.

R2-D2 and C-3PO crash land in the desert of Tatooine.

2. A sign of true friendship.

Threepio and Artoo’s bickering-couple relationship was established from the get go, but it’s impossible to forget the way our mindless philosopher kicked his best droid pal on Tatooine. Everyone’s been there, C-3PO.

A Sandcrawler rolling fortress drives across the desert of Tatooine.

3. On the move.

The tank-like sandcrawler was another vehicle concept that stuck with you after seeing the film for the first time. It somehow looked elegant while making its way over the gritty surface of Tatooine.

Luke talks to his uncle Owen with C-3PO standing next them and R2-D2 and Jawas in the background in front of a sandcrawler in A New Hope.

4. But power converters!

With his whole learning the Force and saving the galaxy business, it’s easy to forget that Luke was rather young when his journey started. His comment about Tosche Station and wanting to hang with his friends made it easy to put yourself in his shoes.

Luke Skywalker and C-3PO look at a broken droid outside Luke's home on Tatooine.

5. Faulty mechanics.

To this day, the exact function of a motivator is a little fuzzy, but thank goodness R5-D4 had a bad one.

Luke talks to C-3PO who is waist-deep in an oil bath in A New Hope.

6. A spa treatment.

After Threepio was purchased by the Lars family, he received what equated to a droid spa treatment. He probably needed it after walking around on dusty Tatooine. Who wouldn’t!

Luke sits at a table pouring blue milk into a cup in A New Hope.

7. It does a body good.

Blue milk appeared just once in the original trilogy, but once was enough for everyone to recall the pastel beverage.

Owen Lars in A New Hope.

8. Looking out for Luke.

Uncle Owen was the kind of guy who probably had Luke working for hours around the moisture farm, but when he talked about keeping Luke back for another harvesting season, you knew he came from a place of wanting to keep Luke safe.

A Tusken Raider raises their weapon above their head in A New Hope.

9. Gaffi stick attack!

Characters with face-covering masks are always kinda scary. We didn’t have much information about the Tusken Raiders except that they posed a threat, but after this, we didn’t need to know more.

A cloaked Obi-Wan Kenobi walks into a canyon on Tatooine.

10. Call of the wild.

What do you do with years and years on Tatooine with not much to do? Perfect mimicking the sounds of the local wildlife, like a krayt dragon.

Luke tries using a lightsaber for the first time while Obi-Wan looks on in A New Hope.

11. A more elegant weapon.

Obi-Wan presented Luke with his father’s lightsaber — and inspired generations of kids to impersonate the sound effect while fighting with cardboard wrapping paper tubes.

A holographic message of Princess Leia.

12. The survival of the Rebellion.

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” It was a message that launched an unforgettable adventure.

Darth Vader leads a meeting of Empire commanders onboard the Death Star.

13. A very gray meeting.

By the time the Imperials gathered for a conference aboard the Death Star, it was apparent they were the villains. The meeting showcased how the organization is a little like a corporation and how some of them didn’t necessarily respect Darth Vader.

Darth Vader raises his hand to force choke someone in A New Hope.

14. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

In the first few minutes of A New Hope, we met Darth Vader. His appearance and mannerisms were intimidating, but the demonstration of his uh, unique skills — namely Force choking (though we didn’t know what it was called when it happened) was terrifying and opened a door to a new mythology.

Luke Skywalker at his family home on Tatooine.

15. Charred remains.

The Empire was scary from the first scene of A New Hope, but the fact that they killed Luke’s family drove their awfulness and coldness home. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s charred bodies are the stuff of nightmares, but their deaths would prove a catalyst for Luke — one that ultimately led to the end of the Empire.

Tatooine's two suns set.

16. Binary sunset.

So much hope and possibility was captured when Luke gazed at Tatooine’s sun with the Force theme playing in the background. It’s the essence of Star Wars.

An Imperial interrogation droid carries a large needle.

17. Hidden rebel base.

Few droids have inspired terror like the interrogation droid. Did you see the needle on that thing?

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker ride into Mos Eisley on a landspeeder with R2-D2 in the back.

18. A wave of the hand…

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” One of Star Wars‘ most quotable lines. Raise your hand if you were blown away when Ben exercised that particular Jedi skill.

Two alien musicians play instruments in a cantina on Mos Eisley.

19. The cantina music that will be with you. Always.

The catchy tune by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes is probably already in your head just from reading the words cantina music. The Bith band’s soothing melody is the kind that sticks with you long after the scene is over.

Luke Skywalker fights two criminals in the cantina on Mos Eisley.

20. “I have the death sentence in 12 systems.”

Luke’s encounter with the immediately cranky Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba in the cantina reinforced the idea that you shouldn’t talk to or look at strangers. Evazan’s treatment of Luke was just a taste of the danger ahead.

Obi-Wan wields a lightsaber in A New Hope.

21. “You’ll be dead!” Not with Obi-Wan around.

Sure, Obi-Wan Kenobi proved to have some special abilities courtesy of the Force, but he didn’t seem particularly dangerous. That was until he stopped Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba from messing with Luke in the cantina, freeing Ponda Baba’s arm from his body, courtesy a bright, blue-bladed lightsaber. His action and his lack of hesitation about taking said action spoke volumes.

Han Solo sits in the Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope.

22. Meet Han Solo, world.

Han Solo’s introduction was all about him selling the greatness of himself and the Millennium Falcon — as it should be! The mention of the Kessel Run and parsecs has kept fans debating about the meaning for decades, and we still love Han as much as ever.

Grand Moff Tarkin stares at Princess Leia.

23. A foul stench.

Tarkin and his superior attitude made him an impressive figure. His regal cheekbones added to his commanding nature. Watching Leia comment on his “foul stench” and stand up to him was nothing short of inspiring, perfectly undercutting his pompousness.

The Death Star fires its main laser weapon.

24. An immeasurable loss.

It’s one thing to hear the Death Star is a powerful weapon, and it’s another thing altogether to see it in action, destroying Alderaan.

Luke Skywalker uses a lightsaber against a training droid on board the Millennium Falcon.

25. Trial by training remote.

Luke took baby steps to get comfortable with using the Force, and one aspect of his limited training with Obi-Wan involved a training remote. It was a sort of trial by fire device, or more accurately, a trial-and-be-fired upon device. But in the end, he connected with the Force and did it.

Han smiles and leans back in the Millennium Falcon cockpit.

26. No hokey religions for Han.

Han didn’t keep his feelings about any topic hidden. Don’t you kind of admire how frank he was with his opinions on the Force and lightsabers?

Han, wearing stormtrooper armor with no helmet, blasts a control board on the Death Star.

27. Situation normal!

Han was a charming sort of fella who could talk himself out of most situations. But, when he failed with words, you had to appreciate how he turned to his blaster without hesitation.

Princess Leia shoots at stormtroopers onboard the Death Star.

28. “Somebody has to save our skins.” (Somebody being Leia.)

Luke and Han went to the Death Star to rescue Leia, but really, she took charge once she was out of her cell and got them out of danger.

Princess Leia and Han Solo push against the walls of the Death Star's trash compactor as it crushes them.

29. Into the trash compactor.

The intensity of the trash compactor’s walls closing in doesn’t stop being a nerve-wracking experience even after repeated viewings. Besides making you worry about whether the heroes will survive, the trash compactor makes you think about the infrastructure of the Death Star and what other creatures one might find in its bowels…

R2-D2 plugs into a control terminal onboard the Death Star.

30. The droid saves the day!

It’s hard to choose which is better: R2-D2 saving the day and stopping the trash compactor’s walls or C-3PO mistaking Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca’s shouts of joy as cries of agony. 

Obi-Wan Kenobi fights Darth Vader with lightsabers onboard the Death Star.

31. A duel for the books.

The first lightsaber duel in the Star Wars universe was between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. It was more of a quiet combat rather than a flashy one with acrobatics, but that’s all it needed to be. It was dramatic and powerful, telling us more about their relationship and the Force.

Obi-Wan Kenobi's empty cloak and lightsaber on the floor of the Death Star.

32. Why is the robe empty?

Obi-Wan’s body didn’t fall to the ground when Vader struck him down; he disappeared. It was one of many moments that added depth to the world and spurred countless questions about the Force.

The entrance to the Rebel base in the jungle of planet Yavin 4.

33. Hello, rebel base!

We heard about the Rebel Alliance for so much of the film that by the time the heroes made it to Yavin 4, you had to take in every detail.

Rebe Alliance pilots sit in a briefing and examine diagrams of the Death Star.

34. Plan of attack.

The Rebellion had a thread of hope to hang onto, and it was evident in the briefing where General Dodonna explained the small flaw in the Death Star.

X-wing starfighters battle a TIE fighter around the Death Star.

35. Dogfight time.

A number of spaceship designs were introduced in A New Hope, but the looks of the X-wings and TIE fighters were especially impressive. To this day, they’re iconic.

A TIE fighter flys down the trench on the surface of the Death Star.

36. Navigating close quarters.

The claustrophobia-inducing narrowness of the Death Star trench made the attack on the massive battle station all the more exhilarating. You can’t help but be worried about the X-wings smashing into the sides of the passage, let alone making a near-impossible shot.

Luke Skywalker closes his eyes while flying an X-Wing starfighter.

37. When it’s a good thing to listen to voices in your head.

Luke didn’t get to learn much about the Force from Obi-Wan before losing him to Vader, but he absorbed enough to trust in Obi-Wan and the Force during the Battle of Yavin. If he would have left that targeting computer on…

The Death Star explodes.

38. Going out with a bang.

It’s the destruction of the first Death Star. It’s self-explanatory.

Luke and Han wear medals of Yavin as they stand with Leia, Chewie, C-3PO, and R2-D2 in the award ceremony after the defeat of the Death Star in A New Hope.

39. Getting a major award.

Luke smiled, Han winked, Leia looked proud, and R2-D2 danced. We needed the medal ceremony as much as them.

40. It’s a classic.

The “Star Wars Main Title” has pomp, excitement, and a sense of adventure. Though it would be easy to include the entirety of John Williams’ score as an item on this list, this particular theme embodies A New Hope and the saga. When it bursts on with the credits, there was only one thing to do: watch this exciting, touching, and inspiring movie again.

What are your favorite moments from A New Hope? Let us know in the comments below!

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.