Luke's entrance into Jabba's Palace. The door slowly opens, and a lone robed figure stands there. Then he immediately starts striding purposefully into the darkness, pausing only to casually Force-choke a few guards that get in his way. The sequence is shot in such a way that the viewer knows a full-on Jedi beatdown is about to begin. The Hero's Journey is complete in that moment: Luke Skywalker left Tatooine a naive farmer, but he returned a Jedi. And then there's more evidence of that journey's impact when Jabba drops Luke into the Rancor pit. The slavering beast sets its sights on Luke, and within three minutes, Luke takes it down. With a bone. And a skull.
Luke walking off the plank over the Sarlacc pit, turning, grabbing the edge, flipping back onto the skiff, catching the lightsaber Artoo fires from Jabba's sail barge, igniting it, and proceeding to kick ass.
The buildup in that scene is awesomely constructed, especially the music, which was recycled for the teaser trailers for Phantom Menace, if you recall.
"You should have bargained, Jabba. That's the last mistake you'll ever make." C'mon! How badass is that!?!
What makes it even better that that Luke legitimately gave Jabba every opportunity to negotiate and live to tell about it. The Hutt is the galaxy's biggest, nastiest, slimiest space slug of a gangster and Luke sees value even in his life. It's almost foreshadowing his beliefs about his father...
When Luke ignites his new green lightsaber after escaping his execution. Always has me grinning stupidly.
Or the moment right before that where it is made clear, via a combination of body language and camera cues, that the heroes are about to put their plan into action.
When Luke ignites his lightsaber for the first time, Chewie's reaction in the background could best be translated as, "Oh, hell yeah!"
The NPR Radio Drama kicks it up a notch. Han, who has been dismissive of Luke's claims to be a Jedi, hears the lightsaber igniting, and exclaims "I know that sound! Heads are gonna roll now!"
Instead of seeking cover like everyone else when Leia threatens to blow up Jabba, Boba Fett quickly picks up his blaster carbine. Leia's gambit with the thermal detonator has a more mundane explanation in the Legends continuitynote (she had stolen the identity of a bounty hunter she had previously killed, and said hunter was notorious for threatening his clients with thermal detonators unless they doubled the bounty, meaning that if she didn't do this then Boba Fett would have immediately cottoned on that she wasn't who she claimed to be), but going purely by the film it gives the amusing implication that not only does Leia show up to rescue Han, she even decides to scam Jabba out of the bounty that was out on Chewbacca's head, and a little extra besides.
As anticlimactic as Boba's death is, you have to admit how goddamn cool he looks—moreso than usual—when he emerges from the sand barge and leaps into action with the way his jetpack ignites and he gets all the way over to the sand skiff in one go. That is what a jetpack is supposed to look like! Bonus points for being relatively realistic, too—he's not entirely dependent on the jetpack to move, it's more like a jump-assist. He was fighting like a SPARTAN almost twenty years before Master Chief hit the scene!
During the battle at the Sarlacc pit, Lando gets thrown off a skiff into the sand. Han, attempting to save him, gets his foot tangled in ropes hanging from the skiff, which keep him from getting thrown down as well. A tentacle grabs Lando and starts pulling him in, when Han gets a blaster from Chewie and blasts it, one-handed, hanging upside-down, and mostly blind. Lando gets one too, as while being slowly dragged to his potential death, and with his blind best friend essentially pointing a gun at him, he keeps his calm and tells Han where to shoot.
Princess Leia choking Jabba to death. After he objectified her the way he did, she was able to turn the tables. The novelization of this scene makes it clear that she's subconsciously calling on the Force to help her with it. In a similar vein, slave girl Oola being defiant to the end when Jabba tries to force himself on her.
Carrie Fisher: Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.
The Emperor's arrival at the Death Star in ROTJ with a huge assembly of Imperial officers and stormtroopers awaiting in the hangar, a multitude of TIE fighters flying outside and the John Williams Imperial March blasting loud as his royal guards and then finally he disembarks from his shuttle.
Luke taking down three biker scouts during the speeder bike chase by the following methods: Jumping from the speeding bike piloted by Leia onto the back of one scout's and throwing him off. Then using that bike's blaster to shoot down another ahead of him. And then after falling off it, using his lightsaber to deflect the blasts of the third speeder scout and stepping out of the way and slicing the steering vane so it spins out of control and crashes into a tree.
The first person point-of-view shot of the speeder bike chase.
C3PO has his Moment of Awesome... it is, as befits him, rather subdued, but - when the Ewoks capture the "Pitiful little band", and they see their Golden God, and bow down to him - well, that's not it; it's a few moments later, when he speaks to the tribesmen, and Luke asks in surprise "Can you understand what they're saying?" and, of course, Threepio responds: "Oh yes, Master Luke... I am versed in over six million forms of communication!" Also, remember that C3PO has been complaining about the adventures he has been in, always being in danger, actually being nearly destroyed several times... but, in the end, he becomes the one that allows the Rebel victory, because it was his presence in all those adventures that allowed him to tell the Ewoks what was going on in the rest of the galaxy.
The scene where Luke surrenders himself to Vader in and addresses him as "Father". When Vader prods Luke that he has accepted the truth, Luke firmly responds "I accept the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father." With a simple turn of phrase, Luke shows Vader how he has grown from a boy who was capable of a Heroic B.S.O.D. upon hearing Vader's little emotional sucker punch to a mature man who accepts an uncomfortable truth his way.
The Ewoks themselves. Besting the Empire, the most technologically advanced and numerically superior fighting force the galaxy has ever seen, with nothing more than stone-age weapons and the burning desire to defend their home from invaders. This is what Star Wars is really all about.
The Empire is about to take the Rebels off to whatever prison or firing squad they have set up, then the Ewoks launch their surprise attack: their cute little horns signal cry, andhundredsof Ewoks pop up out ofnowhere, all over the forest, and every one of them is armed to the teeth. If you're the Empire, teddy bears have never been so frightening.
Chewie along with two Ewoks taking control of a scout walker and turning the tide of the forest battle which had been going badly for the Ewoks. Also it allowed Han to use it to trick the remaining Imperials inside the bunker to open the doors.
Having just barely taken out some enemy Stormtroopers, Han and Leia think they're done for when a walker starts approaching them... and then the hatch opens and Chewie pops out.
Chewie's Walker shooting out the other walker becomes a rallying point for the Ewoks. Whereas they had had trouble dealing with the troops and the walkers, this time around their attacks (making a walker slip and fall over a bunch of logs, doing a "nutcracker" on another) are much more effective. They start taking out the imperial speeder scouts zipping to and fro as well, with clotheslines, and catching their steering vanes in lassos tied to trees. We see a bunch of primitive, tribal creatures actually hold their own against the baddest army in the galaxy. They had every reason to celebrate that night at the victory party.
Think about it for a second: The entire Battle of Endor, both on the ground and eventually in orbit, was turned around by a wookiee and a pair of ewoks hijacking an enemy vehicle.
With all the Luke/Vader action, it is easy to forget Han. In a flash of genius, he gets the men in the base to come out by pretending the Rebels have surrendered, only to jump them outside.
Of course, he's talking to the guy whom he expressly stated he did not foresee being there.
"Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!"
After Vader has failed repeatedly to lure his son to the Dark Side, he finally discovers Luke's Berserk Button:
"Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for... Sister. So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will."
The music cue that played at that moment especially made it powerful.
Luke's cry of "Never!" and then nearly taking Vader's head off in the duel was also awesome.
Even better. Immediately after Luke's Big "NEVER!", Vader quickly turns in his direction with a rapid Vader Breath... Yes, Luke got Darth Vader to gasp!.
The entire climax of the duel between Luke and Vader. The music slowly builds as Vader searches the throne room for where Luke is hiding, continually pushing him in an effort to break his cool. Then he finds the secret Luke has been keeping: Leia. The music continues to build as Vader threatens that if Luke will not be turned, Leia may instead. At which point Luke explodes with righteous anger born of his love for his sister, igniting his lightsaber one last time and screaming in challenge. The music and fury of the action to follow as Luke battles and overcomes Vader stands as the emotional climax and most powerful moment not of the film, but the entire franchise.
Adding to that, the utter No-Holds-Barred Beatdown Luke delivers to Vader. Even though the audience knows he's teetering on the edge of the Dark Side, it is a thing of beauty to behold, Vader is utterly defenseless against his onslaught.
What a difference a year makes. Vader positively curb-stomped Luke in ESB without even trying, but this time, Luke utterly overwhelms Vader, whose entire fighting style is "batter them into submission", with sheer rage and strength.
"Never... I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me." Doesn't matter that the Emperor immediately got lightning happy, that was the moment the Good Guys won. Probably the second greatest Moment of Awesome in the entire series.
Looking at the progression of events around that point, that scene is when the tables turned and the good guys started to win. After that declaration, the Shield Generator blew up, the Executor was destroyed, and the Death Star Run into the reactor began. Everything began to fall apart for Palpatine.
Just the fact that Luke's personal greatest triumph is then, when he wins without fighting - when he wins by not fighting. We saw earlier that he clearly has the courage to face giant monsters - we see here that he has a depth of emotional courage which runs every bit as deep. By believing, and by not acting, and by trusting in Anakin, he brought his father back. Incidentally, defeating an enemy without fighting them is very much the Jedi way. By doing this, Luke truly proved himself a Jedi Knight.
All the way from the start of the trilogy, Yoda and Obi-wan have kept the same plan and message: Luke must kill his father and the Emperor in order to win. Not only does he not kill either of them, but in ultimately redeeming Anakin he finds a way to finally bring balance to the force and proves that for all their mastery they were wrong.
It's even more awesome when you look at the history of the series. Palpatine has had everything go according to his plan for over 30 years (and, if you go by the Darth Plagueis novel, since he became an adult.) He hasn't suffered a major loss in his entire life, with even the destruction of the first Death Star not taking away his cool. He played every major character in the prequel trilogy like a fiddle, then Luke came in. He's the first person ever to do something the Emperor never expected - make him lose his cool.
The Force Lightning assault has to be one for Palpatine. He shows up in the movie, and he's just a frail old man. Everyone is terrified of him, but you're never sure why. Then Luke throws his offer back in his face, and: "If you will not be turned...you will be DESTROYED!".
Palpatine's overall reaction to everything that is going on around him. For the 1st time in his Sith life something does not go his way, his wanted apprentice and heir to the Empire Luke has completely ignored his wishes of giving in to The Dark Side, the Death Star II's shields are down and will surely be destroyed any minute now, and his Galactic Empire which he spent nearly 20 years to create prior to Episode IV is left without a heir and will fall into ruin without him or a successor. He tries to get some cathartic rage on Luke for denying his wishes however something he never would have thought to happened to him happens, his own slave Darth Vader breaks free from the Dark Side and hoists Palpatine. All Palpatine can do at this point is yell in fury and anger, he even demands Vader to let him go. For the 1st time in the Star Wars timeline Palpatine has made an error, which costs him his Empire, the Sith Order, and his life.
And the best part about that is the way he says it. The entire movie his tone of voice has been, as someone stated previously, like a mockery of a kind old man because he is so assured in his belief that he will win. But when Luke refuses to turn, he drops that tone and so the way he says that line, how it is just dripping in pure cold hatred and evil... classic.
If you watch the films in the order they were made, there's the impact of seeing the lightning for the first time. Palpatine gives some death threats etc, and you expect some big lightsaber fight or force choking or what have you. Instead, out of freaking nowhere he starts shooting LIGHTNING at Luke. While the lightning has been downgraded and made much more commonplace since then, back then not even Darth Vader could do it (now we know why, but the EU wasn't as developed at the time). It made the Emperor a grade-A badass.
According to the novelization, the lightning was nothing less than a straight-up abomination of the Force, Palpatine using his sheer overwhelming hatred to break the very rules that bound the universe together. Consider that even in the prequels, we only see two characters who ever use it: Palpatine and his apprentice, Count Dooku.
Vader lunging at Palpatine to save his son. The man clearly has very little energy in him from the brutal duel with Luke he can barely stand and has only one hand he still musters enough energy left in him to grasp Palpatine by the waist high above his head and throwing him down the shaft all with one hand truly a Papa Wolf.
Even more awesome after watching the prequel trilogy. Anakin had spent his entire life adhering to the whims of other people. He was a slave in his childhood. As a Jedi he could only do what his elders allowed him to do, which meant his potential to be the hero he was hoping to be was severely limited. The Emperor played him like a pack of cards to the point where he lost almost everything. Even his relationship with Padmé transpired on her terms, not his. By killing the Emperor to save his son, Anakin finally took control of his life.
The triumphant resurgence of the 'Force Theme' overpowering Palpatine's screams and protests as Vader seizes and lifts him, signifying Vader/Anakin's return to the Light.
Palpatine's terrified last words as Anakin carries him to his death: "LET ME GO!". Watching the Prequels and The Clone Wars series, Palpatine always had the "I'm untouchable" look to him. Not this time, however; for the first time in his life Palpatine feels ultimate fear.
Possible WMG/YMMV but his take down of Palpatine is significantly more impressive when you consider the following: Firstly, Palpatine's force lightning could almost instantly shut down Vader's suit, and immediately after tossing Palpatine he collapses and is unable to move, meaning that the suit was probably non-functioning before he even threw the Emperor. He was moving with pure force of will (and the Force). Secondly, Palpatine was far too powerful to be killed merely by falling, surely someone of his power level would have been able to arrest his descent. So in all likelihood, Vader stopped him from doing that via the Force.
Also, arguably, the only bit Lucas himself has in tying the original series to the prequel trilogy. Watch the death scene again, and it's arguable that Vader finally realizes that he was always whining about other people limiting him, but it was always him — in staring at his ruined stump of a hand, just like Luke's, it's got to be a little apparent to him that Luke's been through almost exactly the same kind of life he had, but worse on almost every level, all without giving in to the Dark Side. It's very hard to hear in the film, but just before he lifts Palpatine, you hear the exact point it finally hits him:
Vader: No... NOOO!
This is even better in the NPR radio adaptation, with Brock Peters' incredible delivery in this exchange:
Palpatine: Release me. Vader, I command you! Put me down!
Vader: I will: down the core shaft. Down to your death!
Palpatine: Vader, I am your master!
Vader: Darth Vader's Master. But not Anakin Skywalker's!
Another great part of the NPR adaptation is just a few seconds before this. Instead of saying a rather clumsily edited in (in the newest special editions) and narmtastic Noooooooo!, Brock Peters instead gives a more convincing, and very pissed off, shout of "MY SON!" as he lifts Palpatine off the ground, it really has to be heard to be appreciated.
THE ENTIRE BATTLE OF ENDOR IN SPACE. Some specific moments are
Lando: Yes, I said closer! Move as close you can, and engage those Star Destroyers at point blank range!
Ackbar: At that range we won't last long against those Star Destroyers!
Lando: We'll last longer than we will against that Death Star! And we might just take a few of them with us!
Think of it this way: Your fleet is wedged between a shielded superweapon slash space station capable of destroying large cruisers and an enemy fleet. What do you do? Go in headlong against said fleet! This leaves the enemy forces with a Sadistic Choice: Lose large numbers in direct combat or fire the superweapon and risk disastrous amounts of friendly fire. Genius!
Flying into the Death Star is crazy enough, but then the TIE Fighters come in after them.
Not only that, but according to the Expanded Universe, after the battle there was an award named after the pilot called the Crynyd Award, given for conspicuous bravery in space combat.
The Rebels also named a captured Star Destroyer after the guy.
It's worth noting that the Executor is so large, expensive, durable, and armed, that it is basically the equivalent of an entire fleet by itself AND it's operated by the Empire's finest officers. It's also a huge propaganda and psychological warfare tool, overshadowed only by the Death Star. The fact that a single, mass-produced fighter managed to basically obliterate it with what was essentially a pinprick at exactly the right place makes it one of the greatest achievements of the Rebel Alliance. On top of that, it was something that could only be done by ramming (a space superiority fighter lacks the ordnance necessary to do that kind of damage), which means he did it quite deliberately, making it the single greatest Dying Moment of Awesomein the entire series.
Watching the Executor, a ship so large it literally overshadowed the Star Destroyers from The Empire Strikes Back, get destroyed by plummeting into the Death Star, with the bridge crew of Ackbar's ship cheering triumphantly. Admiral Ackbar himself is in complete disbelief and just slumps into his chair slack-jawed as he watches.
Before that, there's the scene where while Ackbar orders his fleet to concentrate fire on the Executor, if you look out the window, there's a regular Star Destroyer exploding in the distance. It's like Lucas wants to show us what a Star Destroyer looks like being destroyed before showing us the destruction of the Executor.
Also, watch as the Executor crashes. We've already seen how big this thing is (it completely dwarfs regular Star Destroyers), and when it crashes into the Death Star, the ground looks almost flat. The second Death Star completely dwarfs the Super Star Destroyer, which completely dwarfs the regular Imperial Star Destroyer.
Commander Gherant's total "Oh God we're dead" moment while Piett's shouting to "intensify the forward batteries" of the Executor and Gherant sees off in the distance the out of control A-Wing coming straight for them.
Piett:Intensify the forward firepower!
It's a Moment of Awesome for ILM as well. Keep this in mind: This sequence was filmed in the early 1980s. There's not a single CGI ship or character in the entire battle. Everything you see was done with models, pyrotechnics, sets, and practical effects. And while it's not without editing or continuity problems,note Arvel Crynyd, the A-wing pilot who downs Executor, actually dies twice; first he's shown flying an A-wing with two TIE Interceptors on his tail, and gets shot down. However he's suddenly shown to be flying the Y-wing which shoots down the TI Es which shot him down. Finally, the last time he appears is just as he makes his fatal run on the Super Star Destroyer not only do the effects still hold up nearly 30 years later, the Battle of Endor is still one of the greatest and most complicated space battles ever committed to film.
Just consider that rather than try to "spice it up" with some CGI for the Special Editions, Lucas left the entire sequence alone, knowing no modern tricks could possibly enhance such an epic work.
Death Star battles seem to be powered by Moment of Awesome. In the finale of the battle, we first see Luke barely escape in Vader's ship, then Wedge makes good his escape, and finally Lando and the Millennium Falcon come blasting out of Death Star 2 with their hair on fire.
Luke gives his father a proper send-off, while the magical musical Force theme plays for the last time, and then we see the rebels and Ewoks (and in the HD remake, civilizations throughout the galaxy) celebrating freedom. And two Jedi ghosts watch in approval...and then a third Jedi joins them: the final proof of Anakin's redemption.
In a low-key way, Leia taking her first steps to exploring her Force Sensitivity by feeling her brother escaped the second Death Star.
Obi-Wan's seemingly nonsensical line in Episode IV to Han and in turn the crew "There are alternatives to fighting" finally come to pass 4 years later, Luke didn't beat Palpatine by a lightsaber, he found an alternative way to beat him by proudly proclaiming he was a Jedi like his father before him. Somewhere in the deep recesses of The Force Obi-Wan's ghost must have been smiling. Badass Pacifist at its finest.
Jerjerrod gets a minor one in a deleted scene. The Emperor orders him to destroy the Endor moon in case the rebels manage to destroy the shield generator. Jerjerrod protest the order as they have several forces on the moon. Sure, he reluctantly complies when ordered further, but the fact that he dared to talk back to The Emperor at all says something.
During their lightsaber duel, Luke jumps onto an overhead platform. Vader, having learned from Mustafar, elects to throw his lightsaber rather than jump after him.