I initially chose the Pit of Carkoon battle from Return of the Jedi as my favorite battle before I realized LOL I already used that as my favorite scene from the movie, so … I had to choose again and am going with Battle of Endor, again from Return of the Jedi. I know that RotJ doesn’t have the same clout as TESB, and the final battle between the Rebel fleet and the second Death Star greatly borrows from the Battle of Yavin (A New Hope): the entire Rebellion could be wiped out at this very moment, so it’s do or die, bitches. Plot wise, there are a lot of moving parts, and Palpatine’s plan is ill-advised at best (like, you do realize everything hinges on several big maybes here, Palpy?), but it has classic lines like “It’s a trap!” and Leia’s return “I know” to Han’s admission that he loves her. Honestly, the entire sequence is just as thrilling as it was the first time I watched it as a kid. The acting, the pacing, the juxtaposition between the space battle and the scenes inside the Emperor’s throne room, the music, etc. are just so expertly done that it makes you forget about the scene where Luke tells Leia they’re related (it’s so bad, you guys). Oh, and Han Solo’s transformation over the trilogy is a big part of why I love this battle so much: he has to work as a team, not only with his own people but with a bunch of warrior teddy bears who don’t speak Basic and with the fleet in space (with no direct communication). Imagine him doing this in A New Hope.
But let’s look more deeply into the moving parts that Richard Marquand manages to balance to near perfection: 1) Han, Leia, C3PO, R2, etc. on the moon against the 501st, the best the Empire has to offer, 2) the Rebel and Imperial fleets in space, and 3) Luke vs Vader vs the Emperor. Whenever the action is paused to go check up on the other parties, I don’t even care; I’m just as invested. They’re tied together so well, playing off emotional beats from the previous one … this was just so damn well crafted that I’m honestly curious as to why Marquand isn’t a more famous director than he is. I mean, he died a few years after RotJ, so that may be a part of it, but still.
Runners Up: Battle of Scarif (Rogue One), Luke vs. Vader (Return of the Jedi), Battle of Crait (The Last Jedi)
Art Credit: 99 Designs