Star Wars has dominated much of the pop culture landscape in the past several years, but 2019 was ridiculous. With one saga of films ending, a whole new era of TV starting, the hype leading to both, and then all matter of other media, there’s a chance we’ll never have as much Star Wars as 2019 provided. Then there was all the news about the future too.
Below, we distilled all of the year’s best Star Wars moments, both in their world as well as ours, for a celebration of all the wonder in a galaxy far, far, away.
Why the secrecy, The Mandalorian? Before the series premiered on November 12, the whole show was cloaked in mystery. The trailers were vague and the merchandise practically nonexistent, a rarity in Star Wars. But it turns out there was a good reason. A tiny, adorable, green reason. When the end of The Mandalorian’s first episode revealed that the Mandalorian’s target was a Baby Yoda (called the Child), it was a rare moment in Star Wars fandom. People were surprised, possibly for the first time in years—largely thanks to all the merchandise and online forum leaks leading up to most Star Wars films nowadays.
It would be enough that it was just a neat reveal we all got to experience together, but Baby Yoda is so much more than that. He is fucking perfect, the star child we must protect at all costs. Whether he’s eating frogs, playing with children, or inspiring one of the best memes of 2019, Baby Yoda is the perfect companion for Pedro Pascal’s Dadalorian. We learned more about the Child in the series’ later episodes—perhaps some things we may not have liked—but what’s clear is Baby Yoda is not just the Mandalorian’s child. He is all our child.
Beyond Baby Yoda, The Mandalorian offered many memorable moments, right down to its final one. But the moment that stood out to us, even after everything else, happened in chapter three, “The Sin.” When the group of secret Mandalorians came out of hiding to protect the Mandalorian, you felt the wonder that Star Wars is so good at. It had exciting action, beautiful visuals, and a lovely heart at the center. Beyond that, the moment carried with it the weight of inevitability. This heroic act saved one person and his mysterious green child, but it also exposed everyone to danger in the process, something we’d later find out may have been permanent. But so much emotion was wrapped up in a single rousing action set piece, and we’ll never forget it.
The future of Star Wars films is in a state of flux—most recently, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said the studio plans on moving away from trilogies after The Rise of Skywalker. But for a while, the next Star Wars project, reportedly about the origin of the Jedi, was in the hands of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The news came right around the time when our love for Game of Thrones was starting to wane; in fact, the announcement was just days after the premiere of “The Bells,” the divisive episode where Daenerys Targaryen destroyed an entire city. The series finale—written and directed by Benioff and Weiss—made it clear that these guys shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Star Wars franchise.
It wasn’t until October that Benioff and Weiss announced they were walking away from Star Wars to focus on creating new content for Netflix (as of now, they’ve only co-directed a comedy special for Leslie Jones). Considering how Benioff and Weiss had reportedly truncated the final season of Game of Thrones so they could work on Star Wars, it feels like a perfect storm of bad decisions. In any case, that could open the door for Rian Johnson to return with a new film or series or some fresh faces.
There’s so much Star Wars out there right now. There’s an argument to be made that there’s almost too much. And yet despite that, Star Wars fans have remained enchanted by the idea of exploring the period of time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope where Obi-Wan Kenobi sat in a dusty house on Tatooine and occasionally babysat a lil’ Luke Skywalker from afar. Now, after what felt like years of speculation—first rumored as a movie, then ultimately as a streaming series—we’re finally going to get it, with Ewan McGregor returning to the galaxy far, far away to reprise his role as the iconic Jedi master.
It took years of McGregor being constantly asked about the potential of his return, of course—forever politely declining to say more than he would be delighted to do so, but that nothing was official, with a patience that almost certainly provides good practice for him having to portray a man who went from fighting in the Clone Wars to hanging out on a hot dustball of a backwater planet for two decades. But finally (finally) at D23 this year, Kathleen Kennedy and McGregor made it official: Obi-Wan was back, and it was time to learn how he became the hermit Ben. We still don’t know when it’ll actually land on Disney+, though we do know that director Deborah Chow will helm the series—an exciting prospect after she directed a killer episode of The Mandalorian—but, at long last, we know it’s going to happen and that’s thrilling.
The moment you first hear the title of a new Star Wars movie is a momentous one. It’s a short series of words that, love it or hate it, you will now live with for the rest of your life. So, the fact that fans went into Star Wars Celebration Chicago in April not knowing the title of Episode IX, coming nine months later, was very unique. But then, the trailer played, and in its closing moments, the blue “Star Wars” logo comes up, spreads apart and after a beat that feels like an eternity, “The Rise of Skywalker” is revealed. A perfect, beautiful title that instantly started debate and speculation. Oh, and that was coupled with familiar laughter. The laughter of long-thought-dead Emperor Palpatine. So after the title was revealed, in the room in Chicago, Ian McDiarmid himself came out onto the stage and say “Play it again.” You’ve never heard such screaming in your entire life. It was a magnificent moment to witness and be a part of.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm it seemed inevitable the theme park giant would find a way to expand the Star Wars universe into its fold. The company could have built a standalone “Star Wars World” in the middle of America and fans would have flocked, but instead we went to the Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Disney World. While the opening was plagued by the usual hiccups, the Imagineers at Disney created an immersive and unique place in the fictional Batuu, allowing park guests to live out their Star Wars dreams and drink all the blue or green milk their hearts desired. And spend all their savings.
So much of recent Star Wars has been defined by loss, in and out of the text of the Skywalker Saga itself. The fandom, when it isn’t at each other’s throats over some asinine debate about laser swords or what have you, is still reeling from the sudden and sorrowful loss of Carrie Fisher. Within the story, heroes like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and so much of the new Resistance against the First Order have fallen in climactic battles that have put our heroes on the back foot. Coming out of The Last Jedi’s dark middle chapter, the good guys needed all the help they could get. And they didn’t even get the chance to get that on Crait!
So in the run-up to The Rise of Skywalker, the Resistance needed a bit of a win. It got in in Rebecca Roanhorse’s excellent novel Resistance Reborn, telling the tale of how our brow-beaten heroes stopped running and started fighting back against the First Order once more. Masterfully weaving years of threads and characters from across the reborn continuity of the Star Wars expanded universe, whether it was the comics, the games, or its fellow novels, Reborn provided familiar allies the chance to stand alongside the likes of Leia, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose.
While it was satisfying to see the characters forged in the crucible of this new canon get to stand side-by-side with their cinematic counterparts, Roanhorse’s deftest and most satisfying return came in the form of a long-missed face from the movies: Wedge Antilles, hero of Red and Rogue Squadrons, the man who helped take down both Death Stars. Wedge’s return in Resistance Reborn saw him face the utter tragedy of learning about Luke’s sacrifice, and examining his own willingness to give up his life of retired peace to re-enter a conflict he may not be able to survive once more–and choosing to fight evil anyway because he’s Wedge kriffing Antilles, nerfherders.
By the end of Resistance Reborn, Wedge and his fellow heroes of the wider Star Wars expanded universe have scattered into the galaxy, to spread the message of resistance far and wide—one we know is picked up, when he, and a flotilla of civilian ships, make their arrival for The Rise of Skywalker’s climactic space battle. He’s only onscreen for a moment, but it doesn’t matter: Wedge Antilles is back.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace has gotten a lot of flack over the years, but its 20th anniversary brought out a lot of fond memories of the prequel film. This was especially apparent at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, where creators, actors, and fans alike gathered to reminisce. It was especially heartwarming to see Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best show up at the panel and receive the loudest applause after having previously revealed mental health issues connected to the backlash of the film and his role. It’s something important to keep in mind as yet another film in the saga is stirring up some intense reactions from fans.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a video game filled with excellent moments and surprises. Our favorite, though, is when you go back to Kashyyyk, start to climb the Origin Tree, and meet a massive creature called a Shyyo Bird. This mythic creature is grand even for Star Wars standards and, after a few journeys on the way to the top of the tree, Cal Kestis gets on the bird’s back and flies. What has been a game with a lot of lightsaber fighting and puzzle solving all of a sudden turns into a serene fantasy. A lyrical wonder as you and your dragon-sized bird glide on top of the dense forests of the Wookiee planet. It’s a beautiful, breathtaking moment that reminds you why Star Wars can be so good.
Rise of Skywalker is a movie full of Star Wars fanservice to a fault, but whether or not you loved or loathed the movie (or fell somewhere in between), you’d be hard-pressed to find a dry eye in the house with how the film handles its final farewell to the gone—but never forgotten—Carrie Fisher. Her presence in the film, a delicate use of unused dialogue and footage from The Force Awakens’ filming, is weaved into the narrative efficiently, but it is in the rest of the cast’s reaction to Leia—and what she means to these characters—that the trick is sold.
But it all builds up to an inevitable goodbye, one we knew was coming and yet still could never be prepared for. As Rey and Kylo Ren, Leia’s student and her fallen son, battle atop the ocean-washed ruins of the Death Star II on Kef Bir, a weakening Leia gives her all one last time, reaching out into the Force with all the might of her training—not to empower Rey, or call upon some grand magic to defeat her opponent. Leia Organa dies reaching out to her child. A simple, earnest call from a mother to their son, and one that, in the moment, lets Rey strike a crucial blow, but more crucially, pushes the wayward Ben back into the light.
Leia’s mission in the sequel trilogy hasn’t really been to beat the First Order. She just fights that fight because it’s the right thing to do. Saving Ben has always been her goal, guiding him away from the Dark that’s hung over his life, his lineage—and with it finally complete, she can fade away in peace. It’s goodbye to our Princess and our General, but the Force will be with her. Always.
Correction: A previous version of this post had Pedro Pascal’s name incorrect. We regret the error.
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