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‘Star Wars’ Plans, Ranked

Luke Skywalker and Co. always pull it off and prevail in the end, but man, they are not the best strategists in the galaxy

Death Star blueprint Lucasfilm/Ringer illustration

Solo: A Star Wars Story is kind of a heist movie. (Before you have my head, this isn’t a spoiler; the trailers have made it clear.) It’s like interplanetary Heat—just replace the Infiniti J30 Al Pacino drives with the Millennium Falcon. As a heist movie, Solo continues the Star Wars franchise’s long-cherished tradition of centering the movies’ final acts on elaborate plans. The Death Star raid in A New Hope, the battle to destroy the new Death Star in Return of the Jedi, the plan hatched by the Resistance to destroy the Death Star–like Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens—you get the picture; there have been a lot of plans, many of which involve battle stations that can destroy planets. Aside from that, the climactic plans in Star Wars movies are defined by two primary characteristics: (1) they are mostly incomprehensible and bordering on nonsensical, and (2) they (mostly) work, whether through the power of the Force or sheer dumb luck. This is a feature, not a bug: These movies are endearing specifically because the little guys prevail against absurd odds when everything appears to be going to shit. It’s David beating Goliath, except David forgot to pack his slingshot on the day of the battle, so he defeated with Goliath with his fists (and maybe a proton torpedo).

But not all Star Wars plans are equal—some are low-key genius, and some are astonishingly short-sighted. In honor of Solo’s release Friday, let’s revisit all of the plans from the Star Wars films over the years—even the small ones!—to determine which of them were somewhat realistic and/or well executed, and which ones probably could’ve used a second opinion. We’ll start with the least rational plans and work our way up to the “OK, these kinda make sense” ones.

17. Luke Travels to Cloud City (The Empire Strikes Back)

The Plan, Basically: Ignore the wisdom of an ancient Jedi Master; go on a solo mission to rescue Han, Leia, and Chewie from Darth Vader; uh, defeat Darth Vader?
Pros: Luke really cares about his friends
Cons: Luke didn’t finish his training; Han Solo was still frozen in carbonite; Darth Vader chopped off Luke’s hand; Darth Vader sentenced Luke to a lifetime of family therapy

Empire’s a brilliant Star Wars movie. It’s also exceptionally dark. Luke might’ve thought he was doing the right thing by leaving his training with Yoda on Dagobah early to rescue Han, Leia, and Chewie from Cloud City, but the whole thing was an exercise in futility. Han’s life wasn’t saved—and while Leia and Chewie were able to escape with Lando, Luke was wholly unprepared to face Vader, losing his arm in the process. Unlike most of Star Wars’ improbable plans, this one failed spectacularly, and there were real consequences. Luke really should’ve workshopped it.

16. Destroying the Death Star (A New Hope)

The Plan, Basically: Destroy the Death Star by nailing the equivalent of a full-court shot while wearing a blindfold; pray the Death Star doesn’t blow up the Rebel Base on Yavin 4
Pros: Wiping out the Empire’s biggest weapon; Luke becomes a Rebel legend; shoot your shot
Cons: It all could have gone so terribly wrong

Dozens of soldiers in Rogue One died to let the Rebels know that the Death Star could be blown up if a proton torpedo could be successfully shot through an exhaust port the size of a womp rat. As far as plans go, this one’s about as simple as you can get—but it also has a ridiculously high level of difficulty. First of all, you need to get close enough to the exhaust port, and then once you’re there, you have to hope a kid from Tatooine can thread the needle with the torpedo, which is like asking Josh Allen to hit a 20-yard throw to an open receiver. Luke Skywalker, a novice pilot, has to rely on the Force to hit the one-in-a-million shot. So basically, the entire Rebel cause comes down to his trust in the mystical power of a (potentially) hokey religion. I’m not complaining—they didn’t have any other options—but if I were a Rebel, I’d have been in cardiac arrest before Luke even pulled the trigger.

15. Rogue One (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

The Plan, Basically: Sneak onto Scarif in a stolen Imperial ship; grab the schematics for the Death Star; get those plans off the planet and to the Rebel Alliance (and hopefully not die)
Pros: Explaining A New Hope’s biggest plot hole; saving the entire galaxy from the Empire’s tyranny
Cons: Everyone dies?

Everyone in Rogue One is a certified badass, which maybe explains why they’re such reckless planners (non-planners, really). After the Rebel Alliance council fails to agree on whether to act on Jyn Erso’s intel from her father, Galen, she leads a small group of Rebels to Scarif to grab the Death Star plans. Though no one says it, Jyn, et al., pretty much know they are marching toward their deaths. There are a lot of Stormtroopers on Scarif, and the entire planet is surrounded by a giant shield with one tiny opening. Their plan doesn’t really have an extraction element, and even if it did, it’s rendered moot once the Empire catches wind of what’s going on and Darth Vader decides to check out what’s happening over there. In the end, the best the rogue spies can do is beam the Death Star schematics to the Rebels as they’re methodically picked off and killed.

The Rebels wouldn’t have stood a chance against the Empire without this suicide mission. They deserve all of the props for willingly sacrificing themselves for the greater good of the galaxy. But they did come up with a plan that was patently impossible, and this is a ranking measuring plans.

14. Obi-Wan’s Flex (Revenge of the Sith)

The Plan, Basically: Check if General Grievous is on Utapau; inform Clone Troopers of his location; refuse to wait for backup and arrogantly take on an entire droid army?
Pros: Obi-Wan gets to ride a giant iguana!
Cons: Potential firing squad

Obi-Wan follows a lead that General Grievous might be hiding on Utapau. It checks out. But after informing a Clone army of Grievous’s whereabouts, he decides to … jump in the middle of an entire droid battalion with no backup and shit-talk Grievous. After Obi-Wan summarily dispatches Grievous’s bodyguards, all the droids aim at Obi-Wan. But instead of firing dozens upon dozens of shots at him—and there’s no way even a Jedi could deflect all those blasters—Grievous says, “Back away. I will deal with this Jedi slime myself.” OK, was that part of the plan? Obi-Wan was just counting on Grievous—a noted coward—to suddenly turn into a badass villain who’d willingly engage in one-on-one combat when he has an entire army at his disposal? The logic, like Grievous as a villain, is glaringly flawed. It is very lucky for Obi-Wan that the Clone army arrives just in time.

13. The Rescue of Obi-Wan on Geonosis (Attack of the Clones)

The Plan, Basically: Travel to Geonosis from Tatooine; rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi from Count Dooku prior to execution; somehow escape an actively hostile planet of droids and bug-like soldiers
Pros: STAR WARS GLADIATOR PIT
Cons: Oh, that wasn’t part of the plan?

At this point in Attack of the Clones, Anakin had lost his mom to Evil Sand People (Tusken Raiders, who really come out bad in this entire franchise) and is generally all kinds of messed up. So his head isn’t in the right place when he decides to hop over to Geonosis and try to single-handedly rescue Obi-Wan from Count Dooku (after the Jedi Council says they’re going to get there ASAP, by the way). In addition to endangering Padmé several times, Anakin’s “plan” sees the three of them sentenced to death in a Geonosian colosseum. It leads to the only fun moment of the entire movie—I wouldn’t give up Mace Windu casually beheading Boba Fett’s dad for anything in the world—but it all happens because of Anakin’s petulance and bad planning. Hmm, isn’t that foreboding?!

12. Dumping R2-D2 on Tatooine (A New Hope)

The Plan, Basically: Hide the Death Star plans in the droid R2-D2; ship R2-D2 to Tatooine; hope R2-D2 finds Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is the only hope
Pros: Meeting Luke Skywalker; “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope”
Cons: Logistics; indentured servitude

At the beginning of A New Hope, Leia’s ship is being attacked by a Star Destroyer. This is bad, because she’s in possession of the Death Star schematics and needs to find a way to dump them before she’s taken into the Empire’s custody. Enter R2-D2, the franchise’s sassiest USB drive. The quick-thinking Leia dumps R2 and C-3PO onto an escape pod headed for Tatooine with a special message for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Cool! One problem: Tatooine is an entire fucking planet, and this plan puts the onus on R2-D2 and a hyper-nervous golden British robot to find the one old sand hermit who might be a Jedi Master. Yes, R2-D2 technically knows who Obi-Wan is because of the prequels (C-3PO, if you recall, had his mind wiped because George Lucas inexplicably decided that Anakin built him for fun), but still, locating him is like finding a needle in a GIANT SAND PIT. Thankfully, they get captured by Jawas and turned into robot slaves on the same day that Luke Skywalker’s uncle decided he needed to buy two robots. That leads R2 to Luke, who then leads R2 to Obi-Wan. Just as Leia planned it!

11. Blowing Up Death Star No. 2 (Return of the Jedi)

The Plan, Basically: Disable the shield generator on Endor; blow up the new Death Star with Rebel fighters
Pros: Stopping the Empire permanently; Ewoks are cute
Cons: Everyone probably should have died; the Bothans died bringing this information; the Empire was bested by Ewoks LOL

Thanks to some Bothan spies (rest in power!), the Rebels are able to sneak onto Endor, where they plan to blow up the shield generator protecting the still-under-construction Death Star Redux, which would then allow Rebel fighters to easily enter the Death Star and blow it up internally. The plan hits a snag, though, because the Emperor knew this was happening all along; he was the one who gave up the intel in the first place so all the Rebels could be conveniently attacked in one place. (As far as plans go, Palpatine’s is pretty solid.) Thus, the Rebels are swiftly surrounded by Stormtroopers on Endor before they can execute the mission, while Rebel fighters are attacked by Star Destroyers in space. I hate to say it, but all of the Rebels probably should’ve died. Instead of executing Han and Co. on the spot, though, the Stormtroopers on Endor just yell “freeze” and corral everyone. Soon after, they’re ambushed by tiny Chewbaccas with the power of nature, the Rebels get free, and the shield generator gets blown up, leaving Death Star no. 2 vulnerable. This is a huge, easily avoidable L for the Empire, but to be honest, it’s not like the Rebels didn’t get played too. Admiral Ackbar said it best:

10. The Rescue of Chancellor Palpatine (Revenge of the Sith)

The Plan, Basically: Rescue Chancellor Palpatine from General Grievous’s ship; kill anyone who gets in the way
Pros: Killing Count Dooku
Cons: Jedi inadvertently saving Darth Sidious; “Not to worry, we are still flying half a ship”

Even if we ignore the fact that Obi-Wan and Anakin risked their lives saving the bad guy, this was a foolish plan. Like, really? The best the Jedi could muster up to stop General Grievous from escaping Coruscant’s orbit with Palpatine in tow was, “Let’s send a couple of dudes after them”? You may be surprised to hear that this half-baked plan netted chaotic results. Anakin and Obi-Wan had to single-handedly kill countless droids and Count Dooku—the worst Star Wars villain, if you ask me—and then crash-land a ship that was breaking apart and falling out of orbit. Obi-Wan says “another happy landing” once they (somehow) successfully land half of the ship, which is pretty blasé of him, considering the fact that the ship wiped out an air traffic control tower and probably killed dozens of innocent people. Perhaps things would have gone more smoothly with a more thought-out plan?

Also, here’s a fun thought experiment: Imagine if the ship had just crashed. On the one hand, Obi-Wan would’ve died—which, sad—but on the other hand, the crash would’ve dispatched Young Darth Vader and the Emperor in one fell swoop, thereby eliminating large swaths of the future of the series. The Death Star would’ve never been built; Kylo Ren would’ve never been born. Basically, the mythology of Star Wars as we know it rested on the safe landing of half of General Grievous’s ship. The prequels are wild.

9. Rey Hands Herself Over to Kylo Ren (The Last Jedi)

The Plan, Basically: Go to Kylo Ren on Snoke’s ship; surrender, basically; hope that Kylo Ren still has a soul and will switch teams
Pros: Sexual chemistry between Rey and Kylo Ren; dope-ass throne-room fight
Cons: Rey could have been tortured to death

Talk about putting your faith in someone: After a couple of Force-assisted Skype chats, Rey believes she can break through to Kylo Ren and bring him back from the Dark Side. She decides to test that theory by … offering herself as a prisoner to Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke on Snoke’s ship. Now, Rey was sorta right—Ren did betray Snoke and slice him apart like sashimi, even if their paths split after that—but there were a lot of ways this could’ve gone wrong. If Kylo Ren were still loyal to Snoke, for instance, Rey would’ve been tortured to death after revealing Luke Skywalker’s location. Once again, the fate of the galaxy rested on a feeling in someone’s gut, which is slightly disconcerting!

8. The Plan to Rescue Han (Return of the Jedi)

The Plan, Basically: Honestly? No friggin’ clue.
Pros: Leia gets to choke Jabba the Hutt with a chain
Cons: It doesn’t make sense

Uproxx’s Mike Ryan did a deep dive on this in February, and he was right to conclude that the best that can be said about Luke’s plan is that … it works, even if it doesn’t make sense and probably wasn’t entirely planned. Let’s break it down: First, C-3PO and R2-D2 arrive and offer themselves as a gift from Luke to Jabba the Hutt in exchange for unfreezing Han. Jabba refusing the gift is what spurs Luke to intervene. Meanwhile, Leia is disguised as a bounty hunter, and she offers Chewbacca as a prisoner to get into Jabba’s inner circle. Lando is also there … in disguise and doing nothing of consequence. Ultimately, Jabba keeps the droids and refuses to release Han. Then, Leia successfully unfreezes Han, except Jabba was secretly watching the whole time, so they get caught and Jabba imprisons Han with Chewie while forcing Leia to be one of his scantily clad servants. This causes Luke to intervene in person, and he successfully kills Jabba’s Rancor, which angers Jabba, who then sentences all of them to death and gathers everyone at the Sarlacc Pit. Once at the pit, R2-D2 pops out Luke’s lightsaber from Jabba’s cruiser just in the nick of time. Chaos ensues, Jabba is finally killed, and everyone escapes.

The Sarlacc sequence is a ton of fun—and at least it gave Boba Fett something to do—but there’s no way Luke could’ve predicted this sequence of events. For starters, if Jabba accepted the droids as a gift and released Han, then Luke would’ve lost two trusty companions and his lightsaber, which R2 had in his possession. Or what if Jabba had accepted Leia’s proposal—then Chewie’s just hung out to dry? There’s also no way Luke could’ve anticipated Leia being enslaved by Jabba, the only occurrence that allows Leia to be close enough to Jabba to choke him to death when things go down at the Sarlacc Pit. There are a lot of moving parts here, and even a clairvoyant Jedi couldn’t have predicted all the twists and turns.

The best solution Ryan came up with is that each character had their own plan to rescue Han, which happened to coincide with one another, and each plan failed spectacularly. It’s a good thing Luke and his lightsaber saved the day!

7. Gambling on a Podrace (The Phantom Menace)

The Plan, Basically: Wager with Watto that Anakin will win the podrace; convince Watto to include Anakin’s freedom as part of the deal; hope Anakin wins the podrace
Pros: Podracing is fun; Anakin has the Force
Cons: Gambling is a nasty habit; Anakin

Qui-Gon Jinn believes young Anakin is the “Chosen One” of Jedi lore, and thus, displays LaVar Ball–esque levels of confidence in his ability to win a podrace, even though Anakin admits he’s never finished a race before. (Never tell Qui-Gon the odds!) Winning the podrace and getting the requisite ship parts from Watto might be Queen Amidala’s only chance to fly to Coruscant to inform the Senate that the Trade Federation has taken over Naboo, so putting all of that onto the shoulders of a moody child seems … reckless. Amidala expresses serious concern about Qui-Gon’s seemingly blind faith in a random kid from a sketchy sand planet, and I don’t blame her! Gambling on podracing would be like putting money on the Tour de France: everyone cheats and more often than not, it doesn’t end well.

6. Toppling the Trade Federation on Naboo (The Phantom Menace)

The Plan, Basically: Distract droid army with Gungans on battlefield; destroy the droid-controlling Trade Federation ship; do a sneak attack on Nute Gunray on Theed; avoid Darth Maul; restore Queen Amidala to the throne
Pros: The Gungans aren’t too bad in battle; the franchise’s best lightsaber fight
Cons: Qui-Gon Jinn dies; lots of Jar Jar Binks screentime

This is a three-pronged attack: Naboo starfighters take to the sky to blow up the Trade Federation ship that controls the droid army; the Gungans fight the droid army head on; and a small, Queen Amidala–led group goes to Theed, the capital city of Naboo, to capture Trade Federation leader Nute Gunray (God, these prequels were dense). The crux of the plan, however, are those starfighters: Shutting down the droids ends any needless bloodshed—particularly of Gungans—and leaves the Trade Federation without any leverage. But here’s the thing: The starfighters weren’t putting up much of a fight up there, and couldn’t break through the deflector shield. Everyone up there was basically like, “Uh, so we actually can’t break through the shield, but let’s keep shooting it anyway and hope for the best,” which is not a great Plan A for liberating a planet.

It all came down to a prepubescent Anakin, who hid in one of the Naboo fighter cockpits and inadvertently blasted himself into space because the thing was on autopilot, and who busted through the Trade Federation ship and blew it up from the inside. If Anakin didn’t hop into a starfighter—which was never part of the plan—the attack wouldn’t have worked, and everyone would probably be dead.

5. Luke Confronts the First Order (The Last Jedi)

The Plan, Basically: Become a Force ghost; appear on the planet Crait just as the First Order is marching on the Resistance; walk onto the battlefield alone; trust that Kylo Ren will be melodramatic enough to first waste a ton of ammunition shooting at you, and then meet you on the field; call Kylo Ren a bitch to his face (basically); let Kylo Ren think he’s having a lightsaber duel with you; eventually, the Resistance will have had enough time to escape from the First Order
Pros: Saving the last vestiges of Leia’s Resistance; this GIF
Cons: Guaranteed, literal death

Luke saves the surviving Resistance members on Crait by showing up as a badass Force ghost and distracting Kylo Ren, who characteristically throws a temper tantrum and lets the few remaining members of the Resistance escape the planet. It’s a courageous, selfless act that embodies what fans love about Luke Skywalker—a suitable reward after Rian Johnson made us all watch him milk a lactating alien and drink its fluid. The only downside to this plan is, ya know, Luke dies.

4. The Attack on the Starkiller Base (The Force Awakens)

The Plan, Basically: Disable Starkiller Base’s shield from the ground; blow up the Starkiller Base upon shield deactivation; do all of this before the base destroys Resistance HQ on D’Qar
Pros: Poe Dameron is better than all other pilots; stopping another Death Star
Cons: The plan is derivative; Han Solo dies

Poe had more than a tiny exhaust port to aim at in order to destroy the Starkiller Base, and he definitely lived up to his reputation in the cockpit [insert sexually charged Oscar Isaac comment here]. But the success of the Resistance’s plan to blow up Starkiller Base hinges on Finn, Han, and Chewie planting explosives on the ground, which is tricky for a couple of reasons: One, Finn lied about knowing his way around the base and was pretty ill-equipped when things mattered most, and two, Han was clearly not in the best mental state because he was mostly thinking about facing his evil emo son. Sure enough, Han was killed by Kylo Ren after confronting him with the power of love, then Finn was nearly killed by Kylo Ren—and in typical Star Wars fashion, it came down to the last minute, as Starkiller Base was wiped out just before it harnessed the power of a giant star and obliterated the entire Resistance.

After its release, The Force Awakens got some flack online for bearing a lot of similarities to A New Hope. While I think the comparisons are a tad overblown, the attack on Starkiller Base is another Death Star Hail Mary that inexplicably worked. You’d think by now the First Order would’ve learned a thing or two about building less destructible bases.

3. Obi-Wan Stowing Away Aboard Padmé’s Ship (Revenge of the Sith)

The Plan, Basically: Sneak onto Padmé’s ship before she flies to link up with Anakin on Mustafar; reason with and/or kill Anakin upon arrival
Pros: The element of surprise; frequent galaxy miles
Cons: Heart palpitations?

At this point in Revenge of the Sith, Order 66 has been carried out and Anakin is in full-blown Darth Vader mode, so Obi-Wan smartly sneaks onto Padmé’s ship to confront him on the planet Mustafar. As far as Star Wars plans go, this is one of the simplest and most effective. Of course, it spurs a huge misunderstanding and Anakin Force-chokes his wife because he thinks she led Obi-Wan to his lava doorstep, but Obi-Wan couldn’t have predicted that level of marital strife. Technically, Obi-Wan’s plan worked: He defeated his former apprentice and (somewhat questionably) left him to die, though we know that wasn’t really the end for Anakin. Unfortunately, all of this drama also spelled the end for Padmé, who, for lack of an actual medical diagnosis, died of a “broken heart” after giving birth to twins. (Some fans believe Darth Sidious somehow transferred her lifeforce to help resurrect Anakin from the brink, which would have more leverage if it was in any way telegraphed by the script, which it isn’t.)

2. The Holdo Maneuver (The Last Jedi)

The Plan, Basically: Turn Resistance ship around so it faces Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship; jump into hyperspace; blow Snoke’s ship into smithereens
Pros: Destroys Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship and a First Order fleet; is visually and sonically breathtaking
Cons: Death; a possible affront to Star Wars canon

Vice Admiral Holdo keeps the details of her plan for the Resistance’s escape from the First Order close to the vest. That aggravates Poe Dameron, but it’s a damn smart gambit, so who cares? Holdo’s plan to dispense Resistance escape pods—which weren’t being tracked by the First Order because they were literally too small to notice—to the Rebel Alliance base on Crait would have really worked if it wasn’t for Benicio Del Toro’s slimy character giving up the plan on Snoke’s ship. What’s most impressive, though, is that even after the Resistance’s escape appears to be foiled, Holdo adapts the plan, adding a wrinkle that involves her becoming the first warp-speed kamikaze pilot in the galaxy. It’s really good stuff.

I do wonder, though: At the risk of sounding specist—or more accurately, droidist (?)—why did Holdo herself have to ram the Raddus into Snoke’s ship, when she could’ve just asked a droid to do it? If nobody in the Star Wars universe cares about droids—and minus Dameron, clearly no one does—who’s going to miss C-3PO if he does a suicide run? This is my only beef with the Holdo maneuver.

1. Order 66 (Revenge of the Sith)

The Plan, Basically: Implant protocol in clones to make them turn against the Jedi; enact protocol to wipe out the entire Jedi Order; get a very moody Anakin Skywalker to murder a bunch of kids
Pros: Near-total annihilation of the Jedi Order; a perfectly executed long game
Cons: NOT EVEN THE YOUNGLINGS WERE SPARED

Plans hatched by Sith Lords aren’t exempt from the list! And you have to give credit where it’s due: Darth Sidious played the Jedi Order like a fiddle, enacting Order 66 when the Jedi were in the midst of the Clone Wars. Most Jedi died before they knew what hit them. This power play ensured that Darth Sidious would rule the galaxy for decades—and even after Darth Sidious was dethroned, the Jedi Order was still a shell of itself. In the current trilogy, which takes place around 53 years after Order 66 was executed, the Jedi mantle is being upheld only by an orphan from Jakku, an old guy obsessed with books (who’s gone now), and hologram Yoda. This plan was murderously evil, with zero qualms about slaughtering children, but you can’t say it didn’t work. I’m assuming Darth Sidious took a little time for himself to bask in his victory afterward, like Cersei Lannister having a goblet of wine after blowing up the Sept of Baelor. Unfortunately, he earned it.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that had General Grievous’s ship crashed in Revenge of the Sith, Luke and Leia would have never been born. That would not have been the case, since Padmé was already pregnant.