When most people think of science fiction, one of the first images the mind conjures is that of the spaceship. Then again, interstellar cruisers aren’t the only means of science fiction conveyance to wow audiences the world over. There are many other exotic terrestrial vehicles on different planets that have made an equally big impact on the genre. Throughout all of sci-fi’s exemplars, however, perhaps no other franchise has had quite such a diverse range of frigates, freighters, warships and speeders than the global phenomenon known as “Star Wars.”
Before “Star Wars,” most fictional spaceships looked a lot like real spaceships. George Lucas broke the mold of science fiction by moving away from typical ship designs, and gave us unique and extraordinary vehicles. Even while on the planet’s surfaces, “Star Wars” never went with the dull rover designs, but gave us transports that flew, crawled, hummed and sailed into our collective imagination. With that in mind, and as we look forward to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in December, CBR runs down 20 of the best vehicles in the “Star Wars” universe.
21. Mon Calamari Star Cruiser
In the original “Star Wars” trilogy, we didn’t get to see too many alien starships, with most of the ones we saw piloted by humans. That’s why the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” made such an impression.
Unlike the Empire’s Star Destroyers, the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser looked wholly alien. It looked like a cylinder with weird bubbles all over it, but those bubbles give the ship a more organic feel than the blocky shapes of the Empire. It also had an alien look that perfectly fit the lobster-like Mon Calamari, who seem more at home in the ocean than deep space. The Star Cruiser was also gigantic, giving the rebellion their own answer to the Star Destroyer.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Inside the ship, the walls and furnishings seemed to be entirely white, while Admiral Ackbar sat on a rotating chair that swiveled to let him see his bridge or look out at the stars. It’s beautiful and powerful. The Mon Calamari do it with style.
Sometimes, the Empire needs to plan ahead. They need to get into areas quickly to scout and prepare for the main attack force. Ahead of the stormtroopers and the TIE fighters and the AT-ATs, the AT-ST is always charging into battle first. It made its first appearance in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” and has been running through the series ever since.
If the AT-AT is the big brother of the Galactic Empire, then the AT-ST (All-Terrain Scout Transport) is its baby brother. Instead of wheels or tank treads, the AT-ST travels on two long bird-like legs. The legs allow the AT-ST to move quickly and maneuver over pretty much any terrain. It can get where most other vehicles can’t. It also has a surprisingly agile ability to rotate its head and fire at enemies.
On top of all that, the AT-ST is an awesome-looking ride. Like the AT-AT, it looks more like a living creature than a vehicle; an armored ostrich with gun turrets instead of eyes. It can run fast to charge the battle or slow to look around and fire at opponents. But it does have a problem shared with the AT-AT, as shown by the Ewoks being able to trip them up.
19. Jedi Starfighter
Technically, any space fighter piloted by a Jedi would be known as a Jedi Starfighter, but there’s one specific ship that we’ll talk about here. It first appeared in the movie “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” In-universe, it’s known as the Eta-2 Actis-Class Interceptor, but most people know it as the fast and powerful fighter that Obi-Wan and Anakin flew during the Battle over Coruscant.
The Jedi Starfighter is visually intended to be the grandfather of the TIE fighter, and it has elements of the X-Wing as well. The cockpit is basically the TIE fighter’s shape, stretched out between a pair of wings. During battle, panels unfold from the wings to reduce heat, which makes it look like the TIE fighter’s solar panels. However, the way the panels unfold resembles the way the wings of an X-Wing’s do in combat, so they basically took the best elements of both and mashed them together.
18. Imperial Shuttle
It made its first appearance in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” swooping down in the very first scene. It landed in a hangar bay filled with stormtroopers standing at attention as the Emperor slowly descended from a ramp. Somehow, the Imperial shuttle seemed just as scary as its passenger.
Technically, it’s known as the Lambda-Class T-4a shuttle. Its distinctive gull wings that swing down when it takes off and lands set it apart from the more brutish and stocky spaceships the Empire tended to use. As it flies, it manages to look graceful and menacing at the same time, like a bird of prey swooping down on its victim. The triangular shape and black forward window just ooze power. While it’s mainly seen as a transport, it’s also bristling with weapons that show it could handle itself in a fight.
It’s hard to imagine any other ship worthy of ferrying evil such as Darth Vader or the Emperor.
17. Jabba’s Sail Barge
In “Return of the Jedi,” the evil Jabba the Hutt sentences his prisoners to death by dropping them into the Sarlacc Pit. To get across the treacherous sands of Tatooine, Jabba and his crew board his sail barge, named the Khetanna.
The sail barge has a smooth and oval shape, sort of like a ship, except that it sails over sand instead of water. It’s roomy and has all the comforts of his spacious palace, like serving droids, allowing his party to continue on unabated. The barge has lots of windows so everyone gets a good view of the desert (and the deaths occurring in it), with canopies to shield riders from the harsh sun. There’s even a place for Jabba to sit, surrounded by the hangers-on of his crew and entourage. But the sail barge isn’t just about partying. If a fight breaks out, it has a lot of weapons used to fight back; sort of like a hovering pirate ship.
16. Luke’s Landspeeder
The Landspeeder is the automobile of the Star Wars universe. We first saw it in “Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” when it was Luke’s vehicle of choice to cruise around Tatooine. Different landspeeders have been seen in different movies, but they all share the same basic structure. They all have a passenger compartment and float above the ground instead of driving on wheels. But Luke’s landspeeder is certainly the best.
Known in-universe as the X-34, Luke’s sweet ride has the feeling of an old convertible, instead of a futuristic vehicle. It’s dirty and rusty and has stains, looking like it’s being held together more by duct tape than rivets; so basically, your classic “teenager’s first car.” It also adds a lot of character, like it’s a vehicle worth holding onto. Many of us who first saw it imagined cruising through the desert in that baby with the wind in our hair.
The RZ-1 A-Wing Interceptor (simply known as an A-Wing) is one of the workhorses of the rebellion. It first appeared in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” during the attack on the Death Star over Endor. In case you missed it, A-Wings are shaped like the letter “A,” so it’s not just a clever name.
The A-Wings aren’t fancy and sleek like the X-Wing, so they don’t get as much attention, but they work pretty hard. They also have a more utilitarian feel that makes them seem more powerful. They look like a wedge about to be driven right between the Empire and the rebellion, which is kind of true. The A-Wing is also an extremely fast ship, so it can get to the battle and avoid enemy fire better than most others.
In “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” when the AT-ATs are making their way across Hoth to destroy the rebels, there’s only one vehicle that can stand up to them: the Snowspeeder. The T-47 Airspeeders are extremely fast vehicles that can cross the planet searching for lost soldiers better than a Tauntaun. They’re also very well armed, able to unleash death with both lasers and missiles.
More than anything, the snowspeeders are also well-known for their ability to take down the AT-ATs. Firing tow cables seems like a simple and boring thing to do until the snowspeeder uses it to take down the behemoth AT-ATs. They’re quick on a turn and able to circle a narrow surface in seconds. Even without AT-ATs to oppose, the snowspeeders still look amazing as they shriek over icy plains.
13. Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle
By the time we saw “Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” we had seen huge ships before, like the Star Destroyer. We had also seen small shuttles before, with the Imperial shuttle. But nothing prepared us for the star craft commanded by Kylo Ren.
The command shuttle looks a lot like the Imperial shuttle we had seen in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” but with one important difference. The wings are enormous; so big, in fact, that they have to collapse in on themselves when the ship touches onto the ground. Presumably, they are that big because they are focused on defense, also using shields, jammers and sensors to protect its precious cargo. Kylo clearly worries about assassination attempts. Still, the way the enormous wings swing up as it lands, or swing down when it takes off, is truly awe-inspiring.
12. Jawa Sandcrawler
The Jawas are one of the grungier alien species living on Tatooine. Living as scavengers, the they are dirty and greedy and love to pick up junk, so they can’t exactly live in a condo. Instead, they make their home in a gigantic vehicle that others call the Sandcrawler.
The Sandcrawler looks a massive sloped box. It’s more like a fortress mixed with an apartment building on tractor treads. Inside, they live and work to harvest and maintain robots for sale. They also keep assorted robots that they’ve stolen inside, like R2-D2 and C-3PO. On their interior, Sandcrawlers are dark and ugly; on the outside, the stark, boxy design makes it seem like they would stink. Either way, anyone who tried to attack a Sandcrawler to get the property inside would have one hell of a hard time.
Sandcrawlers are definitely some of the most impressive vehicles in Star Wars mythology… in their own weird way. They aren’t stylish, certainly, but despite their shape, they are entirely functional, and there are few vehicles as large and formidable. Perhaps that’s exactly why the diminutive Jawas call these odd vehicles their home.
11. Anakin’s Podracer
Of all the vehicles on this list, there’s probably none more dangerous to its driver than Anakin Skywalker’s podracer. Seen in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” it figures big in the race where Anakin needs to win money to fix the Naboo transport so they can get help from the Galactic Senate.
Podracers are nothing more than gigantic rocket engines tied to a cockpit. There’s no seat-belt, no bumpers and no protection. Anakin’s podracer moves so fast that it takes his Force-derived ability to glimpse the future for him to keep from crashing. As we see from the race, lots of other podracers who didn’t have the skill crashed, and presumably died. By the end of the race, Anakin didn’t so much as win as survive.
Saying all that, Anakin’s podracer is one of the most streamlined and beautiful of its odd ilk. It’s also one of the most reliable, only failing because of sabotage. It’s a pretty impressive piece of hardware, especially when you remember that a child built it all by himself.
One of the strangest but most beautiful spaceships in “Star Wars” is known as the B-Wing. First seen in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” the B-Wing looks just plain weird compared to many other ships in the Rebel fleet, including the Millennium Falcon.
It’s hard to make sense of the B-Wing the first time you see it. With only one “wing,” you have the cockpit mounted on one end and the weapons cluster on the other. The other set of wings are also carrying weapons. Basically, this thing is bristling with so many weapons it can take down capital ships, making it the most powerful fighter in the Rebellion. Yet the cockpit is off to the side, next to the engine, instead of in the center. In a way, the odd look of the ship is its advantage. It can maneuver in ways no other ship can. More than anything, it stands out, even in a sea of other fighters.
9. TIE Interceptor
The TIE fighter is one of the most common and dangerous spaceships in the Galactic Empire, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Before we do, we have to at very least mention the ship’s design cousin. After all, we couldn’t talk about the TIE fighter without talking about the TIE interceptor.
In “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” it seems like the Empire decided that the old TIE fighter look needed an update. The Empire took everything we loved about the TIE fighter and added extra awesome. The interceptor looks like a TIE fighter with arrow-shaped wings instead of hexagonal ones, but that small difference alone makes it look so much cooler.
However, the big difference with the TIE interceptor is speed. While the TIE fighters are already fast, the TIE interceptors run circles around them. They managed to do this by making an already bare-bones ship even lighter. If you survive more than one or two missions in a TIE interceptor, you’re more than a stormtrooper. You’re an ace.
8. Imperial Speeder Bike
One of the coolest vehicles in existence is a motorcycle, which is a given. What vehicle could be cooler than a motorcycle? A flying motorcycle. Obviously.
In “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” the forest moon of Endor is densely populated with trees, stumps and bushes. There aren’t many roads, so a wheeled vehicle would have a hard time. The Imperial Speeder Bike flies right over it all, able to hover and whip through the forest at lightning speed.
The chase between Leia, Luke and two Imperial stormtroopers in the movie is legendary. The sight of the two bikes roaring over the surface, ducking around trees as the pilots jockey for position is burned in many fans’ minds forever, and it’s one of the original trilogy’s most iconic scenes. While watching it, many thought, “I wish I could do that.” Yes, it looks like it would easy to get killed on those things, but then again, even an Ewok barely holding onto the handlebars managed to fly one. So you’d probably have a chance, too!
7. Slave I
The bounty hunter Boba Fett had a lot of tools and weapons at his disposal. He had a grappling hook, pistols, a jetpack and a lot of others we might never have seen in the original trilogy. However, one of his greatest weapons was his ship, Slave I.
The ship didn’t get much action in the first set of films, but we saw a lot of it in “Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” There, we discovered Fett inherited Slave I from his father, Jango. In the days of the Old Republic, Slave I was riddled with all kinds of powerful weaponry. It had laser turrets, missiles and was equipped with seismic charges. It was also extremely maneuverable, able to easily make its way through an dense asteroid field. We have to assume Boba Fett kept it in good shape, so it probably still has those capabilities, and then some!
Perhaps equally, if not more importantly, Slave I was just an awesome looking ship. With its flat back and rounded front, it didn’t look like any other starship in the Galaxy, and that’s just fine by Boba (and us).
6. Star Destroyer
In “Episode IV: A New Hope,” audiences didn’t really know what to expect. They had seen advertisements comparing “Star Wars” to Flash Gordon, so they figured it would be a movie about space. That’s why, in the very first scene, audiences were absolutely blown away by the sight of a massive starship sweeping past the camera, seeming to go on forever until it ended in enormous glowing engines. That starship was the Star Destroyer, and it instantly became a cinematic legend.
The Star Destroyer is the mobile command center of the Galactic Empire. Large enough to carry a crew and squadrons of smaller ships, the Destroyer is a launching pad for attacks through the Galaxy; sort of like an Aircraft Carrier… times one million. It also serves as home for hundreds of the Empire’s finest.
More than that, the Star Destroyer just looks incredible. With its pointed end, it’s like an arrow cutting a dangerous swathe across the stars, headed for whatever target the Empire wants. It also blows up really nicely.
5. TIE Fighter
When the Galactic Empire launches attacks in deep space, the first line of assault is the TIE fighter. With its distinctive bow-tie shape, the TIE fighter is the most familiar ship in the Empire’s arsenal. The sight of a squadron of TIE fighters headed for our heroes like Lando or Finn is one of the most thrilling of the movie series, and it’s always punctuated by the orchestral thrum of those unforgettable-sounding engines.
When you look at the TIE fighter on its own, however, it’s a pretty terrible spaceship. It could only hold one passenger, and there’s barely enough room for the pilot. They have no shields, their weapons are limited to laser fire and they are seemingly just as disposable as the stormtroopers who pilot them.
The main advantage of the TIE fighter is that they can be mass produced quickly, so there are a lot of them — an overarching philosophy of the Empire, really. The TIE fighters are launched in waves that quickly overwhelm their enemies, like swarms of bees that take down larger prey. Their speed makes up for their lack of shields and guns, making them hard to hit and very difficult to pin down effectively. And again, that shriek they make as they rush by is half the fun of experiencing them on screen.
It’s one of the greatest moments of the “Star Wars” series when in “Empire Strikes Back” — the Rebel forces on Hoth hear the Empire is attacking. They look through their binoculars and see a row of massive mechanical animals lumbering towards them. The AT-ATs have arrived.
Short of the Death Star or the Star Destroyer, there’s perhaps no greater symbol of the Empire’s power than the AT-AT. The AT-AT (All-Terrain Armored Transport) is an assault vehicle and a people carrier all rolled into one and mounted on four gigantic metal legs. Its strength doesn’t come from its locomotion, however, but from its appearance.
The AT-AT is just plain scary. They look like massive creatures slowly and methodically making their way towards their target; unstoppable and unrelenting. Their guns and massive feet can shoot or crush any obstacle in their way. When Luke Skywalker‘s team or other rebel-led forces run around their feet, they seem dwarfed by the gigantic AT-AT’s size. Sure, tractor treads would probably be more effective and less vulnerable to being tripped, but the AT-AT is a lot more intimidating when stomping through your hood and laying down a spectacular path of destruction.
3. The Death Star
The Death Star is the greatest technological achievement of the Galactic Empire, designed to strike terror through the universe and maintain order through fear. It’s an artificial moon (“That’s no moon!”) built for the single purpose of destroying planets. When the Empire selects a target, the Death Star will engage its gigantic super-laser, and blow the planet into dust. It’s so big that it even has its own gravity. Despite all of this, and what we’re sure will be many readers’ protestations… yes, the Death Star is a vehicle.
It’s more often thought of as a space station, of course, due to one scene wherein the Death Star is labeled as such. However, there’s also a scene where Han Solo uses “parsec” as a unit of distance, so Lucas isn’t exactly an expert. The reality is that it’s a spaceship. Most space stations remain in orbit around a single planet. The Death Star moves around the Galaxy, using hyperspace technology to reach its the chosen world to destroy. It has propulsion and it carries people. That makes it a vehicle.
Unfortunately, with all of its power and capabilities, it’s not a very reliable vehicle. For some reason, the Empire tends to build them with a huge weakness, otherwise the Rebellion would have ended with the first movie.
When it comes to combat in the Rebel Alliance, the spaceship of choice is the X-Wing starfighter. First seen in “Episode IV: A New Hope,” the X-Wing is fast, and packed with lasers and missiles for maximum firepower. It can house an astromech unit for navigation and repair and can turn incredible maneuvers, both in deep space and strafing over a planet. Luke Skywalker and Poe Dameron became legends flying them, and the ships themselves became similarly iconic.
The X-Wing is intentionally designed to look like a fighter jet, which makes no sense in outer space, but looks really cool. When its wings open up and lock into place, you know it’s ready for action. As a cool spaceship that turns into a cooler spaceship, X-Wings are kind of the Transformers of the Galaxy.
Even in “The Force Awakens,” which takes place decades after the original, the X-Wing fighter is still the main attack vehicle used by the rebellion. For that reason, it really is the vehicular face of the Rebellion.
1. Millennium Falcon
It’s known as the fastest ship in the Galaxy. It’s technically a flying saucer. It’s the Millennium Falcon, and it is one of the most beloved spaceships of all time.
Owned and maintained by Han Solo and Chewbacca (but also once belonging to Lando Calrissian), the Falcon made its first appearance to much acclaim in “A New Hope.” As even the most stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder knowns, this is one of the fastest ships in the Galaxy, making the famed Kessel Run in record time. It’s also armed with powerful laser turrets, is surprisingly maneuverable for its spherical design, and can take a licking and keep on ticking.
Saying that, it’s not perfect. It’s decades old, and sometimes it needs some mechanical repair, or just a punch with a fist to get it going. But that’s why we love it. Its age gives it character; an underdog ship you’re always rooting for. Whether it’s twisting its way through an underground cave or whipping through a gauntlet of TIE fighters, the Falcon is our favorite ship in all of “Star Wars,” and the one we most want to sit in and say “Punch it!”
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” hits theaters on December 16, 2016.
Which is your favorite vehicle in “Star Wars?” Do you have a favorite we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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