SPOILER ALERT: Warning, this article contains spoilers from Solo: A Star Wars Story and other great piloting moments in Star Wars history. Proceed at your own risk.
Trying to name the best pilot in the Star Wars universe is a loaded discussion. All across the mythos, from the Old Republic, Clone Wars, the original trilogy, all the way to the modern trilogy, there have been tales of incredible feats conducted in space. Naming the best pilots is a fascinating debate, one in which fans can cite the movies, television shows, comics, and novels.
However, there’s been one legend of elite piloting that has risen above the rest in Star Wars lore. That’s been the Kessel Run. Until 2018, it was a tale that Han Solo hung his hat on. Now that fans have had a chance to witness the Kessel Run themselves in Solo: A Star Wars Story, most should be able to agree that Han Solo is Star Wars’ greatest pilot.
Let’s take a look at this character-defining moment, along with a few other great piloting moments in Star Wars history.
Han Solo and the Kessel Run
The Kessel Run was originally defined as a hyperspace trading route for getting to and from the Kessel spice mines. The idea of a brash smuggler completing the run in under 12 parsecs was the original trilogy’s greatest fish story. Completing this treacherous trade route in such a small distance was considered impossible. Han’s boasts were practically dismissed by a skeptical Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, especially once they laid eyes on the Millennium Falcon.
A lot changed with 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. Any previous interpretations of the Kessel Run were set to the side in favor of a new, canonical interpretation of Han’s oldest fish story. Solo’s interpretation of the Kessel Run made the feat all the more impressive. In the past, the Kessel Run was largely left to the imagination. Different writers interpreted the moment in different ways. One example can be seen in the old Star Wars 3D comic, with a particular scene highlighted by Lewis “Linkara” Lovhaug on his Atop the Fourth Wall web series.
As fans saw during the movie, the new movie did see Han getting chased down by heavy Imperial resistance. That makes the Kessel Run that much more impressive, because it means that many of Han’s maneuvers were done on the fly and with no margin for error. That’s without even mentioning the flying asteroids and the massive creature lurking inside a vortex.
One of Han’s most impressive exploits was luring a fleet of TIE Fighters into an asteroid field during The Empire Strikes Back, despite the odds of survival being 3,790 to 1. The Kessel Run harkened back to this scene in many ways. There was Han improvising his flight path, swerving in and out of danger, narrowly avoiding asteroids, and all as large rocks crushed pursuing TIE Fighters. The Kessel Run scene even featured the original “Asteroid Field” theme from Empire Strikes Back, to really hammer home the similarities between the Kessel Run and the later Asteroid Field chase. The juxtaposition of these two scenes tells fans that the Kessel Run was truly Han’s greatest feat as a pilot, with the idea of flying head-first into an asteroid field years later never even registering as anything close to a crazy idea by comparison.
Few are crazy enough to try what Han Solo has and none are skilled enough to survive. It’s what separates Han Solo from the rest of the pilots in the Star Wars universe.
Anakin Skywalker and the Flight to Christophsis
Throughout Star Wars, fans were told about what a great pilot Anakin Skywalker was. Obi-Wan originally told Luke that Anakin was one of the greatest pilots he had ever seen. Later in A New Hope, Darth Vader skillfully picked off X-Wings with pinpoint accuracy. Back in The Phantom Menace, a nine-year-old Anakin showed flashes of brilliance and the capability to become a great pilot. In Attack of the Clones, he showed his prowess in the epic speeder chase near the start of the movie. But what is the future Darth Vader’s greatest feat as a pilot?
Season two of Star Wars: The Clone Wars arguably holds the answer. In “Cat and Mouse,” Anakin finds himself in the middle of a rescue mission along the planet Christophsis. Senator Bail Organa is pinned down by Separatist forces on the planet’s surface. Facing a massive blockade from Separatist Admiral Trench and his fleet, Obi-Wan passes along a stealth ship to help his Padawan pass through the blockade undetected. Despite Obi-Wan’s instructions not to engage the enemy, the brash Anakin saw a fleet of bombers headed towards Senator Organa’s location and responded by uncloaking the stealth ship and directly attacking Trench’s ship.
The stealth ship had little in terms of defensive capability, but Anakin’s hotshot piloting was able to withstand Trench’s counter-attack. He was able to ward off torpedoes by firing off the ship’s flares to throw off their tracking, while flying through Trench’s bombardment of laser fire. Once Trench locked onto the stealth ship’s magnetic signature, Anakin turned the ship around and directed it straight towards Trench’s ship, scraping the hull in passing, and leading the missiles right into it.
This was one a rare instance of Anakin as a legendary pilot that fans got to see and not merely hear about. Anakin showed off both unparalleled skill in the pilot’s seat, as well as a brilliant tactical mind. It’s part of what would make him both the galaxy’s greatest hero and its greatest villain.
Poe Dameron and the Battle of Starkiller Base
Great piloting lives on in the modern trilogy, with Poe Dameron standing atop the list of Star Wars’ best and brightest. While Poe’s best piloting may still be ahead of him, his feats in the Battle of Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is his greatest work so far.
Poe led both the Blue Squadron and Red Squadron in a daring aerial attack on Starkiller Base, instructing his squads to keep the pressure on for as long as the sun was still shining. After Han Solo’s great sacrifice, Rey, Finn, and Chewbacca were able to detonate explosives, exposing Starkiller Base’s thermal oscillators. The ground crew had done its job and it was up to Poe to finish the fight.
With only two other X-Wings covering him, Poe went straight for the exposed oscillator. With little room to maneuver, Poe’s pursuers slammed into the surrounding walls. However, Poe was able to remain steady, firing off volleys of torpedoes, successfully destroying the oscillators and causing a chain reaction that would wipe out Starkiller Base itself. Regardless of what happens in the upcoming Episode IX, the Battle of Starkiller Base will forever remain a key moment in the growing legend of Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s greatest pilot.
Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, and the Battle of Endor
It’s easy to forget that Lando Calrissian isn’t too bad a pilot himself. After all, he was the original owner of the Millennium Falcon. While Han did all the heavy lifting during the Kessel Run, Lando eventually got to show off his own skilled flying in Return of the Jedi against the second Death Star.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to pick a single standout moment for Wedge Antilles. Outside of the core cast, he’s the one Star Wars fans think of when they think about great pilots in any era. Wedge has been a stalwart presence for the Rebel Alliance, having participated in the Battle of Yavin, playing a crucial role in the Battle of Hoth, and striking one of the final blows in the Battle of Endor.
Lando and Wedge were a well-oiled unit against the second Death Star, especially once Han and his crew destroyed its shield generator. From there, it was Lando in the Falcon and Wedge in his trusted X-Wing, making their way through the labyrinth of the Death Star interior. Instructing their surviving squad to draw away nearby TIE fire, Wedge got the party started by destroying the power generators along the north tower. That left Lando open to destroy the core itself.
While the lead-up to the core’s destruction is memorable in itself, it was the daring escape from the ensuing explosion that lives on in Star Wars lore. Keeping in mind the twists and turns contained within the maze of the Death Star interior, both Lando and Wedge had to not only make sure they didn’t slam into anything, but they also had to escape before the explosion engulfed them both. It was a thrilling moment and one that added to the list of heroic exploits for Lando, Wedge, and also the Falcon.