In the original Star Wars movie, the Rebels almost didn't make it. Despite the fact that Han and Luke saved Leia, they stupidly led the Empire right to the rebel's doorstep. But they saved the day, right? Luke blows up the Death Star mere moments before it ends the rebellion in a single shot of sweet lasery explosiveness.
But if it weren't for one random imperial TIE fighter pilot, evil would have won the day.
The savior of the Rebellion. Recognized only slightly less than Wedge Antilles.
Let's see how well you remember the climax. Luke had just turned off his targeting computer and was listening to voices of dead Kenobi; 90 percent of the rebel attack squad was blown up; and Darth Vader was a well-placed shot away from living every parent's dream: success at the expense of their kid's. In fact, he had already shot R2-D2 through the head and was lining up his next shot to take out Luke and any chance the rebels had of destroying the Death Star.
At that moment Han Solo shows up shoots Darth Vader's TIE fighter, sending it spinning out of control. So Han saves the day, right?
Nope. That's not what happened. See for yourself:
What happened was Han shot another TIE fighter, one that wasn't doing anything.
Vader's the one in the middle, not exploding.
At that moment, Darth was still free to blast Luke from existence. And that's when our nameless TIE fighter pilot comes in. He's the one on the right up there.
At the sight of another ship getting blown up (in a battle where that has happened dozens of times already), he panics...
... and crashes into Darth Vader.
He literally shouts "Look Out!" before swerving directly into Vader's fighter. Vader goes spinning off into space...
...the fighter pilot crashes into the trench, and Luke is free to fire his torpedoes and save the day.
None of that was due to anything the Rebels did right. Even if he thought he was in danger of being shot after losing a wingman, the TIE fighter pilot had room to fly in any direction. The trench was pretty wide, and he had the entire infinity of outer space above him. Instead, the direction he chose was "directly into the boss." We're going to assume his family did not get his pension--the Empire is probably pretty strict about panicky idiots winning the war for the other team.
Incidentally, this also brings to light the fact that Han Solo had a once-in-a-lifetime shot to take down the Dark Lord of the Sith and squandered it on a wingman. Apparently stupid goes both ways, since if you have a three-man formation and the guy in the center has a completely different vehicle, odds are pretty good he isn't just some grunt being escorted to the Imperial Birthday Party Wing of the Death Star while a battle rages around him. Han had the element of surprise and apparently his total pick of who he was going to shoot, because it was an instantly lethal shot.
"I knew there was more to you than money!" "Yeah, weed. I totally shot one of those guys. Got any food?"
So Who Was This Nameless Pilot?
So what quirk of fate lead Darth Vader to wind being escorted by literally the worst pilot ever shown on screen in the original trilogy? He hand picked him. OK, hand picked him, at random, because he happened to be in the hall at the right time. Right before Vader takes to his TIE fighter, he walks into the hall, approaches what appear to be two random pilots and says, "Come with me."
Does Vader even know this guy? Was he even a pilot? Based on his decision making capabilities, it seems more likely that he was a trainee. Or a Stormtrooper who accidentally grabbed the wrong uniform in the locker room. Or Grand Moff Tarkin's nephew. The point is, just because someone is standing around in a uniform doesn't mean he is qualified to fly.
Of course, if any of those things were true, there was no way for Vader to know. One thing he should have realized though: TIE fighters are being sent out en masse to intercept the Rebels and this guy was standing around in the hallway. Vader, we think they left him behind for a reason.
If Another Pilot Had Been Chosen, How Would Things Have Been Different?
Had this TIE jockey not lost his mind, or had an actual competent pilot been chosen, Darth would have placed his next shot right up Luke's colon. He had it all lined up in his Pong-quality targeting system.
No, Han Solo wouldn't have had time to stop him--again, he'd already wasted his one strafing run on Vader's nameless escort rather than Vader himself. Luke would have died in flaming chunks, just like all of his fellow pilots, and would never have gotten a chance to fire the torpedoes into the Death Star's air conditioning vent.
The Death Star then would have rounded Yavin and blown up the rebel base. Were there other rebel bases? Presumably, but this one had the entire upper echelon of the Rebellion in it, including the Princess herself.
"Somebody get that goddamned robot out of here."
All of the people who would eventually lead the movement to bring down the Empire a few movies later--including Luke and Leia--would have died. And how long would the other Rebel bases have lasted? The Death Star would have been free to do what it was designed to do: roam around the galaxy blowing up unruly planets.
Wait, couldn't one of those other groups of Rebels just staged a similar attack, maybe have some other farm boy fire torpedoes into the same vulnerable spot? Almost certainly not. Having survived the attack, the very first move on the Empire's part would have been to figure out just what exactly the Rebels were trying to do when they attacked the trenches with their tiny ships. "Oh, right, the shaft. We need to fix that before next time."
"Tell them to throw a grate on there."
Remember, the only reason the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi had the same vulnerability was because it was half-finished, its guts open to the world. Not so with this one. They'd have been free to retrofit it with one of those fancy shield generators like in Jedi only, you know, one that's actually on board the Death Star and not located off-site on a moon full of Care Bears. Clearly the Rebels couldn't penetrate such a shield, since they wouldn't even start the attack in the third film before it was taken down.
But just in general, surviving the first assault would have taught the Empire some important lessons about surviving the next one. Specifically, that you need something more than those grossly inaccurate turrets and a hand full of TIE fighters to defend the thing. More invulnerable than ever, they would have started systematically blowing up any planets giving them even a hint of trouble. Like, say, Tatooine, or Dagoba, or Hoth. Remember, these people blew up Alderaan out of spite.
None of that happened, thanks to one nameless TIE fighter pilot with a habit of yanking randomly on his control stick at the sound of loud noises. So somewhere up on that stage at the end, when they honored basically everybody (including the damned repair droid)...
...there should have been a framed picture and a plaque commemorating this guy:
None of those people would be alive without him.