We’re building up to the release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and given that I’m looking at one of the things that makes Star Wars great, Lightsaber duels. I’m going to be looking back at all the Lightsaber duels from all the live action films and ranking them. Now I’m not an expert on fight choreography in any way, and when picking my favourites I will probably looking for some deeper emotional connections to the scenes. As always these are very much my personal thoughts, but I would love to hear what your favourite Lightsaber duels are in the comments.
13) Qui-Gon v Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace) – This is technically a Lightsaber duel, but it’s an incredibly short one where Qui-Gon just holds up Maul to allow Anakin to reach their ship. There is a little bit of nice choreography, but there’s nothing exciting or memorable about the fight, it is just there.
12) Mace Windu and Jedi v Darth Sidious (Revenge of the Sith) – When Mace Windu confronts Palpatine to arrest him after being revealed as Darth Sidious there is such potential for a great fight with Sidious taking on four Jedi at once. And then three of them die in seconds. Even Kit Fisto, one of my favourite Jedi, barely gets a couple of parries in before falling to Sidious. But my biggest problem with the fight, and it’s something we’ll see again from the Prequels, the emotional core of the scene actually comes after the fight finishes. When you look at the finale of Return of the Jedi, the drama come out through the fight, and just dumping it at the end lessens the emotional resonance of the fight itself.
11) Obi Wan v General Grievous (Revenge of the Sith) – I actually quite enjoy Obi Wan and Grievous’ duel on Utapau, although it just ends up being cut a little too short for a chase sequence instead. This was one of those scenes where you could tell just how much fun Ewan McGregor was having getting to play Obi Wan. This was Ewan in full sassy mode, and the “hello there” line has become a great meme. I love the design choice to have Grievous wield four Lightsabers, it was something new and different, but it’s such a shame that lost two of his hands so quickly. Again, much like the Windu v Sidious fight, it’s the wasted potential in the actual duel that means this has to take a lower spot on the list.
10) Yoda v Count Dooku (Attack of the Clones) – I have separated these two fights from the end of Attack of the Clones despite the fact they take place right after one another, because they are really different. The Yoda fight is characterised by so much CGI. I remember most of my friends loving this way back in 2002, but even then I thought it just looked fake and silly. Yoda in combat is the pinnacle of the unnecessary flipping and spinning it just looks awkward here. I’m really not a fan of this fight, but it is making it above other bad fights that also frustrate me because I believe they should have been better.
9) Anakin and Obi Wan v Count Dooku (Revenge of the Sith) – This was a big moment in Anakin’s move towards the dark side. After defeating Count Dooku, Anakin makes the decision to execute him following prompting from Palpatine, and this is one of his big steps toward joining the Sith. The actual fight eventually has a nice little duel between Anakin and Dooku, but the first half is a damp squib of fight. Obi Wan is completely useless, and gets knocked out extremely conveniently. On the whole it just feels like such a low stakes fight until Dooku looses his hands, meaning it has to stay low down on the list.
8) Yoda v Darth Sidious (Revenge of the Sith) – Intercut with the Obi Wan v Anakin fight, Yoda facing off against Sidious should be epic. This is the most powerful and wisest of all the Jedi taking on the Sith Lord who has masterminded the fall of the Jedi, and earlier wiped out four Jedi single handedly. In the end it’s a bit of a disappointment. It devolves into the two throwing those weird floaty platforms the Galactic Senate has at one another. However unimpressive the actual fight between the two is, I cannot help but love the beginning where Yoda throws the two Imperial Royal Guards into the wall. It’s genuinely hilarious.
7) Obi Wan and Anakin v Count Dooku (Attack of the Clones) – It may be billed as a two on one duel, but in actual fact both attack him as individuals. But that is the point of the fight. Anakin, in his inexperience and anger, rushes to attack and wastes that advantage that they have. The section where Obi Wan takes on Dooku has some really solid swordplay, and you get a sense of Dooku’s power with his ability to take out Obi Wan. The Anakin v Dooku section isn’t as strong, mostly focusing on individual close ups, but does have some really cool lighting effects after Anakin cuts a cable for some reason (probably for the sole purpose of making the lighting cooler). It’s a solid fight, not good enough to warrant a top half place, but not awful either.
6) Obi Wan v Darth Vader (A New Hope) – It’s the original Lightsaber fight. And boy is it a boring visual experience now. I’m sure at the time it was interesting because it was something new, but given that Alec Guinness wasn’t young at the time, and David Prowse was in a big heavy suit, it’s hardly surprising that the actual fight choreography was virtually non existent. However, the dialogue during the fight between Obi Wan and Vader is fantastic. You really get more of a sense of their back-story together, as well as the mysterious power of the force with brilliant lines like “if you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”. If I was merely considering the quality of the fight this may well be last, but the dialogue, and the fact they had the guts to kill off such a pivotal character so early elevates it.
5) Luke v Darth Vader (The Empire Strikes Back) – Yes it contains the iconic “I am your father” moment in it, but it’s an uneven fight for me. The opening in the carbon-freezing chamber is pretty great; it’s a tenser slow burn of a fight compared to a lot that came after. However when it moves to the corridor the fight loses momentum as Vader mostly throws random objects at Luke with the force. It looks stupid, particularly with Luke’s aimlessly swinging and missing. It’s frustrating because the start of the fight is good, and the ending is so iconic, so I just wish that the middle could live up to it. It still warrants a good place on the list, but given that it contains one of the most famous moments in film history, it should be better.
4) Obi Wan v Anakin (Revenge of the Sith) – This was what the prequels had all been building towards. Its brother against brother, master against apprentice. And despite what anyone says about the corny dialogue or Hayden Christensen’s acting, this is genuinely a good emotional crux of the trilogy. I actually love the bookended dialogue between Obi Wan and Anakin, as almost every line from it has managed to become iconic. And you cannot question Ewan McGregor’s commitment to the part here, as he absolutely sells Obi Wan’s grief at having to fight his closest friend. And the actual choreography of the fight, barring one strange moment where they both spin their Lightsabers unnecessarily, is right up there with the best of Star Wars in my opinion. This duel is one of my favourite moments from the Prequels, and deserves to be more celebrated than it is.
3) Rey and Finn v Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens) – We didn’t get a huge amount of Lightsaber action in The Force Awakens, but the actual fight at the end was a wonderful call back to the style of the fights from the Original Trilogy. Starting from that epic moment where Rey summons the Lightsaber with the force this was just exciting. This might be the most beautiful looking fight, with the lighting from the Lightsabers really standing out against the night sky. You can see Rey’s growth throughout the fight, as she goes from wild and uncontrolled, to more confident as she taps into the force, and once again hints at the huge untapped potential and power that she has. Its brilliant to see how much thought actually went into the choreography, as you can see a clear difference in how she fights.
2) Qui Gon and Obi Wan v Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace) – You cannot ignore the Duel of the Fates. From a choreography point of view this is probably the best Lightsaber fight from the franchise. From the reveal of the double bladed Lightsaber, to the epic John Williams score everything surrounding the duel is great as well. It also managed to genuinely deliver on the two v one concept, something that too often was completely wasted by incapacitating or killing the extra characters on one side. And that moment where the fight is broken up by the laser shields builds the tension brilliantly, and really highlights the differences between the Jedi and the Sith.
1) Luke v Darth Vader and the Emperor (Return of the Jedi) – If you read my Top 5 Star Wars Movie Moments from a year ago then this will come as no surprise, because not only is this my favourite Lightsaber fight, but it is my favourite Star Wars moment full stop. This was the moment that the entire original trilogy had been building towards, and it delivers. An emotional struggle between Luke and Vader as both attempts to sway the other round to their side of the force, the stakes are so much higher in this fight than any other in the Star Wars franchise. On top of that it is probably the best choreographed fight in the Original Trilogy, especially when you compare it to the first ever fight from A New Hope. Sure it isn’t quite as dynamic as the fights from the prequels because of the time it was made, but with such a powerful story underlining the fight that doesn’t matter.