Nick Ranks His Favorite Lightsaber Duels, Oh My!
There is nothing more iconic of the Star Wars saga than the lightsaber. A simple statement, hardly surprising, but nonetheless true. Whether in novels, video games, comics, or the films, this piece of technology—and its wielders—stand at the center of revolutions and atrocities alike. They have been used to enforce order and to prolong tyrannical rule. Whether a rite of passage or a symbol of power, lightsabers inspire awe and dread amongst the denizens of the Galaxy Far Far Away. Within the confines of our own galaxy, however, regards towards these awesome weapons tend towards fascination. Since the first snap-hiss heard in Ben Kenobi’s small desert hovel, lightsabers have stirred our curiosity and inspired our sense of wonder. I imagine one would be hard pressed to find a fan of the franchise that didn’t want one.
What is it then that sparks our imaginations when we see these prismatic blades burst to life on screen? The concept is not necessarily original. Blades of pure energy are, while not exactly a staple of science fiction, hardly uncommon, but nowhere else does it leave such a lasting impression as within the Star Wars franchise. My first real post I’d like to start, methinks, on one of my two favorite aspects of the Star Wars universe. Move into this thing slow, as it were. I imagine this won’t be a short one, but few of my musings tend to be.
No doubt lightsabers have moved so fully into our hearts due to the stunning duels present in all of the films. More than simple fight sequences integrated to hold our interest, these battles embody the spirit of the space opera genre. Filled with passion and thrilling sense of danger, these duels provide a dramatic touch to the copious amounts of action within the films that has been integral to defining the core of the Star Wars franchise. Each fight serves a purpose. Often the fate of the galaxy rests on the shoulders of the victor. How would the history of the galaxy have changed if Luke had slain his father aboard Cloud City? If Darth Maul had triumphed over Obi-Wan Kenobi, what then would have become of young Anakin Skywalker? In the end, these duels are so compelling due to this history altering potential, but more importantly, the audience is made so acutely aware of the consequences of the battle. These fight scenes are no longer filler to captivate a bored audience, but essential parts of the story allowing the viewer to immerse themselves more fully into the drama unfolding before them.
So perhaps it is hardly surprising that the duels between Sith and Jedi are my favorite parts of the movies. I’m sure most fans would agree. Still, it is a safe place to begin, and I felt the urge to rank my top five fight scenes in the franchise’s six movies. You may agree or disagree with my choices, and I would love to discuss the merits and flaws of my reasoning below in the comments, if you should feel so inclined. Keep in mind, however, that I am not ranking the fights purely on choreographic merit. I am taking into account anything from the cinematography to the emotions of the scene to the context within the story being told. So, without further ado, we have number:
5 Master Yoda versus Count Dooku – Attack of the Clones (2002)
There is a part of me that didn’t want to include this fight on my list. I have my fair share of issues with this movie and these scenes in particular, and maybe someday I’ll go into those in more length (though I doubt you haven’t heard any of my grievances before). Retrospectively I am very uncomfortable with the animated Yoda, part of me ever the traditionalist and therefore longing for the good ole puppet.
That said, there can be no denying the impact of this scene. Sitting in a dark theatre, watching as the cripple Master Yoda, known so long and never seen moving quicker than a hobble, come to the aid of the young Jedi Knights lying defeated at Count Dooku’s feet. Though the Force-off is a bit much for me, and some of the lines are questionable, once the sabers come out it’s impossible to be unimpressed. As the fight spins and twirls across the room, one is left breathless at the feats of acrobatics being displayed. This scene was much-needed character development for the favorite old Jedi Master and helps to reinforce, in part, why this tiny being commands the respect he does. We also see for the first time in cinematic form the acrobatic capabilities of a master of the Force, and animated or no, it is awe inspiring. To me given all it introduces to the franchise, this scene nails the solid fifth slot.
4 Master Obi-Wan Kenobi versus Darth Vader—A New Hope (1977)
Who can forget this fight scene? It makes the list for a multitude of reasons, chief amongst them being that it was the first we saw of two lightsabers battling for supremacy. Though unimpressive choreography by standards of the fights to come in the franchise’s lifetime, it still presents an impressive showing. Consider also the mysterious references to a shared past, only lightly touched at this point, and this scene is poignant indeed. It is most set apart, however, by an underlying feeling that, perhaps, they are not trying as hard as they might. Each is calm, collected. While it is undeniable that only one of them will walk away, it seems that neither is trying overtly hard to end the life of their former friend. Context given, of course, by the expansion on their past that the Prequel Trilogy gives, but upon reviewing this scene it’s a fair assumption, I think.
3 Master Obi-Wan Kenobi versus Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader—Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The duel that the entire Prequels were driving towards, that unavoidable confrontation between two friends, slides in at number three. Though I have my qualms with it, largely the poor scripting on some of the lines and Hayden’s delivery (But again, we’ll not derail the discussion too greatly), this scene truly does deserve to be here. In the least, it is the stunning, energetic conclusion to the downfall of Anakin Skywalker. Though I noticed a lot of movements that were clearly gratuitous flair thrown in for no rational reason—fighting fluff—the majority of the duel was fast paced and exciting. The energy of it all was stirring, and the break in the fighting on the river of lava was irritating. That was a compliment. Considering the characters as they had been portrayed to this point, the conclusion was just as it should be. Still, for all its cinematic splendor, I couldn’t think to give it a slot higher than third, and almost didn’t give it that.
2 Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader—The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Second on my list, Luke’s first encounter with the mysterious and evil Darth Vader. Of the Original Trilogy, this is by far, in my opinion, the most energetic fight sequence. We see a brash Luke Skywalker walking into Darth Vader’s trap. Up until this point, Luke has been seen as a bit of a powerful hero, and it’s not truly until he walks into that room that the audience sees how woefully inadequate the boy is for going up against the skill and experience of someone of Darth Vader’s caliber. Here, we see the man responsible for the decimation of the entire Jedi Order. Here we see the cold, calculated killer, playing with his prey. The fight perfectly reflects this experience gap. Skywalker didn’t stand a chance. Still, the boy has guts, and is able to hold his own, of a sorts. Granted, most of this seems to be without his lightsaber while crawling through catwalks and ductwork, but one uses what one has handy.
All this makes this scene truly superb, but one thing skyrockets it to the number two slot. This is the scene that leads up to the big reveal of Vader’s paternity of Luke Skywalker. Here, Luke’s universe is shattered as he learns the truth that Obi-Wan tried to keep from him. Still, Vader offers to raise Luke up, to rule the galaxy together. Come now, that’s one swell dad, don’t you think? Especially considering the old cyborg had only known he had a child for a fairly short time. In the end, this fight sequence, to me, is a large part of Empire’s acclaim amongst the fanbase. It was truly a magnificent scene.
1 The Duel of the Fates—The Phantom Menace (1999)
Come now, could there be any doubt? This fight is the pinnacle of lightsaber duels the movies over. All leading up to it were in preparation, and all after only wish they could have succeeded so magnificently. No other fight in the franchise has been named. A large part of this, to be fair, was due to the amazing score written specifically for this duel, only adding to its splendid execution. We see our first saber staff, and the enigmatic Darth Maul made us all rethink our knowledge of lightsabers. The possibilities were amazing, and as a young boy I was captivated, even if I was always the Obi-Wan fan of my siblings.
More than this, of all the fight scenes present in the movies, none matches the Duel of the Fates for sheer perfection of Choreography. This scene was the last, and perhaps first, scene that was designed as nothing more than a true fight to the death. There are no attempts at witty banter, most likely failed. There is no plot exposition. Instead, we are awarded with intensity and ferocity hitherto unseen in Star Wars and, dare I say, never seen again. This fight brings with it an unreached level of—excuse my language—badassery that left none of the combatants looking weak or unskilled. When Qui-Gon Jinn is slain, you don’t think him inferior. You don’t blame him for losing. He gave a hell of a fight, and you couldn’t be prouder. When Maul is at last defeated, there is no denying his skill, nor is Obi-Wan found undeserving of his victory. In the end, when Qui-Gon is dying, and Obi-Wan takes on the young Sith Lord Maul, we see emotion and proficiency of fighting that we don’t see again. I will officially disagree with Drew on one point. I do not think that Obi-Wan’s later duel with Anakin can match this scene. Something indescribable sends this fight rocketing away from the rest, in a league of its own. It is, truly, ranked amongst the best fight scenes I have seen in any genre or medium.
To me, this duel easily deserves the slot of number one. The only qualm I have, throughout the entire scene, is that Maul’s death is just a tad slow, a bit less fluid than it should be. Considering my issues with even the other four on this list, I think that is impressive beyond expression.
Now that that is all done, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Not nearly the bitter old meanie I portrayed in my first posting. Perhaps I was just pulling your leg, and I’m really just a normal Star Wars fan doing an honest review of some of my favorite scenes? Well, to lay fears to rest, be aware that the worst fight scenes will be forthcoming. Some of them will be surprising, I think. I will be far less forgiving.
At any rate, I appreciate you trudging through this. As I said, feel free to comment, though I won’t rise to pointless bickering about opinion. I don’t expect to change your mind, nor desire you to change mine. Another posting will come at some point, I’m sure, so in the meantime, feel free to hit me up with any questions you may have.