“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid” – Han Solo
Oh Han. How could a man so right, be so wrong? There are many iconic things in Star Wars but arguably none more so than the lightsaber. Who hasn’t pretended to use one while making humming noises?
Over the last few days, I’ve watched every lightsaber battle from the saga to deliver these rankings. There are only two rules. For a battle to be included both sides have to be armed with a lightsaber and we’re looking at the films only. Rankings take into account the duel itself and the impact of the outcome.
General Grievous v Obi-Wan Kenobi (Revenge Of The Sith)
I bet a lot of people reading this had forgotten this one. Grievous is more of a collector than a wielder of lightsabers and their skirmish only briefly involves them. After a quick tangle, Obi-Wan loses his lightsaber and eventually uses a blaster to finish off his opponent.
Kylo Ren v Luke Skywalker (The Last Jedi)
This hardly counts as a battle. Having blasted every gun he has at Luke, without success, a fired-up Kylo hits the ground to take on his old master. Luke is just toying with him though, and they hardly cross lightsabers. It soon becomes clear that Luke was never really there, only adding to Kylo’s anger.
Palpatine v Yoda (Revenge Of The Sith)
This should have been an epic. The most powerful force for good against the evil equivalent. It is over quite quickly, and is played out alongside the Anakin versus Obi-Wan fight happening elsewhere. The two clash throughout the Senate chamber and once Palpatine takes the high ground, Yoda can do no more. The realisation that he has failed to stop Palpatine leads him to exile himself.
Kylo Ren v Rey (The Rise Of Skywalker)
Surely the wettest lightsaber battle in Star Wars history. With waves crashing all around them the pair come together for their third lightsaber fight. Their powers continue to be well matched. It’s the emotional connection that makes this rivalry so compelling. Kylo Ren believes he is superior because of his training but you can see the doubt. Rey is more naturally confident but is learning as she goes. In this battle, Kylo has the edge when he is distracted by force thoughts of his mother, Leia. Rey uses the distraction to stab him with his lightsaber. Pretty unsporting. She then feels Leia’s death too. Overcome, she uses her powers to heal Kylo.
Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar & Saesee Tiin vs Anakin Skywalker & Chancellor Palpatine
A set up that reads like a WWE match plays out more simply than it sounds. Anakin tells Mace that he believes the Chancellor is a Sith Lord. Mace and friends head to arrest the Chancellor, who unveils his red lightsaber, pretty much confirming it. He’s good too, quickly dispatching the three Jedi we’d never heard of. At this stage, this leaves the battle as Mace against Palpatine. It’s an even contest, with the Jedi repelling force lightning to gain the advantage, just as Anakin arrives. He now takes Palpatine’s side, and takes on Mace, who soon finds himself missing a lightsaber and a hand. That’s enough for Palpatine to finish Windu off and coronate Anakin as Darth Vader.
Anakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan Kenobi v Count Dooku (Revenge Of The Sith)
Episode III wastes no time in getting on the rematch to the battle that concluded Episode II. Our two Jedi rush to rescue Chancellor Palpatine, being held by Dooku. The Count again deals with Obi-Wan easily, quickly pinning him down. This time though he faces a different Anakin. It’s not just his hair that’s grown, it’s his power too. He is too strong for Dooku, removing both his hands. Palpatine orders Anakin to finish the job. After a millisecond’s hesitation, he does just that, relieving Dooku of his head.
Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi & Yoda v Count Dooku (Attack Of The Clones)
This battle has distinct parts and the three hero characters don’t fight alongside each other. Dooku, with his elder statesmen appearance, has a lightsaber with a fancy curved handle and defies his years as he looks comfortable duelling. He handles Anakin quickly, pinning him down. Then Obi-Wan lasts a little longer before he suffers a couple of slices. Just as Dooku is going for the kill, Anakin leaps back into action, taking Obi-Wan’s lightsaber as well as his own. This means he’s briefly fighting with a green and a blue lightsaber which looks very cool. However, he’s no match for Dooku, who disarms him on one side and then takes off the other saber, hand included. Enter 800-year-old Yoda. Cue applause in the cinema I was at as Yoda tucks aside his clothing to reveal that he has a lightsaber. He springs into action and he and Dooku have a short, fast-moving tussle until Dooku uses the force to threaten the lives of the stricken Anakin and Obi-Wan. Yoda saves them, allowing Dooku to escape.
Darth Vader v Luke Skywalker (Return Of The Jedi)
Luke gives himself up to Vader and is presented to the Emperor aboard the Death Star. He resists all offers to join the dark side and thus is forced to battle Vader again. He is reluctant to engage until Vader threatens to pursue Luke’s sister. The thought of Leia being seduced by the dark side sends Luke into a frenzy, unleashing hell on Vader. Pummelling him to the ground and then, you guessed it, chopping off Vader’s right hand, complete with lightsaber. The overjoyed Emperor again calls for Luke to join him, and uses force lightning when Luke still refuses. Perhaps mindful of his own experiences he sticks mostly to body shots so Luke doesn’t come out of it with a severely scarred face. Eventually, Vader can stand the treatment of his son no longer and power slams the Emperor down a ventilator shaft. There’s a massive explosion. No coming back from that.
Finn & Rey v Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens)
I think this is the best looking battle in the series. In a dark forest, with the glow of snow on the ground, it looks beautiful. Finn has the first go and he shows some competence in his debut lightsaber duel but Kylo is too strong. Ren delivers a burn to the shoulder and a fierce cut-down Finn’s back. How he survives is, I believe, one of the great Star Wars mysteries. Those bacta tanks must be good. Step forward Rey, who surprises Kylo with her ability. They both get successful blows in before the ground cracks and they’re separated. No doubt they’d meet again.
Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi v Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
Two things struck me watching this again. Firstly ‘Duel of The Fates’ is the best soundtrack to any lightsaber battle in the saga. Second the encounter suffers from crosscutting, as the action flicks between here, the ground battle on Naboo and the fight in space. This, coupled with those pesky energy shields, means the duel is very stop-start. Darth Maul, complete with double-ended saber, is full of menace as he battles the two Jedi, initially simultaneously. When the Jedi get split Maul takes down Qui-Gon. This unleashes Obi-Wan’s wrath but again Maul gains the edge. Obi-Wan is hanging precariously, down one of those damned shafts, when he leaps into the air. In one motion he jumps, uses the force to summon Qui-Gon’s lightsaber and slices Maul clean in half. His split body tumbling down the shaft. No coming back from that.
3. Anakin Skywalker v Obi-Wan Kenobi (Revenge Of The Sith)
When the prequels were announced and people started to see the route the movies were taking this was the most anticipated showdown. Perhaps the most personal duel in the series? After three movies training and working together, master and apprentice meet in battle as Obi-Wan realises Anakin has been taken by the dark side. Their battle must be one of the longest, if not the longest, in the saga. The fight over the flowing lava rivers of Mustafar is hot, physical, sweaty and incredibly intense. The climax is horrific as Obi-Wan cuts through Anakin’s legs at the knees and the younger Jedi is engulfed by the lava. He is left to burn until Palpatine arrives to recover and repair the body.
Darth Vader v Obi-Wan Kenobi (A New Hope)
This might seem a little high but here’s why I think it’s so important. For most people, this will be the first Star Wars film watched and thus the introduction to lightsabers. The weapon is built up through the film. The first appearance is when Obi-Wan digs one out from a treasure chest in his hut for Luke. Luke’s practice to master the art consists of waving it about, with his eyes covered, as a floating ball fires laser blasts at him. There’s no sparring with Obi-Wan. You have to wait for the first lightsaber battle.
Darth Vader takes on Obi-Wan aboard the Death Star. Red versus Blue. Presumably both out of practice, there’s a feeling that neither guy is giving their all as they thrust and parry. But it’s ok, it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. There’s time for a chat as Obi-Wan declares “If you strike me down Darth, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”. And he does just that! Woah! That’s what a lightsaber does. Remember at this time there had been no mention of ‘force ghosts’ or ‘one with the force’. The bad guy won, and the good guy just disappeared! Think about the impact on Luke. Already an orphan when we meet him, he loses his aunt and uncle and then his mentor. No wonder he got so serious.
Darth Vader v Luke Skywalker (The Empire Strikes Back)
The mega powers finally collide at the end of Empire. Having trained with Yoda, Luke arrives at Bespin’s Cloud City to rescue his friends. He’s too late for Han and the others are doing fine without him. Luke finally comes face to face with Vader, the man he believes responsible for the death of his father. Light versus dark. It’s intense and brutal as they traverse through the bowels of the city, ending on a walkway above an air shaft. As Vader desperately tries to persuade Luke to join the dark side he begins to overpower him and, of course, chops off his right hand. With Luke clinging on, Vader gives one of the biggest revelations in film history. Luke reacts by letting go and disappearing into the abyss. For the second film running the bad guy wins the lightsaber battle.
1) If you value your limbs the lightsaber is probably not the weapon for you.
2) If you decide to go ahead, try to keep your duels to confined spaces. Fighting in any location near a chasm or shaft is going to be bad news.
C) Star Wars is a series aimed at, and loved by, kids and adults alike. With that in mind, The Revenge Of The Sith is a pretty harrowing viewing experience. By my count, five limbs are lost, as well as a head. There’s the slaughtering of the younglings. Then the massacre of thousands of Jedi as Order 66 is executed. It’s bleak, unless you love lightsabers!
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