Star Wars is a franchise packed to the brim with delightful and compelling concepts. From X-Wings to Death Stars to droids, there’s no shortage of awesomeness on-screen. But one of Star Wars’ most captivating staples is the lightsaber duel.
These glowing laser swords have allowed for some of the most iconic fight scenes in movie history. They’ve wowed children and adults alike as both an emotional and visually-striking spectacle. But some are definitely better than others. Here, we explore the top 10 best lightsaber duels in the saga (note: this covers the movies and Disney Plus live-action shows as of June 2022).
10. Master Yoda vs. Count Dooku
Do Yoda’s lightsaber fights in the prequels diminish the wise little guy we see in the originals? That’s a continuing debate. However, there’s no denying that Episode II‘s last lightsaber duel brings some grade-A cinematic entertainment.
This is the first time we, as the audience, see Yoda engage in a lightsaber duel. And for all of the prequel’s faults, it does an excellent job of portraying Yoda’s competence in this endeavor. Lucas could’ve had Yoda fight like an average swordsman, only smaller. However, the fight utilizes Yoda’s nimble build by having him leap around and evade Dooku’s attacks like an acrobat.
9. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Maul (Phantom Menace, 1999)
Phantom Menace is a bit of a mess. But there’s no denying it changed the saber fights in an exciting new way. What’s more, in the film’s final swordfight, we see two Jedi take on one Sith Lord – who happens to wield a double-bladed lightsaber.
People often criticize the fight for dragging – and, yes, there’s no denying it requires more time in the editing room. However, watching Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson (and their stunt doubles) take on Maul together is like watching a richly-choreographed dance. And, the rest of the film aside, it’s entertaining as hell.
8. Master Yoda vs. Darth Sidious (Revenge of the Sith, 2005)
The most powerful Jedi versus the most powerful Sith Lord. We never asked for this confrontation, but we got it anyway. On paper, the fight sounds awkward – a little green man versus a psychotic old man. But it strangely translates well onto the screen, proving to be one of the prequel trilogy’s more memorable moments.
Yoda’s acrobatic prowess and unique saber technique are a joy to watch. On the other hand, Sidious has a saber technique almost as maniacal as his laugh. The beauty of this fight is that the duelists’ styles are idiosyncratic to their respective characters. It makes this duel far more interesting than if the characters had just been two human lightsaber-wielders with standard lightsaber choreography.
7. Luke vs. Kylo Ren (The Last Jedi, 2017)
Many are understandably not pleased with Luke’s characterization in The Last Jedi. After all the character development he undergoes in the original trilogy, seeing Luke reduced to a cynical old hermit who has given up on the Jedi feels like a slap in the face. Yet, the duel his force ghost has with former student Kylo Ren is one of the film’s most visually stunning sequences.
The fight is a personal one, with Ren holding a lot of resentment for his former master. However, it’s evident throughout the duel – which showcases some impressive slow-motion shots – that Luke has the upper hand. Ultimately, Luke sacrifices himself just as Obi-Wan did, knowing that it’s time to pass the reins to Rey to save Ben Solo from Kylo Ren.
6. Rey vs. Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens, 2014)
Rey is an overpowered character, sure. But her lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren is a visual triumph and, at the time, it gave us a tease of her strength in the Force. Prompted by the voices inside her head, Rey wields Finn’s lightsaber and gives Kylo Ren a thrashing beyond belief.
It’s a great fight because it shows us Rey’s force-wielding potential. And the fact that she’s so naturally adept with the lightsaber tells us this is a young woman of no ordinary heritage. It’s a brilliant closing fight that rounds off a decent first chapter to Disney’s sequel trilogy and has us asking questions. Now, if only the two episodes developed the mystery of Rey a little better…
5. Rey vs. Kylo Ren (Rise of Skywalker, 2019)
The sequel trilogy often falls flat when it comes to delivering compelling story. However, when it comes to visual spectacle, you have to hand it to the special effects team. Watching Rey take on Kylo Ren in Rise of Skywalker is one of such moments.
Rey and Kylo have always retained a spiritual connection in the sequel trilogy. So, as they cross sabers while waves cascade around them, it feels like an epic culmination of the bond they share over the course of the three films. Props must also go to the creative team for not having them fight in another dark room, as seems to be the case with most Star Wars duels.
4. Luke vs. Vader (Empire Strikes Back, 1980)
Luke’s first scrape with his dad is one of the most iconic parts of Star Wars. However, it’s known more for the mind-shattering reveal that follows (you know the one). However, there’s something great going on in this fight that’s easy to overlook.
Here, Luke is evidently inexperienced in lightsaber combat – and usage of the Force. And during the duel, one gets the sense that Vader is toying with his son the whole time. Its apparent that the Sith Lord isn’t trying to win the duel – instead, he’s attempting to get a rise out of Luke, cajoling him towards the Dark Side. Its brilliance lies in its subtle but powerful undertones. And honestly, it’s the most intimidating that Vader gets in the movies.
3. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin (Revenge of the Sith, 2005)
The Anakin vs. Obi-Wan lightsaber duel is one of the highlights of the deeply-flawed Star Wars prequels. Many have derided the prequel’s fight choreography as too silly and showy rather than practical. However, I disagree – the fight is visually impressive and it feels high in terms of the narrative stakes underlying it.
The fight is long but varied in its set-pieces. One minute, the former friends are duking it out in a control room – the next, they’re swinging on the ropes of a cascading pillar, both equally as determined to stop each other. Accompanied by John William’s epic composition ‘Battle of the Heroes,’ the fight has an underlying sense of desperation. Anakin’s anger obsesses him to kill the former master of whom he thinks misled him. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is intent on stopping his former pupil from causing more harm than he already has. One of Star Wars’ most epic lightsaber duels, for sure.
2. Obi-Wan vs. Vader (Obi-Wan Kenobi, 2022)
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a middling Disney Plus series, but the finale is great. And it’s mostly because of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s showdown. After all, it’s the event we anticipated for five episodes. Luckily, it doesn’t disappoint.
The beauty of the duel is the emotion behind it. For a minute, we think Obi-Wan is beaten once Vader piles a ton of rocks on him. However, the Jedi Master reemerges via sheer force-wielding will and ends up wounding Vader. And when Obi-Wan sees his friend peer out of Darth Vader’s mask, you cannot help but feel for him as he apologizes for not being able to save Anakin Skywalker.
1. Luke vs. Vader (Return of the Jedi, 1983)
Return of the Jedi is often criticized as the weakest of George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy. However, it features arguably the best lightsaber duel in Star Wars history. The duel in question, of course, is the final showdown between Luke and Vader.
This is the tensest, emotionally-charged duel in the movies. Luke gives himself up to Vader in hopes of turning him back to Anakin Skywalker, his father. However, Vader tests him at every turn – to the point that Luke severs the Sith lord’s hand, reminiscent of what his opponent did to him in Empire. For a moment, you think Luke himself might succumb to the dark side. The brilliance lies in the underlying father-son drama beneath it.
But that’s just our take. What do you think are the best lightsaber fights in Star Wars?