Over the years we have been treated to many displays of lightsaber mastery spread over 8 movies. More if you include the many times lightsabers were sparked in Clone Wars and Rebels. And watching Vader unleash the beast on those poor rebel troopers at the end of Rogue One??? We have been very spoiled. So now, we are going to narrow the list of epic battles down to our 3 favorite duels. To be clear, we are talking about lightsaber-on-lightsaber action, so scenes like the Vader hallway of death from Rogue One, Master Pong Krell dual-wielding double-bladed lightsabers against a whole squad of clones, and Kylo Ren and Rey vs. the Praetorian Guards have been disqualified.
#3 – Duel of the Fates
Say what you will about the Phantom Menace, but one thing that it did incredibly well was redefine what we understood a lightsaber battle to be. Up to this point, we had never seen what a fully trained Jedi in his prime was truly capable of. From the moment Darth Maul sparked his double-bladed lightsaber, I knew that this would be a game changer. How I wish they would have had the foresight to keep that out of marketing and allow it to be a surprise in the theater. But even though we all knew it was coming, it was incredible nonetheless. Driven on by some of John Williams’ finest music to date, the fighting is fast and furious, showcasing the athleticism of the warriors and incorporating some martial arts. As the battle rages into the bowels of the royal palace, Maul displayed dizzying speed and agility, never once letting up or showing signs of fatigue as he held his own against both Qui-Gon Jinn AND a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. The wily Maul separates Obi-Wan from the battle by knocking him down onto a lower catwalk, allowing him to concentrate on his older master. It is clear that the aging Jedi is tiring as Obi-Wan rushed to rejoin the fray. Obi-Wan arrives too late, separated from the duel be a wall of ray shielding. Qui-Gonn’s experience proves not to be enough to combat Maul’s ferocity and Obi-Wan is forced to watch helpless as his master is struck down. Maul has proved himself a match for both men and as the ray shielding deactivates, Obi-Wan must now face the Sith and his double crimson blades alone. The action accelerates as the young padawan faces down his foe and reduces the threat of Maul’s weapon by cutting it in half and ultimately prevails by using The Force and his fallen master’s lightsaber to bisect Maul. By the way, what is it with Obi-Wan dismembering Sith warriors only to have them cyborg-up for a future rematch?
#2 – Yoda vs. Count Dooku
Here we are again, back at the prequels. Many fans consider Attack of the Clones to be in the running with The Phantom Menace to be the worst Star Wars installment. Not as prone to hyperbole and seeing many redeeming qualities, we refer to it as among our least favorite. For me, one of those great moments comes at the end of the film, just after Coutn Dooku cripples Obi-Wan and leaves the headstrong and impulsive Anakin unconscious after cutting off his right arm. Fortunately, aid comes in the form of the diminutive Master Yoda who unassumingly hobbles into the chamber, assisted by his walking stick. At first it appears that this will be a battle of Force mastery as Dooku uses The Force to hurl large machinery at his enemy as Yoda channels his powers to simply swat them away. Unsuccessful at crushing Yoda, Dooku attempts Force Lightning. His first blast is redirected and thrown back at him by the tiny Jedi master. His second, more intense blast proves in vain as Yoda simply catches and absorbs it LIKE A BOSS. It is here that we finally get to see something that we had dreamed of since The Empire Strikes Back and Yoda did not disappoint. When I first saw it, it was one of the few times I have experienced open cheering and shrieks of amazement from a movie theater audience. Yoda opens his robes and uses The Force to pull a lightsaber hilt from his belt and into his waiting hand. This Champion of The Light then shows us that he is no frail old man to be overlooked or disregarded as he takes up a proper swordsman’s stance and sparks up an appropriately Yoda-sized green blade. He then employs speed, agility, and acrobatics to overcome Dooku’s advantages in size and reach in a display of lightsaber mastery that remains unmatched to this day. At this point it is still unclear to me if he uses The Force to augment his movements or if he is simply using it to fling himself around the room, but it is exhilarating to behold. Dooku realizes that he is no match for his former master and ends the duel by using The Force to bring a pillar crashing down, forcing Yoda to choose between finishing off his foe or saving his helpless comrades form being crushed. As any true Jedi should, Yoda chooses the latter, allowing Dooku to flee as he uses his formidable power to stop the pillar and toss it aside.
Now before we get to our #1 selection, here are a few quick honorable mentions that we mulled over but did not make the list.
Kylo Ren vs. Finn and Rey
Few installments have been as divisive as The Force Awakens, but after an objective look, it cannot be denied that this bout is a great one. Here we have Kylo Ren confronting trained stormtrooper Finn and Force adept Rey as they attempt to flee Starkiller Base. Finn attacks first and quickly shows that even considerable hand-to-hand training of the First Order is no match for the abilities of a Jedi/Sith apprentice. Reaching out with The Force, the Skywalker family weapon flies not to Kylo Ren, but to Rey, mirroring Luke’s attempt to save himself in the wampa cave. The battle is hard fought, but ultimately Rey prevails, scoring some non-lethal blows and slashing Ben Solo across the face. What makes this fight impressive is not Rey’s triumph over her adversary in any display of Force or combat superiority. She is clearly outmatched. Rather it is something that happens leading up to the fight. Chewbacca rarely misses with his bowcaster and we have seen that a well placed shot from this formidable weapon utterly obliterates whatever it hits. Moments before confronting our heroes, Ben Solo took a shot to the gut from Chewie’s bowcaster. An exhausted Kylo Ren loses this fight because he has been bleeding out for the better part of an hour while running down his quarry and then fighting not one, but two able-bodied adversaries. This dude is a beast, ladies and gentlemen, and worth at least a mention.
Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader
I will readily agree that every time that Luke has faced off against Vader, it has been an epic confrontation, but if I must be honest, they just don’t measure up to some of the more intense duels. At Cloud City, it is painfully clear that Luke is outmatched. Vader puts minimal effort into fighting his son, not really trying to kill him, but rather he toys with the untrained farmboy in an effort to beat him into submission and surrender. This makes the list due to Vader’s ominous presence and prowess and the earthshaking revelation made after utterly defeating the young Skywalker. When Luke returns to confront Vader for the final time, he may call himself a Jedi, but his ham-handed fighting style betrays an obvious lack of training, experience, and finesse. One might argue that Vader again fails to fight at 100%. It is clear that he is conflicted. You will notice that Vader stops Luke from striking the Emperor down, kicking off the duel. Was Vader protecting his master? Or was he stopping Luke from succumbing to the Dark Side? After all, Vader is only subdued after Luke begins to give in to rage. This is an incredibly meaningful, important, and epic battle. Its just that the fight itself doesn’t quite measure up to the competition.
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (the rematch)
This one garners honorable mention for a number of factors. First off, this is the first lightsaber duel we were ever witness to. What makes the actual fight so interesting , though, is based upon what does not happen during the duel. I hope you will indulge my analysis. The duel itself is rather slow and clunky, with many attributing it to the advanced age of the combatants and the fact that Vader’s mobility may be more limited by the cybernetic components of his life support armor. However, subsequent canon films, comics, and animated series have shown that this cannot be the case. Master Yoda in Attack of the Clones, Clone Wars, and Revenge of the Sith established that not age nor frailty are a significant factors when it comes to a Jedi’s combat ability. Count Dooku and Darth Sidious were also both formidable opponents despite their GARP (Galactic Association of Retired Persons) memberships. In fact, not that very long before his duel with Vader, an elderly Obi-Wan Kenobi faced his old rival Darth Maul for the final time. Countless foes, including fully trained Jedi have fallen before this former Sith apprentice, ruler of Mandalore, and crime lord. Not long before confronting Kenobi, Maul had defeated Kanan Jarrus and two Imperial Inquisitors in combat. This lethal combatant was killed by old man Kenobi in three strokes; the fastest duel in all of Star Wars. We can conclude that Obi-Wan’s age and ability are not a factor here. Not long before his final duel with his old master, Vader defeated Kanan, Ezra, and Ahsoka Tano. Do I need to mention those rebel soldiers at the end of Rogue One? We can see that Vader’s age and his suit present no real limitation to him. So, for all intents and purposes, this duel SHOULD have been just as fast and furious as any other that we have seen. So why wasn’t it? I submit that internal emotional and psychological factors are at work. Obi-Wan’s actions are not the desperate attempt of a feeble old man, but careful actions, full of purpose, made by a wise and cunning warrior. For one, he is providing a distraction, buying time for Luke and his friends to escape the Death Star. They carry not only the plans that the Rebellion will need to destroy the battle station, but a far more precious cargo; the son of Skywalker. A new hope for galactic liberty and peace and the return of the Jedi order. He understands that even if he should defeat Vader, he would stand no chance against legions of stormtroopers. He needs Luke to see and learn sacrifice. He also knows that to reach his full potential, Luke will have to one day learn of his heritage and confront Lord Vader. He is also allowing Vader to give into one of the pitfalls of the Dark Side; FEAR. Both of them remember their last encounter, ESPECIALLY Lord Vader, who still carries the scars of that battle. He is well aware of what Kenobi can do and his actions in this duel bear that out. He is not toying with his old master. He is hesitant and AFRAID. The true duel here, my friends, is far more an internal struggle than it is one of clashing lightsabers. And it is for this sole reason that we could not include it on the list paying homage to the physical and visual spectacle of a lightsaber duel.
Now, on to #1……
Battle of the Heroes: Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker
Anakin, legendary Jedi knight, general and hero of the Clone Wars, beloved husband, trusted friend, the Chosen One, has betrayed the Jedi Order and joined Palpatine, recently revealed to be Dark Lord of the Sith Darth Sidious. Having survived Order 66, Yoda and Obi-Wan infiltrate the destroyed Jedi temple. Among the rubble and bodies of slain Jedi, they discover a security holo-vid that reveals Anakin’s betrayal. Refusing to kill Anakin, Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on the volcanic planet Mustafar. It is here, with lava erupting all around them, that these two titans of The Force engage in the fastest, fiercest, and longest duel in Star Wars history. From the beginning, we all knew the lore. We knew that once upon a time, there had been a duel and that Obi-Wan had put Anakin into that infamous black suit of armor. Now we finally got to see it. The incredible action, the intense emotions, and the high stakes of this fight are masterfully driven by yet another epic orchestral offering from John Williams. This man has never and will never do wrong by Star Wars. Something that strikes me about this duel is that never before and never since had we seen two combatants so evenly matched. Both men, still wielding the same lightsabers that they used to serve side-by-side through the Clone Wars, are clearly masters, matching each other blow-for-blow. The raw physicality of this fight is amazing. Its an all-out brawl, but somehow it is still disciplined, precise, and beautiful, refined by a lifetime of training. In the end, Master Kenobi prevails with a strike that severs Anakin’s left arm and both of his legs. I find it interesting that the only limb that Obi-Wan leaves him is his cybernetic prosthetic right arm, an ironic harbinger of grim fate in store for Anakin. Remaining true to his original vow, Obi-Wan does not kill Anakin, but leaves him helpless on the ground as his body is engulfed in flames, burning away any remaining traces of the man that once was Anakin Skywalker. Now a human embodiment of pain and rage, this husk of a man spends these last moments screaming words of hatred. Obi-Wan, on the other hand, exudes grief and regret, leaving Anaking with the final words; “I loved you”. The duel itself has a winner and a loser, but both men leave it having lost everything dear to them. Not only is the fight epic, but it offers wonderful context for every moment to come in the Star Wars saga.
So those are our picks. What do you think? Are there any that you think we should have included? Let us know in the comments.