The lightsaber battles in all Star Wars films, ranked (at least, the ones I can remember)

Yup. She was skilled not so much in theory as in practice, having spent her life literally fighting for her survival. It should not be at all surprising that she can hold her own against a nearly dead, but more highly trained, opponent, in the same way that an excellent street fighter could probably beat Bruce Lee if I shot Bruce in the side first.

The fight in Empire Strikes Back is basically the absolute peak of the Star Wars universe, the culmination of two movies and five hours of unremitting awesome into a battle of awesome. It will never, ever be topped. No other light saber battle is close. Few other fights in ANY movie are close.

The superior choreography of later battles is irrelevant. The light saber fight at the end of “Phantom Menace” is between three characters I don’t care about fighting for no particular reason; the battle is quite external to the plot. I don’t care how good it looks, I don’t care, and without emotional investment it’s boring.

The Empire Strikes Back battle is a fight people were literally looking forward to for three YEARS. Star Wars was indescribably awesome, and then Empire was ever awesomer, building up to the light saber duel every kid in the world had been dreaming of, and it delivered. It was full of meaning and nuance; Vader and Luke fought in a manner consistent with their skills and characters. It built up through several acts, showing Vader becoming increasingly powerful, and ended with, of course, the Mother Of All Movie Reveals, followed by Luke’s sacrifice. It was not just breathtaking in appearance, but as a part of the story. Moviemaking at its finest.

The fight at the end of Last Jedi is pretty good; we can argue over the plot all we want (and really it makes sense to me, and it’s clear the reason Kylo is shot moments before is to make iot believable he doesn’t chop them up in ten seconds - why else would they bother showing him being shot?) but the reason it works is it’s emotional. The characters havea reason to fight and they look like it matters. All three actors - John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Adam Driver - totally sell the idea that they are legitimately trying to kill each other.

Personally, my biggest problem with the fight in The Phantom Menace was the enforced balance. First we have Maul fighting two opponents, and so he lights up the other end of his lightsabre, so he has two blades to match their two blades. Then one of his opponents (the more skilled one, even) goes down. Realistically, what would happen next is that, now that he can focus all of his attention on the other opponent, who was only barely holding his own when he had a partner, and should thus very quickly finish him off, too. Instead, the second opponent immediately manages to sunder his weapon (something that neither he nor his more experienced partner was able to do prior to that), so we again have one blade vs. one blade, and they can keep on fighting for several more minutes before the conclusion.

I kind of agree with this; it’s the one flaw that fight has. I think the intent was to show that Kenobi pulled a maneuver that was a surprise, but it was shot in such a way that it didn’t work well. And how does one “surprise” a Force-user, anyway?!

THAT is what I was thinking also.

As for some others mentioned:

  • Vader versus a bunch of soldiers in Rogue One: Absolutely badass, agreed. However, too one-sided to be called a “battle.”
  • Anything involving CGI Yoda: don’t care. No battle involving a CGI character is ever compelling, IMHO. That’s why Kenobi versus Grievous doesn’t rate, either.
  • Count Dooku versus Kenobi/A. Skywalker: IIRC, Dooku handled them both pretty easily, which felt like bullshit. I mean, there’s no indication that Dooku is more formidable than Darth Maul, and Kenobi WON that battle. In fact, given how much experience Kenobi has fighting Sith by the time he and Anakin face off, it’s surprising he doesn’t handle Anakin more easily. This might be an indicator of how powerful Anakin really is, though. I think I read something in a canon book that Kenobi was devoted to a more obscure/less popular style of lightsaber fighting that emphasized defense, and this is why he was able to survive so many battles against powerful opponents. Can anyone else shed light on that?

While Vader vs. the Rebels in Rogue One was certainly badass, I’ve seen it pointed out that if he had just thrown a grenade into the lock instead, he’d have killed them just as dead, but before they had a chance to pass the plans past the blast door. The Empire fell because Vader was showing off.

And Yoda’s fight scene was handled completely wrong. What they should have shown is Dooku jumping around like a caffeinated flea… while Yoda just stood there quietly, and scrunching up his brow, with his lightsabre flying around him like crazy. When eight hundred years you are, your hands you don’t need to use.

I’d rank this one #1 as well, simply because it’s so beautifully choreographed. My only knock on it is that the stakes don’t seem nearly as high as they do in the ROTJ and ESB lightsaber duels.

You hit on one of the things I love about the ESB fight: the characters move through a lot of interesting, mysterious spaces that look functional, and they’re all eerily deserted. I also like that Luke realizes that he’s in over his head, but still puts up a decent fight and manages to get in a good hit on Vader. I’d rank this as #2 (maybe #1 if I was in the right mood).

The second is related to the first. It is Dooku who specialized in a particularly obscure style of combat. Basically it was an early style( Form II )specifically dedicated to dueling other lightsaber users one on one and had been largely abandoned because the increasing prevalence of blaster-armed opponents made it obsolescent. Dooku revived and specialized in it partly because ironically modern Jedi found it baffling, particularly in single combat. It’s weakness was dealing with projectiles( not a primary concern for Dooku ), multiple attackers and because it of its reliance on footwork and fluid motion on unrelenting powerful attacks.

Kenobi originally( in Phantom Menace )utilized the same form as Qui-Gonn Jinn and Yoda( Form IV ) - a very fast, acrobatic, offense-heavy style that relied heavily on force-enhanced athleticism and broad, sweeping attacks. But after Qui-Gonn’s death he decided it was too vulnerable defensively and did a 180 and switched to Form III, the ultimate defensive form. It was designed to defend against any attack and wear down the attacker until a counter-stroke could be used. Kenobi( based on literature ) eventually became one of its most skilled practitioners. The weakness with Form III was supposedly that it was slow-going against a skilled opponent.

Anakin/Vader used yet another style - Form V, another aggressive style that relied on attacking from a high guard, but blended in elements of Form III for enhanced defense and relied a bit more on brute strength to bull through enemy defenses.

You know, the prequels may have sucked but the first time we got to see Yoda fight with a light saber was both bad ass and hilarious at the same time.

Wouldn’t setting off an explosion on an airtight spaceship be a REALLY BAD idea?!

But it lead to all those Yoda man! commercials.

Really bad for the people whose ship it was, maybe. Why would Darth Vader care?

Well, yeah, but that’s pretty much in keeping with the whole Empire motif. They spent too much of their time trying to look cool, and not enough actually making things work long-term.

Which is why I suspect sword fights will come back into style once we start having actual wars in space. What was it Kenobi said in the original Star Wars? “Not as clumsy or random as a blaster…”

Meh. I think everyone was able to pick out that fact that was hammered into the viewer’s lap in every single scene that Han and Chewie shared in the entire movie. It wasn’t a nuanced little “blink and you’ll miss it” detail. The Rey v. Ren battle was just boring. (Not prequel boring, but just boring.)

Apparently plenty of people miss it judging by how prevalent the faulty “Untrained Rey defeats badass Sith Lord” complaint is. You are right, it was not subtle at all, which just makes the complaints lamer.

Movie’s called “Star Wars,” by the way.

And that light saber battle was way, way cooler than prequel battles.

When they filmed this scene, Ray Park said to try to hit him in any way possible with the swords they were using. Even 2 on 1, neither Liam or Ewen could get a successful strike in on him. Certainly, it is possible to defend against 2 attackers (and both actors took fencing lessons before the stunt work) so they were not novices but nowhere near Ray Park’s ability.

Yeah, but Vader had to be sure he intercepted the plans. If he had just blown up the hallway, he might have blown up the disk, too, and then he’d never be certain. It’s the same reason the U.S. sent in the SEALS instead of just bombing Osama bin Laden’s compound - sometimes you have to be absolutely positive you got your target, even if it means risking them getting away.

Sometimes I will refer to it by its old name, but when making lists of each episode like this, I respect the subtitle.

As for being cooler, it’s one of those scenes that I would’ve liked to have seen spruced up in a Special Edition. I know others would find that sacrilegious, and fair enough, but after seeing what Anakin and Obi Wan were like in the prequels, an acknowledgement of that seemed like it was on the cards.

It would appear I am not alone in this thought, though, as a fan film is being made where that scene is reimagined. The teaser for it can be found here, and I am eager to see it when it’s done. The backgrounds, amongst other things, are just temporary right now, I believe.

This is an opinion usually held by people who actually have training in how to use swords, since this is the battle that is most realistic, using real sword techniques.

Most people prefer the far flashier prequel fights, but when you know how to use a sword, they’re painful to watch. Supposedly “trained” fighters who are at the wrong distance, aren’t aiming for their opponent, but instead choose to hit the opponent’s weapon over and over again, choosing not to strike at moments when the opponent is vulnerable, the list goes on, even before we get to the wire-fu style leaping about.


I admit I find myself a little flummoxed by the ratings people are giving the battles here, because I didn’t understand why they were being rated by the athleticism of the combatants, and then I realized it; it’s Youtube.

Taken just as a Youtube clip, of course the light saber battle at the end of “The Phantom Menace” looks better than the battle between Luke and Vader in “The Empire Strikes Back,” and way better than the one in “Star Wars.” It’s just way more athletic and choreographed. For that matter, the battle two two students put together (I can’t link to it from behind my employer’s firewall) in a factory was WAY better than any of those. It was fantastic, as a clip.

But the Star Wars battles aren’t Youtube clips. They’re part of a movie, and how they fit into and enhance those movies matters. A fight sequence is not primarily about how the characters are fighting. It’s about WHY the characters are fighting. As a part of a movie, which is the context that matters, the light saber battle in “The Phantom Menace” isn’t one of the one hundred best fight scenes in movie history. The characters are poorly explained and wholly unsympathetic, the battle does not advance the primary story in any way (inasmuch as that pile of dog shit can be said to have a coherent story) and there’s just no emotional investment. It’s beautifully choreographed, but it’s as compelling as watching a really well done cheerleading routine. You have to admire the physical competence of the people involved but it’s an athletic spectacle, not a seamless part of a good story.

The battle between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi in “Star Wars” is not athletically impressive, but it is extraordinarily compelling. The entire movie to that point has been preparing you for that battle; the rivalry between Vader and Kenobi is cleverly introduced through dialogue. The awesome power of the lightsaber is introduced, but just in teaser-sized chunks. Vader’s menace and strength is shown. The battle happens at the end of the perfectly paced escape from the Death Star, and it’s quickly, sickeningly obvious that Ben doesn’t plan on leaving with the rest of our friends, but is sacrificing himself. There is a true sense of history - you feel like this fight, at this moment, is the culmination of things that have happened over the course of a lifetime. When Ben is struck down, sort of, it has emotional heft; when Qui-Gon is killed, I was like “well, he’s out of the way.”

Everything I wrote there goes double for the fight scene at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I see your point, Horatius, about the fact that the prequel fights are all gymnastics and not a lot of swordplay, but I don’t think that’s what bothers me, really. Swordfights in movies are usually all play; realistic ones are very rare. (The manner in which people fight with light sabers really makes no sense at all. They should be fencing, not swinging for the fences.) Stage combat is meant to look great but protect the actors from being hurt, and I’m fine with that and usually don’t notice it. The problem with the prequels isn’t a lack of realism, it’s a lack of emotion.