Star Wars’ 10 Best Lightsaber Duels

Star Wars Lightsaber Duels

by Ben Travis, James Dyer, Amon Warmann |
Posted on

The Star Wars saga is packed with incredible iconography – and of all the stellar inventions and ideas, the lightsaber might be the best. Inspired by the katanas of samurai cinema, the vwing-vwinging laser swords (yes, that’s a technical term) taken up by the Jedi and the Sith are – to quote someone who knows a thing or two about this stuff – an elegant weapon for a more civilised age. And more significantly, they’re cool as hell, giving us some of Star Wars’ all-time greatest moments. From serious sword-swinging action to breathtaking dramatic beats, when sabers are drawn, you know you’re in for something special.

To celebrate May The Fourth, Empire presents the top 10 lightsaber duels in all of Star Wars – the face-offs that made our jaws drop, our eyes pop, and our hearts pound. From epic good-vs-evil bouts, to the ultimate redemptive ruckuses, these are some of the most surprising, atmospheric, and thrilling sequences from cinema’s greatest space opera – spanning the entire Skywalker Saga and beyond. May the Force be with you.


Star Wars: Top 10 Lightsaber Duels

Star Wars: A New Hope1 of 10

10) Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Vader (Episode IV – A New Hope)

Basically every lightsaber fight on screen improved upon the original duel in Star Wars. The first showdown between Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan Kenobi and David Prowse / James Earl Jones' Darth Vader has none of the technical prowess and pyrotechnics to come. (There's a reason someone amped that stuff up in legendary YouTube vid 'Star Wars SC 38 Reimagined'.) But it's rich in atmosphere and story – so loaded with dramatic possibilities that it basically spawned the Prequel Trilogy. "We meet again at last," offers Vader, teeing up an entire history between the Jedi Master and Sith Lord. Sure, it's pretty low-key these days, and there's a deeply unnecessary spin from Obi-Wan in there. But one line says it all: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Above all else, this duel sparked millions of imaginations the world over.

Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones2 of 10

9) Yoda vs. Count Dooku (Episode II – Attack Of The Clones)

As lightsaber battles go, this one is style over substance. But what style! Admit it: there's a joy in seeing little old Yoda take up his tiny green lightsaber (summoned from his side by the Force, no less) and start backflipping around like an Olympic gymnast. Judge him by your size, do you? Well, think again, because Yoda's diminutive stature is as much of an advantage here as playing as Oddjob in N64's Goldeneye – Count Dooku can barely get a touch on the green guy, who leaps, pirouettes, and strikes in mid-air as he battles against his former apprentice. It may be short and low on story and dramatic beats – but come on: it's Yoda, with a lightsaber!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars3 of 10

8) Ahsoka vs. Darth Maul (The Clone Wars – Season 7, Episode 10 ‘Phantom Apprentice’)

Two of The Clone Wars' biggest success stories were Ahsoka – a padawan to Anakin Skywalker who quickly became a fan-favourite, now a live-action character in The Mandalorian – and resurrected villain Darth Maul. It was fitting that both characters would clash in one of the final episodes of the series; and what a clash it is, beginning in the throne room of Mandalore before elevating high above the rafters of the city. There's a high skill level on display from both combatants – saber parries and counters combined with acrobatic footwork and use of the Force in impressively imaginative ways. It's all further enhanced by the motion capture work of original Maul actor Ray Park and veteran stunt performer Lauren Mary Kim – their choreography lent extra fluidity in animation. This is as close to a live-action style duel as the animated series gets.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens4 of 10

7) Rey and Finn vs. Kylo Ren (Episode VII – The Force Awakens)

If Kylo Ren killing Han Solo marked the birth of the Sequel Trilogy's villain, then the snowy duel on Starkiller Base was the real arrival of Rey as a saber-swinging Jedi-in-waiting. But before it becomes her duel, it's Finn's – showing his skills a fighter, but also a protector, as he faces down his former First Order boss. After Finn is struck down, the big story shift comes: Luke's old lightsaber wiggles, flies up from the ground, through the air, and into the hand of not Kylo Ren, but Rey – standing tall, ready to fight. Major chills, none of which are due to the snow (which adds a real vintage samurai showdown vibe). A thrilling battle for survival follows, as Rey connects with the Force and delivers that fateful move: slicing up Kylo Ren's face, an external representation of his soul torn in two. End of round one.

Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith5 of 10

6) Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker (Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith)

The Prequel Trilogy was always leading to this: the fateful showdown between Master and Apprentice that led the Chosen One to fall to the Dark Side. And while the duel itself is best before Obi-Wan and Anakin begin lava-surfing the molten lakes of Mustafar, the fiery furnace provides a suitably operatic backdrop for a villain forged in flame, mangled into a murderous monster before our very eyes. In true Prequels style, there's clean, crisp fight choreography here, with plenty of pace and precision – though the point where it becomes a floating lava-licious video game level is a bit of a downturn. Still, this is dark and dramatic stuff, with McGregor on particularly great form ("You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you," is a heartbreaker). And how many other lightsaber duels end in a former hero's horrific immolation?

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker6 of 10

5) Rey vs. Kylo Ren (Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker)

Thought the lava-strewn Revenge Of The Sith duel was the ultimate tortured-soul lightsaber battle? Hold my Kef Bir! In the heart of a raging sea, Rey and Kylo Ren finally go at it (oo-er) on the wreckage of the second Death Star. But they're fighting themselves as much as each other, Rey wrestling with her Dark Side lineage as Kylo Ren is drawn back towards the light by Leia's call. The choreography crackles, the exhaustion and exertion is palpable, and all that salty sea spray adds atmosphere galore. Ending with the death of Kylo Ren and the rebirth of Ben Solo (Rey healing that tell-tale facial scar as well as his puncture wound), this is everything Star Wars was meant to be: love, sacrifice, redemption. And big, swinging laser-swords.

Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi7 of 10

4) Luke vs. Vader vs. Emperor Palpatine (Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi)

In one single battle, two souls are saved. The climax of the Original Trilogy brings the Luke and Vader rematch that audiences waited three long years for post-Empire Strikes Back – one that finds Luke in full-flow Jedi mode, black robes on and green saber in hand. If not quite as gorgeously atmospheric as their last bout, this is a bigger, brasher brawl, with huge dramatic swings: Luke nearly giving in to the hate inside him, goaded on by the evil Emperor as he swipes viciously at Vader, all while sensing latent goodness in his dastardly dad. And then, at the most crucial point, Luke chooses mercy – avoiding his own swing towards the Dark Side and offering Vader a path to redemption as they both turn against Palpatine. In his own words: "I am a Jedi, like my father before me."

Star Wars: The Last Jedi8 of 10

3) Rey and Kylo Ren vs. Snoke’s Praetorian Guard (Episode VIII – The Last Jedi)

Be honest: when you first watched Kylo Ren drag Rey into Supreme Leader Snoke's throne room during The Last Jedi, you didn't expect what came next. Specifically, that Ren would chop his master in half and team up with our hero for an almighty showdown against Snoke's guards – a ferocious, cinematic, story-packed sequence with action beats to make your jaw drop. There's serious style here – but the fighting itself is raw and physical, Kylo's confident hack-and-slash saberplay contrasted with Rey's less experienced, more instinctual moves. Watching these two lay waste together is spine-tingling stuff. And that final moment, where Rey tosses her saber hilt to Kylo and he ignites it through a guard's head? Majestic.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace9 of 10

2) Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul (Episode I – The Phantom Menace)

If you're going for pure cool-factor, The Phantom Menace's climactic battle wins out. Darth Maul has one of the most striking character designs in all of Star Wars, even before he pops out his double-ended lightsaber. His face-off against the twin might of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in the halls of the Naboo palace boasts impeccably smooth fight choreography, crisp, clean visuals (the simplicity of blue and green lightsaber against double-red is pure eye-candy), and great dramatic tension – see Maul prowling animalistically as he and his foes are separated by timed force-fields, the very same ones that shortly after stop Obi-Wan from preventing Qui-Gon's noble end. Throw in one of John Williams' greatest ever themes ('Duel Of The Fates'), and you have an all-timer duel that could only be improved by a greater sense of character.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back10 of 10

1) Luke vs. Vader (Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back)

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good bit of character drama. That, rather than just slick choreography, is the secret to this most masterful of confrontations. The iconic meeting between an overconfident Sith Lord and a naive, fledgling Jedi contains more nail-biting twists and turns than the average full-length movie. Begun entirely in silhouette, lit only by the blue/pink glow of their respective sabers, the fight sees the pair clash amid the steam and pipeworks of the carbon freezing chamber. Luke flurries his attacks with the vigour of youth, flowing gracefully through freshly-learned forms. Vader, meanwhile, bats the offensive aside one-handed, his dismissive nonchalance eventually giving way to cool appraisal.When Luke, almost shockingly, gains the upper hand, we transition from fight to horror movie — Vader playing monster-in-the-house deep within Bespin's Nostromo-like industrial underbelly. After he springs from the shadows, bludgeoning Luke with force-flung detritus, the duel creeps out onto that precarious weather vane, a gale whipping around them as Vader first takes Luke's hand and then cuts out his heart by dropping that parental bombshell. Masterfully wrought and perfectly executed, it's a clash for the ages, and one that not only carries the film's climactic action, but delivers the most seismic plot-turn in cinema history. Luke may have been the one to then plummet from the antenna, but every goggle-eyed person sitting shocked in the audience felt themselves fall right alongside him.

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