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A staple since 1977's A New Hope, the Sith and Jedi love to use laser swords to air their grievances and settle their issues, "daddy" or otherwise. Thanks to advances in CG, the movies' lightsaber duels of the last 20 years have grown by leaps and bounds (and Yoda flips) ahead of their modest, low-fi beginnings when Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) clashed with Darth Vader inside the first Death Star.
As we prepare our eyeholes for more lightsaber action in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series on Disney+, here are the greatest battles featuring one of science fiction's most iconic weapons ever.
HONORABLE MENTION: Yoda vs. Dooku In Attack of the Clones
The way Yoda summons his lightsaber from the side opposite his fighting hand is one of those movie moments best experienced with a crowd on opening night. The weightless cartwheeling/spinning through the air mid-lightsaber battle is, um, well ... it's laughable. Unintentionally so. But it's still cool to watch one of our favorite Jedi masters in his prime, even if he is unable to beat this duplicitous Sith.
11. Mace Windu vs. Palpatine In Revenge of the Sith
R.I.P., Mace Windu.
This hero deserved to go out like one, instead of being zapped with Emperor “UNLIMITED POWERRRRR!” Palpatine’s Force lightning. At least Mace got to use his purple lightsaber in a somewhat vicious one-on-one combat with the traitorous Sith before being flung out an office window. The scene marks a turning part in Star Wars history, especially in regards to Anakin’s arc on his way to becoming Vader. But Ian McDiarmid's way past over-the-top (and irritating AF) acting choices, and the obvious CG facial replacement on his stunt double, saps this sequence of any real entertainment or emotional value.
10. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader in A New Hope
The least kinetic of the series lightsaber duels, Obi-Wan’s sacrificial encounter with his former pupil-turned-Emperor’s-puppet is one of the more iconic and emotionally-charged set pieces in the original trilogy, especially Luke’s anguished “No!” as he watches his mentor and friend get struck down only to become more powerful than Vader (and us) can possibly imagine.
09. Obi-Wan and Anakin vs. Count Dooku (Again) In Revenge of the Sith
Afforded a rematch after their previous encounter in Attack of the Clones lost Anakin a hand, the two Jedi are out for (pun intended-ish) revenge in a two-on-one struggle against the ancient Sith baddie that results in Dooku’s decapitation. (Dooku’s Decapitation is the name of my new speed metal band, actually…)
08. Yoda vs. Palpatine In Revenge of the Sith
The Galactic Senate Chamber, with its floating seating areas, seems like a perfect place to stage a throwdown between Force-capable individuals. In that regard, Sith does not disappoint.
This sequence, with an assist from Steven Spielberg, sees a fed-up Yoda take out his frustrations and losses on Palpatine, for fighting the evil senator’s war under false purposes. The Sith figurehead and Jedi Master first engage in Palpatine’s office area before their battle spills out into the chamber. That’s when the levitating seating areas start to get tossed and the Force Lighting gets exchanged, thanks to Yoda being the only Jedi at this point to take the brunt of a blast and push it back on its wielder.
07. Kylo Ren vs. Rey On the Ruins of Death Star II In The Rise of Skywalker
This fight, which the marketing materials are built around, is unintentionally meta. As we watch it, and wonder “why exactly is this happening/what is the purpose of this fight, other than to take up run time?” we see Rey lose steam mid-battle, as if she, too, doesn’t understand the function of this conflict or her role in it.
The scene offers an impressive visual scale fans haven’t seen before — using tempestuous waves on a moon of Endor to serve as a compelling (and metaphorical) backdrop for the lightsaber battle raging before them. The sequence gives us some of the best visuals director J.J. Abrams has ever shot; it's too bad that we don't learn why the battle really matters until its climax, and even then, the consequences don't come for another twenty minutes.
06. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin In Revenge of the Sith
Steven Spielberg made some creative contributions to the most important scene in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy capper, an epic showdown between master and pupil on a planet made out of lava — as the friendship between the two Jedi gives way to a tragic rivalry.
Like the rest of the prequels, this scene suffers from an over-reliance on CG everything. But John Williams’ stirring score, combined with Ewan McGregor’s all-in performance, elevates this sequence to all-timer status for the saga. (And bonus points for Obi-Wan’s leg-severing finishing move on Anakin/Vader.) This fight ends with the most disturbing moment in the entire series: Obi-Wan just watching as one of his buddy’s leg stumps catches fire and the flames gradually spread and consume Anakin’s entire body.
05. Kylo Ren vs. Rey In The Force Awakens
A lightsaber duel in the snow? We didn’t know how much we needed this crowd-pleasing sequence until that fist-pumping, “eff yeah!” moment when Rey Force summons Luke’s lightsaber across several feet of frozen landscape and into her hand for the most atmospheric and intense battle since Luke and Vader fought in the dark underbelly of the Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi.
The sequence also boasts a narrative contribution from filmmaker Ava DuVernay for Rey’s side of the fight — an extra beat with her that truly gives the scene an extra emotional boost as Rey and Kylo Ren start the first of many epic brawls in this new trilogy of Star Wars films.
04. Luke vs. Vader In Return of the Jedi
Like Obi-Wan before him in Revenge of the Sith, Luke engages in a battle with Vader for his soul. Unlike Obi-Wan, Luke is successful in setting his father on the path of the Good Side — after a very protracted, moody, and satisfying clash aboard the second Death Star and within and around Palpatine’s throne room.
Here, we see how Luke — teetering on the edge of the very Dark Side he’s trying to save his dad from — uses the love and care for his sister, Leia, to ultimately fight back and force his father to rediscover the good that’s in him.
03. Luke vs. Vader In The Empire Strikes Back
More emotionally gripping than visually exciting, this landmark first duel between Skywalker and Vader is Peak Star Wars. The forces of good and evil duke it out in a mix of sparking lightsabers and Force-thrown scenery, culminating in the franchise-defining revelation of Vader being Luke’s father.
What the scene lacks in sophisticated fight choreography, it more than makes up for with that emotional gut punch.
02. Kylo Ren and Rey vs. Praetorian Guards In The Last Jedi
I mean, just watch this scene. From the iconic moment Ren wills Rey’s lightsaber to cut Snoke in half, this fan-favorite action scene promises to be unlike any audiences have ever seen or the series has ever produced. There’s nothing in The Rise of Skywalker that even comes close to matching the inventive spectacle and narrative function of this epic action scene — one of the genre’s best ever.
01. Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul In The Phantom Menace
It’s impossible not to think of The Phantom Menace’s best sequence without also humming its iconic theme, “Duel of the Fates,” along with it.
One of Star Wars’ best villains, Darth Maul, is sadly short-lived (in live action) but, man, does he get one hell of an exit in a scene that tells fans the prequels are operating on a different level — especially in the action department. Here, Qui-Gon and his apprentice Obi-Wan engage in a two-on-one duel that involves flips, jumps, and leaps without veering into the cheesy flourishes that future prequel action scenes would suffer from. It’s ironic that the owner of a twin-bladed lightsaber gets cut in half and, like Palpatine, falls to his (apparent) death.