We never need much of an excuse to dive back into the luminous beauty of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but the show's miraculous return has us returning to that mighty Force wellspring once more. Though not every episode has one (or needs one), lightsaber duels are always a highlight of this series. Who doesn't enjoy one of those? If you don't, then my god Jed, I don't even want to know you.
We're set to get the Shmi Skywalker of all lightsaber duels in Season 7 when Ahsoka Tano will take on Ebenezer Hallifax Maul. (Not his real name, but just "Maul" without the "Darth" still feels weird.) Anyway, these two are set for a furious duel of the fates on Mandalore, but that's not gonna be coming for several more weeks. Because of Star Wars Rebels (and other book/comic titles), we know that both Maul and Ahsoka survive the duel. Many of the duels that we're about to list do not end in fatality, actually — only two of them do.
All of that aside, let's delve into the glorious droid spa baths of all of the laser sword duels that the series has given us thus far. While live-action Star Wars is somewhat limited in what it can do with these battles, there are no limits when it comes to animation. As the seasons went on, the duels just got better and better; they got faster and more intense, but they had some serious emotional stakes to them as well.
Wvroom, wvroom, let's go. "I've been looking forward to this..."
Ahsoka and Luminara vs. Ventress (Season 1, Episode 9, "Cloak of Darkness")
The duels up to this point had been enjoyable, but the series was obviously still finding its feet. This was the duel that showed that the feet had been found. Actually, the entire episode proves it.
Asajj Ventress wins in this episode, which is pivotal — she proves to be formidable, and not just another Separatist toady who will lose every other episode, yet constantly return to lose again. Her day of reckoning does come, but not yet.
The pairing of Ahsoka Tano with Luminara Unduli is interesting; the contrasting styles of Luminara and Anakin are very apparent, and when the two of them finally get on the same page and fight Ventress together, it's a blast. They lose Nute Gunray thanks to some unexpected betrayal, but they both survive. The animation is fast and strong, and the movement gets truly kinetic for the first time.
Result: Everyone survives, but lessons are learned.
Kit Fisto vs. Grievous (Season 1, Episode 10, "Lair of Grievous")
Yo dawg, we heard you like Kit Fisto! Here he is, in all his Nautolan glory, tentacles flying free. This duel comes in an episode right after the previous one, and once again the animation takes another step. The show hadn't yet dealt with the movement of hair, but tentacles? They had a plan for that.
When you get right down to it, this duel is probably all about those moving tentacles. If you take them away, it wouldn't be nearly as exciting. Still, it's great fun to see someone other than a main character fight Grievous, and more Kit Fisto is always good. The mid-air catch of his fallen former Padawan's lightsaber (going into the two-blade approach) is a great addition, and the flash of the famous Fisto smile (and escape) before the end makes it even better. Grievous doesn't fight fair, and Fisto knows it, so he smiles and peaces out. If Nahdar Vebb had been as wise, he may have survived.
Result: Both survive. Fisto lives to smile another day, and Grievous lives to continue to do whatever it is he does.
Ventress vs. Dooku vs. Savage (Season 3, Episode 14, "Witches of the Mist")
Welcome to Season 3, well into the area where both the stories and the animation took seismic leaps into greatness! The first half of the season is quite odd, with time-jump episodes happening all over the place, and a lot of politics too. That's all well and good, they're all enjoyable, but when you hit the Nightsisters arc mid-season, things get real.
There are multiple duels in the Nightsister trilogy, but we had to go with the one that closes it out: Maul 2.0 (Savage Opress) is a pawn of both Ventress and Dooku, Ventress is after Dooku because he sent her packing two episodes before, and Dooku is just being his usual "what, me?" self. They all have agendas and grievances, so all three try to kill each other at the same time.
It's so much fun to watch because you don't really know who is on what side (and when) in this fight. Dooku has story armor so we know he's okay, but anything can happen with Ventress and Savage. This is the arc in which Ventress went in a completely unexpected and amazing direction — it is when we truly began to love her. If we had to pick a side here, it would be hers. We're not really scared for Savage "dumbf**k" Opress because he had just hit the scene.
In any case, you've got two curved hilt sabers, Dooku's special curved saber, and a double-bladed saber all going at the same time. It's a festival of deadly red light, party of three.
Ventress takes a pounding, but she escapes into the next season where her development continues even further.
Result: They all survive, with both Ventress and Savage pointed in new directions. Dooku continues to do the Dooku.
Obi-Wan and Ventress vs. Maul and Savage (Season 4, Episode 22, "Revenge")
Season 4 is really hard on Obi-Wan Kenobi, ending with him getting the Jedi stuffing beaten out of him by Savage and the back-from-the-dead Maul. Who comes to Obi-Wan's aid? Someone who has recently found a new identity and has a huge beef with Savage.
That's right, Obi-Wan and Ventress now fight on the same side. All of their constant "just get a room" bantering pays off here in a big way, with Ventress even tossing Kenobi one of her red lightsabers. Just seeing him ignite a red saber is wizard enough, but then the duel happens.
Once again it's hard to track what is happening when and who is fighting who, but the battle lines are clearly drawn and Kenobi and Ventress work so very well together. It's another giant step up in the animation department, but on a character level, there's just nothing that beats two former adversaries having to team up. Like the previous entry, it's an almost all red saber affair, with curved hilts and double-blades going akimbo.
Also good? Maul being denied his revenge. He's never gonna get it, either. "Find a brother, lose some revenge." Famous phrase.
Result: They all survive. Maul and Savage decide to change tactics after this, and there's a 10 percent chance that Ventress and Obi-Wan make out after the credits roll. They both had a tough season.
Ahsoka vs. Vizsla (Season 4, Episode 14, "A Friend in Need")
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you factor the darksaber into a duel, that duel automatically gets ranked higher. That's just how it works.
This is not a long duel, but as we said, it involves the darksaber. We saw it in action in Season 2, but two seasons later, it is a thing of majestic beauty, and things would only get more impressive. Every slash, swipe, and parry with this thing is gorgeous to look at, even though Ahsoka doesn't have much of a problem fighting off the man wielding it. This is also the episode in which Ahsoka wastes four Mandos at the same time, but that's not a duel, so we can't mention it. Oops, already did.
Result: They both survive, but the duel (and the entire episode) is a big step in the journey of Ahsoka. Also? Darksaber.
Anakin and Obi-Wan vs. Dooku (Season 6, Episode 10, "The Lost One")
As far as we know, this is the last time that this trio has it out before they duel for the final time in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. The next time that they all meet, Anakin will tell Dooku that his powers have doubled since last they met. How, exactly? Anakin may start hitting the 'roids after Season 6. It was tough losing Ahsoka — time to bulk up.
Though the prospect of yet another Dooku/Anakin/Kenobi bro-down may not sound that exciting, it is worth keeping in mind that this is Season 6. The animation is at its pre-Season 7 best, and Dooku's particular style of dueling is masterful. Take a look back at the Anakin/Dooku duel from the Clone Wars theatrical release, and then look at this. The difference is as clear as a sunny day in the void.
The way that Dooku twists and bends his body is insane, as is the way he points and uses his curved lightsaber. He's broken that baby out many times in this series, but he's never been better with it than he is here. All of the man's class got funneled into his dueling technique and his cape usage, it would seem.
Result: They all survive because they are going to repeat this exact setup in Revenge of the Sith. The thing that changes the most during this duel is that Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenoblivious finally find out that Dooku is Tyrannus, and Tyrannus is Dooku. The Jedi just keep doing what they're doing despite this new knowledge. Way to go!
Ahsoka vs. Anakin and Obi-Wan (Season 3, Episode 16, "Altar of Mortis")
This entry isn't entirely fair, but oh well. When Ahsoka gets bitten by the Son on Mortis and turns bad for an episode, she breaks out her new double lightsabers and shows what she can do with them. She can do a lot.
True, she's fighting Anakin and Obi-Wan, so neither of them is fighting to kill. But the animation is gorgeous (as is everything on Mortis), and the way "dark Ahsoka" moves compared to real Ahsoka is a subtle but lovely touch. This duel also has some serious stakes because we didn't know what Ahsoka's fate was at the time, and any moment like this had us afraid for her.
The heartbreak moment comes mid-duel when Ahsoka screams at Anakin to stop calling her "Snips." She says she hates it when he calls her that. Is this just the darkness talking, or does Ahsoka really hate it? Either way, that hurts, Snips. You're hurting Skyguy's feelings, and ours too.
(Side note: We'd pay a lot of money to hear one final "Skyguy" from Ahsoka in Season 7. Serious money. Big, huge, serious money.)
Oh, there's also a giant battle of Force magic happening at the same time while dark Ahsoka fights it out. The Daughter and the Son of Mortis are breaking out every trick they have, and the two scenes happening at once is extraordinary. The magic battle isn't technically a part of the duel, however, so won't mention it? Too late.
Result: Nobody dies from the duel, though Anakin and Obi-Wan are not playing to kill. There's death (and a death save) after the duel, however, and those moments have huge consequences.
Maul vs. Vizsla (Season 5, Episode 15, "Shades of Reason")
The animation of the darksaber takes another giant leap with this duel, but sorry, Vizsla, you never had a chance.
There is not one moment where Maul doesn't own this fight. From the first, Vizsla is nowhere close to landing a single blow. Maul is having fun, he's playing with Vizsla, and it really shows.
Vizsla gets nowhere with the darksaber, so he breaks out every Mando trick he has. Nothing works. He manages to grapple Maul's legs at one point, but Maul cuts the wire away in a move that should be taught in ballet classes.
Thanks to this duel, Maul attains the darksaber. Back in the hands of a true Force user, we finally get to see what it can really do.
Result:Pre Vizsla snuffs it. With him gone, Maul rules Mandalore completely, and what is left of an anti-Maul Death Watch is then led by Bo-Katan Kryze, who is a better leader anyway.
Yoda vs. Sidious (Season 6, Episode 13, "Sacrifice")
This fight features in the final episode of Season 6, and when it came out, for all we knew, it was the final episode of this entire show. That would prove to not be the case, but if it was? What a way to go out.
Yoda's entire arc of Force discovery that closes out this season is some of the best Star Wars storytelling to happen in any medium, goodbye, the end. We'll have no debate on that. In the final installment, we have a rare moment in which Sidious decides to put up his hood and personally get involved. He calls on Dooku, and the two of them work up some Sith magic to screw with Yoda while he's on the Sith planet Moraband.
Yoda gets trapped within a vision, and we don't really know the stakes. We do know that duels are involved, and the most elegant and gorgeous of them is between Yoda and the hooded Sidious.
This might get ranked so high because their duel in Revenge of the Sith is a personal favorite of ours, and this is more of that kind of action. Okay then, accepted. It's the two most powerful Force-users in the galaxy going at it, and it's being done with Season 6-level animation. Come on.
The real power of the duel is when it is over — Yoda makes the decision to save Anakin and sacrifice himself, and this ensures, in terms of the long game, that the Jedi will survive. Yoda loses in order to win. From a certain point of view, that might be what the entirety of The Clone Wars adds up to.
The Result: Both survive, as this duel may or may not be entirely real. Still, Yoda's "sacrifice" at the end of it is his final test and leads the way to him being able to manifest himself in the Force after death. It is a huge moment for Yoda, for this series, and for Star Wars in general.
Sidious vs. Maul and Savage (Season 5, Episode 16, "The Lawless")
Like it was ever going to be something else? Come come, Mr. Kenobi... this duel should be shown in museums. It should be put in time capsules. We'd run into a burning building to save this scene.
It's another moment in which Sidious decides to personally come to town, and this time it's just because he's kind of annoyed? Maul and Savage have been romping around on Mandalore free as can be, with Maul possibly forgetting that he once had a master that can deal out death faster than Dexter Jettster can deal out saber dart information.
Yeah, Sidious senses the shenanigans and decides that he could use some exercise.
Make no mistake, that's all this fight is for him. He glides into the Mandalorian capital on the wings of a dream, reminds Maul that there can only be two, and that Maul is no longer his apprentice. He almost ignores Savage — in our headcanons, he gives Savage a pretty decent "ya basic."
Sidious breaks out two sabers (no waiting), and the workout commences. Maul gets a taste of what it must have been like for Vizsla in the episode before this because he never comes remotely close to anything that could even dream of a hit. Savage, big dumb Savage, lumbers around and tries his best. His best is basic.
Sidious kills Savage ("I'm not like you, I never was"), and Maul rallies with the darksaber and his classic single red to take Sidious on solo. It doesn't matter. This is leg day for Sidious, he didn't forget, and when he's had enough, he just blasts Maul with Force lightning, as if to say, "that was fun, thanks, but here's the deal..."
We don't get to see what Sidious is truly capable of in Revenge of the Sith because it involves real actors, and human bodies have limits. Not so in animation — there's a moment in which a cackling Sidious does half of a back-bend and blocks blows with both of his sabers, and that is the stuff that animated dreams (and nightmares) are made of. Factor in the presence of the darksaber, and you have a rad dad duel that makes our midi-chlorians jump up and down inside of our blood. It is not likely to be topped... but Season 7 is here, after all.
Will Ahsoka vs. Maul in Season 7 knock it from its perch? They've had years to perfect the animation, and Ray Park personally did some motion capture for it. Maul's gonna be double-blading it again, and chronologically he still has the darksaber. Ahsoka also has mad moves. All of that together makes one heady broth, and it just might do the job.
For now, though... Sidious. It's good for him to get out and about every now and then. For him. Not for anyone else.
The Result: Savage is dead, dead, dead. Maul gets his bottom whipped. Whatever Maul's big criminal plans were, they're now under the control of Sidious. He's a Sidious pawn once again, as Sheev Palpatine showed him (and viewers) that there's just no messing around with the phantom menace of mayhem. You come at the king, you'd best not miss. Maul misses, and Savage misses big. Snoke 'em if you got em, Savage... ya burnt.
Now, if we want to get into bare-handed brawling? Nothing tops Anakin beating the merry kriffmas out of Rush Clovis in Season 6. Anakin would demand that we put it at the top of the list.