It's been 22 long years since we last saw our heroes on the big screen in Return of The Jedi. But on December 18th, one of -if not THE most -famous franchises in movie history is returning to theaters in the much anticipated next chapter of their story with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Over the next 20 weeks, we will celebrate the franchise by looking back and ranking the best of the best moments in Star Wars history.
May 25, 1977, was the day I first saw Star Wars. It was also the day I fell wildly in love with the galaxy far, far away. This love has led me to 1) dress as Princess Leia, complete with hair buns, 2) develop a mad crush on Luke Skywalker, galactic goody two-shoes, 3) write deeply embarassing fan fiction, and 4) soak up Star Wars knowledge like a frat girl soaks up margaritas. But I know absolutely nothing about taking a punch -- something the Jedi frequently do in the name of the Republic. So I asked a professional stuntwoman to do a deep dive into the fight scenes that I have only examined casually.
I learned a lot, thanks to actor/dancer/acrobat-turned-stuntwoman Adair Moran, who doubled for young Bruce Wayne in the first season of Gotham and is currently working on the upcoming Netflix series Jessica Jones. Moran took a look at the fight scenes in the Star Wars universe and ranked them from worst to best. While she shared her certain point of view, she also made me rethink what I knew about the fight scenes. In some cases, she changed my mind about what I think is good fighting. And best of all, there's nothing better than seeing an old film with new eyes. Thanks, Adair!
#11. Anakin and Obi-Wan vs. Dooku vs. Yoda in Attack of the Clones
No one really likes this fight scene--not even Moran. Although she liked the imagination behind it (“Somebody had to imagine up, ‘How is this little guy … going to fight? Let’s make him a spinning, whirling ball of energy’”), she admitted, “It wasn’t my favorite scene. I don’t know how they shot this, but it looked to me like they CGI’d a couple of things that could have been done by real people."
“Also, at one point Anakin picks up a lightsaber, and I thought, ‘Is it an advantage to having two lightsabers, and if so, why don’t they just always carry two lightsabers?’ I just had questions like that.” Good point. I hadn't thought about that before.
I guess she was too polite to say that CGI Yoda looks freakin' ridiculous, so I'll say it for her.
#10. Yoda vs. Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith
Moran said: “I liked when [Yoda] first walked in the door and knocked the guards out with the Force. It must be so fun to be on those sets, just throwing yourself into a wall. It’s largely CGI, and when you get those big epic landscape things, I sometimes find the CGI a little distracting. But there was some human fightwork in there, and I like it when they can meld the two."
I say: I liked this better, because I got to see Palpatine unleash the power of the dark side. And he's not just throwing chairs at Yoda's head. No, he's actually dismantling the Senate. The metaphor was not lost on me.
I know it's not stunt-related, but there's nothing like watching Ian McDiarmid cackling with glee as he flings furniture.
9. Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme in the Petranaki arena in Attack of the Clones
I liked this one better than Moran as well: Padme leaps and kicks; Obi-Wan bobs and weaves; and Anakin, well, he sneers.
However, for Moran, “The fight...was about the amazing CGI, and the human performers were the icing on the CGI cake instead of the other way around. I tend to prefer the stuff that relies on the human performers."
“I liked how they could come up with these cool fantastical creatures to fight with. I also liked how the characters had to come up with different creative ways of fighting these creatures. But I wouldn’t call it a scene that revolves around the stunts.”
Perhaps. But Padme scores points for keeping a lockpick with her, even in that tight white outfit.
8. Anakin and Obi-Wan vs. Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith
"It wasn’t a bad fight," Moran said. "It was perfectly good, I just didn’t think it was quite as interesting as some of the others, and not as much was going on storywise as similar fights that we saw."
I agree. But on top of that, I think that Count Dooku went down too easily. After all, he had learned from Darth Sidious himself.
More importantly, I like the fight's denouement, where Anakin, egged on by Palpatine, takes Dooku's head. Anakin was always rash and hotheaded. This is where we see him take his first real step on the darkest path he can take.
7. Obi Wan vs. General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith
What Moran liked most about this famous showdown on Utapau was the brief moments of suspense."There’s a point in that fight where Obi-Wan is unarmed for a little bit." She explained," That’s kinda fun to see: ‘How is he going to handle this? What’s he’s going to do without a weapon?’ And [Grievous] has four arms and four lightsabers, and that’s kind of cool.
"I thought they did a nice job of using CGI to enhance the stunts and using both and merging them together."
I agree with Moran in that it's a good blend of stuntwork and CGI. But for me, the best moment isn't a stunt: General Grievous shrugs off his cloak to reveal four lightsabers. And obviously, he took those lightsabers off the bodies of his fallen Jedi victims. This, plus the fact that he had trained with Dooku, makes it even more spectacular when Obi-Wan defeats him.
6. Luke vs. Darth and Palpatine in Return of the Jedi
Moran said, “I like that because it’s sort of recalling that earlier fight between Darth vader and Luke [in The Empire Strikes Back]. I see they have Luke starting to fight like Darth Vader: He does that kind of hacking motion with a lightsaber. You have a like-father- like-son moment.”
In the 32 years since May 25, 1983, I only noticed the “like-father-like-son” moment at the point when Luke chopped off Vader’s hand and examined his own; I had never noticed it during the actual fight before. And now that Moran pointed it out, it seems obvious. Neat-o.
5. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader in Star Wars
Moran ranked this in the middle because "it’s more of an acting scene than a fighting scene. But it’s fun because Sir Alec is fun. I enjoyed it.”
As a fight scene, it's tame stuff. But to Star Wars fans, this was more than a fight scene: It was an inevitable, practically pre-ordained confrontation between the light side and the dark side of the force. We don't know it at the time, but Obi-Wan, older and weaker than Vader, enters the fight with a plan and even warns Vader, "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
In the end, Obi-Wan spots Luke at a distance and submits to Vader's attack. And even though Obi-Wan melds with the force, at first blush, it looks like suicide. It was a shocking, ultimately masterful moment as Luke is forced deeper into the Hero's Journey.
4. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin in Revenge of the Sith
I love this fight scene, perhaps in part because it was the one broken down in the DVD/Blu-ray extras in Revenge of the Sith's documentary, "Within a Minute." The documentary gave us an added layer of perspective to the filmmaking process, and we saw just how professional actors Hayden Chrisensen and Ewan MacGregor were when it came to this fight.
But the other reason I love it: It's a reflection of the seminal fight in Star Wars between Obi-Wan and Vader. There, Vader tells Obi-Wan, "The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master." Only this time, when Obi-Wan confronts the young Vader about his dark journey, the circle is being drawn.
Also, Obi-Wan gets to teach Vader about what happens to those who fall to the dark side. By taking his legs. Lesson learned.
Moran said, “I especially like the beginning of that one. I like [fights] to be rough, and they had imperfections, where lightsabers accidentally hit stuff, and it wasn’t always super clean. And they had that balancing-on-the-pipe thing, where they almost couldn’t fight because they were trying stay balanced. That was really cool.
“But I found the CGI a little distracting when the environment got huge, and it kind of threw me away from the fighting.”
3. Luke and pals vs. Jabba’s crew and the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi
Moran said, “If you ask me the scene I would most like to be in, I’d totally pick that one. Swinging off the rope, doing the high falls, tumbling down the sand into the big gaping mouth—that’s the fun stuff I like to do.”
“It did bother me [that] there’s one kick that Luke does that doesn’t land, little things like that make me go, ‘Oh no,’ but it’s a really fun scene overall. I like the chaos of it."
I never noticed that particular kick. But I did love how Luke grabs Leia and a rope and swings across Jabba's barge and into the skiff--a callback to the same maneuver in Star Wars.
2 . Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace
This was my favorite fight scene, but surprisingly, it wasn't Moran's. She said, “That fight is super clean and super sharp. Great performers, great choreography. It’s an amazing fight...[and] from a technical aspect, it’s awesome. I personally like fight scenes that are rough around the edges and feel a little less rehearsed and a little more improvisational."
“In some ways. it reminds me of a wushu demonstration, where everything is rehearsed and perfect.”
I mentioned that Ray Park, the stuntman who plays Darth Maul, is known for his wushu. Moran said, “That would explain that.”
When Moran pointed out the cleanness of the stunts, I understood exactly what she meant. But I didn't find it too perfect. I found it just perfect enough. The fighting was spectacular. But the moment that took my breath away came when Qui-Gon is trapped between two layers of a barrier. Instead of fighting his way out...he kneels down to meditate. In a scene of intense energy, the most powerful moment was one of stillness.
1. Luke vs. Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back
Before she watched the fight scenes in the classic Star Wars trilogy, Moran asked herself, “Are these fight scenes going to hold up?” To her (and my) delight, she said, “Yeah they hold up quite well."
I'm glad to hear it. Most of Star Wars holds up because it's based on storytelling tropes, a.k.a. the monomyth. However, aspects like the some of the more rubbery-faced cantina patrons don't. It's good to know that these technical aspects are still considered excellent 38 years later.
Moran continued. “I ranked as my favorite the one in Empire with Darth Vader and Luke. They have a good contrast in fighting styles: Luke is young and agile, and Darth is big and stiff, and he hacks with a lightsaber. It’s a fun contrast.
“I also liked that it’s a fight scene that advances the plot. The dialogue is serving the story, not just there to [augment] the action.”
It's a fight that tells a story. And it's an epic one at that. Fans may have forgotten just how important this scene was. Here, Vader reveals to Luke, "I am your father." It was one of the biggest twists in film history, and no one saw it coming (Mark Hamill did, only because Irving Kershner told him.) And it happens during a fight scene.