For decades now, the Star Wars universe has thrilled us with dramatic twists and turns, political intrigue, space-based superpowers (the Force) and a ceaseless conflict between good and evil, often culminating in epic battles with laser swords! Regardless of which side you’re on (admit it, there are some of you who secretly support the dark side… imperial scum), it’s always fun to watch a Jedi knight and Sith lord whip out their lightsabers to defend the peace or try to tear it down.
There’s just something about two opposing sides of Force-wielders throwing down, much more so than when they face some lowly bounty hunter or droid platoon. Of course, that may change with “Star Wars: Rogue One,” which is seemingly light on the sabers. To make up for the dearth of those legendarily elegant weapons, we here at CBR have decided to compile a list of some of our favorite lightsaber battles in film and on TV, listed below in order of epic-ness.
15. Ahsoka vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars: Rebels)
Aside from being a fantastically animated lightsaber duel, there’s a story behind the relationship between Ahsoka and Darth Vader. She was once a young padawan under Anakin Skywalker’s tutelage and as Anakin did with Obi Wan, Ahsoka and Anakin became close friends, until a deadly incident at the Jedi Temple led to Ahsoka leaving the Jedi order. In the last years of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka and Anakin encountered each other just one more time as friends, leading a battle to liberate Mandalore from Darth Maul (who was alive and surprisingly well for a guy who was cut in half).
After the execution of Order 66, Ahsoka took a new name, Ashla, and headed to the outer rim, only to join the rebels later. Over a series of missions, she discovers and comes to accept that her former master had become the malevolent Darth Vader, which leads us to their duel in the episode, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” This duel is incredible, not only because of how saddening it is for Ahsoka, but because the audience was not sure how it would end. We still don’t. Ahsoka seemed evenly matched with her former master during their duel within the Sith Temple on Malachor, yet she refused to flee. The last we saw was a hint of her form disappearing into the depths of the ruined Sith temple — a fittingly cryptic end to an incredible fight.
14. Kylo Ren vs. Rey (Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens)
The highly anticipated 2015 instalment to the Star Wars saga introduced quite a few new faces — Kylo Ren, misguided grandson of the infamous Darth Vader; Rey, a former scavenger from the planet Jakku; and Finn, a reformed stormtrooper. The climax of the film has these three fighting as the enormous Starkiller Base collapses beneath their feet. After a valiant Finn loses a brief battle against Kylo Ren, Rey, within whom the Force had titularly awakened, takes a stand, wielding Luke’s old blue lightsaber. She does surprisingly well against the wannabe-Vader; although, to be fair, he was already wounded by a shot from Chewbacca’s bowcaster.
The battle isn’t as spectacular as any of the other battles in the saga, and it’s reminiscent of the relatively calmer fight sequences of the original trilogy, which makes sense since the ancient knowledge of the Jedi and Sith had largely been lost. The best part about this duel is the fact that you don’t really know who will win. As it turns out, no one really does, but we are most definitely looking forward to the rematch.
13. Mace Windu vs. Chancellor Palpatine (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith)
With Mace Windu and Sidious both known to deep Star Wars fans for their prowess with a lightsaber, this should have been a bigger battle. Unfortunately, Mace Windu’s fellow masters forgot how to Jedi. Being the first battle of the Jedi Order’s fall, the duel between Windu and the unveiled villain that was Sidious held excitement in every minute, thanks in part to Windu’s stern and unrelenting confidence in battle against a dark lord of the Sith. You hope he’ll win, of course, and for half the fight, it seems like a certainty. He even has Sidious pinned… and then Anakin arrives.
Even then, Sidious unleashes a lightning strike against the Jedi master, who takes it all in stride with his trusty purple lightsaber. It’s around that moment you probably started wondering why he didn’t just kill the Sith Lord right away. The answer is obvious — for dramatic effect, of course! Unbalancing the scales of this skirmish is a pivotal moment in Anakin’s turn to the dark side of the Force, which is what thrusts this battle onto our list. You know how this will end, but you don’t want it to happen.
12. Asajj Ventress and Savage Opress vs. Count Dooku (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
In this corner, wielding not one, but two lightsabers is the Dathomirian warrior (with the pale complexion of a Kaminoan), trained by Count Dooku in the ways of the dark side: it’s the nimble, fearsome, Asajj Ventress. By her side, bearing almost the same markings and near-demonic appearance as her brother Darth Maul, it’s Savage Opress. Facing them down at once, it’s the Sith lord who fought his old master, Yoda, and lived to tell the tale: the apprentice to Darth Sidious and leader of the Seperatist Alliance, Count Dooku.
Why is this battle so great? It’s a handicap match — one against two — and they’re all Sith warriors. Everyone involved has all the motivation in the world behind them and it makes this fast-paced, force lightning-crackling battle that much more exciting. In the end, no one succeeds, and Ventress loses her dark jedi mate, who tries to force choke her because he can’t hold his own against Dooku… which we guess makes sense when you look at it from the dark side?
11. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars IV: A New Hope)
This is an obvious choice, being the original battle between a Jedi knight and a Sith lord (at least in the films). Admittedly, the choreography and style leaves much to be desired when compared to the newer films and TV series, but the battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and his old padawan, Darth Vader, had a huge story behind it; one most fans wouldn’t have really gotten to know until later on in the original trilogy (or the prequel films, depending on your viewing order).
Regardless of its slower, clunkier action (let’s not forget these two are pretty old at this point), its ending still succeeds in shocking newer fans with the ultimate sacrifice Obi-Wan makes in order to secure Luke’s future as the first of a new Jedi order. If you’re into lightsaber battles because of the flashy CGI effects, then this might not be for you, but if you’re into these battles at least in part because of the epic reasons behind them, then you’ll know why this makes our top 15.
10. Yoda vs. Count Dooku (Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones)
We were first introduced to the loveable emerald Jedi master back in “The Empire Strikes Back,” where he alluded to the old days but never did any fighting of his own. That makes sense, of course, since this 900 year old Jedi was growing world-weary and old long before the rise of the Empire; hence why he permanently traded in his lightsaber for a walking stick. Then again, maybe that remains just a clever ruse by the old master.
After all, he astonished both audience members the world over and his opponent when he came to Obi-Wan and Anakin’s rescue at the end of “Attack of the Clones.” Dropping his walking stick and defying his age, Yoda flipped around Dooku, brandishing his saber like some kind of demented ninja-frog before the Count decided it was best he caused a distraction for his old master and skedaddle. Fortunately for fans, this first glimpse of Yoda in action was accomplished with fantastic CGI (which has since been remastered), making it a truly incredible moment to watch; one that old fans had been waiting for since meeting the aging emerald Jedi master back on Dagobah.
9. Obi-Wan vs. General Grievous (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith)
This is one battle audiences might have been waiting for since Obi-Wan’s first encounter with the cyborg general at the beginning of “Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith,” when Kenobi and Skywalker found themselves standing before General Grievous, who began to gloat about his collection of lightsabers taken from fallen Jedi. His chance to prove his skill with them comes toward the end, when Obi-Wan sneaks into Grievous’ hideout on Utapau and boldly drops in, though Grievous is surrounded by his droid guards. Foolishly, Grievous decides to take on Obi-Wan himself, revealing two extra lightsaber-wielding arms. At first, one might think that, despite the display of cowardice Grievous has shown throughout the film, Obi-Wan might find himself outmatched here. No.
Obi-Wan proceeds to fight brilliantly and cuts off four of Grievous’ robotic hands. Still, the general proves to be quite a challenge and surprisingly manages to get Obi-Wan struggling, clinging on to dear life. Victory, however, is snatched from his metallic grasp when Obi-Wan fires on the remaining organic material Grievous has left in him and the general bursts into the flames. It’s an exciting battle from beginning to end, and proves that those strong with the force will always triumph in a lightsaber duel against those who are not, regardless of how many limbs they may have.
8. Count Dooku vs. Anakin (Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones)
“Episode II” in the prequel trilogy follows a young and reckless Anakin Skywalker as he struggles to break free from his role as Padawan and find his place among the Jedi knights. Through a long and dramatic series of events, Anakin and Obi-Wan find themselves chasing Dooku across the arid wastelands of Geonosis. They catch up with him and an angered Anakin recklessly leaps at Dooku, getting himself toasted and knocked unconscious.
Obi-Wan is then wounded, so Anakin leaps back into the fray. Now wielding two lightsabers (courtesy of his wounded master), Anakin duels Dooku with just a little more finesse this time around. It’s here that we see how powerful Dooku really has become, and how unready Anakin is. Even though Anakin proves adept in the use of his saber, throughout the flashy fight through shadows, Dooku proves to be too much. Anakin ends up losing a hand, answering a mystery that had lingered since the original trilogy, and continuing a rich tradition of limb loss that has long existed throughout the series.
7. Count Dooku vs. Anakin II (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith)
Even though Dooku eventually gets away, it isn’t over between the Count and Skywalker. This time older and thus the beneficiary of more training, Anakin encounters Dooku once again during a rescue mission with his master, Obi-Wan. They find Dooku guarding a captive Chancellor Palpatine and while this time, master and padawan begin by facing the Count together, Dooku manages to knock Obi-Wan out of the battle. If Anakin was ever afraid at this point, we don’t see it. Instead, we bear witness to a fantastic lightsaber battle between two very confident Force wielders.
The fight itself is beautifully choreographed, and unlike their last encounter, their arena is better lit, allowing us to see every smooth sweep and perfect pivot. Keeping the last battle in mind, no one would blame you for half expecting Anakin to lose his other hand. Instead, Dooku loses his head. It’s a turning point for Anakin, who obeys his future Emperor’s command of execution, taking another step toward the ruthless Sith lord he would one day fully become.
6. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul (Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace)
“The Phantom Menace” introduces Obi-Wan as a young apprentice to Qui-Gon Jinn. Sporting a padawan braid, but not his signature beard, Obi-Wan has the appearance and brash demeanor of a student. Qui-Gon was clearly the better fighter but, after he fell to Darth Maul, it was up to Obi-Wan to dispatch the devilish Sith Lord. After an intense staring contest through a red laser wall, Obi-Wan bursts out and strikes furiously at Darth Maul’s double-sided lightsaber. You can almost feel the anger in Obi-Wan’s every thrust, trying his best to strike down and cut through his opponent, who remains a relatively calm and collected picture of inner fury.
Unsurprisingly, Obi-Wan gets knocked into a shaft, clinging on and trying to find a way to win the fight. It looks impossible, especially after Maul kicks his lightsaber down into the shaft. But Obi-Wan uses the force to leap out from the shaft and, in an incredible display of upper-body strength, straight-up cuts Darth Maul in twain. It’s a dramatic, fast-paced duel, but more importantly, it shows Obi-Wan take up the mantle as a Jedi Knight, avenging the death of his master while controlling his rage to overcome the dark side opposing him in the form of Maul and, in many ways, within himself.
5. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back)
Most of “Empire” was building up to this showdown. Luke had spent the film training with Yoda and it was time to see if he could really put that tutelage to good use. With Han Solo frozen in carbonite and Leia, Chewie, C3PO and R2D2 trying to escape, it was up to Luke to fight Darth Vader and prevent any more of his friends from being lost.
As with any good climactic battle, it begins in a dark room and ends with a mind-blowing revelation. Right after Vader slices off Luke’s hand, he reveals that he’s… well, we’ll try not to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it yet (or those who have been living under a rock for almost 40 years). It cuts Luke deep — in more ways than one — and the fight ends without a victor as the younger Skywalker flees. Luke is clearly just too new at being a Jedi to really be a match for the dark lord. It’s a great scene, if for no other reason than it leads into one of the most iconic and quotable plot twists in modern cinema.
4. Yoda vs. Darth Sidious (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith)
The second half of the third and final instalment of the prequel trilogy is packed with tragedy and action, with the last vestiges of the old way being ripped asunder from multiple points around the galaxy and the Jedi order desperately fighting back against the coming tide of the dark side. Perhaps the most palpable element of this fall comes in the form of one particular moment so important to the future of the series: Yoda’s exile.
Once more we see the ancient master in all of his agile wonder and force mastery, duelling this time with Darth Sidious in the senate in an attempt to end his reign before it can truly begin. Being one of the last of the Jedi order, Yoda knew there was a lot was at stake here; in the end, however, it made sense that, instead of fighting to the death, he would go into exile and wait for the time to come back and bolster the light side of the Force in the future. Luckily, this wasn’t before Yoda and Palpatine used the force to hurl senate seats at each other in one of the rawest displays of Force power the entire Star Wars canon had ever known. It’s a great demonstration of how low-key powerful Yoda is, fighting in ways few other Jedi could. It makes for an unforgettable fight, albeit one that proved to be the death knell for the Galactic Republic.
3. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader II (Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi)
With Luke having learned and honed his connection to the force, he seemed to be in a place where he was ready to take on Darth Vader; however, it seemed that he was no longer intent on fighting. He insisted that there was still good in Vader and was adamant in that belief, going so far as to surrender himself to his father and allow himself to be taken in to meet Emperor Palpatine himself.
Using just a bit of that rage, Luke is at first seemingly able to overpower his infamous pops, which gives dark hope to the sadistic Emperor that Luke will become his new apprentice. Though there are many pauses in the duel, owing to Luke’s unwillingness to give in to his rage, it is significantly more exciting to watch than the battles that preceded it, where movements were kept relatively small and less flashy. Here, the film takes us into what can only be described as half-epic-battle / half-thrilling-chase-sequence. It works well, and of course, sets up the prophesied downfall of the Empire and the return of balance to the Force.
2. Qui Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul (Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace)
During a daring escape from Naboo, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan found themselves faced with the apprentice of a mysterious Sith Lord. Throughout the film, Darth Maul had pursued them in an effort to cripple the political wall that kept Darth Sidious from achieving his ultimate goal. There was no running away this time, though, as the devilish Darth Maul appeared with his double-bladed lightsaber, ready to take on Master Qui-Gon and his young apprentice.
This fight is epic in every way: Two Jedi warriors against one highly skilled villain with evil looking tattoos, fighting across ridiculous heights against background music as epic as only John Williams can compose. Obviously, Obi-Wan lives, so the Jedi duo have to win this fight… right? Well, yes, but at the cost of Obi-Wan’s master, who had single-handedly shaped the future of the galaxy with his insistence in taking Anakin on as an apprentice. This fight alone makes up for every other failure in the film, and is often remembered as being “The Phantom Menace’s” only unassailable moment of greatness.
1. Anakin Skywalker vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith)
The major turning point in Anakin’s life was also the cause for, arguably, the best battle in the film saga. Taking place on the planet Mustafar in and around a “lava factory,” the battle is epic, and not just thanks to its choreography. It’s a difficult one to keep up with, but if you can keep your eyes from crossing, it’s really exciting to watch… well, except for that one part where the two decide to forego a deathblow in favor of throwing around their lightsabers like a pair of nunchucks.
Regardless of some of its hokier moves, what makes this battle truly important is the scene’s inherent tragedy: no matter who saw victory, Palpatine would win. The galactic republic had already become an empire and there was no one left standing in Palpatine’s way. This is one of the longer fights you’ll see throughout the film saga, which, given the gravity of the situation, is appropriate. It’s the ultimate battle between a student and his master; the dark side of the Force, and the light. Despite the dubious acting elsewhere in the series, this finale was both gut-wrenching and heartbreaking in equal measure, and as such, was one of the finest examples of saber-smithery in Star Wars canon.
What are your favorite lightsaber throw-downs in the canonical Star Wars universe? Let us know in the comments!
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