One of the most iconic elements of Star Wars is the lightsaber. Everything from the look to the sound is emblazoned on even the most passing fan’s mind. A lightsaber duel is usually the climax of every film, and Luke’s battles against Vader are some of the most enduring sequences in modern cinema. Throughout the nine films, we’ve seen some impressive displays of swordsmanship from both Jedi and Sith, and even a few belonging to neither order.
But who is the best? Every Jedi and Sith is trained in lightsaber combat, but some are much better than others. While it’s not brought up in the films, there are seven “forms” of lightsaber combat. Some of these entries become undisputed masters of a single form, while others develop a broad understanding that grants them a versatility their opponents might not have. Still others invent new forms of combat or use a rarer fighting style to grant themselves an advantage. This list looks at the tip-top tier of lightsaber duelists we’ve seen in the movies, The Clone Wars, and Rebels. But be warned, there’s a whole lot of hot opinions in here, and as with most power level arguments, there isn’t really a right answer.
15. GENERAL GRIEVOUS
Starting out the list is the feared Separatist leader General Grievous. The only non-Force sensitive on the list, Grievous’s skill comes from his previous life and his uniquely formed cyborg body. As a Kaleesh, Grievous came from a warlike planet, and it was there that he cut his teeth in combat. After being converted to his terrifying cyborg form, his abilities only grew.
While he generally gets his butt kicked up and down in Revenge of the Sith, in The Clone Wars, he demonstrates just how dangerous four lightsabers at once can be. He holds his own against other talented duelists like Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, and even Obi-Wan Kenobi before their climactic duel on Utapau. Ultimately, Obi-Wan’s defensive style wins out, easily dismantling Grievous in their final encounter.
14. THE GRAND INQUISITOR
While the Grand Inquisitor isn’t a true Sith, he is still skilled in his command of the dark side of the Force. Hand selected by Darth Vader as the leader of the Inquisitors, the Grand Inquisitor demonstrates his skill with a lightsaber in repeated confrontations with Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger. While we don’t see it, the Inquisitors were chosen to hunt down Order 66 survivors and Force-sensitive children.
Since the Grand Inquisitor is both feared and respected by his fellow Imperials and by Kanan, it’s safe to assume that he was fairly successful in the run-up to his final encounter with Kanan. His unique spinning double bladed lightsaber certainly gives Ezra and Kanan trouble in their confrontations. Eventually, it’s not even his skill with a lightsaber that is defeated, but rather Kanan exploiting a seemingly very obvious weakness in his lightsaber’s design.
13. QUI-GON JINN
Qui-Gon might seem like the odd man out here, since he has no notable victories in the movies. And since he died before The Clone Wars, we don’t have a wider base to draw from. But looking both at who trained him and who he trained, and his skill in his duel with Darth Maul, Qui-Gon certainly deserves a place on this list.
A student of Count Dooku, one of the most skilled duelists in the Jedi Order, Qui-Gon’s connection with the Force and more open, tactical mind proved to be one of his greatest advantages. He adapted quickly to Darth Maul’s rarer fighting style, and although it ultimately led to his death, he held his own admirably, ultimately succumbing to fatigue and a somewhat cheap shot from the younger Maul.
12. DEPA BILLABA
Another entry based more around who trained her and who she trained, Depa Billaba’s strength is demonstrated through her apprenticeship to Mace Windu, and her training of Kanan Jarrus. A member of the Jedi Council when Qui-Gon presented Anakin Skywalker, Billaba would later fight in the Clone Wars as a general. During the Clone Wars, she confronted and survived General Grievous. Her later (incomplete) training of Kanan would make him into a talented Jedi, if unsure of how to train his own Padawan.
Billaba’s talent as a duelist was also demonstrated way back in the Legends novel Shatterpoint, where her training under Windu came to the fore. Leading a massive resistance effort on Windu’s home planet, she stood toe to toe with Windu, fighting him on equal ground. Ultimately, her death came like many other Jedi, at the hands of clone troopers during Order 66.
11. ASAJJ VENTRESS
Yet another Force user outside the Jedi and Sith, Asajj Ventress was an exceptionally talented duelist. Born on Dathomir, she grew up as a slave, developing some impressive skills in the fighting pits of Rattatak. After the death of her master, she was taken in by the Jedi, only to lose her Jedi Master as well. For a while she lived wild, until being recruited by Dooku.
Combining her Jedi training with Dooku’s, and adding on a pair of curved lightsabers, Ventress became one of the most dangerous combatants in the Clone Wars, contending with Jedi Masters and General Grievous on level ground. Her lightsabers also granted her an advantage, as she could seamlessly shift between her usual dual-wielding style and a double bladed form similar to Maul’s.
10. DARTH MAUL
One of the more memorable Star Wars villains, Darth Maul first appeared as a nearly-silent killer who blew everyone’s minds when that second blade popped out of his lightsaber. He was able to duel two Jedi at once without much strain, eventually killing Qui-Gon Jinn. His overconfidence led to his downfall at the hands of Obi-Wan, however. He would later return in The Clone Wars as a cyborg, but retaining his skill with a lightsaber.
He would demonstrate these abilities by repeatedly facing off against Obi-Wan and Dooku, and even faced Mace Windu and Aayla Secura at the same time, with better results than his duel against Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. In Rebels, he would easily handle three Inquisitors, only to meet his demise where it all began, with Obi-Wan.
Ki-Adi-Mundi was a member of the Jedi Council before and during the Clone Wars. You may remember him as the conehead Jedi who doubted Qui-Gon’s claim that the Sith had returned in The Phantom Menace. Outside of the movies, he was a talented swordsman, specializing in several forms, particularly a unique version of the third form, Soresu.
One of the few Jedi to be able to react to Order 66 before dying in Revenge of the Sith, he also demonstrated his skill with a lightsaber by being the only one of six Jedi to survive against General Grievous at the Battle of Hypori. His survival, in turn, was all the more impressive considering he was at the absolute end of his rope when Grievous arrived.
8. KIT FISTO
Another member of the Jedi Council, Kit Fisto was widely regarded within the Jedi Order as one of the pre-eminent lightsaber duelists. A particular master of the first and oldest form, Shii-Cho, Fisto was able to put his skills to great use during the Clone Wars. As a Nautolan, he was able to breathe underwater, and his lightsaber was likewise adapted to work underwater, affording him a unique avenue for engagements, when the opportunity presented itself.
While he was able to hold his own very well against General Grievous, he would later meet his demise at the hands of Darth Sidious. Although he was defeated very quickly, he was able to survive longer than his fellow Masters Agen Kolar and Saesee Tiin, blocking a few blows from Sidious before being cut down.
7. LUKE SKYWALKER
As you may have noticed by now, the majority of entries on this list deal with the prequel era. But what list of lightsaber duelists would be complete without the man himself? Luke doesn’t get much opportunity to show off his dueling skills, but when he does, he sure knows how to swing it, so to speak. After his disastrous defeat at Cloud City, his climactic battle with Darth Vader aboard the second Death Star shows just how far his skills have come.
Later still, in The Last Jedi, he toys with an increasingly pissed-off Rey, only losing his balance when he loses control. As a student of both Obi-Wan and Yoda, two of the greatest duelists in the Jedi Order, it’s little wonder that his talents with a lightsaber equal his skills with the Force.
6. ANAKIN SKYWALKER
The order of Luke, Anakin, and Obi-Wan was a little tricky. After all, Luke does ultimately defeat Vader on the second Death Star, and Vader defeats Obi-Wan on the first. But it’s important to remember that Luke is facing mostly cybernetic and aging body of Vader, not Anakin Skywalker in his prime. At his peak, Anakin was a supremely talented duelist. Although he coasted on his natural talents for a while, his first duel with Dooku served as a wakeup call, and further battles in the Clone Wars allowed him to hone his skills even further.
By the end of the Clone Wars, he was able to easily defeat Dooku. An aggressive fighter, he maintained an advantage over Obi-Wan for much of their climactic duel on Mustafar, only falling, just as he did against Dooku, due to his own overconfidence and anger.
5. OBI-WAN KENOBI
Another slim margin, but ultimately, Obi-Wan does come out on top. Famed in the Jedi Order as one of the greatest practitioners of the third form, Soresu, his defensive style brought him to victory numerous times. Throughout the Clone Wars, he would face off against both General Grievous and Darth Maul multiple times, walking away victorious or at least unscathed each time.
He was able to easily defeat both Grievous and Maul in their respective final encounters, but the most notable is his victory against Anakin on Mustafar. While Anakin’s aggressive style allowed him to maintain an apparent advantage for much of the duel, Obi-Wan’s rock solid defense allowed him to drag the duel out, as Anakin grew angrier and eventually overconfident, which led to Obi-Wan’s infamous demonstration of his mastery of the high ground.
4. COUNT DOOKU
Before his fall to the dark side, Dooku was known in the Jedi Order as the foremost lightsaber-to-lightsaber duelist in the Jedi Order, through his mastery of the second form, Makashi. Focused entirely on dueling, his fluid, graceful style was more akin to a fencer than the more acrobatic styles other duelists demonstrate. After easily defeating Obi-Wan and Anakin, he showed his ability to duel on somewhat even ground with Yoda in Attack of the Clones.
Throughout the Clone Wars, he would demonstrate his skill against Asajj Ventress, Obi-Wan, General Grievous, Maul, and Anakin. Along with his more archaic and unique style, his curved lightsaber hilt offered him another slight advantage. Ultimately, though, his more graceful form succumbed to the more brutal and aggressive style favored by Anakin.
3. MACE WINDU
Widely regarded as the Jedi Order’s combat expert, Mace Windu was a supremely talented duelist. A formidable practitioner of the seventh form, Juyo, he even went so far as to develop a deeper and more aggressive version of the form. As it relied heavily on aggression, many Jedi regarded it as a path to the dark side, but Windu was able to walk the line and leverage the form into extreme dueling skill.
In his battle with Darth Sidious, he stands as the only Jedi to not fall instantly, and even holds his own, eventually disarming the Sith Lord. Unfortunately for him, Sidious was likely only playing for time to allow Anakin to arrive. Ultimately, Windu is killed by Sidious after an unexpected attack from Anakin.
2. DARTH SIDIOUS
Darth Sidious. Emperor Palpatine. The Big Bad to end all Big Bads. First introduced in Return of the Jedi as a wizened space wizard, he never felt the need to whip out his lightsaber. Twenty years later, in Revenge of the Sith, he finally busts it out and demonstrates just how good you need to be to be the Dark Lord of the Sith. Easily defeating three Jedi Masters in the blink of an eye, he duels Mace Windu and Yoda on level ground (not at the same time, though).
In The Clone Wars, his abilities are on even further display, casually defeating Maul and his brother Savage using two lightsabers. Although he is seemingly defeated by Windu, it’s entirely likely that he threw the fight in order to lure Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. In his duel with Yoda, although he holds his own, he eventually has to resort to his greater command of the Force to force (no pun intended) Yoda to flee.
While Yoda doesn’t often demonstrate his skill with a lightsaber, he does demonstrate just how good you can get with 900 years of training under your belt. Although he is far more known for his abilities with the Force, his skills as a duelist are put on full display for the first time in his battle against Dooku, and again and again throughout the Clone Wars, until his final battle with Darth Sidious.
While his dimunitive stature puts him at the lower end of physical strength, his extraordinary agility, aided by the Force, makes his fighting style one of the most unique in the Star Wars universe. Characterized by constant leaps and motion, his acrobatic style allowed him to defeat Dooku fairly easily, and seemingly outmatches Darth Sidious in their lightsaber duel, only ultimately losing due to Sidious’s greater power with the Force.
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