With just under a week to go until The Force Awakens, let’s begin looking back through the history of the Star Wars (film) saga, beginning with the best Star Wars lightsaber battles.
(BEWARE SPOILERS FOR EPISODES I-VI)
7. Count Dooku vs. Yoda/Obi-Wan/Anakin – Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
Episode II: Attack Of The Clones is the lowest-rated of the Star Wars movies on this site, and generally considered one of the two weakest in the series, but with all its faults, it couldn’t even get a lightsaber battle right.
After the explosion of action as the Jedi Avengers assembled in the amphitheatre, the mysterious Count Dooku flees, only to be intercepted by Obi-Wan and Anakin, who engage him in a quick three-way battle before Dooku cuts Anakin’s arm off.
That initial fight is pretty underwhelming, but then Yoda turns up and fights Dooku like a gremlin on caffeine. He may be one of the most iconic characters in the saga, but Yoda in a lightsaber battle doesn’t work, and what we get is an excessively choreographed battle between an old Christopher Lee and a CGI Yoda – and that surprisingly lacks the emotional intensity you want from a great duel.
6. General Grievous vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi – Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith has four separate lightsaber battles in it, and although only one is actually great, there are parts of the quick battle between General Grievous and Obi-Wan on the planet of Utapau.
It may be another over-the-top CGI fest as Ewan McGregor battles this big robot, and it again doesn’t feature the emotional excitement that the greatest lightsaber battles do, but what is great about this battle is that, for a moment, Obi-Wan looks on the back foot.
The moment when Grievous reveals his four separate lightsabers, and then viciously attacks Obi-Wan, there seems no way that the Jedi master can defeat his adversary, and although he does manage to gradually weaken Grievous, there are moments when you think that this literal killing machine might be unstoppable.
5. Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi – Episode IV: A New Hope
Now, there’s no doubting what a great film the original Star Wars is. It’s a thrilling and hugely enjoyable space opera with a great sense of adventure, and huge tension and drama throughout.
However, one thing that it just doesn’t have is an outstanding lightsaber battle. Technical restrictions in 1977 meant that just making the lightsabers was a marvel, but Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, in their last battle, weren’t particularly active.
Although there is still a lot of emotion watching the battle when thinking from young Luke’s perspective, it’s visually very underwhelming, as the two masters of the Force gently poke at each other until Vader strikes Obi-Wan down. It’s still an interesting fight to watch, just not exhilarating like the best of the best.
4. Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon – Episode I: The Phantom Menace
And now to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the film detested by so many for crushing their dreams as Star Wars made a roaring return to the big screen in 1999.
The film is generally very average, largely down to excessive focus on trade negotiations, council meetings and heesa who shall not be namedsa, but what it does do brilliantly is give us a thrilling and emotional lightsaber battle right at its conclusion.
As a space battle for the fate of Naboo rages, Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi confront Darth Maul in an epic three-way fight. What’s initially best about the fight is the moment that Maul reveals his double-ended lightsaber, immediately putting the two Jedi on the back foot, but then, after a thrilling collection of energetic and exciting clashes, Maul stabs Qui-Gon, leaving Obi-Wan to emotionally retaliate and murder the Sith lord, before going to Qui-Gon to comfort him in his final minutes.
3. Anakin Skywalker vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi – Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
At the very end of the prequel trilogy, the story of the rise of the Sith and Darth Vader, we finally learn how the dark lord came into being in one of the most epic lightsaber battles ever witnessed.
As Anakin turns to the dark side, Obi-Wan is duty bound to battle him to protect the Jedi Order, and so a titanic battle for the future sanctity of the galaxy ensues on the volcano planet of Mustafar.
Although the duel has been criticised for being over-choreographed, as well as a completely computer-generated background, it is still a thrilling watch. There is such strong emotion in the fight as we see how disappointed Obi-Wan is to have failed Anakin in preventing his turn to the dark side.
What’s more is that the operatic music really seems to raise the stakes of the battle, whilst the erupting volcano that the battle is played out in front of also adds a huge amount of drama to a thrilling finale.
2. Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker – Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi
At the end of the original trilogy, enemies Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker confront each other for one final fight, this time as the Battle for Endor rages, and the dark Emperor watches on.
By this point in the saga, Luke has become a fully-fledged Jedi master, making him a now formidable adversary for Darth Vader, however the battle is not quite that simple.
Although it’s not a particularly well-choreographed duel, this is arguably the most emotionally intense lightsaber battle in all of Star Wars history. The Emperor attempts to lure Luke to the dark side for one last time as he convinces him to give into his anger, and for a moment, as Luke viciously strikes at a weakened Vader, you think it’s possible that might happen.
But Luke remembers his Jedi training, and the fact that he is actually fighting his father, and declares that he’ll never join the dark side, only to be struck down by lightning shot from the Emperor’s powerful fingertips.
In that moment, Luke is on the edge of death, until Vader, seeing his son being tortured by the Emperor, begins to see the evil of the Sith, and so attacks the Emperor and throws him down a chasm to his death – the one last good act of Vader, in his final moments.
1. Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Could there be anything else? The lightsaber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader at the end of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most iconic cinematic sequences of all time, and also features one of the greatest plot twists ever seen.
Following the capture of Han Solo, Darth Vader remains in Cloud City to confront Luke, who has come to rescue his friends. The two engage in a slower-paced, but amazingly tense and emotional duel, as Luke wishes revenge upon the dark lord, but is not yet powerful enough to defeat him.
Backed into a corner above a gaping chasm, it seems as if all is over for Luke, and as Vader begins to taunt him about what happened to his father, Luke is lost, before the iconic reveal comes that Vader is in fact Luke’s father.
Shocked and saddened, Luke cries out upon hearing this news, before deciding to end it all by jumping into the chasm to his death. (Only to be saved by an antenna beneath Cloud City).
There is no battle like this. It’s exciting and intense to watch, but also hugely dramatic and emotional for the main characters, as well as featuring the most important moment in all of Star Wars history.