Like any Star Wars fan, I love a good lightsaber duel, and there’s plenty to choose from over the course of nine films. The ones I like the best have the most emotional heft where the stakes are high, rather than flash and dazzle (though that’s fun, too). Here are my top five faves:
5. Kylo and Rey on the Death Star Wreckage (TROS)
This duel is visually stunning, with the waves of water pouring down on them as they battle it out. I like how the water may be seen to symbolize a sort of baptism for Kylo/Ben, as at the end of the battle, Kylo is washed away so Ben can emerge. The lack of score through a lot of this fight also intensifies the battle, as if any kind of music would be too distracting to the physical and psychic battle going on.
4. Throne Room battle with Kylo and Rey (TLJ)
This battle is emotionally satisfying because we see Kylo and Rey working together against a common enemy–Snoke’s personal guards. It’s a spectacularly choreographed fight scene (it took six months to train for and shoot), and has a bit of flash and dazzle that awes the viewer. We see in this battle what Kylo and Rey could be together and are left wanting more–which makes his refusal to help the Resistance Fleet and her refusal to join him all the more painful.
3. Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar (ROTS)
The prequel series has a lot of great lightsaber duels–the Jedi at the height of their powers is a sight to see. They look like dancers flitting across the battlefield, graceful and nimble and fleet. But watching them fight the bad guys isn’t particularly interesting to me on an emotional level.
The exception to this prequel prejudice is the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar. This is the battle we’ve been waiting for– Anakin’s final fall into his transformation into Darth Vader. The anguish in the two men is palpable: Anakin’s rage, and Obi-Wan’s sorrow at losing his friend to the Dark Side. To see the particulars of Anakin’s physical and emotional pain is disturbing.
2. Vader and Luke on the second Death Star (ROTJ)
Luke’s confrontation with his father, in the presence of the Emperor, is harrowing. The stakes, of course, are extremely high here; not only in the fate of the Rebellion, but Luke’s life and his very soul. There is a point where he gives in to his rage and hacks away at Vader, a glint of dark in his eyes. Looking down at his beaten father, he realizes the path he is treading, and throws down his lightsaber while standing up to the Emperor. This is where the strength of Luke’s character shines through. And of course this battle leads to Vader redeeming himself by saving his son from the Emperor. It’s satisfying in every way.
1. Luke and Vader on Cloud City (TESB)
I chose this battle as #1 for a few reasons. First, it leads to the greatest revelation in all of moviedom: Vader tells Luke he is his father. BAM what!?
Second, it’s the first time the untested Luke confronts Vader, wanting to take revenge on the man who he believes killed his father. But Luke, though capable with a lightsaber, is nowhere near ready for this battle. His innocence and naivete is quite literally chipped away until there’s nowhere left to turn: here we first get a glimpse of Luke’s commitment to the Light, as he chooses to fall to his death rather than join his father in the Dark Side. This is a critical turning point for Luke, leading to the sober, black-clad Jedi we see in Return of the Jedi. Here, Luke grows up.
Third, from a physical standpoint, this duel is a bit of cat and mouse, with Luke escaping and being found again, escaping and being found. It’s ominous, we’re on the edge of our seats on first viewing because we don’t know when the bad guy is gonna jump out at us. This is a great litmus test for battles and duels: what can surprise and startle us.
Kylo and Rey on Starkiller Base (TFA)
This is the first time the two have met in battle, and Rey is just beginning to understand what she is capable of. The moment Anakin’s lightsaber flies to her instead of to Kylo is an important moment. Kylo is injured and an emotional wreck, as he just killed his father and is dealing with the reality of that, and so Rey is able to best him here.
Ben Solo against the Knights of Ren on Exegol (TROS)
This is a fantastic short battle, with the newly emerged Ben Solo fighting off the Knights of Ren after Rey force-hands him Anakin’s lightsaber. It’s fascinating in that he fights in a completely different manner than Kylo Ren, who used brute strength and intimidation in his duels. Ben Solo seems to be lifted of a heavy burden here, and infused with Light; he fights more like a prequel Jedi Knight, with speed and agility. After demanding Anakin’s lightsaber throughout the series, here he finally earns it.
Luke and Kylo Ren on Crait (TLJ).
Though technically not a proper battle, as Luke isn’t even really there, this is an emotionally relevant confrontation between a master and his former fallen student. Luke is using it as a ruse to buy time for the Resistance to escape, but it also gives him some sort of closure on his failure of Ben Solo. It only enrages Kylo, but Luke can now fade into the Force knowing he did what he could and giving these last words of wisdom to Kylo: “See you around, kid.”
So what do you think? Do agree with my list? Or did I miss an obviously important and/or awesome duel? Post your thoughts in the comments below and we’ll talk about it!