Part of what makes Star Wars so special is the Jedi's elegant weapon. We've ranked the top 10 lightsaber duels. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
It’s that time of year when the whole family gathers together, sips hot chocolate, and binge watches Star Wars movies — or at least it should be. For every poor dad out there being forced to watch Claymation reindeer or the black-and-white sobfest about how George Bailey almost committed suicide, may the force be with you. In honor of your holiday movie sacrifices, we’ve ranked the 10 best Star Wars lightsaber duels.
Kicking off the list is the only fight from the final trilogy to make the cut: the brawl between Rey, Kylo Ren, and Snoke’s Praetorian Guards. Despite its being in the worst Star Wars movie ever made (yes, including the 1978 Holiday Special), watching Rey and Kylo team up and fight back-to-back against Snoke’s red-cloaked clowns was undeniably epic. The thrill of seeing the two adversaries become unexpected allies against the Praetorian Guards was like scratching an itch that first developed in 1983 when the Emperor’s Royal Guards never got a chance to show off their skills in Return of the Jedi. Despite the cool 360-degree camera angles, the lightsaber fight isn’t enough to make the movie worth a rewatch, so it stays at No. 10.
The final faceoff between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader deserves a spot on the list, and not just for being the first on-screen lightsaber duel. Yes, it’s painfully slow, but the two warriors are also old AF by the time they meet for their final rematch. The faceoff aboard the Death Star is also more in line with a traditional sword fight than the visually pleasing choreography that came later in the franchise, so it gets a bonus point for realism. For anyone wishing the first fight had a little more style, YouTube creator FXitinPost put together a pretty epic update of the fight.
Next up: the only Jedi badass enough to request a purple saber. Aside from when Mace Windu slays droids in Attack of the Clones, his duel with Darth Sidious is the only time we see him put the purple blade to work. Windu is joined by Agen Kolar, Saesee Tiin, and Kit Fisto from the Jedi Council when he attempts to arrest the secretly Sith senator. But the elderly Palpatine reveals his own skills with a lightsaber when he dispatches the Jedi fireteam like Chewbacca’s Dejarik chess pieces.
The faceoff between Obi Wan and Anakin against Count Dooku leaves a little bit more to be desired, but it’s the first time Anakin gets in a bona fide lightsaber duel, so for that, it comes in at No. 7. Dooku — played by none other than legendary actor Christopher Lee — rocks a badass saber with a curved handle, which only gets cooler when you realize Lee may have killed actual people in a similar fashion during his stint with the infamous Long Range Desert Group during World War II. We’re not kidding. Check out the insane interview where he describes stabbing people in the back.
Dooku ultimately bests Obi Wan and Anakin, but not before the chosen one grabs two sabers and dual-wields like Doc Holliday fresh off a bender at the O.K. Corral. Dooku’s victory is short-lived. At the start of Revenge of the Sith Anakin makes quick work of the Sith lord and sends Dooku’s head rolling across the floor like aurodium-plated dice.
At the end of Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars patriarchs of good and evil face off in one of the most epic lightsaber duels of the entire franchise. Everyone’s favorite green puppet goes head-to-head with Palpatine, and the two powerful Force users don’t disappoint. Not only does Yoda do some insane acrobatics as the symbols of good and evil duke it out across an empty and crumbling Senate chamber (ooooh, symbolism), but at one point the two drop their sabers and show off their mastery of the Force. The fight comes to a draw, but Yoda escapes to live out the rest of his life in exile where he’ll wind up teaching Luke the ways of the Force.
Just after Anakin and Obi Wan get owned by Dooku, in hobbles the 2-foot-2 green giant who had previously only moved around on screen with the help of a cane or while clinging to Luke’s back. Yoda lets the cane fall, and Force grabs his mini green saber. If you were lucky enough to see Attack of the Clones in theaters, then you share in the joy of remembering the entire theater erupting in a cheer loud enough to wake someone from carbonite hibernation. Dooku flees before Yoda can seal the deal, but not before Yoda reveals his astounding blade-swinging skills.
The fight that made lightsaber duels a necessary ingredient for a good Star Wars movie: Luke versus Vader in Cloud City. Luke — fresh off some basic training with Yoda — is full of the confidence and eagerness to test his mettle that defines E-2 infantrymen just out of training. He’s not ready to take on Vader, but like any good junior warfighter, he won’t hear any of that patience nonsense his elders are preaching. Luke flies straight to Cloud City and picks a fight he’s not ready for. Lucky for him, Vader isn’t trying to kill the farmboy-turned-warrior and instead tries his best to get Luke to join him. Of course, Luke opts to fall from the sky instead of joining his dad, but not before putting on one of the best fights in all of Star Wars. Between a string of the most iconic Star Wars quotes and one of the biggest plot twists in movie history, the first faceoff between Luke and Vader remains one of the all-time best lightsaber duels.
The fight that won over the ’80s kids: Luke versus Vader in Return of the Jedi. Not only is this fight the culmination of the original trilogy, but until the recent finale of The Mandalorian season two, it was also the only time we saw Luke’s badass green saber in all its glory. After his dad hacked off his hand in Empire, Luke was without a saber. In Return of the Jedi Luke reveals his new and improved lightsaber and helps spring Han and Leia from Jabba’s clutches. Keep in mind it was the first time fans saw anyone wield an emerald blade.
The OG trilogy comes to its epic conclusion as Luke faces off against Vader in a blur of Christmas greens and reds, before helping him complete his tragic-hero arc. It’s damn near the best fight in the entire franchise simply because the stakes are so high. Luke is finally ready to confront his destiny, Vader is conflicted in choosing the dark side or the light, and the fate of the entire rebellion rests in the fight’s hands. Oh, and Vader whips his saber across the room like a fucking boomerang at one point. Epic Darth dad move.
Episode I might lean too heavily into the famously flat dialogue of Star Wars and George Lucas’ infatuation with computer-generated imagery, but it also has one of the greatest fights in all 11 films. Darth Maul is the coolest Sith ever conjured up, and 22 years after the movie first premiered, it’s still hard not to scream “Fuck yes!” when the horned villain ignites his double-bladed saber.
The Sith apprentice takes on two Jedi simultaneously and dishes out some sweet Wushu and Bōjutsu moves, but it’s after Maul kills Qui-Gon Jinn that the fight jumps to the next level, literally.
After Jinn gets a saber to the gut, Obi Wan breaks through the red laser gates. You can see his eyes screaming, “Prepare to die, you Darth Motherfucker!” as he cranks the aggression level past 11. The fight was so well rehearsed, Lucas actually had to slow down the camera to make the fast-paced fight more believable. Maul seems to outfight Obi Wan until Anakin’s future master pulls a sweet jump move and cleaves the Sith warrior in half. The only downside of the whole fight is that it kept Maul from appearing in the rest of the prequel trilogy.
You made it. The No. 1 fight is unquestionably Anakin versus Obi Wan, or the Duel of the Fates. Going into the climax of the prequel trilogy, we already know Anakin is destined to lose to his master, mentor, and best friend, but that doesn’t suck any of the excitement out of the faceoff. The entire storyline of Star Wars hinges on Anakin’s turn to the dark side.
Watching the tragedy unfold as the physical world around the two Jedi crumbles into a lava-filled nightmare is like watching a car wreck through your fingers — you know it’s tragic, but you can’t help but look on anyway. As the fight moves from a landing pad to narrow pipes and eventually to two small patches of earth floating in a rising sea of lava, the stakes are ratcheted up to a borderline unbearable level. The intense close-quarters combat includes a Skywalker drop kick, flips, and excessive saber spins. You simply cannot watch the entire fight without scooting to the edge of your seat. It’s the most evenly matched duel of the entire franchise, but in the end Anakin succumbs to hubris and high ground.
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Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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