Welcome to Top 10. In this series, I will pick a subject in Star Wars and pick my top 10 rankings within that category. The rankings are heavily weighted towards my favourites, but will also take into account their impact on the story or the overall canon. Today I will be going through my Top 10 Lightsaber Duels.
So much of Star Wars has been the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith and as such, the lightsaber duels have been such a big part of the overall story. A lightsaber has featured to some degree in every movie to date, and they have also featured heavily in the Rebels and The Clone Wars TV series. For this list, I have made the decision to classify a lightsaber duel as one that involves a lightsaber on both sides of the fight – which unfortunately excludes The Last Jedi’s throne room fight between Rey, Kylo and the Praetorian Guards – and I have also chosen to leave out the fight between Sabine and Kanan where she reveals more about her past (despite it being one of my favourite sequences from Series 3 of Rebels) as this is technically training as opposed to a duel.
Be aware, there will be some spoilers for the movies and also episodes of The Clone Wars and Rebels as you read through this.
So take a look at my ranking and let me know what would have made your top 10.
10: Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi & Yoda v Count Dooku
“It is obvious that this contest cannot be decided by our knowledge of the Force… but by our skills with a lightsaber.”
So this one may be considered a cheat as the Yoda fight could be considered separate to that of our 2 main heroes, but I couldn’t go through the whole Top 10 without Yoda featuring and combining these 2 which rather flow into each other was the only way that either part of this duel would make the list.
This was the first time we got to see Dooku fight and he showed himself to be an expert duellist in the way he faced bested both Anakin and Obi-Wan with relative ease, while the duel feels like it has its own distinct acts in the way that he fights each of his foes individually. The glow of the lightsaber in the darkening surroundings as he fought Anakin made for great visuals. But of course the biggest draw was that, 22 years after we were first introduced to the great Master Yoda, we finally got to see him fight… and boy was it a thrill to see him drop his cane and go flipping off the walls to fight his former apprentice from all angles.
9: Anakin Skywalker v Barriss Offee
“Ahsoka trusted you, and you betrayed her!”
This fight from late in The Clone Wars is one that I kept coming back to when planning this list so I had to find a place for it. Having deduced that Barriss is framing Ahsoka and Ventress, Anakin attacks Barriss to force her into reaching for the lightsabers she stole from Ventress. What follows is a great fight through the Jedi Temple that ends with a stunning sequence in front of some training younglings where Anakin reaches towards the dark side by embracing his anger as he hammers her with blow after blow, while Temple Guards advance to cut off any means of escape. The final moment where Anakin overpowers her and uses the Force to pick her up and throw her into the nearby tree is such great foreshadowing of how his fear of losing his loved ones will lead him to becoming Darth Vader.
8: Anakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan Kenobi v Ahsoka Tano
“And now, the student will kill the master.”
One that I had completely forgotten about until I was re-watching some clips to help decide the order of my list. The Mortis Arc of The Clone Wars saw Ahsoka temporarily infected with the dark side of the Force, which led to her squaring off with initially just Anakin, but then also Obi-Wan. I loved how the unwilling turn to the dark side led to a different dynamic during this fight. Anakin had to fight more defensive so as not to hurt his Padawan, as did Obi-Wan, but Ahsoka’s acrobatic and fluid dual-wielding style was heightened by the anger flowing through her leading to heavier attacks than usual.
7: Luke Skywalker v Darth Vader
“Impressive… Most Impressive.”
Luke and Vader’s first on-screen duel came in The Empire Strikes Back after Vader used Han and Leia’s suffering to draw him into a trap and attempt to freeze him in carbonite to take him to the Emperor. Like Anakin v Barriss, this fight takes us through multiple parts of Cloud City, with the lighting in the carbon freezing chamber making for some beautiful visuals, while some of the later parts in the fight begin to show the true strength of Vader before the shock of Luke losing his hand. And then to finish everything off – whether you count it as part of the duel or not – you get one of the most iconic reveals in movie history with the line “I am your father” an then Luke’s brave decision to fall to his likely doom rather than join Vader. With sequences like this, it is easy to see why The Empire Strikes Back still takes the top spot when I rank all the movies.
6: Ahsoka Tano v Fifth Brother & Seventh Sister
“Unexpected, but not unwelcome.”
Having overpowered Kanan, Ezra and Zeb, the Inquisitors finally met their match in Ahsoka Tano, who arrived just in time to save her friends. This was the first time we had seen Ahsoka fight since The Clone Wars, so it was great to see how she had matured as a duellist and using her new white lightsabers. She easily bested the Inquisitors – even going so far as to use the Force to turn off the Seventh Sister’s lightsaber at one point – and then quickly escaped with the others when Imperial forces turned up in support.
5: Kanan Jarrus & Ezra Bridger v The Grand Inquisitor
“That was a mistake.”
“Why? Because you have no one left to die for you?”
“No. Because I have nothing left to fear.”
The duel that featured in the climax of Rebels Season 1 and did a great job of leaving me looking forward to Season 2. Ezra managed to rescue Kanan from captivity, but during their escape from the Star Destroyer they came across the Grand Inquisitor in the reactor core room. With Kanan’s lightsaber in the Grand Inquisitor’s possession, he borrowed Ezra’s weapon and made good use of its dual ability as a lightsaber and stun blaster, creating a completely different feature to this battle compared to any other. Add in Ezra getting involved with Kanan’s saber and it was already looking to be a great battle, but it was heightened when Ezra appeared to be knocked off the walkway to his death, leading to Kanan wielding both of their sabers and taking he fight to a new level, defeating the Grand Inquisitor. If that wasn’t good enough, the Grand Inquisitor’s final proclamation that “There are things far worse than death” before choosing to fall into the fire of the exploding reactor core was a perfect end to the season and no to the coming danger of Darth Vader.
4: Ahsoka Tano v Darth Vader
“I won’t leave you, not this time.”
“Then you will die.”
Right from the Season 2 opener and Vader’s discovery of Ahsoka being alive and her suspicions of his identity, it felt like we were setting up a fight between the pair of them. We finally got that in the season finale “Twilight of the Apprentice” when they faced off on Malachor. In a similar way to the duels of the Original Trilogy movies, the duel helps to tell their story as she refuses to join Vader and announces that she is no Jedi. The music from Kevin Kiner just added to the emotion of seeing thee 2, formerly master and apprentice, facing off in such a deadly battle, with Ahsoka’s more nimble dual-wielding style in direct contrast to Vader’s attempts to physically overpower her, which he did at one moment as he pushed her off a ledge. The moment that she returned and managed to get a hit on his helmet by surprise, leading to their standoff where you can see Anakin under the helmet – and the use of a combination of James Earl Jones and Matt Lanter as Vader’s voice in the moment is perfect.
3: Luke Skywalker v Darth Vader
“If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will.”
Following on from my point about the duels of the original Trilogy telling the story, there is probably no better example than Luke and Vader’s duel in the Death Star’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. The attempts by Luke and Vader to defeat each other, but also combined with Vader’s attempts to turn Luke to the dark side work so well as they make their way around the room. This was the first time we saw Vader throw his lightsaber, while the contrast of the red and green blades with the dark blues and black of the room and their outfits made for some great visuals. Eventually Vader’s taunting pushed Luke to the dark side and I love the ferocity that is added to his attacks as he channels his anger, ended when he cuts of Vader’s hand and realises that, like himself, he has a cybernetic hand and calms down, turning back to the light. Storytelling, visuals, action… this duel had it all and was in my opinion the best of the Original Trilogy.
2: Obi-Wan Kenobi v Maul
“Why come to this place? Not simply to hide. Oh, you have a purpose here. Perhaps you are protecting something. No… protecting someone.”
While most of these lightsaber duels are extended set pieces, number 2 on this list stands alone in that it is over in 3 moves. Maul never got over his life-changing defeat by Obi-Wan on Naboo and was continually looking for revenge through the Clone Wars and beyond. Having discovered through the holocrons that his enemy lived, he tracked Kenobi down to Tatooine. After realising Maul has worked out that he is there to protect someone, Kenobi knows that he has to kill him. I love how this is a battle of the minds more than the body: Kenobi goes from the stance he used during the Clone Wars to that used by Qui-Gon during the fight on Naboo, Maul notices this and shifts his stance, then when they attack he tries to use the same move on Kenobi that he used to kill Qui-Gon, only for Obi-Wan to counter it with a killing blow. It may be over in seconds but the similarity to samurai movies and the way that it culminates a story that has gone on almost 30 years in the Star Wars galaxy gets it such a high ranking.
1: Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi v Darth Maul
“We’ll handle this.”
Despite how good some of these duels are, there was a clear winner. The duel on Naboo was arguably the best part of The Phantom Menace. This was the first time we had seen a double-bladed lightsaber or a 2v1 fight and Maul’s acrobatics gave us a completely different dynamic to anything we had ever seen before. The variation in the scenery keeps the visuals interesting and the actions of each fighter when stopped by the laser fields portray each character perfectly: Qui-Gon meditates, Obi-Wan is on the balls of his feet impatient to return to the fight, Maul is prowling ready to strike. The entire fight really benefits from Ray Park’s martial arts abilities and the “Duel of the Fates” musical score is probably my favourite piece in the entire saga. Coming to an end of the fight and Qui-Gon’s death has great emotion and the way Obi-Wan fails by trying to fight aggressively but succeeds when trusting the Force to leap over Maul and cut him in half is great. Can The Rise of Skywalker create a duel to top this? It won’t be an easy task.
Thanks for reading. May the Force be with you…
2 thoughts on “Top 10: Lightsaber Duels”
Oh, what an excellent list this is! I’m glad you included the animated series as well but am impressed that you were able to pick those fights because there are so many between them to choose from! I do agree that Kanan/Sabine was an impressive scene for the emotional value but I can see why you didn’t include it.
I recall looking back at Ahsoka fighting the Inquisitors and showing her white lightsabers for the first time. Just as everything looks hopeless, Ahsoka enters riding on waves of angelic symbolism; bits of snow around her, she enters from within a beacon of light, and the music accompanying her is a chorus. She has indeed become a “guardian angel” in the moment, protecting the children from darkness. It’s a great way to show the progression of her character from one saga to another.
But oh, Duel of the Fates by far. I confess the music is what sells the fight to me. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it half as much if not for that theme so music does play a tremendous role in making a scene come alive with emotion.
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thanks for reading. It was definitely hard to narrow down to just 10 and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the list was completely different if I did this again in a month’s time. You’re spot on about the music, I don’t think the shows/movies would be anywhere near as good were it not for the scores!