Revenge of the Fifth: Top 10 Greatest Lightsaber Duels (2/2)
Number 5: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul
People have many...opinions regarding The Phantom Menace, shall we say? I'm one of those weirdos that unironically thinks it doesn't suck, but I agree it's the weakest of the prequels due to a slow plot that takes a while to get interesting and some mediocre acting. But one thing EVERYONE agrees is the best part of this fight is the duel with Darth Maul during the climax. And why not? It's a classic lightsaber duel and the first sign that we were going to get real lightsaber battles after how they were in the original trilogy!
Thomas: "This was when George Lucas really upped the ante with lightsaber duels. We already had Qui-Gon clash with Maul on Tatooine, which was awesome, but that was merely a precursor to this.
"Firstly, there's the music courtesy of John Williams, 'Duel of the Fates', which starts the moment those doors open, revealing the hooded figure of Darth Maul (who in his film only speaks three times). The instant that music begins, you know things are gonna get awesome!
Darth Maul whips out his saberstaff, igniting both blades, and the duel commences! And boy, is it a spectacle to watch!"
Media Man: No kidding there, mate. Not only is there the epic Duel of Fates mentioned earlier just blaring in the background to make this epic duel feel even more epic, but we get to see our combatants in action and let's just say that they really make it amazing to watch.
We have Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, two seasoned Jedi who are skilled combatants in their own right, against Darth Maul, Sidious's apprentice, who shows us that he's no laughing matter. With his saberstaff, he's able to fight two Jedi at once and he's just bursting with energy with how effortlessly he keeps up with them both while somersaulting around and moving at lightning speeds. There's even one cool moment where he uses the Force to throw an object at a door switch to open it up. Lucas wanted to show the Jedi and Sith at their prime and he really succeeded on that front!
What I love about this duel especially is how the environment they battle in just gets bigger and deadlier as the fight goes on. We start off in this relatively safe and wide-open hangar, then move on into this sci-fi hall with long walkways and long pitfalls and then we end up in this narrow corridor with forcefields that can stop lightsabers which ends up being on the big leading causes of Qui-Gon's death in the end as the forcefields stop Obi-Wan from being able to help him. It always makes a fight more creative to watch when the environment plays a part in it.
Thomas: "I also like how each of the three combatants had their own distinct technique: Ewan McGregor is flamboyant and acrobatic, Liam Neeson is grounded and strength-based, and Ray Park is jagged and brutal.
"The fight culminates with Obi-Wan and Maul going all out with each other, Obi-Wan determined to make Maul pay for killing his Master. After a near-death experience, being pushed down a hole, Obi-Wan manages to defeat by seizing his Master's fallen weapon and slicing Maul cleanly in half. Of course, that is the beginning of their rivalry…"
Media Man: Oh yes. From this fight we get all the stuff surrounding Darth Maul in the Clone Wars that we already discussed earlier and in revenge for what Obi-Wan did to him, Maul ends up killing Duchess Satine, the only person that Obi-Wan ever seemed to truly have feelings towards, which gives Maul that sick sense of how turnabout is fair play and that Maul wasn't content with just taking Obi-Wan's master from him, but also his love.
This was a fight that had far reaching consequences for a good chunk of the galaxy in Star Wars spin-off media and also kinda paved the way for the other two prequels for Obi-Wan is made Anakin's new master and is promoted from Knight to Padawan, Sidious gains a new apprentice in the form of Count Dooku and thus we get all the stuff surrounding the four of them in the Clone Wars and then once Dooku's killed, we have Sidious setting his vision on Anakin for his next apprentice which leads to Obi-Wan and Anakin's final showdown that then leads to the birth of Darth Vader. Who'd have thought Maul's defeat here would be so impactful?
This was was a duel that is quite frankly, a real duel of fates...
Number 4: Ahsoka vs. Darth Maul
Flippin' heck, we've had THREE entries in a row where a duel with Darth Maul nabs a spot on the list! Either that tells you how awesome Darth Maul is or it tells you that he gets some of the best lightsaber fights in the series. XD
Anyway, this duel was the last lightsaber duel in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and let me tell you, they went all out with this fight!
Thomas: "In the last of the three entries with the red and black Zabrak back-to-back (say that five times fast), Maul duels fan favourite Togruta Ahsoka Tano on Mandalore. This duel is set during the events of Revenge of the Sith, so it essentially adds weight to both sets of events.
"Maul offers Ahsoka the chance to join him in defeating Sidious, and believe it or not, Ahsoka initially takes him up on the offer, until she asks about what he foresees in Palpatine's plan. When Maul says he foresaw Anakin being Palpatine's new Apprentice, Ahsoka, still loyal to her former Master, draws her now blue blades. Maul decides to give her 'one last lesson'.
"The animation in this duel is incredible. It's fluid, detailed, and surprisingly grounded, with not too many acrobatics. They even used motion-capture with Ray Park to animate Maul."
Media Man: Indeed-y. Dave Filoni and his team wanted to go all out with this lightsaber duel and thus they used motion-capture for both Maul and Ahsoka to make the fight seem even greater and more real in a sense. The motion capture on both characters is fantastic with neither one having robotic movements or puppet-like physics like we might expect from some motion capture performances and the choreography is splendid throughout with every move feeling well executed and every clash of the lightsaber feeling like there's a lot of weight and power behind them.
Once again, I love how the environment plays a part in the battle too with it starting off in a closed off throne room and then once Ashoka sends Darth Maul through a window, it takes place outside where the danger gets even greater and more intense as there's more ways to die than just getting impaled by a lightsaber now. It especially gets nail-biting when they both end up on beams miles above the ground and thus as well as trying to one-up one another, they also have to avoid falling to their deaths. All this plus the fact there's a huge battle going on between the Mandalorians and the Mauldalorions really ups the ante for this battle!
Some people have criticized this fight for being an example of "plot armour" as Maul had an easy way to kill Ahsoka at one point but I don't agree on that as Maul wasn't trying to kill Ahsoka, but recruit her and thus he gave her the option to join him or die. It's just unfortunate for him that Ahsoka chose not to join him and was able to turn the tables on him, which leads to one of the most epic captures of any villain in any piece of Star Wars media yet produced.
Thomas: "Maul manages to disarm Ahsoka of both her weapons, but, after refusing to join Maul again, Ahsoka deftly evades Maul's attacks, grapples with him for a second, and then throws him off the beam they're standing on. But, being a noble soul, Ahsoka catches Maul with the Force in the intent of taking him prisoner, despite the Zabrak's pleas to be let go and screams that 'WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!'
"Of course, having seen Rebels before this, and knowing what's happening on Coruscant, we're all left biting our nails, knowing that Maul's right to be worried and things aren't going to end well for either former Jedi and Sith...
"Fans longed to see the The Clone Wars series end properly, and having its two main breakdown characters duke it out in style was the perfect choice.
Number 3: Ahsoka Tano vs. Darth Vader
"Ever since Ahsoka Tano debuted in 2008 as Anakin's Padawan, two main questions were being asked: what happens to her by the end of the Clone Wars, and would she encounter her Master as Darth Vader? TCW Season 5 answered the former question by having her leave the Order after the Council essentially threw her out (arrogant fools), and three years later, the latter would be answered in Rebels' Season 2 finale, 'Twilight of the Apprentice'."
Media Man: The hype was real going into this fight. The moment Rebels began and Ahsoka showed up in the show, many fans including us were wondering "Will she and Vader meet?" and thankfully, our wish was granted and we get one heck of a lightsaber duel as a result.
The build-up is perfect with Vader effortlessly dispatching of Ezra Bridger before Ahsoka cuts in and the two exchange words between each other with Ahsoka being so disgusted with Vader that she genuinely can't believe that Anakin would become him. That really tells you just how much Anakin meant to her if she really can't imagine he'd become someone as monstrous as Vader. Then the duel begins and it's master vs. apprentice in one heck of a showdown that has a ticking clock in the form of the Sith Temple that threatens to lower down and trap them forever.
Thomas: "Not only is this fight wrought with emotion and tension, being 8 years in the making, but the choreography is phenomenal. Ahsoka is acrobatic and nimble, like a samurai (something they intended by the way); Vader, being more machine than man, is grounded and brutal. You feel every clash and every bit of emotion in each strike.
"The fight eventually goes outside the Temple, and for a moment, it seems Vader has won when he pushes Ahsoka off a ledge. But as Vader tries to stop Ezra and a blinded Kanan from leaving, Ahsoka comes back with a vengeance, slashing at Vader's helmet. But as she prepares to leave, Ahsoka hears Anakin's voice, and she finally accepts that her Master is Vader. For a moment, Vader seems to consider sparing her when she chooses not to leave, but alas, no doubt feeling it's too late for him, Vader chooses to kill her. But as one fan on YouTube has suggested, Vader saw this as either severing a connection to his past, or as accepting death by his former Padawan's hand - to him, a fitting punishment."
Media Man: That's honestly a really tragic interpretation, and one that befits Vader's own tragic character too. Whether that was intended or not, we won't say for sure, but it's still interesting to bring up.
Not only was the fight awesome to watch, but it was also thrilling to hear James Earl Jones and Ashley Eckstein's performances here too, the original Darth Vader of old Star Wars conversing with the original Ahsoka of new Star Wars was nothing short of great and a meaningful use of fan-service too. It's even kinda eerie hearing Ahsoka talking to Darth Vader as we're so used to seeing her and Anakin interact and just hearing her former master speaking the way he does is...just chilling!
As for consequences of this match, Darth Vader didn't show up again for the rest of the show with Grand Admiral Thrawn taking his place as the main villain for Rebels, Ahsoka is separated from the group but is later saved by Ezra thanks to the world between worlds and our heroes get away with the Sith Holocron that only leads to more things down the line in the next couple of seasons along with prompting Darth Maul to tail the group as a recurring foe until he meets his death at the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi (again).
Thomas: "And this time for good…
"Fans waited years for this duel, and Filoni and his team delivered in all the right levels. But I wonder how Ahsoka explained that experience to Luke…
"Speaking of which:
Number 2: Luke vs. Darth Vader
"Here, we're kinda cheating, because we're including two duels in one. But given both duels involve the two core figures of the Skywalker Saga and the franchise as a whole, we felt it made sense, especially with how impactful both of them are."
Media Man: For Star Wars fans, this was THE ultimate battle of good vs. evil with the heroic Luke Skywalker against the villainous Darth Vader. In Episode 4, the two never really shared any scenes together and certainly had no exchanges with one another so come Episode 5, I imagine audiences were hyped as hell to see these two finally duke it out together in an all-out brawl.
While the lightsaber battling isn't as impressive by today's standards due to being less physical and more grounded, the battle itself is still very well done with David Prowse (the guy in the Vader suit) and Mark Hamill giving it their all as their characters with Mark using a more agile and less refined fighting style to show he's a Jedi in training while David uses a more slow but heavy fighting style to show that Darth Vader is more machine than man as well as being this mighty force of nature that is almost impossible to move. Once again, the environment is used to great effect in this battle, starting off in the cold and misty carbonite chamber where there's a real danger that Luke could suffer Han's fate and then we move on into a narrow corridor which then leads to a huge room with a terrifying drop with not much room to move around so Luke has far less options open when fighting Vader. It's like as the battle goes on, death is closing in on Luke to the point where it feels like he really has no hope of making it out alive. Luke does get a few good hits in, namely when he kicks Vader off the carbonite freezing chamber, but he's ultimately no match for the cyborg Sith and ends up losing a hand in the process while also getting the biggest kick to the gut he could ever receive when Vader gives his shocking and iconic truth bomb to him and the audience...
"No Luke...I am your father."
To say this shocked audiences everywhere is no exaggeration. This was such a well-kept secret that blew everyone's minds that the only people who knew about it at the time were George Lucas (obviously), the director of the movie Irvin Kershner, the screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, Mark Hamill and James Earl Jones (who actually thought Vader was lying at the time). Naturally, this one line of dialogue changed EVERYTHING in the Star Wars universe, both going forward and revisiting the past. I mean who could ever look at A New Hope the same way again after that?
Thomas: "Especially that scene where Obi-Wan said that Vader 'betrayed and murdered Luke's father'. Fun fact: the original plan was that Obi-Wan killed Luke's father, though there would be some truth to that, as you'll see in a little bit.
"Come Episode 6, Luke and Vader once again cross blades; only this time, it's all the more emotional, because Luke is torn between his Jedi duties of destroying the Sith and wanting to save his father from the Dark Side. They duel aboard the second Death Star, before Emperor Palpatine himself, as the Rebel fleet fights to destroy the station and Luke's friends fight on Endor below.
"The fight is much more dynamic, with Mark's moves more refined and precise, and David just managing to counter. They don't move about much, remaining in the throne room, but Luke does kick his father down the steps, and when Luke leaps onto an overhead platform, Vader throws his weapon after him.
"The real meat of the fight is Luke trying to reason with his father, while both Vader and Palpatine constantly tempt him. Knowing Vader's tragic past, you kinda want Luke to succeed, and you feel his pain of fighting his own father. When Vader threatens to turn Leia, whom he learns to be his daughter, Luke flies into a rage, and pounds his father in submission in a surprising brutal display, before hacking off his hand. Almost came close to killing him. And yet, some fans forget that when judging Last Jedi..."
Media Man: And in the aftermath of that battle, the Emperor tries again to further turn Luke to the Dark Side but the Skywalker son refuses and winds up at the end of Emperor Palpatine's Force Lightning, an ability that surprised all who watched it as we had no idea the Sith could do that at the time this movie came out. What then follows is Vader taking a grand final stand that sees him succeed where others have failed: which is killing Emperor Palpatine. I'd say that's a pretty big consequence that comes from a battle, wouldn't you? And with Palpatine gone, Vader is truly back to the good side and ends up passing away in Luke's arms as a hero, finally fulfilling his destiny as the Chosen One. And in no way is all that undermined by any future instalments in the franchise...
Oh right, that happened.
Regardless, these two fights are iconic and some of Star Wars' biggest and most impactful moments ever for a myriad of reasons. It's the ultimate battle of good vs. evil between a father who lost his way and a son who knows that there's still good in him...
And the Number 1 Best Lightsaber Duel Is... Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker
Be realistic here folks, what else was going to be Number 1 on a list like this? There was always going to be only one winner in this countdown and it's this one.
Thomas: "Whether people like the Prequels or not, everyone and their grandmother can agree the Duel on Mustafar is every flavour of awesome!
"This fight has it all: fast-paced choreography, amazing music, intense emotion, epic use of the environment, nail-biting steaks and long-lasting consequences!
"Firstly, there's the overall context: Obi-Wan and Anakin have been friends for 13 years. By this point, having fought alongside each other many times throughout the Clone Wars, they're practically brothers. Yet now, Anakin, overcome with fear, has turned to the Dark Side and slaughtered countless Jedi. Plus, in a moment, he's choked his own wife, Padme. And Obi-Wan is now faced with the prospect of killing the boy he himself raised and trained in Qui-Gon's honour.
"Then, there's the choreography. Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen spent days practising for this duel, and it clearly pays off. Their fighting is remarkable, and isn't sped off at all. They're really fighting that fast! Anakin is whaling on Obi-Wan with furious power blows, and Obi-Wan is giving ground, parrying each attack, as they duel through the lava refinery and control room."
Media Man: Indeed-y. This fight is one hell of a spectacle to watch with everything leading into it and everything that's going on. I love how the fight has so much character in it too with Anakin's fighting style showing so much rage and hatred as he's swiftly and brutally trying to slice Obi-Wan to ribbons while Obi-Wan's fighting style shows he's more lenient and not so willing to kill, even if it's something he knows he has to do, hence his reliance on defensive parries and blows over Anakin's more attack heavy moves.
And then we have the environment. This is one of those battles that moves all over the place, and I do mean ALL over! We go from the wide open but relative safety of the landing docks to a big control room to outside the control centre itself and then to falling pieces of the building as the lava destroys bits of it and then the remainder of the fight takes place on the raging lava river itself. I'd almost say the environment itself is symbolic of Anakin's hate and anger in the moment: fired up and destroying everything around him, having nothing but his rage to carry him on in life.
Eventually, the battle reaches its heart-breaking end when Obi-Wan has that thing that has been memed to death already and Anakin pays the price for underestimating the power of having said thing that has been memed to death, losing his other arm and his legs in the process while Obi-Wan stands victorious, but far from triumphant. This is a hollow victory for him as he's well and truly lost the man he considered a brother and all that's left is a dismembered mess of a man who can only scream his hatred for him as he is then set alight by the lava and left for dead as Obi-Wan leaves, though this wouldn't be the end for Anakin as we know...
Thomas: "There's also the epic music 'Battle of the Heroes' courtesy of John Williams, which perfectly accentuates the tragedy of the situation and the epic scale on which the fight takes place.
"Also, it's pretty clear that, though Obi-Wan did win, it was no easy feat. He and Anakin were fairly even throughout, and it's highly likely that Anakin could have won, thus altering the fate of the whole galaxy…
"At the end of it all, Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader is complete, with his cybernetic reconstruction and news that Padme has died, breaking him completely. A tragic end to Anakin's tragic fall. But all is not lost, what with Luke and Leia's birth…
"All this, plus the far, FAR reaching consequences of this Mustafar duel, and its overall length of about 14 minutes, make this, without any doubt, the best Star Wars lightsaber duel of all time! George Lucas wanted to cap off the final Star Wars film (at the time) with a bang, and he did it with a volcanic explosion!"
Media Man: With high-octane action, heart-breaking drama, fantastic acting and choreography from the duellists in action, thrilling soundtrack and far-reaching consequences that impact everything that comes afterwards, this is without a doubt the Number 1 Greatest Lightsaber duel...
And that's it for this list. I thank you all for reading and hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to comment below about your own personal favourite lightsaber battles and which ones you think were the best.
And a special thank you to my guest for this post, Thomas, for joining me on this epic journey through the best of Star Wars action. It's been a pleasure to have you here, mate.
Thomas: "It has been a real privilege, Media Man. And to all you Star Wars fans as well."
(He draws his lightsaber again, salutes the audience and bows deeply.)
Thomas: "And now, I must go. But expect to see me again in a couple of months. Until then, May the Forty-Fifth be with you all!"
(He bows again and departs)
Media Man: May the 4th be with you all. Join me tomorrow when I go into my first Media Essay which will be about why Ash and Paul's rivalry was so good. See you then, everyone!
Star Wars belongs to Disney/LucasFilms
Special thanks to my friend, TCH2 whom you can find on DeviantArt and FanFiction.Net