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Media Essays: The Mustafar Duel Shot-By-Shot (May the 4th Special)

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Happy Star Wars Day everybody!


And boy do I have the perfect way to celebrate this day. I've decided to do another shot-by-shot analysis essay and I'm doing one on arguably the most famous lightsaber duel in the entire Star Wars saga. Star Wars is full of iconic moments with some of the most recognizable imagery in cinema history be it the unique looking characters that are easy to identify or the many big moments in the movies that we can never forget, be it good or bad. And for this shot-by-shot, I'm looking into one of the best scenes in Star Wars history. That scene...is the Mustafar duel.


This was the duel that Episode 3's entire marketing campaign was built around pretty much. The final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin was basically THE reason to go and watch the movie back then and much of the merchandise at the time would depict this battle from sticker books to an action figure playset and even some online games on the website at the time. It's my favourite scene in Revenge of the Sith and for Star Wars Day, I want to analyse it shot-by-shot to gush over why I love it so much.


But I'm not here to have all the fun. I have a guest with me today, and he's another one who loves this scene too. Readers, please give a warm welcome to my brother, Captain Conroy!


CC: Hello everyone, great to be on the blog as always whenever I contribute something here and it's certainly my pleasure to be joining in with this blogpost as the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar is my favourite duel in the whole franchise.


MM: Yeah, he's enthusiastic to be here, couldn't you tell? XD


So without further ado, let's dive in and see why the Force is so strong with this scene...


The Duel

Scene 2

The duel begins with Anakin in the foreground of the shot and Obi-Wan in the background. Anakin stands defiant and confident with his back turned to Obi-Wan while Obi-Wan stares him down, weapon in hand and ready to begin. It's evident by Haydren Christensen's acting and expression in this scene that Anakin has no fear about what he's in for. He's facing his old friend and mentor and he's NOT scared to do so. Obi-Wan by comparison looks more hesitant and not quite as eager to get started. He knows he has to do this, but he also knows he won't like it. A great shot to begin things off.

Scene 1

Anakin backflips into action which transitions to an overhead shot of him somersaulting through the air to give us a clear shot of his acrobatics in action. Then we cut to a side-on view of the duo with Anakin positioned stage left and Obi-Wan positioned stage right. The duel has begun and both of them have their lightsabers in hand, already slicing and parrying one another. Straight off the bat, so much character is displayed here through their battle styles. Anakin comes on aggressive and heavy, forcing Obi-Wan to take the defensive approach and back away. This beautifully demonstrates the combatants and what their aim is in this battle: Obi-Wan is fighting to save himself and stop his Padawan. Anakin is fighting to kill and he's NOT holding back.

Scene 3

CC: Indeed so - and all the while the both of them are performing some amazing spinning around techniques - this plus the speed they are already going swinging their lightsabers and the camera following their movements and the way it'll spin around them as we'll see later certainly adds an air of adrenaline and excitement as we the audience can feel the genuine sense of danger as both of these characters face off. People seems to love having a sense of adrenaline watching fast paced action scenes - I certainly know I do and this scene utilises this perfectly. Can you just imagine being there in the cinema when it first came out or remember being in the cinema watching it when it first came out? The stakes are indeed very high as this is what the prequel trilogy had been leading up to and it's down to the two key characters.

Scene 4

MM: The fight makes its way across a bridge and the camera follows Obi-Wan and Anakin as they make their way into the Mustafar base. Now inside, they're no longer at risk of what's outside, but the situation isn't any less dangerous for them both. If anything, this set makes it so they will have the background potentially getting in the way or being used to their advantage and they have less room to move about now they're in a building. Also it seems rather fitting that the two end up in here since Anakin in an earlier scene slaughtered all the Seperatists leaders. Now the audience is left wondering will this building become their graves next? Granted we know that won't be the case because both are still alive in the original trilogy but still.

Scene 5

We then transition into a corridor shot with Anakin still being the aggressor and Obi-Wan the defender here. I also imagine Obi-Wan might be getting a sense of déjà vu here since back in Episode 1, he and Qui-Gon confronted Darth Maul in a narrow corridor at one point.


CC: Of course, this time though there are no deflector shields getting in their way. But furthermore to this, like what was said earlier about the background, sparks fly off as both of the combatants blades scrape against the walls of the corridor which now adds a sense of fright as sparks fly off the walls where their sabers hit and what's more, once again it doesn't make things any less dangerous for both characters as naturally during any kind of battle there can only be one victor.

Scene 6

Once cleared of the corridor - they are now in the room where the separatist's bodies lie and in only a matter of seconds - they clash again and Anakin wrestles Obi-Wan's blade to one side and it hits a computer system. Definitely take not of that as that will come into further play later on.


MM: Quite so CC. The set begins to get wrecked as the fight causes the two to hit computer systems, creating huge explosions of sparks and smoke and we see clear as crystal how the situation is escalating here. With the scenery around them getting damaged, we can only anticipate what will happen if something critical breaks here.

Scene 7

After a brief interlude where we get Sidious vs. Yoda, we cut back to the two on Mustafar with Anakin grabbing Obi-Wan by the throat and pushing him down to see how low he can go. It's an intense moment with Anakin on top and having Obi-Wan at his mercy while Obi-Wan looks momentarily helpless. And as this is happening, sparks shower down in the background to further spell impending danger for them. Anakin also has Obi-Wan in quite a predicament here in where he's in danger of either suffocating because of his strangling grip, or he can force the lightsaber down on Obi-Wan and make him decapitate himself. Though I must point out something here...

That's ANAKIN'S lightsaber in Obi-Wan's hand there, NOT his own. What I imagine happened was that offscreen, Anakin knocked Obi-Wan's lightsaber away and Obi-Wan snatched Anakin's and that's why we got what's happening here. This is further shown in where Obi-Wan breaks free of Anakin's grip, Anakin kicks Obi-Wan and makes him drop his lightsaber, then Obi-Wan knocks Anakin down and retrieves his own lightsaber while Anakin retrieves his own. There's probably a deleted scene somewhere that might prove my theory but it's funny how I never really noticed that until me and CC were doing this essay. Did any of you notice when you saw the movie or is it something you now won't unsee now it's been pointed out?

Scene 8

After another interlude, we return to the fight as it still carries on in the base and neither side is letting up for a moment. At one point, the two pretty much stop fighting and just show off their fancy saber twirls, to which I dunno if anyone else thought so, but I found this pretty funny. XD


CC: It always was amusing wasn't it? Taking the humorous side out of the equation, this goes to show how they know each other's best moves - especially how they both happen to be doing this at the same time and mirroring each other just about perfectly while doing. I would at least imagine they were building up strength to deliver a deadly blow but that never came as they lock sabers and more often than not - I do get annoyed when they just lock sabers and not do anything else whilst at it. Thankfully this is subverted as they try using a force push on each other. We can see how powerful both characters are as this is a genuine struggle for them both pushing against each other and their faces showing it too as shots between the two show this. It's easy enough pushing someone with the force but when they use it at the same time, well...

Scene 9

They do so well against each other that this happens. They blow each other away. All that's missing is for someone to add blue beams to make it look like they're kamehamehaing each other for those who know Dragon Ball.

Scene 10

But the two remain undeterred as Anakin gets back up and leaps towards Obi-Wan and twirls his saber and brings it crashing down but misses. Obi-Wan then brings his saber down but this results in damaging a major computer system which creates a significant problem they have to face later on as the shields protecting the base from lava are disabled.


MM: An overhead shot of the base outside shows the shields going off after the system is damaged. This clues the audience in that the fight is about to get bigger and more intense now there's the threat of the lava that could come down on the base and melt everything.

Scene 11

The combatants end up outside of the base, which further escalates the danger and threat presented to them. They're no longer in the safety of the base now, they're outside and they have more than each other's lightsabers to worry about. They could fall to their deaths or get burnt alive by the lava. Either way, the tension has risen and we're now left to wonder how this fight will end. The fight sees Obi-Wan and Anakin on a narrow pipe tensely moving towards each other with other head shots circling around them to further sell the illusion that they're high up and there's a long way to fall if they slip and tumble. I like how they move more slowly and tensely here to show that even they know what awaits them if they misstep and so they have to be more cautious. They even have to stop a moment to regain their balance as they start to wobble precariously. Luckily, there's a safe spot for them to jump down to and the fight moves on to there.

Scene 12

And then we get this shot, an absolutely awesome side view shot with both Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christen in frame together, locked in mortal combat as lava erupts all around them. This shot was so iconic and naturally EVERY DAMN TRAILER FOR THE MOVIE would feature it. Me and CC even jokingly call it the "trailer shot" because of it. This one shot sums up the Mustafar duel as a whole: two friends turned enemies locked together in a fight for their lives where death can come at the blades of their lightsabers or the searing hot lava in the background. The lava could also be a metaphor for Anakin's rage here: it's reached boiling point and he's erupting with anger and hatred. All he wants now is to burn and destroy everything in his path, which is what lava does when it erupts.

Scene 13

CC: Yes, we certainly do call it the trailer shot. And it was so good they had to do another one straight afterwards when Palpatine sends troopers to search for Yoda and for his shuttle to be prepared while they utilise spinning moves on each other. We still have lava exploding as well. But this is a significant part of the duel as while they're still going fast, they are notably beginning to slow down as they are beginning to tire. And it's easy to see why what with no doubt all the heat going on around them and I'm not just talking about the stakes or Anakin's hatred. From the moment they're out on the beam and it especially starts to get noticeable here - you can see them sweating and breathing heavier as the duel goes on. The sweat being on both their brows and their clothes and to can see bits of battle damage probably coming from ashes and all other hot things coming from the lava.

Scene 14
Scene 15

As you can see - but it shows more on Obi-Wan as his clothes are significantly lighter than Anakin's. But this brings us to our next shot as lava falls on the beam that Anakin and Obi-Wan are standing on so they take cover from the raining sparks and prepare as the beam gives way and falls.

Scene 16

And as it does so, they grab the nearest thing they can as the beam plummets into the lava. Luckily they're high enough so they don't get burnt to a crisp and they continue to duel their way up the beam - that is until Obi-Wan grabs a cord and swings on it leading Anakin to do the same.


MM: We're now in the deadliest situation possible for the two. Now they're battling on a literal river of lava and their only lifeline is a huge metal beam that's melting and falling to bits in the lava. If their lightsabers don't kill each other, then the lava will.

Scene 17

After a clash swinging through the air, the two move onto another battlefield. This time, they've only got a floating platform and a droid respectively. It's such a neat detail in this duel that their battlefield continuously shrinks as it goes along to raise the danger levels. We start from going inside the base to a narrow walkway to a beam that breaks and falls into lava and now we're on these small footholds that are barely big enough to hold the two. The danger is bigger than ever now as one wrong foot could see them plunging into lava. The fight continues with some panning shots and up close shots of both Obi-Wan and Anakin clashing weapons. Then they take a moment to stop and stare each other down as we get an exchange of words between them.

Scene 18
Scene 19

We alternate between up-close shots of Ewan and Hayden's faces as they have their exchange on morality and who's the evil one. Both actors are on top form here with Ewan expressing desperation, frustration AND regret all at once while Hayden looks like the embodiment of rage with that piercing scowl on his face. Obi-Wan makes one last desperate plea to Anakin but Anakin isn't having any of it. In his point of view, the Jedi are evil. He is lost, beyond reproach and Obi-Wan has to accept it unfortunately. It emphasizes so beautifully how personal, emotional and heart-breaking this duel is for both sides and it only makes it more tragic that it had to go this way for Obi-Wan and Anakin.

Scene 20

Anakin leaps onto the floating platform and the two clash weapons once more. As with the earlier examples, this is yet again the battlefield shrinking as the duel goes on. Now the two are stuck sharing one platform and they have nowhere else to go, so all they can do is fight. And given we're now at the last remains of their strength, the two are noticeably slower than when they started. It's clear as crystal to the audience that they're getting tired and the duel can't go on much longer. Somebody HAS to give way eventually...


CC: Very true, and this little battlefield certainly showed as Obi-Wan swung and Anakin but he missed and Anakin has to regain balance before fighting on. They manage to continue until Obi-Wan leaps off and lands safely on solid ground. And yes before anyone says...

Scene 21

"I have the high ground!"


Yes and it became a meme and I addressed it - happy now?


But Anakin truly becomes reckless and gets too overconfident in his abilities by challenging that and ignoring Obi-Wan's plea begging him not to try. He does a successful flip, but it costs him his left arm and legs, further showing how Vader became the more machine than man that Obi-Wan described to Luke in Episode 6 and thus this ends the duel. Obi-Wan wins.

Scene 22

But it's a very sombre victory as yes he has won, but at what cost? He has still lost his old padawan as he is now consumed by the dark side and of course from a certain point of view (you see what I did there) this is the end of Anakin Skywalker. This doesn't ignore the fact that most of the Jedi are now dead and any remaining will later be left to the mercy of Darth Vader and his Inquisitors. Padme is hanging on by a thread and will later die after giving birth to Luke and Leia and the Republic is now gone with The Empire rising from the ashes. And Obi-Wan leaves Anakin to the mercy of the lava setting his clothes alight but not before we get the ultimate tear-jerker as Obi-Wan screams at Anakin how he should have destroyed the Sith and not joined them and then he carries away his saber to pass down to Luke years later leaving Anakin in screaming agony and pain. I can't even begin to imagine how much pain he must be in.

Scene 23

MM: And thus ends the duel and this scene as a whole. We have a despondent Obi-Wan exiting the scene as he goes up the hill with Anakin's burning, flaming body left behind as he can only feebly scream in anguish. It's the shot that says it all: Obi-Wan is victorious, but it's a very pyrrhic victory and Anakin is left behind to perish, but instead he'll go on to be reformed into Darth Vader as we know it. It's such a suitably sombre note for the duel to end on, and yet it's got a twinge of hope to it too. With Obi-Wan surviving, there's a chance that things can turn for the better in the galaxy, and we all know how that turns out in the original trilogy...


Conclusion


Is it even worth stating the obvious here? This scene was awesome back in 2005 and it's STILL awesome now! George Lucas directed his ass off here and his team were no slouches either with some incredible shots and angles, stellar choreography from the actors, incredible effects that make everything look convincing and real and fantastic performances from Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. This scene has aged so well and still keeps me on the edge of my seat whenever I watch it. As time goes on, it'll only continue to wow and amaze viewers whenever they watch this movie. It's the lightsaber duel to top all lightsaber duels and one epic scene for the final installment in the prequel trilogy.


CC: That it is - that it is. And even to this day no other lightsaber duel has topped it. The best one in my eyes since then was Darth Vader and Obi-Wan's second face off in Kenobi but even still, it's a way off matching this one. Praise goes out to everyone involved, most definitely Ewan and Hayden in particular working so hard to get the moves right and for practising and practising for hours and hours every day up until filming.


MM: There's no denying so much effort went into this fight. They worked hard and it paid off, and we got a piece of cinematic glory to enjoy for years to come.


If I were to list any, I'd say my favourite shots in the Mustafar duel are:


  1. The lightsaber twirl off (for how unintentionally funny it is)

  2. The trailer shot

  3. The face shots of Ewan and Hayden as they exchange words

  4. Anakin's grapple with Obi-Wan


And finally, the lingering shot of Obi-Wan walking away from Anakin.


And that's about it for this essay. I hope you enjoyed it and I'd love to hear your comments down below. What are your favourite shots in this scene? Do tell. And special thanks goes to Captain Conroy for joining me for this essay.


CC: Absolutely - it's been a great pleasure for me to join in with this one. I'll be seeing you guys the next time I contribute to the blog, which will be around Christmas time as I contrast and compare different Scrooges and I'll definitely see you then if not before. Until next time - peace and love.


MM: Hope to have you again soon bro. ^^ In the meantime, Happy Star Wars Day everybody. May the 4th be with you and I'll see you all next time.

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Jacob Coad
Jacob Coad
10 de mai.

The fight between Obi-Wan and Vader was quite the climax to close out the prequel trilogy, no doubt. :D

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