The lightsaber is perhaps the most iconic prop in movie history. For the last 40 years, children (and adults) have spent countless hours stabbing each other with sharp sticks, making silly noises and humming the Star Wars theme until they're too tired to function. You did it too. Don't even try to deny it.
But what's a lightsaber without a duel? Sure, there's the odd unwarranted dismemberment or training session, but for the most part, Star Wars action is defined by its (mostly) one-on-one, lightsaber vs. lightsaber clashes. From Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul to Rey and Kylo Ren, the Star Wars saga is littered with fantastic (and not so fantastic) duels. Aside from the original, every movie has ended with a lightsaber battle of epic proportions — but which is the best?
In this entirely "official" and totally "not subjective" list, I've decided to rank every exclusively lightsaber duel from the seven movies in the Star Wars saga. That means no Finn vs. Spinny-Spin-Spin and no Obi-Wan vs. Grievous's Magnaguards.
14. Yoda Vs. Count Dooku (Episode II: Attack Of The Clones)
This duel is definitely the weakest of the franchise. What we're watching here is Christopher Lee's stunt double randomly swinging a rubber pole at a tennis ball on a stick on a green screen sound stage. There's no substance to the battle; it just feels so artificial. An elegant weapon from a more civilized age? Apparently not.
And don't get me started on the fact that it ruined Yoda. Last time I checked, Yoda existed to show that the Force didn't have to be fueled by aggression and violence and that a Jedi didn't need a lightsaber to prove their worth. But oh, no maybe not. Maybe he's just better off as another soulless CGI flurry of lightsaber noises and over-the-top action.
13. Obi Wan Vs. Grievous (Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith)
This one had the same kinda vibe as No. 13, only this time it didn't ruin a key theme of the franchise. In this fight, Obi-Wan Kenobi and a glorified video game character lock blades for like 20 seconds and then run away. That's the extent of the duel. It's followed by a shifty-looking chase scene that hasn't aged brilliantly and an admittedly fun punch-up that ends in a blaze of glory for Obi-Wan.
What drags this duel down so much though is its lack of any real gravitas. Grievous has been on screen for about five minutes before now and we know nothing about him and we know Obi-Wan is going to go on and live another day just from the movie's promotion. Sure it's fun to watch, but it lacks the excitement of some of the other duels.
12. Anakin And Obi-Wan Vs. Count Dooku (Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith)
OK, so there's nothing really wrong with this duel. The choreography ranges from OK to pretty good and the effects still hold up today. However, nothing really happens. Sure, Anakin kills Dooku in the end and Palpatine pushes his Dark Side agenda big time, but otherwise, nothing makes it particularly memorable.
Seriously, try and name on thing about the actual bulk of the fight that hasn't already been done to death? Fast paced slice-and-dice? The Phantom Menace did it already. The bad guy trying to provoke the hero? Attack of the Clones did it with THE EXACT SAME CHARACTERS! One hero being incapacitated during the duel in an unnecessarily violent manner? Try every lightsaber battle in the prequel trilogy so far. This one's good, but it's just sooooo bland.
11. Luke Vs. Dark Spirit (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
When I first saw The Empire Strikes Back, I had no idea what the hell was going on in this scene. Why was Darth Vader on Dagobah? Why did he die? Why was Luke Darth Vader? It was only much much later that I realized it was all meant to be an illusion to aid Luke in his training and not just a hideous plot hole that even "The Force" couldn't explain. Hell, it was only when researching for this article did I realize the whole thing was just a Dark Side manifestation knows as Dark Spirit.
What I'm trying to say is, to the typical fan, this duel makes little to no sense. It's also really short and unexciting and The Empire Strikes Back would still be the best Star Wars movie without it. In fact, the only reason it's not lower on the list is because ultimately, it is Luke's first onscreen duel and his first (albeit faked) interaction with his father. So yeah, completely unnecessary. Next!
10. Qui-Gon Vs. Darth Maul (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
Aside from the score, The Phantom Menace's greatest achievement is its fight choreography. While the technical limitations of the late '70s and early '80s had forced the crew to focus less on the action and more on the characters and the emotion in the original trilogy, the prequels had no such barrier. Admittedly, character development did suffer as a result.
However, that aside, they did give us some of the most visually stunning action sequences ever seen in a movie at the time. The first of these scenes, featuring Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn on Tatooine, did not disappoint. Sure it was kinda soulless and didn't last that long, but damn, did you see that awesome flip? It was fast paced and had lots of flashy colors and, when bearing in mind the intended audience for the prequels, isn't that all that mattered?
9. Anakin And Obi Wan Vs. Count Dooku (Episode II: Attack Of The Clones)
When he's not off slaughtering natives and hating sand, Anakin Skywalker is apparently not all that bad with a lightsaber or two. Crappy dialogue aside, this battle was the first point in the movie where — as a mindless audience member — I felt like Anakin was a real human being with real human emotions. He got angry when Dooku tried to kill Obi-Wan. He felt pain when he got blasted with Force Lightning. He dual-wielded a pair of lightsabers which, surprisingly, had never been done before. He also got brutally maimed and shut up for a bit.
It's far from perfect, though. Obi-Wan and Anakin still feel miles apart rather than the close friends George Lucas has told us they are. Some of the choreography is a bit dumb too, but all things considered, it's forgivable. At least there were real people involved in this fight, unlike the atrocious CGI mess that immediately followed. By default, it's not even that bad.
8. Yoda Vs. Darth Sidious (Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith)
This sequence was so stupid. Unbelievably stupid. When I watched it I could feel my brains cells decaying like cotton candy in hot water. Also it's so much fun. Aside from ruining both Yoda and The Emperor by giving them lightsabers, this battle is a never-ending rollercoaster of pure unadulterated lunacy. Palpatine is fantastic throughout and still manages to maintain a level of respect despite being thrown backwards over his chair by a pretend muppet.
The real highlight though comes from the second half, where both combatants have lost their lightsabers and are just launching anything they can get their telekinetic mitts on. If Yoda's battle with Dooku ruined his character, this battle redeemed it. A force-throwing duel was exactly what the franchise needed to show Yoda was still just as powerful back in the day as he was during his twilight years on Dagobah.
7. Obi Wan Vs. Darth Vader (Episode IV: A New Hope)
If you listen carefully, you can hear the fanboys let out a deep sigh of relief, happy that I didn't put this one first. I can understand why people aren't too keen on this one (and everyone's entitled to an opinion), but in this particular case, they're all wrong. While not as fast paced or exciting as some of the other duels on this list, Obi-Wan's last stand against his former apprentice is one of the most important clashes in the whole saga. Additionally, have you actually watched it recently? All things considered, it's not even that bad. Both sides have some fast moves here and there and the choreography is far from terrible. It deserves a lot more praise than it gets.
From Obi-Wan taunting Vader into a reckless attack to his final act that allows Luke, Han and Leia to escape, the battle is full of powerful scenes and excellent dialogue between the two duelists. Give it another go — I'm sure you'll find it's not nearly as dull as you remember.
6. Mace Windu Vs. Darth Sidious Vs. Anakin (Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith)
Mace Windu's character makes me feel really sad sometimes. As an actor, Samuel L. Jackson was criminally underused in the prequels and as a result, Mace Windu was never really taken seriously. This duel against Palpatine is the only time we really get to see him in action.
So yeah, there is some undeniably awful dialogue delivery from everyone involved in this sequence, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. The choreography is slick, the visuals are stunning and, despite the questionable acting in places, you can feel the raw emotion bleeding through in every frame. From Palpatine's face melting into a scrotum to Mace's inevitable betrayal, this scene stands as the ultimate turning point in the Star Wars saga, where things started going from bad to worse. Also a load of Expanded Universe characters got massacred, which was fun.
5. Obi Wan Vs. Anakin (Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith)
If there's one thing the prequels knew how to do to the point of exhaustion, it was flashy lightsaber duels. Of them all, many regard this one — the final clash between our heroes — to be the best. From the fiery landscape to the equally fiery emotion prevalent throughout the whole sequence, everything about this battle oozes epic.
I mean to be fair, it's not perfect. Some of the effects haven't aged all that well and chunks of it really lack that visceral tone that fueled the original trilogy. However, when you take into account that this scene was made in 2005, it really shines as both a fantastic piece of storytelling and a technical marvel. There really isn't much else to say about it. It's become as iconic as any scene from the original trilogy and has (mostly) stood the test of time. It's also got a fantastic score.
4. Finn And Rey Vs. Kylo Ren (Episode VII: The Force Awakens)
I remember watching the final duel of The Force Awakens for the first time. To me, it was near flawless. The choreography was fast and made sense given the context (Rey going for a stabby-stabby motion after being trained to use a staff) and it gave me everything I wanted. From Kylo toying with Finn a la Vader and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back to Rey's final offensive, everything about the duel just felt so real. The lightsabers actually felt dangerous and weighty like they did before the prequels made them super-ultra-power-sticks-that-cut-through-anything.
So why isn't it No. 1? Well, despite everything, it's nowhere near as memorable as the top three. When you think of iconic scenes from The Force Awakens, what comes to mind? The bridge scene? The escape from Jakku in the Falcon? Maybe the X-Wings over the water on Takodana? The duel at the end is great and all, but it just doesn't hold a candle to any of the clashes between Luke and his father in the original trilogy. Otherwise, yeah it's perfect. Next!
3. Qui-Gon And Obi-Wan Vs. Darth Maul (Episode I: The Phantom Menace)
The Phantom Menace is, at best, a polarizing movie. At worst, it's an insult to the franchise with little to no redeeming features. However, regardless of your opinion, there's no denying this duel was pretty freaking awesome to watch. Ray Park is fantastic as Darth Maul, giving us a martial arts style of fighting that hadn't been seen before in Star Wars.
The action was fast and never let up and the effects for 1999 were phenomenal. The setting, although a tad garish, was beautiful and the strength of Ewan McGregor's performance as Obi-Wan in the final showdown was enough to forgive the arguably shoddy acting throughout the movie. This is the duel that makes The Phantom Menace still worth watching despite its misgivings. Just give it another go; I promise you won't be disappointed.
2. Luke Vs. Darth Vader (Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi)
If it were entirely up to me, this would be number one. Of all the scenes in all the movies in all the franchises in all the world, this is probably my favorite. The Emperor is both entertaining and terrifying simultaneously and John Williams' score is haunting throughout. By all accounts, it's a fantastic piece of filmmaking that'll keep you hooked from the get go.
In fact, my only real criticism is that there's very little in the way of dueling. Even then, though, the space is filled with an intense verbal showdown between father and son and the Emperor showing off just how many strings he's been pulling since the very beginning. In fact, scratch that first statement — it's not a complaint at all. From their first clash by the Emperor's throne to Luke's brief descent into the Dark Side, the whole battle is fueled by emotional dialogue and action that was vastly superior to anything the genre had to offer in the early eighties. In fact, there are only five words preventing it from taking the No. 1 spot. And so, ladies and gentlemen:
1. Luke Vs. Darth Vader (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
"No, I am your father."
It's only right that the No. 1 spot goes to not just the most iconic sequence in Star Wars, but one of the most iconic sequences in cinema as a whole. The battle in Cloud City did everything right, from the gloomy setting to the fast paced action to the final stand off, showing that sometimes, the good guys don't always win.
There's really nothing more to say. I doubt you'll find someone on the planet that wouldn't immediately recognize any scene from the sequence as being from Star Wars. It defined science fiction for a generation and is regularly found atop best movie moments lists that have actual credibility.