Fans of Star Wars all like the iconic franchise for different reasons.
For some, it’s the X-Wings and Tie Fighters and dogfights in space. For others, it was the cool, handsome and cocky Han Solo that drew us in – or the beeps and boops from R2-D2, growls from Chewbacca, the heroics of Luke, or the leadership of Leia. And for others, it was the mystique of the Force, the battle between light and dark, mind tricks, wizardry and, as Han says, hokey religions.
And a lot of us remember the first time we saw a lightsaber ignite. Whether it was Luke waving his father’s lightsaber around in old Ben Kenobi’s cave, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan drawing theirs to discard some Trade Federation droids, or Kylo Ren using his crossguard saber to intimidate a band of Resistance fighters.
In the movies and television shows, lightsaber duels – or, in the case of The Last Jedi, fights involving lightsabers – are some of the coolest and consequential moments in Star Wars. It’s where fates are altered, destinies are changed, challenges are overcome, and bonds either grow stronger or completely break. These scenes can be awesome and fantastic, and also heartbreaking and emotional. The best ones are both.
In celebration of May the Fourth, what follows here is a completely unscientific and unofficial ranking of the best lightsaber duels on-screen in Star Wars.
May the Fourth be with you
Mace Windu vs. Sheev Palpatine
This is worthy of mentioning because it’s one of the few times in the movies that we get to see Mace Windu and Darth Sidious wield their lightsabers. It’s ranked low because this fight is over rather quickly (and for the weird faces Palpatine makes while fighting). Palpatine quickly trashes the other three Jedi accompanying Mace (RIP Kit Fisto), and then, about two minutes later, Palpatine is on his back and staring at defeat. That is, until Anakin swoops in.
There’s also just something kind of spectacular about Mace’s purple blade clashing with Palpatine’s red.
Of course, this fight is important because it’s the first real Darth Vader moment from Anakin.
Luke vs. Darth Vader (Empire Strikes Back)
Is this one of the most crucial sequences in the franchise? Absolutely, yes.
But is it a competitive fight? Not really. This is like when you’re 13 and you finally think you can beat your Dad in one-on-one out in the driveway and he just absolutely mercy-rules you.
This duel starts with Vader basically throwing Luke to the ground with a block, and about a minute later he disarms him. For the rest of the fight, Vader physically and mentally toys with Luke, and then he slices off his hand. And then he tells Luke who is daddy is.
Vader 21, Luke 0.
Finn and Rey vs. Kylo Ren
Kylo Ren tries to do his best impression of his granddaddy here, playing with and taunting Finn while Rey is temporarily out of the picture. Finn holds his own for about a bit – even delivering a blow to his opponent’s shoulder (which, not bad for a rookie) – but then Kylo Ren punches him and slices him up the back.
And then, Rey wakes up, picks up Luke’s lightsaber and this duel gets real fun. Kylo Ren has Rey playing defense for the majority of the fight, but then she taps into the Force and flips the tables. Eventually, Rey delivers a non-lethal, but nonetheless defeating blow to cap off The Force Awakens.
Also, we need more lightsaber duels in wintery conditions.
Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader (Kenobi Series)
“Have you come to destroy me, Obi-Wan?”
“I will do what I must.”
A lot of folks have complaints about the Obi-Wan Kenobi television series, but the six-episode Disney+ show had some real emotional high points and a handful of memorable scenes. None were better than the fight between a master and his former apprentice on a dark and dusty planet. This is the moment where Obi-Wan finally tells himself that his friend – Anakin Skywalker – is truly dead. And we’re supposed to believe that this is what influences Obi-Wan’s “from a certain point of view” style of truth-telling when he’s telling Luke about his father in the original trilogy. Still, Obi-Wan can’t bring himself to kill Vader.
This fight is also noteworthy because it’s – timeline wise – Vader in his prime as a Sith Lord. Among the live-action Star Wars films and TV shows, this is the most mobile, physical and powerful we’ve ever seen Vader, as he casually tosses boulders at Obi-Wan and makes the ground beneath him quake.
Kenobi holds his own though. He slices up Vader’s mask and sends him into an emotional defeat wheezing.
“Anakin is gone. I am what remains.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Anakin. For all of it.”
“I am not your failure, Obi-Wan. You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.”
Ahsoka vs. Darth Maul
“Obi-Wan was right. You are difficult to kill.”
If you’re one of those people who have avoided watching The Clone Wars or Rebels, I urge you to simply watch the final four episodes of Season 7 of The Clone Wars, which takes place at the same time as the events in Revenge of the Sith. While Obi-Wan is pursuing General Grievous and Anakin is spiraling, Ahsoka is on Mandalore where Darth Maul (yes, animated show holdouts, he’s alive) has seized control. It comes down to her twin blue sabers against his iconic double-bladed red one, and it’s really spectacular.
And duels involving Ahsoka are mostly great. We may have to alter this list after the release of her live-action show.
Luke vs. Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi)
Luke has grown up. He’s a little faster, a little stronger and a little smarter. His handle has improved, he can block shots and make layups. He can finally beat Daddy Vader in the driveway.
This is Luke at his peak. He pulls off the backflip, he cuts off his dad’s fake hand and puts him on his back.
Of course, Luke shows his father mercy, paving the way for his dad to save him from the Emperor.
Throne Room Fight (The Last Jedi)
Fine. This isn’t really a duel. But it’s fight that features multiple lightsabers and other shiny weapons. It’s stunning, brutal, and extremely well-choregraphed. The final two kills are wildly awesome, and it is simply one of the best-looking action sequences in Star Wars. Bravo, Rian Johnson.
Ahsoka vs. Darth Vader
“Revenge is not the Jedi way.”
“I am no Jedi.”
I still get chills when I watch this. Again, folks, watch The Clone Wars and Rebels.
After years apart, Ahsoka and Anakin are face-to-face again for a brief battle in Rebels, the apprentice facing her master. Ahsoka quickly accepts that Anakin is gone and she is fighting a Sith Lord, with her cool white sabers clashing against his powerful red one. And she doesn’t hold back. Vader knocks her away momentarily, but she recovers to allow Ezra and Kanaan to escape.
That’s the moment where a piece of Vader’s mask falls off, and whatever remains of Anakin calls out to her.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul
I’m not sure what I can say about this fight that hasn’t already been said. With apologies to pod-racing, it’s easily the best sequence in The Phantom Menace, and the great John Williams produced an all-time iconic score to go with it.
In addition to the sounds and choreography, the meaning behind this fight is monumental to the story that unfolds throughout the franchise.
Dave Filoni can explain it better than I can.
Dave Filoni on the importance of Duel of the Fates in 'The Phantom Menace'pic.twitter.com/0HCpMbryCQ
— Culture Crave 🍿 (@CultureCrave) May 10, 2020
Obi-Wan vs. Anakin
“I hate you!”
“You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.”
This one has everything. Emotion, long-lasting impact, fantastic stunts, a good score and an aggressive and visceral dueling style that some of the others lack. It has moments that are captivating, compelling and tragic. It makes us sit on the edge of our seat and say “Whoa!” and then breaks our hearts moments later.
Unlike some of the others on this list, this battle is dark, gritty and heavy. It’s between not just a former master and apprentice; but between two men who once thought of each other as brothers, and who now feel betrayed by each other.
And it all happens on a planet made out of lava. What more could you want?