Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was around favourite book settings (a shout out to magical schools), however, I am going to something extremely different (it’s very, very off topic) and instead have a go at listing and ranking my favourite lightsaber duels from the Star Wars franchise.
Anyone who has ever seen a Star Wars movie or television show will know the amazing cultural phenomenon that is the lightsaber duel. Inspired by the duels from Japanese samurai films, a classic lightsaber duel features two opposing enemies, one armed with a brilliant blue or noble green energy blade, fighting against their evil opponent wielding a menacing red blade. First appearing in the very first Star Wars film all those years ago, the lightsaber duel is an essential staple of the franchise, and something about the clashing blades of light has resonated with fans throughout the years. Naturally, every new filmmaker or animator has attempted to put their own unique spin on the classic duel, with many different variations of fighting style, number of opponents and lightsaber types, featured in the subsequent films and extended media. However, no matter how complex or unique it gets, the fans always appreciate these epic flashes of combat, even if most are brief by design to keep up the emulation of samurai sword fights or pistol duels from Westerns. After enjoying the cool new show, Star Wars: Visions, which featured multiple inventive lightsaber duels, I thought I would take this opportunity to try and list some of my favourite duels from the Star Wars franchise. This is a topic I have been considering for a while, and it fits nicely with some recent lists I have done, such as my recent list ranking the various Star Wars films, and my previous list about my favourite anime series.
To pull this list together, I started writing down all my favourite lightsaber duels from films, television shows and animated series to see how many there were. I decided early on to exclude duels from static media such as comics or tie-in novels, which I might explore in a later Top Ten Tuesday. I also limited this list to proper lightsaber duels, where all the key participants have a lightsaber, so this excludes a few cool moments, such as Vader cutting down rebels in Rogue One or Luke destroying those droids in The Mandalorian.
Despite these limitations, I ended up with an extremely substantial number of fights, so I ended up turning this into a Top 20 list, just to show off how nerdy I can be (I mean, how much I appreciate the franchise). I still had to cull a few good fights out, but I was able to come up with 20, which I eventually ranked based on a range of considerations, from the quality of the duel, the emotions or story surrounding it, the impacts of the duel on the wider film or series and a range of other factors. I am also marking for cool uses of the Force or other techniques, if they don’t take too much away from it primarily being a lightsaber duel. I am pretty happy with how the below list turned out, and it should be interesting to see how my opinion’s rank up compared to other Star Wars fans out there. Be warned that I might go into some details about some key moments in the Star Wars films and shows, so be aware that a Spoiler Alert is in effect.
Top Ten List (Ranked in Descending Order):
20. Satele Shan and Kao Cen Darach vs Darth Malgus and Darth Vindican – Star Wars: The Old Republic
The first entry on this list comes from an intro cinematic from the Star Wars: The Old Republic computer game. Set thousands of years before the Skywalker Saga, this battle sees two Jedi facing off against two Sith in an epic battle on a space station. Beautifully rendered and extremely well-coordinated, this is a particularly impressive fight, with the four combatants facing off in a brilliant and brutal fight, moving across a hanger bay. This battle features a range of awesome moves and techniques, including one Jedi throwing his lightsaber to block a blow about to kill his apprentice, as well as some awesome dual wielding moments. I love this fight so much as it is beyond awesome, however, it does gets marked down for being a cinematic in a non-canon game that I never played and featuring some characters with no introduction. However, it is still an amazing fight, and it is well worth looking up on Youtube if you want some outstanding Star Wars excitement.
19. Ahoska Tano vs Inquisitors – Star Wars: Rebels
“Unexpected, but not unwelcome.” Ever since her dramatic resignation from the Jedi Order at the end of the fifth season of The Clone Wars, fans were eager to see Ahoska in action again, which happened halfway through the second season of Star Wars: Rebels. Appearing in a heroic burst of light to save Kanan and Ezra from two Imperial Inquisitors, Ahsoka calmly ignited her new white lightsabers for the first time and set to work against the two Jedi-hunters. Ahsoka easily takes her opponents out, even using the Force to overpower her opponent’s control of their red lightsaber. This impressive display of skill and technique really showed viewers how much better Ahoska had gotten over the years and made us anticipate her next major fight even more.
18. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Vader – A New Hope
Next we have the very first lightsaber duel ever, with the iconic encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film. This fight pits the former master and apprentice against each other for the first time in years, and eventually ends with Obi-Wan opening himself up to a blow to merge with the Force: “You can’t win, Darth; if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” While this is a major moment in the franchise and I still get chills when Obi-Wan dies, it suffers from rather lacklustre choreography compared to their clashes in the prequel films. Still, this set the template for all future duels and showed the world how amazing a battle between two space wizards with laser swords could be.
17. Darth Maul vs Pre Vizsla – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The only duel on this list that features a participant who wasn’t a Force user, this cool duel takes place in the fifth season of The Clone Wars. After forming an alliance with the Mandalorian splinter faction, Death Watch, to take over Mandalore, Darth Maul eventually tires of his new partners and challenges the head of Death Watch, Pre Vizsla, to a duel for the planet. Bound by his society’s martial traditions, Vizsla accepts the duel and fights using the ancient Mandalorian relic, the black-bladed lighsaber known as the Darksaber. What follows is an intense fight to the death between two skilled foes, with Vizsla also using all his Mandalorian weapons and jetpack to even the fight. This was a very fun and brutal duel, with both combatants pushed to the limits. There are some very cool elements to this, from the great contrast of the black and red blades to the fantastic use of Mandalorain weaponry and fists to try and win. While the result of the fight is never in doubt, it is a much closer battle than you would imagine and shows just how badass a determined Mandalorian could be.
16. Kanan and Ezra vs Grand Inquisitor – Star Wars: Rebels
The climactic battle of the first season of Star Wars: Rebels, this fight pitted the big bad of the season, the Grand Inquisitor, against Jedi Kanan and his apprentice Ezra in the engine room of a Star Destroyer. Relying on trickery and strategy to compensate for his own lack of skill, Kanan is eventually able to beat the Inquisitor after gaining focus from seeing Ezra fall to the Inquisitor’s spinning lightsaber. I loved the cool range of techniques in this fight, and it was cathartic to see Kanan finally get his groove back and face his demons. The snipping of the handle of the Inquisitor’s lightsaber was clever, and it leads to one of my favourite lines in the entire series: “There are some things far more frightening than death”, a statement that was proven true in a recent comic. A great fight that set the tone for some other epic duels later in the series.
15. Yoda vs Count Dooku – Attack of the Clones
This one mainly makes the list for the sheer laughter and amusement it generates. After Sith Lord Count Dooku soundly thrashes Anakin and Obi-Wan, he encounters his former master, Yoda. Unable to defeat him using the Force, Dooku resorts to his blade, but is severely outmatched when Yoda pulls out his own lightsaber and proceeds to do some elaborate and fast-paced flips around him, whirling his green lightsaber like a demon. This is a really entertaining scene and I still remember the sheer excitement and amusement I had in me when I saw Yoda first appear and pull out his lightsaber. However, the CGI really hasn’t held up too well with this fight, and it is one of the more ridiculous moments in an already silly film. Still, it was a very entertaining duel, so I had to feature it on this list.
14. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Adi Gallia vs Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Another entry from The Clones Wars animated show, this duel features Obi-Wan and fellow Jedi Adi Gallia facing off against a recently resurrected Darth Maul and his apprentice/brother Savage Opress. This is a brutal fight, as the two Jedi find themselves severely outmatched, with Opress quickly killing Adi with his horns. Obi-Wan is then forced to fight by himself, fleeing to a nearby pirate ship and facing his opponents with two lightsabers, something rarely seen from Kenobi. This fight gets really close and personal in the narrow corridors of the ship, and Kenobi is only just spared from being eviscerated by a last-minute kick to the shin. A really great fight that shows off how dangerous these two Sith brothers could be, it was an excellent inclusion on this list.
13. Rey vs Kylo Ren – The Rise of Skywalker
In the sequel series we have the duel between Rey and Kylo Ren on the ruins of the Death Star. Now both fully trained in the Force, the two have a swift and deadly fight, which only ends when Kylo freezes as he feels his mother dying. This is a beautifully shot scene, and I love the great use of environment and both opponents’ use of the Force to block blows and even control a lightsaber remotely. However, I think the finale of the fight was a bit lame and not cut together well, which takes a little lustre off the entire duel. Still a great entry though.
12. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Asajj Ventress vs Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Another fight featuring Darth Maul and Savage Opress against two opponents, this duel sees Kenobi reluctantly teaming up with an old enemy, the former Sith assassin Asajj Ventress, who has her own issues with Opress. Forced to use one of Ventress’s blades, you get the unique visual of Kenobi wielding a red saber, and the fight quickly devolves into a close brawl in a cargo ship. The range of different styles and moves on display in this fight is great, and I love seeing the slippery Ventress facing off against the powerful blows of Opress. The fight between Kenobi and Maul is extremely personal, especially once Maul starts taunting his opponent about the death of his master. Emotionally unbalanced, Kenobi is unable to keep up with Maul, and he and Ventress are eventually forced to flee. I love the blend of character moments, animation, and ferocity in this fight, and it is a particularly impressive moment from this great series.
11. Yoda vs Emperor Palpatine – Revenge of the Sith
Next up we have a duel between the preeminent Jedi and Sith of their era, Yoda and the newly crowned Emperor Palpatine. Confronting Palpatine in his office, Yoda and his foe face off with blades in an impressive ballet of laser sword. The two fighters quickly end up in the iconic and massive Senate chambers, with both opponents jumping from platform to platform before eventually resorting to throwing parts of the room at each other. A fantastic and brilliant duel that displays just as much mastery of the Force as skill with the lightsaber, this was a climatic moment and a great alternate main fight for the finale of the prequel trilogy.
10. Ronin vs Bandit Leader – Star Wars: Visions
I had to include this awesome duel from the recent Star Wars: Vision series. Featured in the first animated feature, aptly titled The Duel, this fight takes place in an alternate universe and sees a wondering Ronin facing off against a bandit leading a raid on a village. It is soon revealed that both the Ronin and the Bandit Leader are Sith warriors and face each other with their lightsabers in a complex and beautiful duel around the village and down a river. This is an outstanding and compelling duel, which really was one of the best bits of the entire Visions range. I love the incredible blend of Star Wars and classic Japanese imagery, and the whole thing felt like something out of a samurai film. One of the most unique duels on this list, I had a lot of fun with this one and it was really cool to see.
9. Rey vs Kylo Ren – The Force Awakens
Another duel featuring Rey and Kylo Ren, this was their first fight, featured at the end of The Force Awakens. As one of the first lightsaber duels of the sequel trilogy, this fight had a lot riding on it, and did not disappoint. This fight pits an injured and emotionally unbalanced Kylo Ren against an untrained Rey as the planet falls apart around them. While their styles and abilities are not as polished as in their later fight, it still has a physicality and rawness to it that was missing from all the preceding live action lightsaber fights. The blend of colours and movements was outstanding, as was the decision to feature it in a snow setting, which really made the whole fight pop. A great and amazing fight that was a fantastic conclusion to an outstanding movie.
8. Darth Maul and Savage Opress vs Darth Sidious – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
There was no way I could exclude this awesome gem from the list, especially as it is one of the best things featured in the entire The Clone Wars series. Set during the fifth season, this fight occurs when Palpatine makes a rare transition into his Darth Sidious persona and travels to Mandalore to bring his former apprentice to heel. Breaking into the palace, Sidious confronts Maul and his apprentice Savage Opress and quickly engages them in a battle. Dual wielding two lightsabers, Sidious, who is voiced by Tim Curry for some extra sinisterness, is a machine, combining his superior lightsaber skills with his amazing powers of the Dark Side. Despite some strong opposition, he makes short work of the two brothers, killing Opress and torturing Maul with his lightning. This was a high-octane fight that really adds to the presence and power of Sidious, showing everyone why he is the ultimate Sith Master who no one should cross.
7. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul – Star Wars: Rebels
I have featured several battles between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul on this list, but their final duel is one of their best. Set in the third season of Star Wars: Rebels, long after the events of their last encounter in The Clone Wars (when Maul killed the woman Kenobi loved), Maul succeeds in tracking Kenobi to Tatooine. Reluctant to face Maul again, Kenobi is drawn into the fight when Maul threatens to find whoever he is protecting on Tatooine. Facing off at night across a dying fire, the two meticulously take their position before finally striking. Evoking the feel of a classic samurai film to the extreme, their fight is lightning fast and over after only a few strokes, with Maul falling to ground in Kenobi’s arms. While this is a short duel, the whole point is that is serves as the final note in the conflict between two epic rivals. I love all the imagery and subtlety of this scene, and it shows that a good fight really does not need to be chock full of flips and counters. The last moments between Kenobi and Maul are great, and Maul finally at peace after years of trying to kill Kenobi was the perfect way to end their rivalry.
6. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader – Return of the Jedi
The final clash between father and son is the next entry on this list, with the climatic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the second Death Star. Provoked by Vader and the Emperor, Luke eventually takes up his blade and faces off in the throne room. Despite some reluctance to face his father, Luke is eventually called to action after Vader discovers that Luke has a sister. The anger and ferocity in the subsequent sequence is brilliant, especially when combined with the epic score loudly blaring in the background. You can feel the strength and hatred of the blows as Luke teeters towards the Dark Side and it was an amazing fight that ended up being the last live-action lightsaber duels for nearly 20 years.
5. Ahsoka Tano vs Darth Vader – Star Wars: Rebels
The moment that Anakin’s apprentice was introduced, we knew that one day Ahsoka Tano would face off against Darth Vader, we just didn’t know when, especially after The Clone Wars was prematurely cancelled. It finally happened at the end of the second season of Star Wars: Rebels, when Ahsoka and Vader encounter each other in a Sith temple. Already convinced that Vader is her former master, Ahsoka confronts him, only for Vader to declare he had killed Anakin long ago: “Anakin Skywalker was weak, I destroyed him” (which was true, from a certain point of view). Desiring vengeance, Ahsoka engages in a fast-paced duel around the temple, proving to be a match for Vader with her incredible skill. There are actually a few parts to this fight (including some of it shown in a later fourth season episode due to time travel), but it leads up to the big finale where Ahsoka blindsides a distracted Vader and partially destroys his helmet. The subsequent “Ahsoka!” from Vader chills me every time, especially with the background score, and because Vader’s voice changes midway through from that of James Earl Jones to Matt Lanter, who voiced Anakin in The Clone Wars. The confirmation that Anakin was Vader is heartbreaking to see for Ahsoka, especially as her attempts to reach him fall on deaf ears. They continue to fight in the temple as it falls apart, with both barely coming out of it. Not only is this a beautifully choreographed fight that showcase both fighter’s differing abilities, but it is one of the most emotional duels on this list. I love this fight so much, especially as it is a perfect conclusion to a long-awaited moment in Star Wars history.
4. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader – The Empire Strikes Back
While the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is impressive, I personally prefer their first fight. Taking place in the bowels of Cloud City, the unprepared Jedi in training attempts to defeat Vader and quickly shows off some of his new skills. However, he is outmatched by Vader and is soon forced to endure a one-sided beating. The duel ends with Luke losing a hand and being confronted by the ghastly truth that his opponent is his father. Easily one of the most iconic moments in all of film history, and all thanks to a powerful and brutal lightsaber duel.
3. Ahsoka Tano vs Darth Maul – Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The final animated duel on this list is the epic fight between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul that recently occurred in the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars. After returning to the Jedi, Ahsoka leads a battalion of clones to help liberate Mandalore from Maul. Eventually confronting him in the throne room, the two discuss the menace of Sidious and the fate of Anakin, before engaging in their fight. Due to this being the set-piece of the entire anticipated seventh season, the showrunners and animators dedicated a lot of time to getting this scene perfect. This included bring backing the original Darth Maul, martial artist Ray Park, to provide motion capture for the duel to ensure the character moved properly. All this preparation paid off, as the fight is beyond epic, containing some fast and furious action, with some witty dialogue from Ahsoka. Broken into two parts, including a vertigo-inducing scene on some thin rafters, this was a brilliant duel with an insane amount of skill and precision featured throughout.
2. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn vs Darth Maul – The Phantom Menace
While there were several glaring issues with The Phantom Menace, the one thing that everyone could agree was awesome, was the epic and extensive duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. The moment \ Maul reveals his dual-bladed lightsaber and the incredible Duel of the Fates musical score starts blaring, all bets are off as the three combatants engage in one of the best fights ever seen in cinema. The three fighters fight across the palace, right down into the heart of the city. Maul eventually succeeds in killing Qui-Gon when the fighters are separated by a series of force fields, only for an anguished Kenobi to finally beat him and cut him in half (although even that’s not enough to keep a good Sith down). This brilliant duel easily outshone anything that viewers had seen before, and it set the tone for every single movie or television lightsaber fight that was to follow.
1. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker – Revenge of the Sith
I don’t think anyone is going to be too surprised about what my final entry is; it had to be the epic fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the climax of Revenge of the Sith. Set up throughout the entire prequel trilogy, this fight was a long time coming and saw the former master face his corrupted pupil in a brutal fight on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Despite some terrible dialogue, this was a perfect duel, with both fighters giving it their all in an extended and utterly captivating fight. The two are evenly matched and use every technique and move to fight their enemy. Throw in a hostile environment of flying molten rocks, rivers of lava, and even some classic rope swing shenanigans. Thanks to another epic musical score, there is a not a single moment of this fight that is dull or unexciting and every blow is laced with emotion and hatred as the two former brothers try their hardest to kill each other. Look, if you’re reading this list, you know how awesome this fight is, and frankly to this day, nothing has come close to beating it.
Well that’s the end of this list. As you can see from the above, I clearly have too much time on my hands, but I think it was worth it. I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and all of these epic lightsaber duels are so damn awesome. This might be another list I will update over the years, especially if some of the upcoming Star Wars shows have some cool fights in them. Let me know what you think of my list in the comments below, and make sure to tell me your opinions about the best Star Wars lightsaber duels.