The Most Epic Lightsaber Duels in ‘Star Wars,’ Ranked
The Force is strong with these ones.
Lightsabers are amongst the most iconic weapons in all of fiction. But what makes for a standout lightsaber duel? Personally, I think the best duels have a good combination of choreography, score, script, and context in the larger narrative—it’s complicated. Therefore, this list will be presented chronologically (by timeline in-universe, not in order of film/show release date) with ratings given for each duel. (Also, spoilers ahead for Star Wars Rebels and Clone Wars).
Keep reading for the best lightsaber duels in the Star Wars universe, and tell us your personal faves in the comments (most of the video games were before my time, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the best duels in those)!
Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi (The Phantom Menace)
Some accuse this duel of being flashy or overly choreographed, but the music, the stunts, and the tension of the ray shields dividing the opponents led to one of the most intense duels in all of Star Wars. It’s also one that’s only gotten better with age, with Darth Maul’s death being retconned in favor of continuing his story to excellent effect in Rebels. This is only the first Darth Maul duel on this list, and it is far from the last (or even the best).
Darth Maul and Savage Opress vs. Darth Sidious (The Clone Wars, season 5)
This was another absolutely incredible duel, and heightened by its resonance with Darth Maul’s Phantom Menace duel—only this time, it’s Maul who has to watch helplessly as a person he loves is killed in front of him: his brother and apprentice, Savage Opress (yes, that’s his name).
It’s also incredible in that we get to see Sidious dual-wielding lightsabers—which explains why he had a spare lightsaber to fight Yoda with after Windu kicked his first saber out the window. You get the sense that despite the two wannabe Siths’ best attempts, Sidious is only toying with them for his own amusement.
Darth Maul vs. Ahsoka Tano (The Clone Wars, season 7)
This was a duel (at least) five years in the making and it delivered. The two breakout characters of Star Wars: The Clone Wars dueled during what you know as the start of Revenge of the Sith. What’s even better is the understanding they have for each other as outsiders of the Force: the Former Sith and the “Not a Jedi.” Even better is the idea that maybe if Maul hadn’t hinted so strongly at Anakin being a Dark Sider, Ahsoka would’ve joined him and helped him defeat Sidious—meaning that somewhere in the Star Wars multiverse is a buddy cop story with Ahsoka and Maul vs. the Galaxy.
Add in the fact that Ray Park did motion capture for this duel and it really feels like the best of both animation and live-action mediums rolled into one.
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Revenge of the Sith)
Another duel that got better with time.
This is probably the most elaborate duel in Star Wars history with VFX, costuming (they had to make a dozen versions of the tunics for all the wear and tear during the battle), choreography, and score coming together in one impressive sequence. Some people accuse this duel of being over-choreographed, but I think that’s part of the point: Anakin and Obi-Wan know each other so well that it takes Obi-Wan getting a clear advantage (the high ground) to end it.
Also, the part where Anakin manually chokes Obi-Wan with his mechanical hand while the other almost forces Obi-Wan to cut himself with his own lightsaber is among the most intimidating things Vader has done (a move he later imitated during his duel with Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger in Rebels).
And people have meme’d the ending of the duel to death (for good reason), but Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen truly gave their all to this finale.
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
Here we have another duel that was a decade in the making. I had mixed feelings about this duel at first, but Jill Bearup’s breakdown of how this duel melds the Prequel-era Obi-Wan with the Original Trilogy Ben Kenobi won me over. It helps that Obi-Wan wins this fight not because he is fighting for the galaxy or the future of the Jedi, but because he is fighting to get back to Luke and Leia, the children of his beloved best friends. Getting to see Hayden behind the mask was the cherry on top of a wonderful and heart-wrenching moment (and a great connection to Star Wars Rebels).
Darth Vader vs. Ahsoka Tano (Rebels)
Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan dueling Darth Vader. Need I say more?
This duel is one of the few reasons I’m happy that Clone Wars originally got canceled, as it allowed Ahsoka to survive Order 66 and duel a “nearly in his prime” Vader.
Of course, I was initially so angry with this duel because it felt like it ended Ahsoka’s story when there was so much more to tell. Thankfully, Lucasfilm’s Dave Filoni seemed to agree, and went so far as to create a form of time travel in Star Wars to bring Ahsoka back.
The duel in its entirety is haunting, and James Earl Jones and Matt Lanter combining their voices after Ahsoka slashes Vader’s mask open is heart-wrenching. It affects Ahsoka so deeply that even as her former Master is attempting to kill her, she saves his life.
I don’t think I want this duel recreated in live action, but I would love to see some reference to it in the Ahsoka show.
Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Rebels)
This was the rematch 17 years in the making. Obi-Wan and Maul had their clashes in the Clone Wars, but this was their final duel and definitely their best.
While some people were let down by how short it was, there was so much meaning in its simplicity. Obi-Wan switching to Ataru to bait Darth Maul into trying to kill him (the same way he killed Qui-Gon Jinn), the way that Maul’s lightsaber was once again cut in half, the lighting, the music, the way Obi-Wan and Maul talk about Luke—I could go on and on, but it simply all comes together so beautifully, blending the prequels and sequels in a masterful way.
Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi)
The Empire Strikes Back duel is amazing … but I’m a sucker for backflips and emotional duels where neither party really wants to hurt the other. It’s also one of the few OT duels made better by the Prequels (anyone notice Luke taking the high ground?) and the culmination of Anakin Skywalker’s arc; love him or hate him, Anakin knows that the best way to get a Skywalker to do what you want (like turn to the dark side) is to threaten the ones they love and that, combined with his self-destructive tendencies, makes Anakin believe that the only way he can protect his son is by being killed by Luke and forcing Luke to take his place.
But Luke rejects that belief, defying both Sith and Jedi to save his father. And it works.
The duel itself might not be the most complex, but the script, score, and overall performance deliver.
Kylo Ren vs. Rey (The Force Awakens)
I maintain that the moment when Rey Force-pulls the Skywalker lightsaber away from Kylo Ren to the swelling of the Force theme is one of the best moments in all. of Star Wars, not just the sequel series. Kylo Ren may have Skywalker blood, but he had a long way to go before making himself worthy of wielding that blade. And while Rey’s lineage was not yet known, her carrying on the tradition of desert rat child turned galactic savior makes her worthy of the blade.
It’s also fun since it’s a lightsaber duel in which one of the duelists is injured and the other is uneducated in the weapon, leading to interesting interactions like Rey using it as a spear with a bunch of thrusts while Kylo attempts more psychological means of fighting—trying to play on Rey’s doubt of her power and self-worth and the idea that she needs a teacher (specifically him).
But like Luke tapping into the Force to make that impossible shot on the Death Star exhaust port, Rey doesn’t need outside help. She just needs to trust in herself and the Force.
(The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker have some fun lightsaber sequences, but neither are quite duels and also sometimes suffer from odd breaks in the choreography.)
Ultimate ranking of Star Wars lightsaber duels from great to greatest:
Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi (The Phantom Menace) – 7/10 lightsabers
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (Obi-Wan Kenobi) – 8/10 lightsabers
Kylo Ren vs. Rey (The Force Awakens) – 8/10 lightsabers
Darth Maul and Savage Opress vs. Darth Sidious (Clone Wars, season 5) – 9/10 lightsabers
Darth Maul vs. Ahsoka Tano (Clone Wars, season 7) – 9/10 lightsabers
Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi) – 9/10 lightsabers
Darth Vader vs. Ahsoka Tano (Rebels) – 10/10 lightsabers
Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Rebels) – 11/10 lightsabers
So, what’s your favorite Star Wars lightsaber duel?
(featured image: Disney)
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