RANKED! The 10 Best Live-Action Star Wars Lightsaber Duels
When it comes to all of the various bells and whistles that the Star Wars franchise provides, none is more prominent than that of the lightsaber duel. While lightsaber battles are certainly the epitome of what we come to Star Wars movies for, they also have the ability to get to the essence of the conflict that takes place within them. In other words, a good lightsaber duel will enhance the inherent drama that surrounds it. With that in mind, here are the best live-action Star Wars lightsaber duels before The Rise of Skywalker!
Cover Photo: Lucasfilm/Disney
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10. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda vs. Count Dooku
While there are far worse lightsaber battles (Obi-Wan vs. General Grievous, we’re looking at you), the first meeting between the two Jedi and Dooku is odd, to say the least. While the idea of a lightsaber duel in pitch black is a neat visual idea, the fact that most of the sequence plays out in close-up makes it exist solely so that Anakin can lose a hand. Despite a fairly lackluster first half of the duel, the reveal of Yoda pulling out his lightsaber is undoubtedly one of the all-time great Star Wars moments.
9. Mace Windu vs. Sheev Palpatine
In theory, the lightsaber duel between Mace Windu and Palpatine should be pretty badass. It features a Jedi master at the top of his game fighting arguably the most powerful Sith lord of all time. In execution, this battle amounts to a middle-aged Samuel L. Jackson fighting a stunt double. Ultimately, however, this battle would probably rank higher if it weren’t for the terrible dialogue and acting throughout.
8. Rey and Kylo Ren vs. The Praetorian Guards
Although the throne room fight in The Last Jedi technically doesn’t count as a lightsaber duel, it’s too badass not to include here. As the first time that we’ve actually seen a Jedi and Sith working in unison, this fight is both stunningly shot, but also expertly choreographed. As a literal representation of letting the past burn, there’s nothing cooler than seeing some dude take a lightsaber to the eye.
7. Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker vs. Count Dooku II
The second battle between Dooku, Anakin, and Obi-Wan features two dudes once again berating a decrepit old man. It’s a battle that not only foreshadows Anakin's turn to the dark side, but explores the future Sith lord’s morality in a not-so-subtle way. It’s also the second time Obi-Wan has gone out like a chump fighting Dooku. Regardless, it’s one of the most entertaining lightsaber fights in the prequels.
6. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader II
While some might rank the climactic lightsaber duel from Return of the Jedi a bit higher, it’s more inconsequential now than when it was released. If The Rise of Skywalker is any indication, Palpatine’s presence in the sequel trilogy can only mean one thing: Luke did a pretty bad job of finishing off the Emperor for good during this familial rematch. Although this makes Luke seem like a bad Jedi in retrospect, it’s also the most cerebral lightsaber fight of the franchise.
5. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader
The lightsaber duel in A New Hope is the physical equivalent of two old dudes who live in a nursing home having a fencing match. It’s probably the least exciting physical action sequence of the franchise, and yet the fact that it’s a battle of wits as much as it is a lightsaber duel makes it mesmerizing. It doesn’t quite make a lot of sense why Obi-Wan would sacrifice himself for a kid that he met only a few days prior. However, he also manages to go out in the most Zen way possible, which makes him a total badass.
4. Finn and Rey vs. Kylo Ren
The interesting thing about the duel between these three in The Force Awakens is that none of them actually have much experience in battle with a lightsaber. That makes it a messy fight, but it also makes it a wildly unpredictable one. This battle also manages to provide another classic star wars moment, when Rey first ignites Luke’s old lightsaber. While there’s something to be said about the silliness behind a bunch of kids essentially playing with sticks, the setting and emotional impact are also astounding in the scene.
3. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin Skywalker
There’s no doubt that the climactic lightsaber duel in Revenge of the Sith is pretty great. And yet, the fact that it is ultimately predicated on the fabled “high ground” also makes it somewhat laughable. Seriously though, what is it with these super-powerful characters that end up going out like absolute weaklings? Either way, the fact that both characters are sporting the same color lightsaber and moving so fast makes it feel like an overrated light show at times. With that said, the fateful duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on the lava planet of Mustafar offers the most dramatic setting and the biggest consequences, making it a pivotal battle in Star Wars lore.
2. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader
Luke and Vader’s fateful showdown on Bespin is undoubtedly the most emotional of all the Star Wars lightsaber duels. While this sequence is undoubtedly a classic in terms of emotion and pacing, Vader’s logic in the climax of the scene never quite makes sense. Think about it: if your estranged father showed up and suddenly cut off your hand, then said you should join him on the dark side, you probably wouldn’t be too fond of that idea. Regardless of this, this sequence in The Empire Strikes Back is not only a great vehicle for character development, but it’s also the most thematically true to the story. Then, of course, there’s that infamous twist as the button to the scene.
1. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Mau
While some might argue that it’s blasphemous to not have our previous entry at the top of the list, there’s no question that the climactic lightsaber duel in The Phantom Menace is the most well-rounded. It has great action and choreography, a badass new character with a double-bladed lightsaber, two Jedi in their prime, and epic music by John Williams. Sprinkle in some of the biggest stakes of the franchise – it isn’t called “duel of the fates” for nothing – and you have a recipe for the best lightsaber brawl of the franchise.
Even though Qui-Gon also goes out like an absolute bitch in this scene (seriously though, what’s up with these Jedi masters getting killed so easily?) and much of the duel is intercut with far less interesting action and storylines, Duel of the Fates is an absolute sight to behold. Simply put, it’s the most exciting lightsaber duel of the franchise – at least so far.