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NewbieDM is going through a similar journey to my own, only he’s looking at playing an older version of the Star Wars RPG. One of his recent threads caught my eye, in particular, this one.
This had me thinking, “What’s the greatest lightsaber duel in Star Wars cinema?” I’m referring to the movies only because I’ve never watched any of the animated series. I copied Kessel Q. Junkie on this post because I’m convinced he knows more about Star Wars than George Lucas. So, let’s look at each duel in movie-universe, chronological order within NewbieDM’s framework. I’m including only those combats that were between force-aware users because I don’t want to waste my time on wannabes. Snoke’s guards aren’t, to my knowledge, force-aware. Despite some quotes from those involved, Finn was never established as force-aware within the context of the movies, so his battle with Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens also doesn’t count. Even the mass battle on Geonosis doesn’t count, which is a damn shame. We’ve never seen so many lightsabers in one place at one time.
Jinn v. Maul, The Phantom Menace
No conversation, no change of environment, nothing peculiar about the combat, and no force powers beyond a jump. They can’t all be contenders.
Jinn and Kenobi v. Maul, The Phantom Menace
This is the one that everyone — even Prequel haters — most often cite (as far as I can tell) as the best lightsaber duel, but I disagree. It probably made for the best display of melee combat, and used both force powers and a change in environment in that combat, but the social/psychological combat was no different than you’d expect in any on screen battle. To me, this criterion requires an attempt to convert someone to the other side morally speaking. That’s not present here. They never even spoke with Maul. Three out of four ain’t bad, but it ain’t perfect.
Anakin and Kenobi vs. Dooku, Attack of the Clones
No real force manipulation, and psychological warfare is only an afterthought based on a prior conversation with Kenobi, which took place a long time ago (pun intended). The entire fight took place in only one cavern. The combat was reasonably good, but none of this sounds like #1.
Yoda vs. Dooku, Attack of the Clones
Force manipulation, good combat (with damn funny special effects on Yoda), and mild psychological warfare (really, just shit-talking, though, which isn’t ideal). Hooray! But all within the same environment, with terrain not really playing a role at all.
Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Count Dooku, Revenge of the Sith
Again, there’s no change of environment. Terrain is largely irrelevant and is subsumed within the category of use of force powers, which were used to pin an already unconscious Kenobi. Nope.
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. General Grievous, Revenge of the Sith
Well, Grievous did say that he was trained in the Jedi (Sith?) arts, so this counts. No interesting psychological manipulation and only the most minor of force powers in play keeps this from the top spot.
Palpatine vs. Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar, and Saesee Tiin, Revenge of the Sith
Minor change of environment, a small use of force lightning, decent combat (but with two disappointingly easy deaths), and if you read the novelization, there’s a good about of psychological manipulation. But novels don’t count, so there’s only a bit of manipulation at the end directed towards a non-combatant, Anakin. Very close but no cigar.
Yoda vs. Palpatine, Revenge of the Sith
Change of environment, use of force powers, and psychological shit-talking, but the lightsaber aspect to combat was a bit undersold. I want that to be the foundation on which the other criteria are built. Still, this is very close, and it appears to me that, on the whole, Revenge of the Sith did a better job with lightsaber duels than any other movie.
Anakin Skywalker vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Revenge of the Sith
Here’s some more proof of the assertion I just made. This duel had good melee combat, a change of environment with good use of terrain, and the use of force powers to supplement the combat. But the psychological warfare wasn’t true lightsaber duel worthy. This was closer to a hurling of insults than any attempt at conversion. No one was moving anywhere on the morality continuum. Everyone was set in place.
Kenobi v. Vader, A New Hope
The melee combat is dated, and there was no change in environment. It served it’s purpose, and a New Hope is arguably the best Star Wars movie, but this wasn’t the best lightsaber duel.
Luke v. Vader on Dagobah
Doesn’t count, but even if it did, it employed only the psychological weight of a lightsaber duel. No change in environment, weak combat, and no force powers. Let’s move on.
Luke v. Vader, Return of the Jedi
This duel gives us psychological manipulation and a decent combat, but the use of force powers is limited other than when Palpatine sticks his nose in it, and there’s no change of environment. Like the climactic Phantom Menace duel, this comes close, but only one can be the best. This ain’t it.
Ren vs. Rey, The Force Awakens
Ren vs. Luke, The Last Jedi
Force projection nonsense. I don’t even think this should count, but many of you will, so here we go. The combat was a bit boring, there was no change in environment, and the use of force powers wasn’t to my liking. YMMV. I will say this, though. The psychological manipulation wasn’t what I gave as basis for a good lightsaber duel, but it really worked here. Luke tricking Ren was a clever use of manipulation. I’ll allow it, but this still doesn’t win the top spot. Part of the scene.
Rey vs. Ren via Force Projection, The Rise of Skywalker
Again, I don’t think this should count, so I analyze it under protest. There were two environments because they were in different places, and the melee combat was mediocre. It should be the foundation of a lightsaber duel, but it played second fiddle to the psychological manipulation. That’s the only strongly satisfied criterion. Nope. Not the best. Scene.
Rey vs. Ren on the Ruins of the Death Star, Rise of Skywalker
Not much along the lines of a change in environment, but it was a neat environment. There was a weak attempt to convert Rey before the battle occurred, and the only use of force powers appears to be lip service. It’s as if they threw them in there just to make sure that they’d score a higher rating on a blog post like this. But the actual melee combat itself was pretty good. Not good enough to win though. Scene.
Luke v. Vader, The Empire Strikes Back
I skipped this one, and I’m sure you all know why. This is the clear winner. There was a noticeable upgrade in special effects from just one movie ago, making for a more interesting melee combat, and that fight involved a change of environment. Peppered throughout are the use of force powers beyond just jumping around, and multiple psychological ploys, all of which were designed to convert Luke to the dark side through appeals to his ego, greed, and need for family. The movement is a little stilted because it was the second-earliest movie in the series with dated special effects, but this lightsaber duel is the complete package from a dramatic point of view. Sorry, Maul, but you lose.
If I forgot any, please let me know. I apologize, but I can’t be expected to remember all of them. After all, . . .
Star Trek >> Star Wars