Updated: May 4, 2021
“An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” There is no doubt that oh-so iconic “lightsaber” from the Star Wars universe has become the fantasy weapon gold-standard since its inception in 1977. The saber has become so ingrained in pop culture that even those who are not Star Wars fans can relate the weapon to the galaxy far far away. Since Obi-Wan Kenobi introduced the saber to Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars, fans have seen lightsabers pitted against each other in battles ranging from mere fencing quarrels to over-the-top cinematic brawls. The duels are pivotal to the overall plot of the Saga, and often serve as the emotional backbone of the films and character arcs.
In this list, we will be ranking every Star Wars live-action melee duel involving at least one lightsaber (both lightsaber v. lightsaber & lightsaber v. similar melee weapon). We will not be including conflicts that involve only lightsabers blocking blaster bolts (sorry Battle of Geonosis & Rogue One/The Mandalorian hallway scenes) nor duels that merely happen in visions (such as the cave scene from Empire Strikes Back & Rey v. Dark Rey in The Rise of Skywalker). The duels will be ranked based on plot stakes and emotional gravity in addition to physical action and choreography. A force battle or conversation that precludes or follows a duel can, of course, enhance the duel itself, and will thus be considered in this ranking as well.
All live-action duels in the Star Wars universe are included in the below list, including duels from each film as well as The Mandalorian. That being said, here at Pop-Corn Heist, we NEVER exclude the animated shows from the conversation when talking about Star Wars. Since there is an inordinate amount of duels throughout Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, we have chosen our Top 5 animated duels, and have included them in the below list.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ALL STAR WARS CONTENT, INCLUDING THE FILMS, THE MANDALORIAN, THE CLONE WARS, AND REBELS
26. Count Dooku v. Anakin Skywalker & Obi Wan Kenobi
Attack of the Clones
Hardly even the most impressive action sequence of Attack of the Clones, the battle between Obi-Wan & Anakin and the newly introduced Sith Lord, Count Dooku, serves as a poor excuse for the film’s final confrontation. The fact that this is the first time we see young Darth Vader in a duel goes unnoticed because of how underwhelming the sequence actually is. The battle is essentially split up into three sequences (none of which are very memorable): Anakin running to take Dooku on alone (why?) and getting quickly shot down by Force Lightning, Obi-Wan taking on his master’s master for the first time and getting sliced-up a bit, and Anakin taking on Dooku alone AGAIN before getting his arm easily cut-off.
The Sith Lord’s defeat of the two Jedi is presumably to make the villain more menacing, but it does not feel very believable upon viewing. The saber swings during the battle seem choreographed enough that they don’t seem real or fatal, but mundane enough to not add a sense of mastery to any of the characters. Part of the battle between Anakin and Dooku seems to just give up on believable effects as it shows a zoom-in of the characters’ faces in the dark while the lightsabers flicker in front of them.
The sequence has little emotional weight for any of the characters (even though it feels like it should considering Anakin’s growing anger and the history between Obi-Wan & Dooku), and does little to advance the overall Star Wars story. The most impactful moment is perhaps when Dooku cuts off Anakin's arm, which Anakin – the Chosen One – just kind of stands there and lets happen. Overall, the fight seems like more of a (failed) introduction to Dooku as a powerful dueler rather than a fight that has a heavy impact on the Star Wars story.
25. Count Dooku v. Yoda
Attack of the Clones
Though this duel could debatably be included with Anakin & Obi Wan’s confrontation with Dooku, it is important to differentiate the two as each has different strengths and weaknesses. The confrontation between Yoda and his former Padawan is extremely divisive among fans. Since we met Yoda in the Original Trilogy, it seemed like mere fan-fiction to see the green Jedi Grandmaster in an actual lightsaber duel. This battle’s main and perhaps only strength is in the nature of the fight: seeing Yoda in action for the first time. If you ask nearly any Star Wars fan (even the ones that praise the duel) what they like about this scene, the answer will surely be “you get to see Yoda fight for the first time!”
Aside from that, the fight fails on all accounts. The Force battle begins with the oh-so-powerful Grandmaster of the Jedi and the Sith apprentice throwing a few pieces of debris at each other. Admittedly, it is cool to see Yoda’s Force power in that he can block Force lightning using his hands, but aside from that, the fight leaves much to be desired from one of the most (if not the most) powerful Jedi of all time. Once the two take out their weapons, the battle looks like a CGI mess splattered onto the screen. Yoda’s flips make little to no sense, and Dooku’s strikes feel like they are meant to meet Yoda’s in the middle rather than deal a blow to his former master. When it comes to choreography, this battle may be the worst on this entire list. Of course, this may be due to the fact that one of the participants is a CGI alien, but it has worked well at other points in the series.
The dialogue between the two characters before and during the battle does little to define the deep history that actually connects these two characters, which makes the scene feel like a missed opportunity to capture an emotional showdown between Master and Apprentice. Though it is cool to see our beloved Grandmaster in action for the first time, it is underwhelming to see it executed so poorly.
24. Darth Maul v. Qui Gon Ginn (Tatooine)
The Phantom Menace
The revelation of the Sith after thousands of years, the ACTUAL first duel of the prequels, and the first time we see Darth Maul in action, this battle attempts to set the tone for the more choreographed and precise battles of the Prequel Trilogy. The fight is the shortest of the Saga, giving it little room to really wow the audience and make its way higher on this list. However, its brevity is not to be confused with poor execution. The fight is a solid one, with logical choreography that makes it look like Maul is actually trying to deal blows while Qui Gon defends himself from the Sith Lord’s advances. Though these aspects are all important in the making of a great lightsaber duel, there is not much else that makes the scene stand out when compared to the other fights of the Saga, which usually leaves this fight in the back of fan’s minds rather than in the discussion of Greatest Lightsaber Duels.
23. General Grievous v. Obi-Wan Kenobi
Revenge of the Sith
“Hello there.” Perhaps this scene should get some points for having the most memeable line of the Saga. However, it goes without saying that the opening dialogue preceding the face-off is more to provide exposition and frame the fight rather than add any actual weight. “I have been trained in your Jedi arts by Count Dooku,” says General Grievous even though he and Kenobi have faced off countless times throughout the Clone Wars...
In the Star Wars universe, it is only natural that our heroes will face some somewhat ridiculous foes, including a cyborg that wields a lightsaber in each of his four metal arms. However, sometimes fights like these are better left to the animated shows. The most memorable moment of the actual lightsaber-on-lightsaber confrontation is one of the most cartoonish moments in all of the live-action movies: when General Grievous is spinning his top two lightsabers as he slowly moves forward to face Obi-Wan. This is, admittedly, fun to watch, but serves little purpose when the twirls are easily whisked away by the Jedi. The rest of the actual duel is somewhat forgettable as Obi-Wan quickly whittles away at his foe’s limbs before the two take the fight into a different format: a space car-chase.
The fight only gets more cartoonish at that point (but also somehow more fun to watch), as Obi-Wan chases Grievous’ space-unicycle on his giant monster-steed. Once the two are unmounted and come to blows on the space platform, it is interesting to watch Obi-Wan (or any Jedi for that matter) involved in a fist fight without his trusty lightsaber. But by the time General Kenobi shoots Grievous’ internal organs and the cyborg bursts into flames, it is best to just accept the cartoonish nature of the fight and enjoy the villain’s over-the-top demise (complete with cyborgish coughs and grunts throughout the entire final showdown).
And we can’t forget to mention the nod to A New Hope when Obi-Wan throws his gun aside and says “so uncivilized.” Ultimately, this battle’s greatest moments (aside from Grievous’ twirly move) all happen outside the actual lightsaber duel. The whole sequence feels like an excuse to show off the upgraded visual effects of Episode III, but ends up just looking like Ewan McGregor swinging his saber at a heavily CGIed villain in front of a green screen. It is undeniable that this battle is a fun one, but holds perhaps the least emotional gravity of any duel on this list, and feels like it only serves a purpose within the plot of Revenge of the Sith rather than the larger Star Wars story.
22. Finn v. FN-2199
The Force Awakens
Another short but solid one, the fight between Finn and FN-2199 is the first time we see a lightsaber, let alone the Skywalker lightsaber (still waiting on an explanation), used in action for QUITE SOME TIME. The duel serves a similar purpose as Qui Gon v. Maul on Tatooine, as each happens mid-film and is a bite-sized action sequence that introduces fans to the style of fighting in the Trilogy, while foreshadowing a showdown to come later in each respective film.
The strongest aspect of this duel is easily the special effects, as the lightsaber looks crisper than ever and the “woosh” of the weapon makes you feel like you are in the brawl. The setting of the fight is also a strong point as the Resistance and First Order go at it in the background while Finn and his former co-worker come to blows in the debris. The connection between the two characters also feeds into Finn’s arc as a Stormtrooper turned, notably enhanced by FN-2199’s initial and only dialogue: “traitor”.
The choreography feels realistically clunky and does a great job depicting someone using a lightsaber for the first time. And for those who complained that Finn shouldn’t have been able to use the saber, not only have we seen multiple non-Force sensitives wield a saber in Star Wars lore, but Finn IS force sensitive and still loses the fight until Han intervenes with Chewy’s crossbow. Ultimately, similar to the show-down on Tatooine, the duel’s shortcomings are in its brevity, as there is only so much it can do in its short life span to serve as a highly memorable fight that stacks up with the others.
21. Ahsoka Tano v. The Magistrate
When rumors came about that the beloved animated character from The Clone Wars and Rebels, Ahsoka Tano, would be making her first live-action appearance on the big screen, fans were over the moon. Ahsoka’s first appearance was generally extremely well received, but it is undeniable that the actual one-on-one fight Ahsoka found herself in left a bit to be desired.
Though the creators of The Mandalorian absolutely nailed the old-school samurai style of the fight between Ahsoka and Morgan Elsbeth, aka The Magistrate, the fight seems to be a huge step down from some of the other fights Ahsoka has found herself in during the animated shows. It seems a bit odd that this seasoned former-Jedi (and even more so… Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan) would have any trouble fighting this random character who we have never met. I mean, this is the same Ahsoka Tano who went toe-to-toe with Maul when she was 17, and contended with Darth Vader during the era of the Empire, and she is getting partially DISARMED by this random with a spear.
Aside from that, the battle is a bit short and could use more over-the-top choreography. The duel itself is hardly Ahsoka’s best action sequence in the episode, and is even outshined by the gun-slinger standoff going on at the same time outside the walls. Though Ahsoka’s victory doesn’t come as easily as we would have hoped, the reveal of Grand Admiral Thrawn as the Magistrate’s “master” is one that gives a bit more weight to the duel.
And there’s just something about the look and sound of those crisp white lightsabers...
20. Chancellor Palpatine v. Mace Windu & Jedi Council Members
Revenge of the Sith
Mace Windu (the proclaimed greatest duelist in the Jedi Order) against Darth Sidious (the all-powerful Sith Master who has been pulling the strings this entire time). Sounds like the makings of an epic duel, right? Well, think again. Much like Master Yoda’s first on-screen lightsaber duel, the confrontation that ensues in the Chancellor’s office on Coruscant is a bit of a let down.
We know how this part goes… “I am the Senate”... “It’s treason then”... *spinny flip move/Sith growl*... *entire Jedi council is mowed down*. Oh yes, we didn’t forget about the three MASTER JEDI COUNCIL MEMBERS who go down within mere seconds. Kit Fisto is the only one to make lightsaber contact and even he only gets two and a half strikes in. The fight between just Mace and Palpatine is nothing to praise either, as the duel is heavily choreographed (to a fault) and the intermittent over-the-top moves and flips just thrown in feel extremely out of place.
The strongest points of this battle lie within its place in the Star Wars story, as it begins to bring the plot of the Prequel Trilogy to fruition and bridges many of the gaps between the era of the Clone Wars and the era of the Empire. Going into the confrontation, the tension is built exceptionally as we can feel the puppet-master’s plan coming to a head. The consequences surely deliver on this tension, with the demise of one of the most powerful Jedi of the Republic era, the transformation of the polished Chancellor Palpatine into his iconic wrinkly form, and the ultimate birth of Darth Vader.
Not to mention… MANY memeable moments.
19. Luke Skywalker v. Kylo Ren
The Last Jedi
Going into the Sequel Trilogy it was clear that fans were excited to see the now-Jedi Master Luke Skywalker in action 30 years in the future. In The Last Jedi, we finally got it… sort of. Earlier in the film, Luke ironically says to Rey “You think what? I'm gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?”. In this scene, however, it is exactly what the Jedi does, distracting Kylo Ren and the First Order and ultimately allowing the Resistance to live on (paying off his questionable and controversial redemption arc laid out earlier in the film).
The fight beginning with Kylo ordering his men to eviscerate Luke and trying to BLAST the Jedi out of existence, only for the Master to walk out and calmly wipe dirt off his shoulder, immediately re-establishes Luke as a powerhouse. Though it is later revealed that Luke wasn’t actually standing there and was rather projecting his essence across the galaxy, this does little to diminish his power as it shows him using the Force in an original way that we have never seen on screen before. The beauty of the showdown between Kylo and Luke is that it is able to show Luke Skywalker in all his power, but as a Force User rather than a lightsaber duelist. It shows the Jedi Master confronting his problems in a very “Jedi” way, choosing to distract the enemy to let the Resistance escape rather than using violence as a means to an end, ultimately sacrificing himself to do so.
The framing of this showdown almost looks like a Mortal Kombat game, as the tension between the two builds up and they square up to each other prior to Kylo’s advances toward Luke. The banter between the two as Luke dodges Kylo’s attacks certainly pays off the history between the uncle and nephew, and shows that Luke still cares about Ben despite his dirty-deeds as Kylo Ren. Some of Luke’s dodges could be a bit more seamless, but it is undeniably enjoyable to see the character in action for the first time since Return of the Jedi. It is also satisfying to see Luke wielding the Skywalker family lightsaber - which was seemingly lost when the character got his hand cut off - but it is also a bit of a confusing choice as the saber was clearly demolished just a few scenes prior.
Though the introduction of “Force projection” is a strength of the duel, it is also the source of its main weakness: the fact that it isn’t an actual duel. Kudos to this scene for figuring out a way for Luke to have an impact on the fight against the First Order without actually dueling Kylo (a duel that Luke, for sure, would have won). However, the reveal of Luke as a projection, though by no means a disappointing moment, still gives fans a sense of what could have been. It leaves this fight lower on the list as compared to other duels as the two never physically come to blows, and their lightsabers never touch. This is one of the strongest scenes in perhaps the most controversial Star Wars movie, that puts a beloved hero back at the forefront of the fight, expands the mythos of the Force, enhances the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo, and pays off Luke’s redemption arc in the film (or at least… attempts to). The scene’s place in the Star Wars universe is only enhanced when it causes one of the main protagonists of the Saga to become one with the Force. However, a strong scene does not always make for a strong fight, and it almost feels like something is missing from a Star Wars episodic film when lightsabers never clash.
18. Ben Solo & Rey v. The Knights of Ren & Imperial Guards
The Rise of Skywalker
The Dyad in action ON THE SAME SIDE, finally. The scene starts out with an extremely strong moment (one of the strongest moments in The Rise of Skywalker) with the passing of the Skywalker Saber from Rey to Ben. The character (who in The Force Awakens claims the saber belongs to him) finally wields his family’s weapon and is able to aid Rey in her fight against darkness. It allows a Force power (Force FaceTime) that was built up throughout The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker to properly pay off and come to the characters’ aid in their moment of need. The hand-off is poetic, and makes it feel like even though the characters are not in the same room, that they are fighting side-by-side.
The actual fight is certainly enjoyable while it lasts, beginning with a shrug from Ben (reminiscent of his father). The back and forth between the two fights is great, and has Ben taking on the Knights of Ren, as Rey blocks and rickashays blaster bolts using both her lightsaber and her hands. Some of the blocks and jumps during Ben’s fight are a bit on the awkward side, but the scene has otherwise great choreography. It is, however, a short fight that is almost forgettable when compared to the rest of the film, and feels like it is rushing to the confrontation against Palpatine. The two are also taking on disposable foes whose demise have little impact, a problem that could have been solved with the proper establishment/explanation of the Knights of Ren.
The final shot of the fight establishes what the scene, the film, and the trilogy, have all been building to, as Ben and Rey turn to face their foe together, wielding the lightsabers of Luke and Leia.
17. Din Djarin v. Moff Gideon
One of the main confrontations of Season 2 of The Mandalorian, and the payoff of both the Darksaber and Moff Gideon, it feels like this action sequence was cut a bit short to leave room for other things. It seems that Moff Gideon, played by the amazing Giancarlo Esposito, was built up throughout the entire first two seasons of The Mandalorian, and deserved to be more of a powerhouse than he proved to be during the showdown between him and Din. This is not to say that he should have won, but he could have put up a bit more of a fight.
That being said, what we did get during the short run-time of this fight is GOOD. The choreography is nailed and it makes Din feel like a master of the Beskar spear (Pedro Pascal really put that Game of Thrones spear training to use). The beginning of the fight also leaves your heart pounding, as Moff Giddeon uses Grogu aka Baby Yoda as bait only to then start WHACKING at Mando while he is protecting himself with his beskar armor and vambraces. This leaves the audience moving closer and closer to the edge of their seat with each blow.
Perhaps the best part of the fight is seeing the Darksaber in action for the first time, as it truly looks like an animation come to life. The look and sound of the saber have been nailed throughout the show, but to see it in an actual duel is a great payoff, and we’re sure it will NOT be the last time the blade comes to blows as it has countless times throughout the history of Mandalore.
16. Dooku v. Anakin Skywalker & Obi Wan Kenobi
Revenge of the Sith
The first of many duels in Revenge of the Sith feels almost like what we wish we had gotten with the Dooku showdown in Attack of the Clones. However, it must be noted that some of the dialogue preceding and during the fight feels a bit clunky. “You’re no match for him, he’s a Sith Lord,” Chancellor Palpatine says to a future Sith Lord and the man who defeated the previous Sith Lord. “My powers have doubled since the last time we met Count,” Anakin says to the man he met countless times throughout the Clone Wars.
Anakin powers, however, HAVE doubled since the last time we as the audience have met him in live-action, which is something this duel is able to convey extremely effectively. Dooku, who made quick work of Anakin & Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones and still tosses Obi-Wan aside within this fight, finally finds his match in Anakin. After a solid action sequence with really good choreography, ominous taunts, and a few droids, Dooku’s hands are severed with a swift move from Anakin that is honestly satisfying to watch. The satisfaction only continues as Anakin wields his lightsaber along with Dooku’s red one (teasing his future red weapon), and ultimately murders Dooku in the only human beheading in Star Wars live-action history (DO IT!).
The scene also plants the seeds of Palpatine's master-manipulations early in the film, as he begins to use Anakin’s anger to his advantage by having the Jedi betray his code in order to dispose of the Sith Lord’s current apprentice. This gives the audience a bit of an introduction to the dynamic between the Sith Master and his future pupil, and offers a “Darth Vader” moment prior to Anakin’s full turn to the Dark Side.
15. Kylo Ren v. Rey (Kijimi)
The Rise of Skywalker
Ok ok… I know there is a lot of Sequel Trilogy hate and even MORE The Rise of Skywalker hate, but this is actually... a very cool and original fight. One thing that the Sequels and the film nail pretty well is the Dyad, and the connection between the two characters within it. Rey’s building anger and Kylo’s taunting of the character as the two switch between settings is a very original and interesting way to enhance the sequence. This teleportation from Kijimi’s surface to Kylo’s trinket room as the fight ensues certainly brings this scene originality and enhances a Force ability that we are still learning about (which comes into play again later in the film).
One of the great mysteries of the Sequels is Rey’s family (like the answer or not), and this scene certainly does well in capturing that tension and having it enhance the emotionally charged duel. The flashbacks of Rey’s past as Kylo begins to drop some EXPOSITION on what really happened to Rey, certainly brings a different element to this fight that goes beyond choreography.
That being said, the choreography in the fight is good, but nothing to write home about. It has the sequel-esque fighting style that is not as over-the-top as the Prequels but not as slow as the Originals. It works, but it is nothing spectacular to watch, and is certainly not the main strong point of the fight.
14. Darth Vader v. Obi Wan Kenobi
A New Hope
Pretty much just an old man and a cyborg poking at each other, this duel, from a fighting standpoint, is certainly the worst on this list. However, the scene’s place in the universe, the Star Wars story, and cinematic history, is absolutely groundbreaking. It is the one that started it all, and laid the groundwork for all other duels to come. In addition, it is only enhanced by the history between the two characters and, with the release of Revenge of the Sith, the realization that Obi-Wan was the cause behind Vader’s suit. It is an absolutely classic moment between former best-friends turned arch-enemies. The dialogue between the two, upon years of aging and delving into the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan, reaches a new level of meaning, especially considering that the standoff is actually a rematch.
It also teaches fans early on about the force and the continuation of life beyond death for certain Jedi. Though it is the ultimate “death” of Obi-Wan, it is hardly the end of the character, and only gives him a larger role to play in the rest of the Trilogy. It also has no declared winner, doing justice to both characters, as a defeat on either of their parts so early in the Trilogy would diminish their established roles (Vader as a powerful antagonist and Obi-Wan as a respected mentor). Instead, it sees Obi-Wan selflessly choosing death in order to hand the baton to the newest generation of heroes and guide Luke in a new way through the Force.
It is almost comical to compare the fight to the pair’s duel on Mustafar. However, the fencing-style of this duel has been explained away by the fact that Obi-Wan is a more weathered Jedi who has refined his style to reflect his age, and Vader has had to develop a different technique because of his clunky suit and apprehension towards Obi-Wan due to past trauma. Somehow, it works, and the least over-the-top fight in the series still holds weight within the Saga. Though the moves are certainly underwhelming as compared to other duels of the series, the fight isn’t all bad, and allows the viewer to see and understand each blow as an aggressive Vader advances towards a defensive Obi-Wan. It is ultimately a sub-par duel that holds immense weight, and has reached icon status in cinematic history.
13. Kylo Ren v. Rey (Death Star Wreckage)
The Rise of Skywalker
The last duel in the Skywalker Saga is the payoff that much of the film and the Sequel Trilogy was building up to: the final show-down of the Dyad. The build up to this duel is great, and the fight starts off on a high note with Kylo’s ease of dodging Rey’s blows inside the Emperor’s chambers before unsheathing his weapon. The choreography in the fight is also solid once it gets going, and it is nice to see Kylo as the powerhouse he is, especially considering he was trained by Luke Skywalker himself for so many years. It is clear in this fight that Kylo is the better dueler (perhaps to make up for fan's qualms during The Force Awakens). We also get a new Force power (always a plus) in that the two are able to block each other’s sabers with the Force. Though it may leave us wondering… why this was never done before, it still gives the duel a sense of originality.
It is clear, however, that the Sequel Trilogy has consistently had a fear of leaning into the over-the-top choreography of the Prequels. Though it is not a bad thing that the Sequels have their own style, it is abundantly clear and a bit jarring once the two characters are fully trained and going at it full Force (haha… get the pun). It certainly feels like the duel could use a bit more originality to separate it from the other Sequel duels from a choreography standpoint, and feels like it is pulling its punches at times. Not to mention that it makes the random Force Jumps and Superhero Landings feel extremely out of place.
The biggest negative of the fight is easily the lack of music, which feels like an overall missed opportunity. Simply adding a Duel of the Fates level score, whether it be a score we’ve already heard or a new score entirely, could have given the fight an entirely different feel. Just imagine watching some of the other great Star Wars fights WITHOUT music, and think about how much it would have taken away from the scenes.
The setting is the true show-stopper in this fight, and it is extremely enjoyable to see the fully-trained Dyad going at it while the waves and the moving wreckage interrupt their fight. Another standout aspect of this fight is it is really Ben Solo’s last scene as Kylo Ren, and is the ultimate death of our beloved Leia as she gives her dying breath to reach out to her son through the Force. This gives it an important role in the Sequel Trilogy and the Star Wars Saga.
12. The Grand Inquisitor v. Kanan Jarrus & Ezra Bridger
Star Wars: Rebels
The final showdown of season 1 of Star Wars: Rebels sees Kanan Jarrus, with a little help from his apprentice, in a final confrontation with the season’s main antagonist: The Grand Inquisitor. A great thing about Star Wars: Rebels is that it is able to introduce us to some new and original villains who do not appear in the Episodic films, The Grand Inquisitor being a great example. It is interesting to see a dark-side user who is not a Sith Lord during this era, and opens the door for further dark-side users to come onto the scene in future seasons. He is intimidating, has amazing voice acting, and an innovative double-sided lightsaber that seems like it would be difficult to show in live-action, but works extremely well in animation. This pitted against Ezra Bridger’s pistol-saber, which Kanan uses the majority of this duel, is certainly a dynamic that is original, and fits the animated medium the story is told in.
The show does a great job making it feel like our heroes are in grave danger during this fight, especially because of how much of a threat The Grand Inquisitor is shown to be throughout the season. This is also enhanced by the arc of both Kanan and Ezra, as they are still both growing into their roles as Jedi Master and Jedi Apprentice. Their struggle to defeat the villain is all the more believable because of this, and makes it feel like the fight is a trial for Kanan as a Jedi.
The stand-out moments in the duel are when Kanan is reacting to what he believes to be Ezra’s death, delivering some amazing dialogue about fear and the Force. The final one-on-one and ominous last line of The Grand Inquisitor after Kanan chooses to spare him “there are some things far more frightening than death” (presumably referring to Vader’s treatment of those who fail) is the icing on the cake, and foreshadows what is to come in future seasons.
11. Kylo Ren v. Finn & Rey
The Force Awakens
The first duel of the Sequel Trilogy, the final showdown between the newest generation of heroes and villains in The Force Awakens serves as a solid final act of the film. After just brutally murdering his own father, who had begun to take both Rey & Finn under his wing, this duel surely has emotional weight to it. Kylo hitting his own injuries solidifies him as a bit of a psycho, and feeds into his dark energy. Plus, he makes easy work of Finn, who truthfully gets a few too many good shots in with little training (made a bit more believable because Kylo is injured).
The standout moment of this fight and perhaps the entire film is Rey’s entrance to the duel, when the Skywalker family saber flies to her hand instead of Kylo’s. The music in this moment is outstanding, and makes you ready to see the new protagonist in a duel. The choreography from then forward is solid, but still suffers from the Sequel’s aversion to over-the-top fights. It does, however, make sense in this context as Rey has basically no training, so it is unlikely she would be Force-jumping all over the place. Another great moment in the fight is Rey’s embracing of the Force, which plays to the theme of lightsaber dueling being heavily based on Force ability rather than raw melee talent. From then forward, it is Rey’s fight. She comes back at Kylo with full Force (lol), and becomes the top dog immediately when she channels her energy correctly. Though an entire article could be written on whether or not Rey should have been able to defeat Kylo (and there are good points on both sides of the argument, as Kylo is far more highly trained but also quite injured), Rey’s defeat of Kylo and subsequent pacing around him like a predator is filmed extremely well.
The setting of the fight in the snowy forest is also a solid one, as the ground collapses around them and they are slashing giant trees down with their sabers. It also serves as a plot device, as Rey would have perhaps killed Kylo if not separated by the collapsing ground. Luckily, Rey and Finn’s limp body are on the same side of the collapsing planet, and the two live to see another day. Ultimately, the duel is solid enough to carry the final act of the movie, and leave the future of the Trilogy at a promising spot, with enough wiggle room to build upon the abilities of each of the three characters (whether or not they delivered is another story).
10. Maul v. Pre Vizsla
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The show-down in the Mandalorian Throne room that pits Maul as the top-dog on Mandalore. This one-on-one fight is more of a “trial-by-combat” style brawl that pits the characters against each other after Maul challenges Pre Vizsla for the Mandalorian throne. One of the beautiful things about the animated shows, especially The Clone Wars, is that it focuses on a larger galaxy than the Episodic films, with a bigger scope than just the Jedi v. the Sith. This allows people who are both villains (in this case, one former-Sith and one Mandalorian cult leader) to come to blows. Both have been built up as power-houses throughout the show, so you can feel the intensity going into the fight, only enhanced by the Death Watch on-lookers waiting in anticipation for their next leader.
Maul’s pure rage and refined lightsaber dueling style find a solid contender in Pre Vizsla’s use of both the Darksaber and a plethora of Mandalorian gadgets. While Maul can Force jump around the room and is clearly the better duelist, Pre Vizsla can evade Maul with his jet-pack while blasting him with a gun and shooting ninja-stars at him before coming back to strike with the Darksaber. The fight really exhausts every resource, having the brawl become a fist fight at certain points, especially toward the end. This makes the fight extremely dynamic and original, and is unlike any other Star Wars duel.
Though it may not have a heavy role in the events of the Skywalker Saga, the duel does play a pivotal part in The Clone Wars, and the Star Wars universe, granting Maul, the ultimate winner, immense power behind him with about half the Death Watch choosing to join him. This allows Maul to both rule Mandalore for a bit, as well as rebuild his power and crime syndicate, which has a clear presence for years to come, even in the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story. This only gives the fight more weight, making it one of the top-tier animated duels.
9. Yoda v. Emperor Palpatine
Revenge of the Sith
In The Empire Strikes Back we were introduced to the two top-tier entities on each side of the Force: Master Yoda and the Emperor. Revenge of the Sith finally pays off a nerd pipe-dream, and has these two characters pitted against each other, as Yoda takes it upon himself to go after the newly-crowned Emperor, Darth Sidious. The scene wastes no time reminding you how powerful the characters are, having Yoda waltz in and knock out two HIGHLY TRAINED GUARDS with the swing of his hand. The conversation that ensues as the two throw each other around the Emperor’s office is outstanding, and perhaps one of the best scenes of the film (especially when the Emperor calls Yoda his “little green friend”).
The actual lightsaber duel as the two rise up into the Senate chambers is enjoyable due to its grandness and weight rather than its choreography or length. Even though, if you’ve seen the Original Trilogy, you know these two characters survive, your heart still pounds as the two raise higher and higher and angrily deliver blows to each other.
When we arrive back at this scene, Duel of the Fates is blasting in our ears, and Palpatine is LAUNCHING the ENTIRE Senate at Yoda, while the little green guy hops around from pod to pod. Until this point, we have mostly seen Jedi and Sith throw small rocks and objects at each other during fights, but seeing the Emperor throw multiple Senate pods at our favorite Jedi-grandmaster while uncontrollably cackling drives the character home as the powerful Sith he really is. Not to mention, he literally blasts Yoda’s lightsaber from his hand never to be found again with Force-lightning. The final face-to-face is intense, and the sense of failure when Yoda falls to the ground and is forced to flee is truly heartbreaking.
Where this duel exceeds is not in its actual lightsaber-to-lightsaber combat, but in literally everything else (conversation, intensity, Force battle, repercussions, and music just to name a few). The final minutes of Revenge of the Sith are some of the best in all of Star Wars, and though there are, of course, other scenes that contribute to that, it would be outrageous to not give some credit to this duel between the two Masters of the Force.
8. Ahsoka Tano v. Maul
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The last real duel of the entire The Clone Wars show; it seems fitting to get a show-down between these two characters. Though The Clone Wars focuses on many different protagonists and antagonists, Ahsoka is at the heart of the show, and is the character the viewer sees most of the events through. Though Maul is only in a handful of episodes, he certainly feels like the main antagonist in the latter part of the show. These characters have never met until the final Mandalorian-arc of the show, but the episodes do a great job of building up a rivalry between the two.
The believability of the duel, considering Ahsoka is able to actually contend with the former-Sith, speaks to the ability of The Clone Wars to build up Ahsoka as an extremely powerful former-Jedi. Though she is consistently disarmed throughout the duel, she always gets back up and continues her pursuit of Maul, giving the Dathomirian a run for his money. The banter as the two go at it is outstanding, while building upon the tension that is laid out prior to the fight. Overall the choreography is stellar, and shows the heights of animation that Star Wars has built up to.
All throughout, the fight moves from the Mandalorian Throne Room to the top of the city’s dome, giving it two very different settings: a more flat plane to start which allows the characters to show their stuff in a more simple setting, as well as an interesting balance-beam type setting where the characters have to use their skill and setting to both adapt and best each other. When Ahsoka is disarmed but STILL ultimately wins the fight, you can’t help but feel proud of the young character. The duel is an amazing way to end the show’s Mandalorian arc, and serves as a great “last hoorah” for the story of the Clone Wars era, as the next episodes move into the territory of the Empire.
7. Kylo Ren & Rey v. Praetorian Guards
The Last Jedi
Say what you will about the controversial The Last Jedi, you are lying if you say your heart wasn’t pounding the first time you saw this throne room scene. Coming off the heels of the surprise death of Supreme Leader Snoke, The Last Jedi hit us with a melee brawl that sees Kylo and Rey fighting back to back against the infamous Praetorian Guards. Part of what makes this scene cool is that we’ve seen Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, and Snoke surrounded by similar red guards throughout Star Wars lore, but have never actually seen them come to blows (except when Yoda threw a pair against the wall).
The scenery is beautiful, and the choreography is for sure innovative and original. Rey and Kylo’s teamwork in taking on the guards makes you really believe they are on the same side, and each individual stand-off between the two and the individual guards has a move or two to love. As most lightsaber fights pit our heroes against one/two enemies or dispensable enemies such as troopers or droids, it is surely a sight to see Rey and Kylo take on an onslaught of trained enemies, equipt with innovative weapons we haven’t seen before. And yes, there are a few nitpicks to find when you slow this fight down and really look into some of the choreographic mistakes that were made, but let's be honest, you didn’t see them until you watched a slow-mo break down on YouTube trying to prove how bad The Last Jedi is.
6. Darth Sidious v. Maul & Savage Opress
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Though The Clone Wars displays Palpatine’s behind-the-scenes manipulations throughout the show, the future-Emperor doesn’t get all that much screen-time, or all that much action. However, when he does appear in this particular duel, it is certainly a spectacle. Throughout the show, all of these different entities with immense power (the Jedi, the Republic, Death Watch, other crime syndicates) attempt to defeat Maul, and his former-master kind of just rolls up to do it himself. He makes easy work of the guards in a similar fashion as Yoda in Revenge of the Sith, and is happy to take on the Dathomirian Duo. It is easy to forget that Palpatine uses two separate lightsabers in Revenge of the Sith (one he loses in his fight with Windu, the other he uses in his duel with Yoda), but both sabers are certainly on full display here.
The Dathomirians barely get a good strike in, and even when they do, Sidious uses it to his advantage. The choreography is amazing, and it is mesmerizing to see so many red sabers going up against each other. The one-sided nature of this fight is apparent, and it is clear Palpatine is toying with the duo, and even uses his murder of Savage Opress (Maul’s brother) to taunt Maul. This actually makes for a humanizing moment for Maul where the audience can feel his pain as his brother dies. It gives the fight a sense of brutality that is unexpected for a kid’s show, but is certainly the intensity required to pay off the Mandalorian arc and deliver a welcome Palpatine action sequence.
In typical Maul fashion, the pain does not go to waste, and turns into a rage filled unleash during the final one-on-one confrontation with his former-master. This makes for a fast-paced and extremely intense sequence, as the two come at each other with two sabers each (one being the Darksaber wielded by Maul). It makes for a great final spectacle and valiant effort on Maul’s part before being tossed around like a rag-doll and begging for mercy. The cruel Master of the Sith truly lives up to his name as he tortures Maul with Force-Lightning while giggling. The duel wastes no time giving us a satisfying confrontation between these two characters, and is the perfect way to address the deep history between the two, while also delivering one of the best Star Wars fights ever.
5. Luke Skywalker v. Darth Vader
Return of the Jedi
The culmination of both Luke and Vader/Anakin’s story in the Original Trilogy, the duel on the Death Star 2.0 in Emperor Palpatine’s “Throne Room” is one for the ages. Though many feel that Return of the Jedi is the weakest film of the Original Trilogy, you will be hard-pressed to find a Star Wars fan who is unhappy with the way this story arc and scene played out. The emotional weight behind this duel is off the charts, as father and son face-off as each makes a final attempt to turn the other to their side. Luke’s ultimate goal may be turning Vader, but not only is he attempting to turn a seemingly irredeemable villain, but two of the most powerful Dark Side users to ever exist are baiting him to lose himself to the darkness. Seeing Luke unleash his full power and anger on Vader as Palpatine reveals his friends are doomed, and Vader threatens to turn Leia to the Dark-Side surely makes for an amazing final duel, that results in an amazing moment where Luke chooses the way of the Jedi over his inner-anger.
The choreography in the fight is great, and is able to bring the less over-the-top nature of the Original Trilogy to a level where you still believe that both Luke and Vader are extremely powerful. The moments between Vader and Luke are great both during and after this battle, especially when Luke compares his severed hand to his fathers, and decides not to take revenge. The result of this fight has perhaps the most weight on the Star Wars universe as a whole, as we are able to see Vader redeemed, Luke’s final test as a Jedi, and the “death” of the Emperor and Empire.
4. Darth Maul v. Qui Gon Ginn & Obi-Wan Kenobi (The Duel of the Fates)
The Phantom Menace
Though The Phantom Menace left many fans at the time… disappointed, one thing that was generally well received was the newly introduced villain, Darth Maul. The final act of the film is really where the Sith shines, as he has minimal screen-time aside from the final fight scene. Even within the duel, there is no dialogue once the fighting starts, which makes Maul a bit more intimidating in an “assassin” type way. It also gives this duel a different type of feel as compared to other duels in Star Wars, leaving the viewer to hear only lightsaber strikes over the score Duel of the Fates (the top tier score in all of Star Wars), adding to the grandeur of the battle. The setting is also certainly a cool one to behold, although it is a bit confusing why they have random beams and laser barriers in the middle of the Naboo castle.
The choreography is the best in the entire franchise, as it introduces fans to the over-the-top and precise nature of the prequels without overwhelming the viewers with strikes that don’t seem to hold weight or make sense. Every move from each of the three characters feels like a death strike, and when Maul separates the two-Jedis to take them each one-on-one, the choreography only gets better. Obi-Wan’s one-on-one fight with Maul, in particular, is the best lightsaber choreography in Star Wars, with Force-jumps/flips and flailing lightsabers that move extremely fast without looking ridiculous. This is not to mention the intense emotional weight that is held in the final moments of the brawl after Maul strikes down Obi-Wan’s master as he helplessly watches.
Though this duel is not at the heart of the events of the Star Wars universe like some of the others on the top of this list, it serves as the first domino that sets off the chain of events that is the Skywalker Saga. With the death of Qui Gon Ginn, it surely leaves a vacuum in the life of Anakin Skywalker that leads him down a different path, giving the duel a special place in the story of Star Wars.
3. Luke Skywalker v. Darth Vader
The Empire Strikes Back
First things first, this scene gave us the jaw-dropping plot twist that changed cinema altogether with “I am your father”. This fight as a cornerstone of the Star Wars universe and cinema in general certainly gives it a leg up on all other Star Wars scenes, and its iconic status cannot be overstated.
The fight is perhaps the most one-sided duel in all of Star Wars, which one might think would take away from it, but only makes it better. Vader’s toying with Luke and absolute dominance of the arrogant young Jedi-in-training only make it more enjoyable to witness, and finally characterize Vader as the powerhouse he is. Vader’s ease of taking on Luke with one hand at certain points and chucking objects at him with the Force make him intimidating, while also giving the fight longevity as it is clear the Sith’s intention is not to kill his son. This characterization of Vader as an intimidating powerhouse also makes it all the more satisfying when Luke actually gets a solid strike or two in or visibly impresses Vader with his new-found abilities.
The fighting style is certainly upgraded from A New Hope, as the strikes feel like they hold weight and make it feel like the two are actually going at each other. The setting changes also make this fight dynamic as the two move through a few different locations, and make Vader feel like a looming presence as he disappears and reappears with each change of location.
The build--up to this scene grows throughout the entire movie, as Luke has clearly been training with Yoda for an ultimate showdown with Vader. This makes you feel his fear as he enters the battle in the iconic Cloud City carbonite room, and Vader looms over him from atop the staircase. The duel certainly pays off on a technical and emotional level, which solidifies it as one of the best scenes in all of Star Wars.
2. Ahsoka Tano v. Darth Vader
Star Wars: Rebels
When fans say that some of the greatest Star Wars moments occur in the animated shows, this is surely one they are referring to. One of the strongest points of the animated shows is undoubtedly Ahsoka Tano, who has become one of the most beloved Star Wars characters of all time despite never appearing in a Star Wars film. This duel is where her story truly comes to a head, and she has to confront her former-master turned Sith Lord. Anakin and Ahsoka’s relationship throughout The Clone Wars is so effectively built, and it is clear how much the two care about each other. This gives the duel an extremely emotional element, especially considering Ahsoka’s immense guilt for leaving the Jedi order years prior, and essentially deciding to no longer be Anakin’s apprentice. As the two come face-to-face during the final episode of Rebels season 2, the confrontation does not disappoint.
The conversation prior to the fight effectively addresses the history between the characters, while also characterizing Ahsoka’s uncertainty of Anakin’s actual fate. The delivery of each line hits home for long fans of the animated shows, and when the fight begins, the clashing of styles of the two characters somehow works. Ahsoka’s more quick and agile nature meets its match in Vader’s strong and stern style, and somehow both are able to be conveyed effectively. Though Vader seems a bit stronger in the initial portions of the fight, Ahsoka definitely challenges him and is able to show the dexterity she has built up throughout both shows.
Ahsoka eventually manages to sever Vader’s mask and sees Anakin’s face for the first time in years, complete with Mustafar burns and yellow Sith eyes. When a voice calls out to her that is a mixture of Anakin’s and Vaders, you can feel Ahsoka’s devastation in the confirmation that her former-master had fallen to darkness. As Ahsoka chooses to remain with Vader in the collapsing temple, and the Sith Lord makes his final deadly pursuit of Ahsoka, you almost want to cry. A few seasons later, when we actually get to see the remainder of what happened in the collapsing temple, we get a few final strokes that solidify that Vader would have defeated Ahsoka if not intervened by an outside force (but, that’s another whole story). This duel is the perfect way to pay off the relationship between these two characters while also serving as an amazing animated action sequence, solidifying it as one of the greatest moments in the Star Wars universe.
1. Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) v. Obi Wan Kenobi
Revenge of the Sith
As I mentioned… the final moments of Revenge of the Sith are some of the greatest in all of Star Wars, and THIS is the scene of them all. The longest sword fight scene in all of cinema (and for good reason), the duel truly lives up to its title. Like the over-the-top nature of the prequels or not (which are quite apparent here), there seems to be no better way to showcase the culmination of the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader. The sequence starts off with a DARK scene of Anakin confronting his relationship with Padme before choking his wife, and quickly moves to a confrontation between the new-Sith and his former Master. Though the dialogue has become a bit of a meme, you can still feel all the weight it carries. The duel itself takes not even a moment to get going, and every stroke is a marvelous spectacle to watch.
Though at times, it seems like they should actually be hitting each other rather than swinging their sabers around, the dance between the two, and its length, drive home the fact that Obi-Wan really DID teach Anakin everything he knew. The two jump from room to room, lava to lava, and you almost can’t decide who you are rooting for (though it’s clear they both survive). The conversation while the two dance is heart-breaking, as Obi-Wan tries to make Anakin come to his senses, but is met with a brick wall that has fallen to the darkness.
The point that Anakin only loses the fight due to his own arrogance is poetic, though the execution could use some work (I’m looking at you, Mr. High Ground). When Anakin’s near lifeless body is burning to a crisp due to the sword of his former-best friend, you can only help but feel Obi-Wan’s loss. Though Anakin had taken on the mantle of Darth Vader mid-film, this scene is the end of his friendship with Obi-Wan, and the true birth of Darth Vader as we know him. Not only is this the peak of duels in Star Wars, but it is the heart of the entire Series.
Written by Nick Mandala
Edited by Jake Zall