Ranking the Star Wars (films) lightsaber battles

The snap-hiss upon activation followed by a simple, yet often haunting, humming noise. The vibrant array of colors and designs, each with its own meaning.

I ask you this simple question: Is there anything cooler than a lightsaber? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously, because the answer is no. I want one, you want one, anyone that likes amazing things wants one. But, sadly, we can’t have them (not yet, at least).

We are just about two months away from the world premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I’ve got lightsabers on the brain. So, naturally, I need to rank the lightsaber battles we’ve seen on-screen thus far.

My highly-scientific system will score each fight on a 1-5 scale (5 being the highest) in five categories: the actual fight sequences, the musical score/dialogue, the emotional impact, the re-watchability of the fight, and the overall legacy. I’ve also limited this to just the six live-action films thus far (sorry, Clone Wars) and actual clashing of lightsabers (no Episode II Jedi attack on Genosia, for instance).

Agree with my rankings? Disagree? Come nerd out, and let me know.

11. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. General Grievous (III)

Score: 9 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 4; Score/dialogue – 1; Emotional impact – 1; Re-watchability – 2; Legacy – 1)

Highlight: Grievous unveiling and wielding four lightsabers simultaneously.

Lowlight: Obi-Wan disarming Grievous’ four lightsabers in cliched fashion.

Summary: Poor General Grievous. He had so much potential as a character, but never felt like more than an extra in Episode III. This fight scene is a perfect microcosm of that. I maintain that the shot of Grievous approaching Obi-Wan, four lightsabers in hand (two rapidly spinning) is one of the more vivid images from the entire franchise. Unfortunately, the fight takes a pretty mundane and predictable turn after that.

10. Qui-Gon Jinn vs. Darth Maul (I)

Score: 11 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 3; Score/dialogue – 3; Emotional impact – 1; Re-watchability – 3; Legacy – 1)

Highlight: Darth Maul’s badass entrance, flipping in off his speeder.

Lowlight: It’s just such a tease.

Summary: This fight isn’t bad. It’s just so short, and so dusty, and so chaotic, that we barely get to appreciate it. I know that’s done intentionally – this fight merely serves as a preview of the climactic “Duel of the Fates” showdown. But, the score speaks for itself here.

9. Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker vs. Count Dooku (II)

Score: 15 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 3; Score/dialogue – 3; Emotional impact – 3; Re-watchability – 3; Legacy – 3)

Highlight: Yoda with a lightsaber? Yoda with a lightsaber!

Lowlight: Obi-Wan’s complete domination at Dooku’s hands.

Summary: Where to start with this one? I’m not the biggest fan of Count Dooku as a character, but Christopher Lee’s on-screen presence is undeniable. He convincingly defeats both Obi-Wan and Anakin while simultaneously taunting them. Yoda’s on-screen debut with a lightsaber is both entertaining and cheesy, but in the context of this scene, it’s the top moment.

8. Mace Windu vs. Darth Sidious (III)

Score: 16 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 3; Score/dialogue – 3; Emotional impact – 4; Re-watchability – 3; Legacy – 3)

Highlight: Windu’s epic death, and the effects on Anakin.

Lowlight: Sidious cutting through three Jedi like a knife through butter.

Summary: This scene is weird. I realize Darth Sidious is the most powerful Sith we’ve seen in the films, but why, WHY, are the other three Jedi with Mace Windu unable to survive for more than mere seconds? It’s silly. And the whole lightning situation. It’s still unclear why, in the context of the films, Sidious becomes deformed from his own lightning (and Luke doesn’t in Episode VI). Regardless, this is an important scene for Anakin, and for that reason alone, I’m willing to overlook the painfully-forced CGI of Sidious flipping around for no apparent reason.

7. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (IV)

Score: 18 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 1; Score/dialogue – 4; Emotional impact – 5; Re-watchability – 3; Legacy – 5)

Highlight: The on-screen birth of lightsabers.

Lowlight: The actual fighting.

Summary: I refuse to knock this scene. After all, without it, we wouldn’t have any lightsaber debates (and that’s a world I shutter to think about). In the context of the films’ story, this scene is classic — Obi-Wan and Vader meet again, nearly 20 years after they’ve last seen each other. Obi-Wan’s self-sacrifice, and its impact on Luke, are crucial aspects of the entire saga. It’s just a classic scene. The fight sequences though … meh. But hey, it’s two old dudes. Let’s just appreciate this for opening the door.

6. Yoda vs. Darth Sidious (III)

Score: 19 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 4; Score/dialogue – 3; Emotional impact – 3; Re-watchability – 5; Legacy – 4)

Highlight: Sidious hurling Senate pods at Yoda.

Lowlight: The cheesy dialogue.

Summary: The on-screen action and musical score for this scene are on point. I’m not a fan of the slow build-up though. “If so powerful you are, why leave?” Dammit, Yoda. If so powerful YOU are, why are you standing there hurling cheesy zingers instead of destroying the Sith mastermind that just brought down the Republic? It also confuses me how Yoda simply gives up and accepts his “failure” at the end, but again, in the context of the saga, we needed both to survive this fight (obviously).

5. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Count Dooku (III)

Score: 21 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 5; Score/dialogue – 4; Emotional impact – 4; Re-watchability – 4; Legacy – 4)

Highlight: Anakin embracing the dark side and defeating Dooku.

Lowlight: Obi-Wan once again having zero ability to match Dooku.

Summary: I love this underrated scene. It’s everything I wanted to see in the Episode II fight between these three. The dialogue is held to a minimum, and the surrounding space battle creates an awesomely eery mood. Count Dooku’s last line (“I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate, you have anger, but you don’t use them.”) is masterfully delivered by Lee, and helps increase the impact of Dooku’s demise at Anakin’s hands. This is a short, but crucial scene.

4. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (VI)

Score: 22 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 3; Score/dialogue – 5; Emotional impact – 5; Re-watchability – 4; Legacy – 5)

Highlight: Luke severing Vader’s hand, echoing his own defeat in Episode V.

Lowlight: How quickly Sidious gives up in his attempt to convert Luke.

Summary: This scene is pretty timeless, though it’s not because of the lightsaber battle itself, which is arguably the best of the original trilogy. The ongoing dialogue between Luke and Vader is well-written, and strikes an emotional cord. So, too, does seeing an enraged Luke beat Vader into submission. What I’ve never understood is why Sidious moves from recruiting to electrocuting Luke so quickly. He spent years and years molding Anakin. Oh well. At this point I’m just being picky.

T-2. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (III)

Score: 23 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 5; Score/dialogue – 4; Emotional impact – 5; Re-watchability – 4; Legacy – 5)

Highlight: Seeing how Darth Vader became DARTH VADER.

Lowlight: It drags on for a little too long.

Summary: And we have a tie! Episode III’s epic duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin (now going by Darth Vader) is undoubtedly mesmerizing. From a visual standpoint, the volcanic setting of Mustafar is the most striking of any of fights on the list. And though he was already Darth Vader by name, this shows how he came to be “more machine now than man, twisted and evil.” If I have one gripe with this sequence though, it’s that it drags on a little too long. We get it, this is THE fight of the Star Wars saga, and we get it, Obi-Wan and Vader are evenly matched. I’d have rather seen more of Anakin’s emotional fall to the dark side, or his relationship with Sidious. But hey, I’m being picky again.

T-2. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader (V)

Score: 23 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 3; Score/dialogue – 5; Emotional impact – 5; Re-watchability – 5; Legacy – 5)

Highlight: “No, I am your father.”

Lowlight: Luke jumping (to his death?) and ending up in an air shaft.

Summary: Without question one of the most impactful and timeless scenes in cinema history. Darth Vader’s reveal at the end of the duel is legendary, but this entire sequence is brilliant. The setting, tone and mood inside the carbon freezing station are chilling. You FEEL scared for Luke when Vader ignites his lightsaber. But you also feel hopeful when Luke, displaying his new-found powers (thanks, Yoda), escapes the freezing chamber and battles back. I never really liked Luke jumping, seemingly in a suicide attempt to escape Vader, but given how the scene developed, I’m not sure what alternative he had.

1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn vs. Darth Maul (I)

Score: 24 out of 25 (Fight sequences – 5; Score/dialogue – 5; Emotional impact – 5; Re-watchability – 5; Legacy – 4)

Highlight: Everything.

Lowlight: Darth Maul’s death.

Summary: This is as close as we’ve come to a perfect lightsaber battle. Three incredible characters, all with distinct appearances and unique lightsabers. A visually-striking setting (generator room platforms). An incredible score (Duel of the Fates), with absolutely no cheesy dialogue forced into the scene. An emotional and impactful death (Qui-Gon). There’s really not much to critique here … except for Darth Maul’s death! Much like Boba Fett, Maul’s death came too prematurely and in disappointing fashion. And yes, I know he is now alive in canon thanks to The Clone Wars, but I feel pretty strongly that Maul could have (and should have) had a major role in the entire prequel trilogy. Say what you want about Episode I (and people say plenty, usually bad), but it gave us Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn and the best lightsaber battle to date.


2 thoughts on “Ranking the Star Wars (films) lightsaber battles

  1. Thank you for you this, this was a fair, unbiased look at the lightsaber battles. Not another “the prequels suck” bandwagon article. I almost completely agree with your entire listing, from minor gripes like Sidious’ all too easy disposal of the Jedi’s that accompanied Windu, to the Episode I climax being ranked 1.

    I will say this, I feel Sidious gave up on converting Luke quickly because he didn’t really want to. Vader had mentioned the Emperor had foreseen Luke overthrowing him, and we know the Sith have their rule of two – with every apprentice secretly wanting to overthrow their master. The Emperor had Vader in submission for two decades, Vader’s secret apprentices had failed, and he saw Luke as the one that could overthrow him and they, as father and son Sith Lords, would rule the galaxy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks HudsonHawk, appreciate the kind words. You make solid points on the Sidious-Luke issue. It’s also a matter of circumstance — Palpatine had the luxury of grooming Anakin and planting seeds of doubt in his head over years and years, whereas he basically only had time to make a quick pitch to Luke. What was he going to do, let Luke walk away if he said no? So, yes, in short, your points are all valid. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment!


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