A Deeply Scientific Ranking Of Lightsaber Duels In ‘Star Wars’
Star Wars men would literally rather fight each other with laser swords than go to therapy.
Disney+’s recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series prompted a deep and ancient urge within me: to rank every one of the lightsaber duels in every Star Wars film.
Star Wars needs no introduction. With well over 45 years and counting of films, series, comics, novels and fans, and many more of each on the way — the franchise has grown into its own galaxy, far, far away. But if there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to see in Star Wars, it’s some lightsaber duels.
Given how many lightsaber duels there are across the franchise, this ranking is limited to the ones that appear in the live-action films. Also, this should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t, lightsaber duels are those between characters with lightsabers.
Warning: Spoilers ahead, obviously.
Honourable Mention: Obi-Wan vs. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Obi-Wan Kenobi Series)
This list is limited to movie lightsaber duels. However, as a lifelong stan of the Star Wars prequels, the climactic duel between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series deserves a nostalgia-fueled nod.
With 17 years between when audiences saw their fateful fight in Revenge of the Sith to the Obi-Wan Kenobi finale, the onscreen reunion royale was an emotional one. The moment where Hayden Christensen’s Anakin voice melds with James Earl Jones’ iconic Vader voice? Chills.
#14. Most Of Rey and Kylo Ren’s Duels
Of all the duelling duos in Star Wars films, no two have met more on the battlefield than Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The pair’s sabers cross a grand total of five times, with three of those duels in The Rise of Skywalker.
But after The Force Awakens, their duels are, essentially, the same fight stretched out. Thus, they’re grouped together to kick off the list.
#13. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Count Dooku (Revenge of the Sith)
It’s the first of many lightsaber duels in Revenge of the Sith, but it’s the second time Anakin and his master square up against Count Dooku. After losing his hand to Dooku in Attack of the Clones, Anakin gets revenge two-fold and slices off the sith’s arms before decapitating him. This fight also remains iconic for Obi-Wan’s claims that sith lords are his speciality before one drops a whole balcony on him and knocks him out of the fight totally.
#12. Qui-Gon Jinn vs. Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
Timing in at under a minute, it’s more of a scuff-up than a fight. But Qui-Gon’s first run-in with Darth Maul on Tatooine perfectly teases Darth Maul’s ruthlessness as a foe. It’s the first lightsaber duel we see in The Phantom Menace and perfectly foreshadows their epic duel to come.
#11. Kylo Ren vs. Luke Skywalker (The Last Jedi)
As divided as many Star Wars fans are over Rian Johnson’s sequel, Kylo Ren’s lightsaber duel with his ex-teacher and uncle Luke is undeniably epic. The visuals, the choreography, the music, and the sense of grandeur, along with the stakes, were high. But if there’s one thing we can all take away from this fight it’s that men will literally Astro-project themselves across the galaxy so they can fight their nephew with a laser sword instead of going to therapy.
#10. Palpatine vs. Mace Windu and The Jedi Council (Revenge of the Sith)
It’s the moment everyone realises a tiny bit too late that Palpatine is pure evil and no one lives to tell the tale. In Samuel L. Jackson’s character’s most notable lightsaber duel on screen, Mace Windu and the council go toe to toe with Palpatine. As the last one standing, it seems like Windu has the upper hand… until old Palps proves otherwise and, with Anakin’s help, throws Windu out the window.
#9. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. General Grievous (Revenge of the Sith)
It’s the duel that inspired a generation of “hello there” memes. But it’s also a damn good fight. There are Grievous’ four cyborg arms with a spinning sabre for each, Obi-Wan rides a giant alien lizard at some point, Grievous’ iconic ominous threats, and oh yeah, the fact that Obi-Wan wins by tearing open Grievous’ chest and exposing his still beating heart. The CGI is still on point for a 2005 film too.
#8. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (A New Hope)
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth was the first lightsaber fight ever put to screen and for that, we owe it much. While in its full context it does boil down to two petty old geezers hashing out their decades-long quarrel, it’s no less iconic. The fight also marks the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the final confrontation between himself and his once great friend and apprentice. The first lightsaber duel was a last between foes.
#7. Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda vs. Count Dooku (Attack of the Clones)
Yoda puppet purists, be damned! Absolutely nothing beats the hype of seeing Yoda throw hands. After three films of seeing Yoda wax philosophical in a swamp, seeing the old master in his prime fighting none other than the late Sir Christopher Lee still ignites my inner child. While the CGI is a little aged and awkward, giving the fight an easy memeable quality, it’s an epic tease for the showdown to come between Yoda and the Emporer. This fight also sees Anakin lose his hand just like Luke. As George Lucas once said of the saga, “it’s like poetry”.
#6. Palpatine vs. Yoda (Revenge of the Sith)
All the best duels in Star Wars are as much about the setting as the fight itself. This final act showdown between the Emporer and Yoda in the senate room is nothing short of epic. A literal ideological battle, only this one is fought with laser swords and the poignant knowledge that Yoda has already lost.
#5. Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and Luke (Return Of the Jedi)
I could write entire dissertations on this duel, but what more can be said about a perfect final act other than the fact it’s perfect? The original trilogies’ duels may have a dated clunkiness to them in comparison to the newer instalments of the franchise, however, there’s nothing quite like that moment where my guy Luke Skywalker throws his lightsaber aside mid duel, refusing to kill Vader for the Emperor because he “is a Jedi like my father before me”.
Luke Skywalker, king of breaking the cycle of familial dysfunction and intergenerational trauma. At least, until his nephew comes along.
#4. Rey and Finn vs. Kylo (The Force Awakens)
There was arguably no group of films more divisive in recent history than the Star Wars sequel trilogy. But even in a vacuum, the lightsaber duel between Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Kylo Ren is one of the most visually unforgettable of the saga. Nothing quite hits like the stain of blood and the glow of a lightsaber in falling snow. The duel perhaps promised a greater trilogy than what was eventually delivered, but it only makes the scene more iconic as a bittersweet showcase of what might have been.
#3. Darth Vader vs. Luke (Empire Strikes Back)
It’s a duel that contains one of the most beloved and famously shocking plot twists in cinematic history. In their first true confrontation in the franchise, Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back is a doozy. My boy Luke does get his ass handed to him by his old man and loses a whole hand in the process, but you gotta get knocked down before you get up again.
#2. Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
This duel is so iconic that they almost named an entirely separate Star Wars film after it. Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul is often termed ‘Duel of the Fates’ after the immaculately composed John Williams song that scores it.
Ending with the tragic murder of Qui-Gon at the hands of Darth Maul, and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s bittersweet ascension into Jedi masterhood — the duel is both compelling, shocking, and satisfying. That’s no mean feat for a prequel. It also boasts one of the coolest environments for a fight, with the timed automatic shields sporadically separating Obi, Qui-Gon, and Maul from one another for short periods to build nail-biting levels of tension.
#1. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin (Revenge of the Sith)
Some may say Anakin and Obi-Wan’s final showdown in Revenge of the Sith is too CGI-heavy. But with three movies worth of build-up, it stands as the final act in the complete and tragic corruption of their friendship.
As CGI-heavy as it may be, the fiery landscape remains the most perfect setting for an emotionally devastating duel. Combine John Williams’ heartwrenching score, compelling fight choreography, and heartfelt performances from Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor — there is no one on this green Earth that can tell me this isn’t the best lightsaber duel in Star Wars. Argue with the wall.
Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry. If you want, check out their podcast, GayV Club where they yarn about LGBTIQ media. Either way, they hope you ate something nice today.