Who among us has not picked up a stick when we were kids and proceeded to duel our sibling or friend, making the “vrrrrrooom FSH!” noises of a lightsaber? Jedi or Sith, it doesn’t matter. There’s just something empowering about pretending to hold a lightsaber in your hands, ready to vanquish your enemies. Admit it – even as an adult, the thought has crossed your mind when you’ve picked up a cardboard wrapping paper tube.
Sadly, none of us have learned how to channel the Force or how to get our midi-chlorian count up to supernatural levels yet – YET. There’s always hope. Come on, science! We’re counting on you.
Until then, we have the fictional lightsaber battles of Star Wars to tease us with glimpses of what might be if we ever developed a sensitivity to the Force. Between the movies and TV shows, there have been dozens of battles over the decades. But which ones stand out? Here are the 11 best lightsaber battles in Star Wars history, ranked.
11. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Darth Vader (‘A New Hope’)
The first lightsaber duel we ever saw in Star Wars is last on this list. Despite its place in Star Wars history, it’s, well…kind of boring. Sir Alec Guinness was in his 60s at the time of filming A New Hope and not exactly known for being a man of action in his films; David Prowse’s mobility was limited due to the Vader costume. The result is that the fight itself isn’t terribly dynamic, featuring stilted jabs at one another, little movement, and visual effects that are dated.
But this battle lands on this list for all the story it sets up; the fight is literally the least important part of the fight. Instead, this lightsaber battle quickly paints a sketch of the history between these two, a relationship that underpins the entire Skywalker Saga. All we knew of Darth Vader to that point was that he was evil and had slaughtered Jedi, including Obi-Wan’s friend, Anakin Skywalker. The look of recognition on Kenobi’s face, however, and the fact that Vader hints at a previous master-apprentice relationship lets us know that there was far more to the story than it appeared. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was all laying the groundwork for arguably the most important character history in the entire saga.
10. Obi-Wan Kenobi & Adi Gallia Vs. Darth Maul & Savage Opress (‘The Clone Wars’ Season 5)
Despite other animated Star Wars series having come before it, The Clone Wars was the series to really dive into animated lightsaber battles that were as gripping and action-packed as any in the live-action movies. This battle, almost more than any other, illustrates just how skilled and powerful Obi-Wan Kenobi was as a Jedi Master in his prime. The battle starts off as two-on-two, with Obi-Wan and Adi Gallia facing off against Darth Maul and his brother, Savage Opress. The fight is plenty dynamic from the start, but it’s the second half of the fight after Adi goes down that showcases Kenobi’s prowess. He not only holds off both brothers by dual-wielding his and Adi’s lightsabers but also goes on the attack. Kicking out Savage’s leg and severing his arm just when it seems he’s on the ropes, Obi-Wan shows he’s as wily as he is fleet-footed. Plus, it’s one of the rare occasions we see Maul show emotion other than blankness or anger – his cry of “Savage!” is full of genuine concern, and his goal immediately becomes to escape for his brother’s sake rather than killing the Jedi he hates most.
9. Mace Windu Vs. Darth Sidious/Palpatine (‘Revenge Of The Sith’)
Emperor Palpatine, or Darth Sidious in disguise, is the conniving snake of the Star Wars universe. But in the prequels, we didn’t yet know just how powerful he was – or how evil. He finally drops the act in Revenge of the Sith as Mace Windu comes to arrest him for treason. Realizing the jig is up, he stops being Palpatine, politician, act and fully becomes Darth Sidious, Sith Lord. It finally showed Star Wars fans what they’d been wondering about for years: How did the Jedi finally figure out Palpatine was Sidious? For that matter, just how powerful was he back then? Turns out, exceptionally powerful. Even when disarmed by Windu, Sidious busted out his trademark Force lightning for the first time in the prequels. What’s more, the fight marked a turning point for Anakin Skywalker as he took another step closer to the dark side when he stopped Windu from killing Sidious, slicing off Windu’s arm and allowing Sidious to project him out the window. It’s not the strongest fight, but it’s good enough to land at #9 on this list.
8. Ahsoka Tano Vs. Darth Vader (‘Star Wars Rebels’ Season 2)
The fight between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader was a long time coming, with their relationship going back to when Anakin Skywalker was just a Jedi Knight and Ahsoka his Padawan apprentice. Ahsoka continued her studies after leaving the Jedi Order to become formidable with a lightsaber, dual-wielding two. And Darth Vader is, well, Darth Vader. What makes this fight so interesting is that it’s all about Ahsoka’s quickness and dexterity vs. Vader’s raw power. Ahsoka backflips and spins, leaping in place, while Vader simply stalks forward swinging his lightsaber. It’s one of the few fights in which Vader doesn’t go for the throat: Ahsoka is good enough to beat him outright, but she slices away part of his mask to reveal a glimpse of her former friend and mentor under the mask. As he calls her name in that moment, he seems to be less Vader and more Anakin, trapped somewhere in between. Equally ambiguous is that the fight ends in a draw with the temple collapsing around them. It’s a glimpse of the man he used to be before becoming Vader, and a nod toward the deep bond he once shared with Ahsoka.
7. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Jango Fett (‘Attack Of The Clones’)
Kenobi vs. Fett. The Rumble in the Rain. Mandalorian armor vs. a Jedi’s Force sensitivity. We’re used to seeing how Jedi Master fare against other lightsabers, but the showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and bounty hunter Boba Fett featured lasers guns, blasters, rocket cannons, and flamethrowers from Fett, not to mention some martial arts hand-to-hand combat from Kenobi and his trademark ingenuity in a fight. Okay, yeah, the visuals haven’t really held up, but it’s still just fun. There’s no deep history here between the two, just one man trying to escape and another man trying to keep him from it. It might not be the most fraught fight on this list, but it’s certainly one of the most entertaining, and that’s why it’s middle of the pack.
6. Darth Maul Vs. Pre Vizsla (‘The Clone Wars’ Season 5)
The prequels undercut Darth Maul’s character. Luckily, The Clone Wars made up for that, showing off Maul’s Sith Lord mastery of the Force – and his treachery. After Vizsla allies his forces with those of Darth Maul, the Mandalorian warrior finally succeeds in staging a coup and taking control of Mandalore. But Maul betrays him, challenging him to a duel for the throne. What follows is the best fight of the animated series, marrying storytelling and choreography together into an action-packed fight with incredible stakes. It also offered us an extended look at Vizsla’s Darksaber, the ancient and black-bladed lightsaber created by his ancestor, Tarre Vizsla, in action. It ends when Maul beheads Vizsla with his own Darksaber, angering a faction of Vizsla’s fighters and eventually leading to another Mandalorian civil war. Action and consequences place this fight as the best of the animated series.
5. Yoda Vs. Darth Sidious (‘Revenge Of The Sith’)
For years, we’d wondered what would happen if the two arguably most powerful beings in the Star Wars galaxy ever unleashed their powers on one another. The fight between Yoda and Sidious in Revenge of the Sith was worth the wait. From the moment Yoda reveals to the audience he’s only playing possum and follows that up with a “Come at me, bro” gesture, you know the fight is on. Despite Yoda’s agility and Sidious’ speed, the lightsabers are soon put away and the fight descends into an epic back-and-forth between two masters of the Force using it to their full abilities. Giant pods get tossed back and forth like footballs; Sidious unleashes his Force lightning and Yoda deflects it back as the Senate chamber becomes an arena for a titanic battle. It’s not necessarily the prettiest fight on this list, but as a display of the sheer power of two near-immortal beings going at it, it lives up to everything you’d hope for, and more.
4. Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Darth Maul (‘The Phantom Menace’)
There is possibly no one fight in the entire Star Wars canon that exemplifies the personalities of its combatants better than this one. This is the fight in which we see the inciting event that makes Darth Maul hate Obi-Wan Kenobi more than any other Jedi (see #10). The combat itself is kinetic and fast-paced, a swirling flash of blue, green, and red light as Jedi and Sith flip and parry. But once Obi-Wan gets knocked out of the fight is when it gets interesting. Qui-Gon and Maul are separated by a timed energy panel and forced to pause their fight. It’s a masterful use of nonverbal expression that shows exactly who they are. Qui-Gon Jinn: Serene, meditating, focused and centering himself as he waits. Darth Maul: Pacing like a tiger in a cage, pent-up anger simmering. The outcome of the fight reverberates throughout Star Wars canon in a big way as Qui-Gon is killed and his apprentice steps up for the first time and shows us just how deadly good he is in combat. He slices Maul in half, leaving him for dead, and promises his master in Qui-Gon’s last moments that he will take Anakin Skywalker as his own apprentice. As far as fights go, this one was the most important influence on everything that came after.
3. Rey & Kylo Ren Vs. Snoke’s Praetorian Guards (‘The Last Jedi’)
Also important is the fight in The Last Jedi, dubbed the throne room fight by fans. For two movies, both Rey and Kylo Ren have been giant question marks. Rey is good, but maybe she’ll turn away from the Jedi. Kylo Ren is bad, but maybe he’ll turn away from the Sith. Maybe they’ll join forces and burn it all down, becoming Gray Jedi. Their fight against the Praetorian Guards only served to underscore this idea of them being two halves of a whole. For the first time ever, a Jedi and a Sith fight side by side against a common enemy, coming right on the heels of Kylo Ren turning on Snoke and killing his Sith Lord and master. It’s a gorgeous fight sequence, one of the most visually stunning Star Wars fights ever put to screen, with its red-drenched palette inspired by Akira Kurosawa films and choreography by Chinese martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It uses fewer wide-angle shots than most Star Wars fights, choosing instead of close in and focus on individual moments with Ren and Kylo as they fight their respective opponents. There’s no denying it after this fight: They might be “enemies,” on opposing sides, but Kylo and Rey make a damned good team – and maybe that’s the point. However, it’s still not quite enough for me to place it above the last two entries on this list.
2. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Darth Vader/Anakin (‘Revenge Of The Sith’)
The prequels have their fair share of issues, for sure. But it was worth it to wade through Jar Jar Binks and other problems just to get to this fight, the one some might argue is the fight of the entire Skywalker Saga. Until this point, you had hoped there was a way that Anakin might be redeemed, even though you already knew he was destined to become Darth Vader. But this battle between Obi-Wan and his apprentice, fittingly fought over boiling pits of lava, showed just how far Anakin had fallen from the good-hearted boy Obi-Wan used to know. The fighting itself is masterful lightsaber work and a dazzling display of prowess set against that fiery backdrop. But the element that puts this fight so high on the list is the pure emotion, particularly Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan. His raw despair and pain are overwhelming when he’s faced with his former friend’s delusional rage. The story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader is the purest of Shakespearan tragedies, and even if Anakin himself doesn’t recognize it, Obi-Wan does. The grief that pours from him when he screams, “You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!” makes it one of the most emotionally devastating moments in the entire Star Wars canon.
1. Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader (‘The Empire Strikes Back’)
You knew this had to be the number one fight on the list. Is it the most complex fight? No. Is it the most aesthetically pleasing? Also no. It doesn’t even rank in the top five in terms of showcasing the skill of each fighter. But it is iconic for a reason, the most deliberately plotted fight in terms of telling a story. It reveals so much about both Luke and Darth Vader in just a few minutes. Luke is raw, untrained, but his bravery is unquestioned. He is outmatched and that’s clear from the start. But Darth Vader is clearly pulling his strikes, and instead of going for the killing blow, he offers leniency. Luke responds with renewed fervor, and in his rashness, makes a devastating misstep that loses him his hand. Even then, Vader refuses to go for the kill, instead trying to convince Luke to switch sides and become his apprentice. It’s not merely that Vader sees killing Luke as a waste of potential, however. A moment later comes the greatest movie reveal of all time: “No. I am your father.” Today, we’re used to saga-like storytelling in franchise movies. But in 1980, the one-two punch of Luke losing his hand and then Vader’s reveal became an immediate “Where were you when?” moment. There has yet to be a plot twist in a movie that rivals it, and for that reason alone, this fight is #1 on the list.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters on December 20th. Get your tickets now!