Star Wars | The Evolution of the Lightsaber Duel
Exploring the evolution of the lightsaber duel throughout the Star Wars saga
Star Wars has wowed me since I was a child for so many reasons. The concept of the Force, the Jedi, the Sith, the beautiful worlds, the ships, the characters, but one of my favorite things about Star Wars are the lightsabers. Lightsabers are hands down my favorite weapon in any movie. Their iconic hum, the different colors, lightsabers are utterly magical creations that help make Star Wars so downright incredible. But, over the years, the infamous lightsaber duel has changed quite a bit. They’ve gone from sluggish and boring to quick-paced and fascinating and I would like to share with you all an in-depth look at that evolution.
A New Hope
This was the first Star Wars film and while most of it is up to par with even some of the most recent Star Wars movies the lightsaber duel in this movie is VERY slow. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi faces his one-time padawan, Darth Vader, in a fight that could be deemed epic…if it was so boring to look at.
The choreography is bland, the pacing is slow, and it ends up truly resembling a fight between two grandpas rather than a duel between two powerful masters of the Force. But duels would get better. Oh so much better.
The Empire Strikes Back
When we finally get the showdown we’ve been waiting for between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader it’s a HUGE upgrade from the previous movie. The choreography is well composed, there’s a sensible quickness about the duel that brings a delightful realism to the scenes, and it proves how powerful young Luke is as he manages to hold his own against the intimidating Sith Lord.
This is easily one of my favorite duels in the franchise and I think it always will be.
Return of the Jedi
While the duel in The Empire Strikes Back is much more fun to watch that does not diminish the quality of the fight between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi at all. Luke is wiser and so his sparring abilities have become more precise and calm (until Darth Vader threatens to turn Leia to the dark side) in which he becomes a raging maniac with the intent to inflict some serious harm. It’s at this moment that the duel reaches its peak for me every time.
Darth Vader, who is this powerful Sith Lord, can’t do anything as his son batters his defenses to the point that he can only hold onto a railing for dear life. While Luke, of course, didn’t go to the dark side if he had he would’ve been even scarier than his dad. That’s a thought. *wince*
The Phantom Menace
The prequel trilogy ushered in a brand new style of lightsaber fighting as George Lucas wanted to show the Jedi and Sith in their heyday so he quickened the pacing to almost unfollowable levels. I grew up watching the prequels and so this was all I knew and I loved it.
The duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan, is easily one of the greatest duels in Star Wars. It’s fast-paced but thrilling, the martial arts skills displayed by Maul is downright fascinating, and it always covers me in goosebumps every time I watch it.
Attack of the Clones
Duels are supposed to get better but this can’t be said for Attack of the Clones. While the duel in The Phantom Menace was fast-paced it still felt realistic and completely enjoyable. The same can’t be said for Attack of the Clones.
The first duel between Obi-Wan and Count Dooku is a bit corny as Dooku teases Obi-Wan for his lack of skill before dispatching him with a quick slice to the knee.
The second duel between Anakin Skywalker and Dooku is TERRIBLE! George Lucas tried to make it epic by having Anakin cut the power line so they can fight in the dark but it turned out to just be a very annoying display of red and blue light bathing Anakin and Dooku’s faces in a slow-motion hodgepodge of nothingness. The reason why we love lightsaber duels is so we can see the fight! Come on George Lucas.
Then to make things worse Yoda arrives next to face Dooku in a ridiculous duel that finds Yoda flipping all over the place like he just drank 10 5-Hour Energy bottles. (And all of that flipping didn’t do anything by the way.)
This is a pure example of how George Lucas messed up Star Wars for a little while.
Revenge of the Sith
While Attack of the Clones featured some duels that were downright awful Revenge of the Sith was the complete opposite. The duel between Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Count Dooku at the beginning of the movie is riveting. The fight between Obi-Wan and General Grievous is mesmerizing (especially when Grievous spins those blades.) And the final two duels in the film are not only chill-inducing but very well choreographed.
Yoda and Darth Sidious’s clash truly feels like a fight between two extraordinary agents of the Force. And the epic climax featuring the Anakin and Obi-Wan’s fated duel is truly breathtaking (and easily one of the best sequences in the film.) There may have been a lot of things wrong the prequel trilogy but this movie delivered on an epic finale.
The Force Awakens
Ah, The Force Awakens, the film that brought Star Wars roaring back to life. Star Wars isn’t the franchise that it is without those awesome duels and I’m very glad to say The Force Awakens had one of my favorite fights in the franchise. First off, the duel between Finn and Kylo Ren, despite its briefness, is so much fun to watch every time. The lightsabers the actors have to use in these fighting scenes are about five pounds so the additional weight brings an entirely different style to the choreography. While the duels are a bit slower than the prequel trilogies I love it because it seems so realistic.
And I absolutely love the way Kylo Ren fights. There’s a fanciness to his fighting style that’s captivating to watch. The second duel, which features Rey taking on Kylo Ren, is just as mesmerizing to watch. Especially when she overpowers Kylo and kicks his butt. Girl power!
These duels are part of the reason why I love The Force Awakens so much.
And finally, The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson wanted to take Star Wars in a completely different direction and so his lightsaber duels, as with everything else in the movie, didn’t play out in the traditional sense. In fact, you could say this movie technically didn’t even have a lightsaber duel. The fight featuring Rey and Kylo Ren versus the Praetorian Guards was, in fact, a ridiculously epic duel that has made me disturbingly giddy every time I watch it but it isn’t a true lightsaber duel considering that Rey and Kylo Ren never fight. Now they do have a Force battle over a single lightsaber so you could say that’s a lightsaber duel but it still is completely different than what we’ve seen before.
And the final duel between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker doesn’t even involve their sabers clashing once. Kylo tries to kill Luke over and over again and Luke just evades him.
But this is what is so fascinating about The Last Jedi. We need a change of pace in the way things are portrayed in this franchise if it’s going to stay exciting for another forty years and with more minds like Rian Johnson we can continue to enjoy these movies with new stories being told in exciting new ways. The Praetorian Guard duel, in fact, is my favorite duel in all of Star Wars. It’s intense, it’s aesthetically pleasing, the choreography, and it features my two favorite Star Wars characters. How can anything get better than that?
The lightsaber duel is a work of art. Some people know how to map it out better than others. But, if this post is any indication, there will be many more duels to come that will evolve in exciting ways we’ve never seen before. And that’s why I love Star Wars.
Which is your favorite lightsaber duel? Drop us a line and share your thoughts.
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Annlyel James is a Senior Correspondent of The Future of the Force. She is passionate about Star Wars and Marvel but loves a wide variety of movie genres. Aside from her role with Future of the Force she also writes for her blog: annlyelonline. Follow her on Twitter where she channels the Force frequently!