It's time to rank the best lightsaber fights from across the Star Wars universe. You won't find anything as random and clumsy as a blaster here, these are pure lightsaber battles.
We all remember the first time we saw Star Wars, watching those iconic yellow letters crawl up the screen to the sound of John Williams’ anthemic score. For many of us, our key moments include blowing up the Death Star, watching Qui-Gon Jinn die, or, for newer fans, watching Kylo Ren smash his bedroom to bits.
Whatever your initial memories of Star Wars are, after watching the series for the first time, the main thought many fans have is “Oh my god, I want a real lightsaber.” Probably the most epic weapon in the history of science fiction, the lightsaber combines the broadswords of the knights of Camelot and the futuristic dazzle of blinding colored light to create a pop culture legend. Who hasn’t found themselves holding a ruler, humming and whooshing, pretending you're in an epic lightsaber duel.
A big part of the lightsaber’s impact is the incredible battles that they have been used in across the series. Taking inspiration from Samurai duels, as well as the previously mentioned Arthurian legend, the lightsaber battle has been a staple of almost every entry in the franchise.
But which were the best lightsaber fights to take place across the Star Wars movies and TV shows? That’s what we aim to find out in our list of the top ten lightsaber battles in Star Wars history.
10. Count Dooku vs. Yoda - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Perhaps a divisive choice among fans who feel that the fight undermines Yoda’s character somewhat, the fight remains one of the highlights in an otherwise dark chapter in the history of Star Wars. Beginning as a test of power between the domineering Count Dooku and the ageing, frail Yoda, the two use their Force abilities to throw parts of the temple at each other. The battle kicks into action when Yoda is able to deflect Dooku’s lightning, something fans had never seen in the series, as a show of how capable the old master still is.
It’s at that point that the Count acknowledges that he’s unable to best Yoda in the ways of the Force, instead insisting on a lightsaber duel. For fans of the series, seeing Yoda use a lightsaber almost 20 years after his introduction on Dagoba was a huge moment. The battle is a flurry of light as Yoda uses his incredible agility to throw Count Dooku off balance, the Count clearly on the back foot during the fight.
However, the battle is all too brief. Dooku, sensing that his old master was still too powerful, decides to instead cause a beam in the temple to break. This threatens to crush Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the two still injured from their recent encounter with Dooku. As Yoda saves the two Jedi, Count Dooku flees. It’s unfortunate that this feud is never resolved, as Count Dooku is dealt his fate in the next film before he can once again face his toughest foe.
9. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this fight in the history of Star Wars. Not only did it establish the history between Obi-Wan Kenobi, then known only to the audience as a wise old man with a mysterious past, and Darth Vader, the towering general of the Empire, but it set up the dynamic of the heroes using blue-colored sabers and the villains using red. This is a visual motif that would remain to this day. While the light side of the Force has expanded its color palette somewhat, the uniform red of the Sith has been almost entirely unchanged.
By modern standards, the original lightsaber duel is a timid affair, a slow back and forth that’s far from the highly choreographed battles of the modern films. But, in that measured, calm battle, George Lucas managed to vastly develop the lore of the Jedi and of Obi-Wan Kenobi in that brief encounter, much more than many of the highly cinematic and acrobatic battles ever can. A holdover from the samurai influence on the series, the battle is more about what these characters mean to the overall story of Star Wars. This is also done shortly before this when Luke mentions “The Clone Wars” something that wouldn’t come to fruition until almost twenty years later, but set the imagination of fans ablaze. This battle did the same thing. If this is Obi-Wan vs. Vader when they’re old, imagine what it was like when they were in their prime? A question that fans would eventually get an answer to.
8. Kylo Ren vs. Rey - Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker
A highlight in an otherwise dismal film, Rey’s final battle with Kylo Ren is a culmination of one of the best elements of the sequel trilogy. As just about the only thing that was handled well consistently through the three films, Kylo and Rey face off on the side of the sunken Death Star, brutal waves crashing around them as they have their final duel.
While Kylo could have easily cut Rey down multiple times during their battle, his hesitancy to do so is the audience's hint that Ben Solo still exists inside of Kylo, and that he cares for Rey. This crystallizes when his mother, Princess Leia (a.k.a. General Organa), reaches out to Ben across the Force, causing him to drop his lightsaber, allowing Rey to defeat him. In that moment, Leia becomes one with the Force and Kylo Ren is effectively gone. After Rey sees what she’s done to Ben, she heals him using the Force, something she’d previously realized she could do earlier in the film. After a heated moment between the two, she leaves, racing to take down Palpatine, who’s back for some reason.
Unlike plenty of other fights in the series that like the physicality of actually swinging a sword around for your life, this fight is sloppy, brutal, and aggressive in a way that’s missing from a lot of others. The torrential rain and crashing waves really help this, making for one of the most unique locations for a battle in the series, even if the rest of the film is something to forget about.
7. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
The final battle of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker vs. Vader is the climax of Luke’s training and Darth Vader’s conflict over his allegiance to the dark side. Taking place in Emperor Palpatine’s throne room, this famous clash sees Luke attempt to maintain his composure while the imposing Emperor encourages Luke to turn, give in to his aggression, and strike the Emperor down. When Luke does this, his attack is blocked by dear old dad, and it’s time for the ultimate showdown.
While Luke’s physical skill with the blade has clearly increased since their previous encounter, the mental games of the Force are still firmly the strong suit of Darth Vader. He tricks Luke into giving up his hiding spot by threatening Leia, announcing that if Luke won’t turn to the dark side, perhaps his sister will. Enraged, Luke emerges and attacks Vader, causing the two to violently swing at each other throughout the throne room.
Eventually Luke is able to overpower Vader, through a flurry of angry strikes, leaving Darth on the ground, weak, and armless... I mean harmless. Faced with the opportunity to rid the universe of its greatest threat, Luke is unable to finish the job, sensing the conflict in his father. This causes the Emperor to attack Luke, leading to Vader’s redemption.
This battle works so well as it’s the only time in the original trilogy we really see Luke at the end of his training as a full-fledged Jedi. His command of the Force is strong, and his sword play has massively improved. We also see a weakened Vader, hunched and smaller than the imposing general that comes forth from the smoke in A New Hope. If not for their earlier encounter, it would easily be the strongest battle of the original trilogy.
6. Kylo Ren vs. Rey & Finn - Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
While in the years since its release it’s been widely criticized for largely being a soft remake of A New Hope, The Force Awakens was an essential first step in the Disney trilogy. It had been a decade since John Williams’ iconic score had filled cinemas around the world, and it’s difficult to remember a film that had more hype prior to its release.
One of the unquestionable highlights of the first in the new trilogy was the introduction of our new trio of main characters: Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. While little was known about the plot of Episode VI prior to release, one of the trailers would famously show John Boyega as Finn holding a lightsaber, having fans speculate widely about his role in the film.
This battle takes place at the end of the film on the Starkiller base, a giant gun that effectively served as the Death Star for the new generation. Kylo Ren, incensed that Finn is wielding his grandfather Anakin’s lightsaber, attacks the untrained Finn with brutal swings. Kylo is almost playing with Finn, requiring very little effort to rebuff the attacks of the former stormtrooper. He then burns Finn using the hilt of his lightsaber, causing Finn to panic, which allows Kylo to slash him across his back, incapacitating him, and sending Anakin’s lightsaber flying.
As Kylo Ren attempts to recall the blade using the Force, it shoots past the Sith Lord and into the hands of Rey, who ignites the legendary weapon and faces Ren. The fight is brutal, not only due to the harsh weather conditions, but because Rey and Kylo scramble to punch and kick each other to gain an advantage, far from the fencing-like performances of the prequel trilogy. The encounter ends with Rey overpowering Kylo, after he underestimates her power. She leaves him with a huge wound across his face for good measure, before the crumbling ground between the two divides them. The first of their battles in the trilogy, this not only set the tempo for their relationship, but also introduced a new lightsaber fighting style to the series with a much more visceral and realistic approach.
5. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul - Star Wars: Rebels
One of the shortest battles on our list, what makes this duel so special is all the history that came before it. To those who’ve only watched the films, Darth Maul is probably remembered as the none-too-threatening villain of Episode 1 who has his body socially distanced from his legs by Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, for fans that have watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels TV shows, you’ll know how Maul returned to the fray sporting new robotic spider legs and a mission of vengeance against the Jedi who cut him in two.
Their final meeting takes place on Tatooine, only a few years before the beginning of A New Hope. Obi-Wan has gone into hiding, sworn to protect a young Luke Skywalker. However, Darth Maul is able to track him down to a small campfire in the vast deserts of the planet. Maul is unable to comprehend why the great Jedi Master has hidden away, until he begins to realize that his old foe must be hiding something important.
When he senses Luke may be threatened, Obi-Wan ignites his lightsaber and readies himself for battle. The brilliance in this fight is in the subtle details. Kenobi begins the fight by taking his traditional lightsaber duel stance, one that he’s used many times throughout the saga. After Maul takes his stance, Kenobi changes, now adopting the stance of his slain master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Maul attempts to use the same attack on Kenobi that he used to take down Qui-Gon, but Kenobi is far too wise, dodging rapidly and slicing apart Maul’s lightsaber, and fatally wounding the Sith. Much like his battle with Darth Vader, this duel manages to develop the characters so much in such a short period of time, and it’s something we’d love to see revisited in Obi-Wan’s upcoming Disney Plus series.
4. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
By the time Revenge of the Sith hit theatres, most Star Wars fans had had quite enough of the prequel trilogy. While it contained some highlights, with Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi being the brightest, the prequel trilogy failed to live up to the expectations of fans. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise that the final bout of the trilogy, and the most important of the series, was handled so well.
Obi-Wan vs. Anakin was the first duel we ever got to see back in 1977, and now fans were finally able to watch them battle in their prime. As Anakin’s turn to the dark side is complete, Obi-Wan realizes that for the future of the Jedi Order, and the universe, he must defeat his apprentice. The two battle it out in a fast-paced, frenetic battle through the volcanic planet of Mustafar. They are both incredibly evenly matched, appropriate for the Jedi Master and the pupil to whom he taught everything he knows.
While the fighting in the prequel trilogy was widely criticized for being too choreographed and CGI-heavy, this is the one instance in which the precision battle between two master duelers makes total sense. In the movie, the fight is intercut with the truly awful battle between Yoda and Darth Sidious, putting the quality of the battle between student and teacher into greater relief. It’s easy, upon rewatch, to only think about this fight in terms of the countless waves of memes it spawned, but divorced from that, and some of the terrible dialogue that the prequel trilogy is full of, it’s a great fight and the best part of the trilogy by far.
3. Ahsoka vs. Darth Vader - Star Wars: Rebels
Ahsoka Tano is probably the most popular Star Wars character to never feature in a mainline Star Wars film. In fact, she’d never even been portrayed in live action until series two of The Mandalorian. Beginning as Anakin Skywalker’s frustrating apprentice in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, fans went from finding her extremely annoying, to her growing into one of the most beloved characters in the franchise. A mainstay in The Clone Wars for years, she also makes an appearance in Star Wars: Rebels, in which she has a fateful encounter with her master.
During a mission to a Sith Temple, Ahsoka comes face to face with the towering Darth Vader. The two engage in a brutal back-and-forth battle. This fight mirrors Anakin vs. Obi-Wan in the sense that both master and apprentice are able to match each other's blows. It’s only when Vader is distracted by an escaping Ezra Bridger that Ahsoka is able to deal a significant hit, cracking Vader’s mask.
Beneath the cruel black exterior, Ahsoka is able to partially see the face of Anakin and feels a connection to him as he pleads for her to join him, promising mercy from the Emperor. Despite her love for Anakin, she can see that he’s too far gone and refuses to join him, causing the two to duel again. The battle this time ends as the temple crumbles around them. This fight was a tremendous payoff for fans that had been watching The Clone Wars since its introduction during the prequel trilogy. It’s a battle with huge emotional and narrative significance, and it’s every bit as epic and bittersweet as fans expected. This may not be the last time Ahsoka and Vader face off, however, as the recently announced Disney Plus show, Ahsoka, may involve more tales of the master and his apprentice.
2. Rey & Kylo Ren vs. The Praetorian Guards - Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
The third appearance of Kylo Ren and Rey on our list, this time with the duo fighting side by side against the menacing General Snoke’s Praetorian Guards. In a scene that continued to explore the idea of Ben Solo leaving the dark side and returning to his old life, the former Jedi cuts down Snoke in a bait-and-switch that had audiences everywhere cheering.
After watching their master fold in two, defeated due to his hubris, the Praetorian Guards descend upon the two, causing a first in the series: a Jedi using a light side lightsaber, fighting alongside a Sith Lord with a red saber. Not only is the visual of this incredible, the two blades working in harmony for the first time as opposed to the way we are used to seeing them, smashing against each other in fury, but Kylo Ren actually uses his grandfather’s saber for the first time.
The choreography here is excellent, a mix between sophisticated sword fighting, Kylo Ren’s brutal attacks, and Rey’s clumsy, untrained flailing. It manages to show the difference in experience level between the two, furthering Ren’s invitation to train Rey, a running theme throughout The Last Jedi. Once the guards are defeated, Kylo reaches out to Rey and offers to move on and build a new galaxy together: To let old things die, the Jedi, the Sith, all of it. It’s a fantastic moment because the audience shares the disappointment felt by Rey, who thinks she’s turning Ben back to the light side of the Force, only for her to reject his offer, causing him to fly into a murderous rage. A storytelling highlight of the sequel trilogy and a visual treat for all.
1. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Not only does this battle proceed the most incredible reveal in cinematic history, but it manages to develop both Luke and Vader’s character with few words. The duel takes place in the bowels of Cloud City, in the chamber that had recently been the location of Han Solo’s unfortunate encounter with carbonite. Luke, having just returned from his training with Master Yoda, thinks he’s capable of taking the Dark Lord down, however it’s quickly apparent that Luke is no match for the master of evil.
Luke is nervous as he swings wildly, while Darth Vader is able to repel him with one hand. Darth Vader is in no real trouble, Luke is clumsy and aggressive, having seemingly not heeded Master Yoda’s training. Darth Vader could kill Luke at any time, but that’s not his goal. He’s trying to weaken the young Jedi to demonstrate his power, to show him what can be achieved by the dark side of the Force. As the two fight out onto a balcony in the heart of the station, Luke is left dangling with one arm as Darth Vader towers over him. It’s here he delivers the iconic line “No, I am your father,” a phrase that would be remembered, and misquoted, for decades to come.
It’s not the most acrobatic or impressive fight on our list, but no other battle comes close in its significance to the Skywalker saga. The atmosphere is incredible from the dingy, smoky carbonite chamber, to the cold, soulless balcony upon which one of cinema's most memorable moments was forged. When people think about Star Wars, this is the image that is seared into people’s memory. People that know almost nothing about the franchise know about this moment. It’s indisputably a part of cinematic history, and the best lightsaber duel of all time.
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Jordan Middler is a Scottish journalist with a love for anything he can put on a shelf. With almost a decade of creating content about video games and tech, as well as five years as the chief voice of gaming for BBC Scotland, Jordan has recently turned his attention to all things LEGO, mainly so that when we reach the heat-death of the universe, he can build himself a lovely fallout shelter and wait for it to all blow over. If he’s not reviewing the latest games, or building LEGO, you’ll find him dusting his shelves in the eternal war with his greatest enemy, dust.