8. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Vader (A New Hope)
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
As Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo escape the Death Star, Ben Kenobi faces Darth Vader to buy his friends more time.
On a corridor adjacent to the Death Star hanger, former master and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader cross lightsabers as the Jedi distracts the Sith for long enough for the Millennium Falcon to escape. The first lightsaber fight audiences ever saw is a pretty old-fashioned affair – it’s an Old Hollywood fencing match with none of the flourish of Errol Flynn. It does serve an essential story purpose though, touching on the combatants’ shared history and giving Obi-Wan one of the most unexpected and enigmatic deaths in film history as he smiles and raises his lightsaber, allowing his fallen student to kill him.
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7. Rey & Finn vs Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens)
“You need a teacher! I can show you the ways of the force!”
As the Resistance pilots attempt to blow the superweapon on Starkiller Base, Finn and Rey are confronted by Kylo Ren in snowy forest on their way to escape aboard the Falcon.
In the debut lightsaber fight of the Sequel Trilogy, the gymnastics and showboating of the Prequels was gone. As the untrained Finn and an injured Kylo Ren engage in an unpolished lightsaber scrap, for the first time in Star Wars the laser sword seems frightening as Ren’s cracking blade is pushed painfully into Finn’s shoulder. Moments later, the former stormtrooper is downed by a lethal strike across his back and Rey miraculously calls the Skywalker saber to her. Ren attempts to dominate her physically and psychologically in the battle before Rey lets go and her inner peace wins the day, leaving Kylo with a deep facial scar and damaged pride.
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6. Rey vs Kylo Ren (The Rise of Skywalker)
“The Dark Side is in our nature. Surrender to it!”
In a culmination of their respective destinies, Rey and Kylo Ren lock sabers on the ruins of the Second Death Star as raging waves crash over them.
If there was a location that screamed “lightsaber fight” it was this one. Precarious and narrow walkway? Check. Environmental hazards? Check. Iconographic references to other events in the saga? Double check. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley’s performances shine through, their exertion coming across all the stronger by really (and cruelly) dumping gallons of water over the actors. The whole thing looks phenomenal, beginning in the ruins of the Emperor’s throne room then progressing out into the waves. The practical and CG elements are seamless, and the flow between lightsaber strike and Force powers fluid. Rise of Skywalker may have fallen short in some regards, but not with this exciting battle.
5. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader (Return of the Jedi)
“If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny!”
As the Rebels commence their attack on the Second Death Star, Luke Skywalker is brought before the Emperor to fight Darth Vader.
Luke faces Vader for a second time armed with the knowledge that Vader is his father and that he was not always evil. The character work here is particularly strong; a culmination of the work of three films. Luke tries to go the route of the pacifist, fending off but not retaliating against Vader, trying to convince him to return to the light. It’s probably the most emotionally fraught fight of the saga, culminating in Luke finally unleashing his anger and overpowering his corrupted father when Vader threatens to turn Leia to the dark side in his son’s stead. But of course, when Luke wins he has really lost by giving the Emperor what he wanted, and it ultimately falls to a mortally wounded Vader to restore the balance.
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