Ever since Luke Skywalker first activated his father’s lightsaber in 1977’s A New Hope, Star Wars fans have been obsessed with the sci-fi laser swords wielded by Jedi and Sith alike. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to love Star Wars — the characters, the different alien races, the space combat — but lightsaber duels have always been a staple of the franchise and often play an important role in the climax of each movie.
With eight (and counting) live-action films in the franchise now, the lightsaber battle has changed quite dramatically since its inception. This makes ranking them a somewhat difficult task, as some fans prefer the more technical style of the prequel trilogy clashes, while others enjoy the rough simplicity of the ones featured in the earlier films. I think it will become clear which style I prefer as you read through the list, but that doesn’t make my rankings “correct” by any means, as this is a completely subjective thing.
Here are all 17 lightsaber battles ranked from worst to best. Please feel free to sound off in the comments with your own personal favorites and which ones you could do without!
*Note: Even though it’s arguably the coolest scene to feature a lightsaber, I decided not to include the Darth Vader hallway scene from Rogue One, mostly because it’s more of a slaughter than an actual fight. Pour one out for those unfortunate Rebel soldiers who found themselves in the wrong corridor …
Update 12/20/2017: Added scenes from The Last Jedi.
17. Finn vs. Stormtrooper (The Force Awakens)
Considering how brief this encounter is, not to mention the fact that one of the combatants doesn’t even have a lightsaber, it’s debatable whether the duel between Finn and Stormtrooper TR-8R even qualifies as a lightsaber battle. That being said, I’ve decided to include it because TR-8R’s weapon resembles a lightsaber just enough to fulfill the arbitrary parameters I’ve set out for this list. Overall, this battle isn’t anything special, as it’s over way too quickly and it’s not exactly exciting to watch Finn flounder around and get his butt handed to him by a Stormtrooper who’s not even using a lightsaber (although the fact that the First Order’s Z6 Riot Control Baton can block lightsaber attacks is admittedly pretty cool). Really, the highlight of this entire fight is seeing Finn activate his lightsaber, as it’s the first time we’ve seen Anakin’s lightsaber since it (and Luke’s hand) were lost during The Empire Strikes Back.
16. Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars)
The lightsaber battle that started it all may have wowed audiences back in 1977 but these days, the final encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader looks more like a couple of amateurs trading blows than two highly-skilled warriors engaged in a battle to the death. To be fair, no one knew what a lightsaber duel was supposed to look like back in 1977 or the cultural impact the weapon would end up having, so it’s easy to overlook how clumsy the whole thing looks in retrospect.
Fortunately, the lightsaber clash is essentially window dressing for a very important conversation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, which establishes important bits of Star Wars lore and also gives us some of the most memorable quotes in the franchise, such as “The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master!”
So yes, this isn’t a great lightsaber battle but if you enjoy fan theories, you may like this one that tries to provide an explanation for why Obi-Wan and Vader seem to have forgotten how to use their weapons. It’s actually a pretty good read!
15. Qui-Gon Jinn vs Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
A very brief battle overall, this fight serves more as an introduction to Darth Maul than anything and in that regard, it gets the job done. The great thing about this clash is that it still leaves some mystery about the fan-favorite Sith lord for his later appearance in The Phantom Menace, when he fully reveals the true extent of his skills. Qui-Gon holds his own but it’s clear from his body language during the fight that he’s struggling to keep up with Maul’s ferocious assault and this is confirmed once the elder Jedi makes his escape, as he’s noticeably winded and exhausted as he tells Obi-Wan that whoever he just fought is well-trained in the “Jedi arts.” Of course, we’d learn later on that Darth Maul was hiding a few tricks up his sleeve, but this is a good introduction to the character and a decent, if not particularly memorable lightsaber battle overall.
14. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs General Grievous (Revenge of the Sith)
Revenge of the Sith is absolutely loaded with lightsaber battles, but not all of them are created equal. While Obi-Wan Kenobi’s showdown with four-armed villain General Grievous is cool to look at from a visual standpoint, it ultimately plays out more like a middle act distraction than an important showdown. Things start out well enough, with Grievous activating each of his four lightsabers, while declaring that he was trained in the Jedi arts by Count Dooku, the same Sith lord that made quick work of Obi-Wan back in Attack of the Clones. He then starts rotating his arms in a rapid windmill motion and proceeds to slowly advance on Kenobi, to the point where it looks like the Jedi has no hope of penetrating Grievious’ assault.
But then the battle begins and it’s surprisingly … ordinary. Kenobi quickly gains the upper hand, cutting off two of Grievious’ hands in the process and before he can finish him off, the Clone army attacks, allowing Grievious to make his escape. What follows is a fun chase sequence, but the actual lightsaber battle is done and ultimately doesn’t live up to its potential.
13. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker vs. Count Dooku (Revenge of the Sith)
In hindsight, this really wasn’t the rematch many of us were hoping it would be. After wiping the floor with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku encounters the two Jedi again aboard Grievious’ flagship, where Emperor Palpatine is being held prisoner. And while it turns out to be a much different fight this time out, it’s a bit too brief and one-sided to qualify as being particularly memorable. One disappointment is that Obi-Wan is taken out of the fight early on and rendered unconscious, leaving Anakin to fight Dooku alone (again). Anakin bests Dooku rather easily in combat this time out and the fight ends with the former Jedi about to be decapitated by a pair of lightsabers.
This ends up being the best moment of the entire scene, as Palpatine convinces Anakin to get revenge for Dooku cutting off his hand during their last encounter and return the favor by chopping off his head. It’s a moment that successfully illustrates Anakin’s continued fall to the Dark Side of the Force, but the lightsaber battle itself doesn’t feel particularly inspired.
12. Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker vs. Count Dooku (Attack of the Clones)
The late Sir Christopher Lee excelled at playing memorable villains, so it’s no surprise that the treacherous Jedi Count Dooku remains one of his most memorable roles. Lee is so good, in fact, that he’s one of the few bright spots of Attack of the Clones — which is otherwise a pretty mediocre entry in the Star Wars saga — and is at his best when his character finally gets to bust out his lightsaber and start wreaking s**t. While it’s pretty clear that a double is performing most of the fight for Lee, it doesn’t really make the fight any less intense, as the overconfident Obi-Wan and Anakin are essentially taken to Jedi school by a senior citizen.
Even Anakin fighting with two lightsabers is no match for Dooku’s power, who punishes the young Jedi for his arrogance by lopping off a hand and leaving both him and Obi-Wan knocked out cold. When Attack of the Clones was first released, fans were so accustomed to seeing the Jedi struggle, but ultimately prevail, so it was refreshing to see a battle in which they absolutely lose.
11. Yoda vs. Count Dooku (Attack of the Clones)
Following right on the heels of the previously mentioned battle comes the showdown between Jedi Master Yoda and Count Dooku, which represents Yoda’s first action scene in the series. Seeing Yoda pick up his lightsaber for the first time was undeniably an awesome moment for Star Wars fans everywhere but sadly, we may have all been better off if Yoda had just kept his weapon holstered. The main problem with this fight is that in theory, it’s a great idea, but in practice it all looks a bit ridiculous, with Yoda’s fighting style amounting to a bunch of fancy flips and loud yells.
It always felt as if Yoda’s power went well beyond the physical, so it’s disappointing to see that he’s just really good at jumping around like a madman. At the very least, we get to see Yoda display his mastery of Force push and Force pull, but as lightsaber battles go, Star Wars has done a lot better.
10. Battle of Geonosis (Attack of the Clones)
This battle bends the rules slightly since it doesn’t feature actual lightsaber-on-lightsaber combat, but it’s so large in scope and important as a whole to the Star Wars universe that it deserves a spot on this list. Featuring hundreds of Jedi as they battle their way through Separatist forces in an effort to rescue Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme, this fight can arguably be viewed as the beginning of the end for the Jedi order, as most of them perish in the battle. While the scene’s CGI hasn’t aged well, it’s still impressive from a technical standpoint.
There’s just so much going on in this scene: hundreds of lightsabers clashing with battle droids, Anakin riding around in a chariot (because of course), Mace Windu showing off his skills for the first time and absolutely owning Jango Fett (come to think of it, it’s pretty messed up that he chops off Jango’s head right in front of his son Boba). This was the first serious bit of action in the movie following nearly two hours of painfully awkward romance subplots, so it’s understandable why it felt like the coolest scene ever at the time. Now, it’s a perfectly competent action scene that makes up for its lack of nuance with just being really ambitious and that’s totally fine.
9. Rey and Finn vs. Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens)
Not long after the release of The Force Awakens, Samuel L. Jackson did an interview where he essentially criticized the fight choreography of the film’s climactic lightsaber battle and that the kids “need to go to lightsaber fight school.” While this is a fair criticism and accurate in some ways, as the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren is nowhere near as elegant or practiced looking as many of the duels featured in the prequel trilogy, it kind of misses the subtext of why this fight scene feels a bit off. The thing is, none of the three participants are as well-trained as the Jedi depicted in those earlier films, which helps explain why the fight feels somewhat clumsy.
Finn gets taken out almost immediately because he has no idea what he’s doing, while Rey is still discovering her powers at this point, which explains why her fighting style feels somewhat inelegant. Then there’s Kylo Ren, easily the most well-trained of the group, who we’ve repeatedly seen up to this point in the film is prone to lashing out when he gets angry, so it’s hardly surprising to see that he doesn’t perform as well as he should (it also helps that he’s suffering from a fresh bowcaster wound, thereby weakening him). Overall, this is a scene that makes up for its lack of fancy choreography with thematic resonance and while it’s not the best lightsaber battle put to screen, it’s certainly not the worst.
8. Luke Skywalker vs. Kylo Ren (The Last Jedi)
Ranking this scene against the other climactic lightsaber battles of the Star Wars franchise is difficult because it’s debatable whether The Last Jedi’s confrontation between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren even qualifies as a “battle” at all. Then again, that’s kind of the point and probably why I like it so much. Taking place on the open salt flats of Crait, Luke’s one-man defiance of the First Order is arguably one of the coolest sequences in the entire Star Wars film series. We get to see Luke literally brush off a flurry of blaster fire like it’s nothing and then toy with his fallen nephew, dodging every one of Kylo Ren’s attacks with ease. Of course, then the rug is pulled out from under our feet and we realize that Luke is actually on a whole other planet and has been projecting his likeness through an impressive display of Force mastery, which ultimately costs Luke his life. The scene as a whole is unexpected, bold, and offers Luke a shot at redemption after abandoning hope for many years, allowing Leia, Rey, and the rest of the Resistance to escape in the process.
So why doesn’t it rank higher on this list? Well, for as much as I think Rian Johnson should be commended for subverting expectations and still managing to close out Luke Skywalker’s story in an emotionally satisfying way, it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed that we don’t get to see Luke and Kylo Ren engage in a proper lightsaber duel. That being said, it’s fitting for Kylo Ren to be handed a beat-down by an uncle who can’t even be bothered to physically show up to the fight and now that I’ve seen it, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
7. Yoda vs. Darth Sidious (Revenge of the Sith)
While I still think Yoda looks ridiculous with a lightsaber, he fares much better in his second cinematic battle, mostly because the stakes are so much higher this time out. From start to finish, the clash between Yoda and Darth Sidious feels like a true clash of titans, with the battle moving from Palpatine’s quarters to the Senate chamber itself, where the room itself is used as a weapon. Senate seats get chucked back and forth as Yoda and Palpatine trade blows, and even though you know how it’s all going to turn out, it’s hard not to watch this scene and hope that Yoda emerges victorious.
Alas, it ends in defeat for the wise Jedi Master, who is forced to flee with his tail between his legs, with the knowledge that he has failed the Jedi Order by not being strong enough to take Sidious down. There are more nuanced and entertaining lightsaber battles, but this one stands as one of the most important ever fought in the Star Wars saga.
6. Mace Windu vs. Darth Sidious (Revenge of the Sith)
The prequels get dumped on a lot but one thing people seem to forget is just how dark George Lucas’ final Star Wars movie is. Revenge of the Sith also features a ton of lightsaber battles, which makes the task of ranking them all a bit more difficult, but the one between Mace Windu and Darth Sidious is a definite highlight of the Star Wars franchise as a whole. I don’t think there’s another scene in any Star Wars movie that elicits the same feeling of dread as this one, as an overconfident Mace Windu and a trio of his fellow Jedi stroll into Chancellor Palpatine’s office to arrest him for his crimes against the senate. Palpatine then reveals his lightsaber and leaps into action against the Jedi, taking them and viewers by surprise as he proceeds to easily cut down everyone but Windu, who proves to be the better swordsman and defeats the newly revealed Darth Sidious in lightsaber combat … or so it seems.
One of the great things about this scene is how ambiguous it is, as it’s never made clear whether Mace Windu really could have killed Palpatine if Anakin hadn’t stepped in and betrayed him, or if it was all a calculated move on Palpatine’s part to lure Anakin to his side. Whatever the case, it all ends with one of the best death scenes in the franchise, as Mace Windu gets his hand sliced off before getting zapped by Force Lightning and thrown hundreds of feet into the Courscant skyline. Bravo George, bravo.
5. Rey and Kylo Ren vs. Snoke’s Praetorian Guard (The Last Jedi)
The only true lightsaber battle featured in The Last Jedi, Rey and Kylo Ren’s team-up against Snoke’s Praetorian Guard is a pulse-pounding action scene that sees the Light and Dark Sides of the Force converge for a brief moment in order to take down a more immediate threat. The fight itself builds off of Kylo Ren’s shocking murder of his master, Snoke, and sees the former Ben Solo team up with Rey in order to tear the old systems of power down. You’d think the pair would make quick work of Snoke’s henchmen but the Praetorian guard prove tough to take down, with one nearly killing Kylo Ren before Rey tosses him her lightsaber to help finish his attacker off.
While the fight itself still comes up a bit short compared to some of the better-choreographed duels featured in the prequel trilogy, it’s certainly a step up from the amateurish battle sequences found in The Force Awakens and stands as the lightsaber battle to beat in the current trilogy.
4. Darth Vader (and Darth Sidious) vs Luke Skywalker (Return of the Jedi)
Now we’re getting to the best stuff. Return of the Jedi has its flaws, but its third act is a barnstormer, featuring three separate battles between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire: the ground war between the
Rebels Ewoks and 501st Legion, a massive dogfight between the Rebel and Imperial fleets and of course, a final duel between Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader. Truth be told, it’s hard to compare the lightsaber battles of the original trilogy to the ones featured in the prequels, as the latter tend to be way more flashy, acrobatic, and exciting, but Return of the Jedi’s duel makes up for this in terms of its emotional impact.
We see Luke reluctantly engage his father in combat, goaded into action by the manipulative Emperor Palpatine, without whose presence this scene would only work half as well. Ian McDiarmid pretty much steals the whole film as Palpatine, but Mark Hamill does some great work as well, selling the hell out of Luke’s struggle to stay true to the light side of the Force. When you factor in John Williams’ rousing score, this easily stands as one of the best Star Wars scenes ever and a pretty good lightsaber battle to boot!
3. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker (Revenge of the Sith)
George Lucas pulled out all the stops for his final lightsaber battle: the epic clash between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker that had been a part of Star Wars lore since the original movie. Set on the volcanic planet Mustafar, this fight was designed to appeal to the crowd who loves their lightsaber duels to be as acrobatic and intricate as possible, as Obi-Wan and Anakin flip and twirl all over the place. The fight begins on a relatively small scale, with the pair exchanging blows in an enclosed control room, but things quickly become more grandiose as the fight moves outside, to the point where they’re each riding around on droids floating along on a lava river.
The scene as a whole is pretty ludicrous, but it works thanks in large part to the performances of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, who both do an excellent job of portraying two former friends and allies turned bitter enemies. When Obi-Wan tells Anakin that he loved him as a brother, it’s hard not to get a bit choked up. It’s all capped off by the now-infamous “high ground” scene that ends with Anakin nearly burning to death, screaming “I HATE YOU!” at is former master and depending on my mood, it’s all either deeply tragic or hilarious. Still, that lightsaber battle is an all-timer, no?
2. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace)
The Phantom Menace is not a good film, but it does at the very least have this lightsaber battle, which is arguably the single greatest thing George Lucas put to film in the prequel trilogy. That first shot of Darth Maul lowering his hood and revealing that his double-bladed lightsaber alone is one of the best shots in the franchise and what follows is a battle that is truly breathtaking in terms of choreography, action storytelling, and musical direction. Set to John Williams’ incredible “Duel of the Fates,” Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s hard fought battle against Darth Maul pushes both Jedi to their limits as they fight into the heart of the Naboo Palace’s control rooms.
A special shout out has to go to the red door sequence, a brilliant use of physical space that sees Obi-Wan impatiently having to wait to re-enter the fray and can only watch on helplessly as his friend and master Qui-Gon is brutally cut down by their opponent. Issues with the final moments aside — why does Darth Maul just stand there as Obi-Wan leaps out of the pit? — this would easily rank as the greatest lightsaber battle ever if it wasn’t for one other scene …
1. Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker (The Empire Strikes Back)
Some may argue that ‘Duel of the Fates’ belongs in the top spot, since it’s overall the better action scene, but nothing tops the climactic clash between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader from The Empire Strikes Back. Really, it’s fitting that the single greatest Star Wars movie features the best lightsaber battle; one that concludes with one of the most shocking plot twists in cinematic history. Let’s look at the fight itself though. In terms of composition, it’s a massive improvement over the anemic battle in A New Hope, but it’s still not very elegant, as it largely consists of Luke and Vader swinging wildly at each other. However, the reason this scene is better than any of the acrobatic battles that dominate the prequel trilogy is that director Irvin Kershner uses the lightsaber duel to tell a story.
We know going into the fight that Luke hasn’t completed his Jedi training yet and it shows in how he fights, as Vader beats him to a pulp. Speaking of Vader, this is the scene that truly cements him as one of cinema’s greatest villains, as we finally see why everyone fears him so much. He’s absolutely ferocious in combat and punishes Luke for thinking he ever had a chance against him (“You’re not a Jedi yet.” Too true, Darth!). I really hope Rian Johnson looks to this scene when crafting the climactic final lightsaber battle in The Last Jedi, as this is the one to beat and overall is one of the greatest scenes in the franchise.