Star Wars’ five best lightsaber battles, explained

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“This weapon is your life.” Those wise words about the lightsaber from Obi-Wan Kenobi to a young Anakin Skywalker resonate throughout the Star Wars films, positively glowing with mortal meaning.

And ever since Force-sensitive warriors began wielding their plasma blades in 1977, the lightsaber duel has been a central Star Wars spectacle. From Luke Skywalker to Yoda, from Darth Vader to grandson Kylo Ren, these battles are more than physical showdowns — they are windows into who has greater power or purpose, whether the result is apparent victory or higher self-sacrifice.

There are numerous battles to choose from when debating the hand-to-hand highlights. With this month’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” seemingly wrapping up the great family saga, The Washington Post’s resident Star Wars nerds have ranked the top five lightsaber duels:

Darth Vader has seldom looked more terrifying than when he ignites his red saber in a pitch-black hallway and tears through rebel fighters. Will the Empire’s stolen Death Star plans, now in rebel hands, escape his gloved grasp?

Athleticism & choreography

2 out of 5 lightsabers

Unlike other classic Darth Vader scenes, this is one against the many — and the many are overmatched. Practically a march of mass destruction, this striking sequence is less a duel than a decimation. Take a look at our illustrated break down of this scene below.

Veteran Force warriors Yoda and Darth Sidious go head to head. Will Sidious live to rescue apprentice Darth Vader from his scarring and charred defeat to Obi-Wan — and will Jedi Master Yoda be forced into exile?

Athleticism & choreography

At last, George Lucas has the technical tools to stage a high-quality duel between a live actor and an entirely CG character — with the freedom to create any maneuver his team can dream up.

Former dear friends, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and apprentice turned Sith Lord Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), square off. Can Obi-Wan prevent Anakin from fully turning to the Dark Side?

Athleticism & choreography

The lengthy mano-a-mano movement through the mining complex is a flashy mix of flips, kicks, leaps and clashing lightsabers.

Father vs. son 2.0: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) meet again after the Dark Lord of the Sith defeated Luke on the Cloud City of Bespin. Now, can Luke resist as his father and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) try to lure him to the Dark Side?

Athleticism & choreography

Nothing groundbreaking, but the shift from a horizontal fight, including dramatic silhouettes, to Luke looking down on Vader after gaining a superior vertical position is marked by deft transitions.

In “The Phantom Menace,” Sith villain Darth Maul (Ray Park) travels to Naboo, where he faces off against Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Jinn’s Padawan apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in what’s been dubbed “Duel of the Fates.”

Athleticism & choreography

The original trilogy duels look inelegant compared with this massive step up in physical artistry, especially from Park, a trained martial artist who moves like a stalking jungle cat. Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard told Vulture that he had to “invent an entirely new form of sword fighting” for the exhaustively rehearsed scene.

Across four decades of Star Wars films, there are so many great moments of conflict and combat — just the types of duels we’re looking for.

Our “honorable mention” scenes for this list, for example, include other battles from the original trilogy, such as when Luke and Vader square off in “The Empire Strikes Back,” or when Obi-Wan meets Darth in “A New Hope” — the latter a rematch potent with a meaning that ripples through every movie that followed.

And in the current Disney trilogy, we especially relish seeing Rey and Kylo take on Team Snoke in “The Last Jedi,” as well as Kylo and Rey fighting in the snow in “The Force Awakens.”

Yet unless “Rise of Skywalker” gives us something spectacular, the “Duel of the Fates” fight soars like young Obi-Wan, technically and narratively head and shoulders above all others.

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