In the past 45 years, Star Wars went from being a surprise blockbuster hit in 1977, that spawned a trilogy with a loyal fanbase to a massive cultural phenomenon. And thanks in a large part to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm back in 2012, for better or worse, there seems to be no end in sight for the mammoth franchise set in a galaxy, far, far away. To date, there have been 11 feature films, and 9 series, including prequels, sequels, spin-offs, animated series, an anime anthology, and yes, even the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special”. Of course, one of the most unique and iconic aspects of this sci-fi/fantasy saga are its lightsaber battles! And with the recent release of the Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series (now on Disney Plus), I figured it was a good time to revisit some of the best lightsaber duels in Star Wars history!
Oh, and there will be spoilers…
25. OBI-WAN KENOBI vs DARTH VADER: Round 3 (A New Hope)
That’s right, we’re starting with the one that started it all, the original, the classic: “Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope” (aka just “Star Wars” ’77, for those of us who were around before 1997). Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader cross paths one last time on the Death Star to settle their feud once and for all! “When I left you, I was but a learner, now I am the master!” “Only a master of evil Darth!”
While yes, this one may not have the best choreography, it may not be the most thrilling, but this was *the first* lightsaber battle. The thing that really works here is the character dynamics, and the sheer amount of world-building that’s done through dialogue. “Your powers are weak, old man.” “You can’t win Darth, if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine!”
When you really consider the context of this scene, it’s less about force powers or Jedi prowess, and more about Obi-Wan toying with Vader. Remember, Kenobi is a distraction, he’s letting Luke and Leia get away on the Millennium Falcon. It’s not about him, he’s playing the long game, knowing that Anakin’s kids will ultimately be the Emperor’s undoing.
Regardless, it’s undoubtedly iconic on its own merits.
24. COUNT DOOKU vs YADDLE (Tales of the Jedi)
While Christopher Lee is incredible, I feel like Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrannous?) was done a disservice in the prequels. The concept of the character is a good one: an aristocratic fallen Jedi-turned-Sith with a cause, but beyond a cool saber-hilt, there wasn’t much that stood out about him. That is until “Tales of the Jedi” debuted.
Throughout the series, we get Dooku’s backstory, which culminates in an emotional confrontation between him and Yaddle – a Jedi who we never got to know beyond a brief cameo in Episode I (she was that female Yoda on the Jedi Council). While it’s a short fight, it’s a powerful moment that really could have altered the course of Star Wars history had things gone differently…
23. QUI-GON JINN vs DARTH MAUL: Round 1 (The Phantom Menace)
Chronologically, this is the first lightsaber duel in the movies, starting with 1999’s “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. It’s the moment when the Sith officially reveal themselves to the Jedi after a millennium in exile. Jedi Knight, Qui-Gon Jinn engages with the mysterious Sith apprentice (Darth Maul) on the sands of Tatooine in order to buy Amidala, and her crew enough time to get in the air. It’s a big moment, but unfortunately, it’s not the focus of the scene, we cut away to focus on the Queen’s ship getting away. Still, it’s a great fight, even if it’s more of a tease of things to come…
22. DARTH MAUL and SAVAGE OPRESS vs OBI-WAN and ASAJJ VENTRESS (The Clone Wars)
Darth Maul made his triumphant return during “The Clone Wars” series after he was presumed dead (having replaced his legs with mechanical spider legs, long story). Maul joined forces with his long-lost brother to get revenge on both the Jedi *and* Darth Sidious. This eventually led to Obi-Wan Kenobi crossing paths with his long-time foe. Kenobi was forced to team up with another former enemy, the Sith Acolyte, Asajj Ventress, in an attempt to avenge his fallen master. The fight that follows is pure chaos! One thing that makes it particularly memorable is that Obi-Wan is forced to wield a red lightsaber!
21. OBI-WAN vs DARTH MAUL: Final Round (Rebels)
The final fateful face-off between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Rebels is such a stand-out moment for the series. The two square off, in the light of Tatooine’s twin moons, against a backdrop of stars, over a decade since their last encounter. While Maul is still holding a grudge all these years later, it’s clear that the elder Jedi Master is now at peace and has truly found balance in the Force.
The entire fight is over before it even begins, showing that even in his old age, Kenobi still has it. It’s a very emotional moment as well because despite landing a killing blow, Obi-Wan still shows compassion for the man who killed his master all those years ago…
20. AHSOKA vs DARTH VADER (Rebels)
Probably the best fight scene in Rebels is the showdown between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader. Not only is this a great fight, it’s an important character moment for Ahsoka (the former apprentice of Anakin Skywalker) because she had thought Anakin had died during Order 66, only to find out that he had turned to the dark side and was, in fact, helping the Emperor hunt down and destroy the Jedi, with the help of his Inquisitors! “My master could never be as vile as you!” “Anakin Skywalker was weak, I destroyed him.” “Then I will avenge his death!” “Revenge is not the Jedi way…” “I am no Jedi!” Ahsoka fearlessly leaps into action, dual-wielding her two white sabers, and it’s pretty badass. At one point, she slashes Vader’s mask, revealing Anakin’s face underneath.
19. YODA vs DARTH SIDIOUS (The Clone Wars)
Both Yoda and Darth Sidious got plenty of great moments to shine throughout the Clone Wars, but arguably the best episode in the entire series revolves around Yoda’s vision where he faces off against the mysterious Dark Lord of the Sith! The scene is dripping with symbolism, especially when Yoda saves an unconscious Anakin from falling off a skyscraper, towering over the endless city of Coruscant!
18. REY vs KYLO REN: Final Round (The Rise of Skywalker)
The final fight between Kylo-Ren (aka Ben Solo) and Rey (Palpatine / Skywalker), on the ruins of the Second Death Star, is easily the best scene in The Rise of Skywalker. One of the most striking things about this particular duel is that it’s not accompanied by any music, it’s just the two of them, their lightsabers, and the crashing waves of the Ocean Moon of Endor. It also feels like a nice visual call back to the fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar, except instead of a lava planet, it’s water. Two force-wielders, in their prime, at the height of their power – it’s the ultimate battle of good versus evil.
Of course, Rey comes out on top, mortally wounding Kylo, but the twist is that she manages to force-heal him! Kylo/Ben has a vision of his late father, Han Solo, and turns back to the light. The two eventually embrace their connection as a Force Dyad to take down the Emperor, once and for all! It’s just too bad that the rest of the movie wasn’t quite up to par with that epic lightsaber duel.
17. YODA vs THE EMPEROR (Revenge of the Sith)
Revenge of the Sith gives us some of the best lightsaber battles in the entire saga. One of the standouts here is of course the fight between Yoda and Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious! It’s an epic battle between arguably two of the most powerful force-wielders in the entire franchise, and it does not disappoint. “You will not stop me. Darth Vader will become more powerful than either of us!”
“Faith in your new apprentice, misplaced may be… as is your faith in the Dark Side of the Force.”
As cool as it was to see Yoda pull out a lightsaber for the first time (at the end of Attack of the Clones), this one blows it out of the water. Plus, we get that awesome rendition of “Duel of the Fates” as the two are duking it out in the Coruscant Senate Chambers!
16. AHSOKA vs DARTH MAUL (The Clone Wars)
Ahsoka Tano is one of the best-developed “new” characters. First introduced in “The Clone Wars” series, she’s since gone on to make appearances in Rebels, The Mandalorian, Tales of the Jedi, and The Book of Boba Fett. The former apprentice of Anakin Skywalker has had some pretty badass moments over the years, but her climactic fight with Darth Maul, towards the end of the final season of the Clone Wars (which takes place concurrently with the events of Revenge of the Sith) is absolutely towards the top! The two face off high above the city streets of Mandalore. Ahsoka ultimately comes out on top, and even spares Maul’s life, handing him over to Republic forces.
15. KARA and JURO vs THE SITH ACOLYTES (Star Wars Visions: “The Ninth Jedi”)
One of the best episodes of Star Wars: Visions was “The Ninth Jedi”, a story presumably set centuries later, after the end of “The Rise of Skywalker”, in a time where Kyber crystals are increasingly rare. A mysterious figure known as ‘The Margrave’ is attempting to rebuild the Jedi Order, and with the help of a lightsaber smith named Zhima (and his daughter Kara). Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that it ends with one of the coolest lightsaber battles of all time, where a couple of Jedi are hopelessly outnumbered by several Sith Acolytes revealed in their midst! The episode also introduces a new form of lightsaber with intriguing implications…
14. KYLO REN and REY vs SNOKE’S PRAETORIAN GUARDS (The Last Jedi)
The Last Jedi gave us several surprises, for better or worse. One of the coolest twists (in my opinion) was the moment when Kylo-Ren betrays Supreme Leader Snoke, and fights alongside Rey to take down Snoke’s Praetorian Guards! The scene is mesmerizing to watch, the choreography is spectacular, and it’s a key moment for both characters. For one brief shining moment, we get to see their Force Dyad in action! It’s just too bad that Kylo had to go full emo and take over the First Order himself, instead of joining Rey and the Resistance…
13. OBI-WAN vs ANAKIN SKYWALKER: Round 1 (Revenge of the Sith)
Compared to their final battle (in A New Hope), the first fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of Revenge of the Sith (on the hellscape of Mustafar) is ironically one of the most elaborate fights in the entire series. I mean, you’ve got two of the most skilled Jedi, former master, and apprentice, fighting for the fate of the galaxy on a volcano planet! In fact, the only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is that it’s almost too much. (Less is more.) Still, it does have some powerful character moments between the two, especially with the way it ends, with Obi-Wan being forced to mortally wound his former apprentice.
“You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the force… not leave it in darkness! You were my brother Anakin, I loved you…” (Bring some tissues.)
It’s also one of the only instances of two blue lightsabers clashing, which feels rather symbolic here.
12. LUKE SKYWALKER vs DARTH VADER: Round 2 (Return of the Jedi)
The final battle between Luke and Vader, in Return of the Jedi, isn’t one of the showiest lightsaber battles, but it’s a battle of wills, layered with meaning. The confrontation takes place on the second Death Star (during the Battle of Endor), in the Emperor’s throne room. Luke is attempting to pull his father back from the dark side, while the Emperor is attempting to seduce Vader’s son to replace him as his new Sith apprentice (possibly so he can inhabit him as a new host to live forever?). It’s clear that Palpatine is pulling the strings, manipulating both father and son.
Toward the end of the duel, Luke refuses to fight, so Vader threatens to go after his sister, causing Luke to lose it! He goes berserk, channeling his anger to defeat his father, but before he can land the killing blow, he realizes that giving into his fear is anger is the same mistake his father made years ago. When Emperor Palpatine unleashes his force lightning, attempting to kill his son, Anakin finally takes back control and sacrifices himself to stop Darth Sidious, chucking him into the Death Star’s reactor!
11. ANAKIN SKYWALKER vs ASAJJ VENTRESS (2003 Clone Wars – anime)
Years before the massively popular 3D animated Clone Wars series, Lucasfilm put out a mini-series of anime-style Clone Wars shorts in 2003, filling in the gaps between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, created by Genndy Tartakovsky. The series included some amazing moments with characters like Mace Windu and General Grevious, but by far the stand-out scene was a clash between Anakin Skywalker and Asajj Ventress (on what appears to be the ruins of Yavin IV).
The art here is incredible. One of the coolest aspects of the fight is it was the first example of a lightsaber duel in the rain! The little details of the raindrops evaporating on the blades is phenomenal. Ventress is one of those characters who has yet to appear in live action, but this really makes a case for why she should. Not only is it an amazing fight, but it’s also chock full of foreshadowing – hinting at Anakin’s eventual downfall to the dark side…
10. TAIJIN vs THE ELDER (Star Wars Visions: “The Elder”)
The anime anthology series, Star Wars: Visions gave us some really interesting new and different stories of that galaxy far far away, each from a different creative team, with their own unique styles. One of these stories was “The Elder”. “Visions” gave us some of the coolest lightsaber battles yet, and this one is no exception. The episode takes place sometime before “The Phantom Menace”, and follows a Jedi Master and his Apprentice as they’re investigating a dark presence on a farming planet. It’s soon revealed to be a rogue, ancient Sith!
The Padawan first encounters The Elder (wielding twin red blades) but is quickly overpowered. Taijin, an experienced and cool-headed Jedi Knight swoops in with his green blade. The two clash in the rain (again the rain effects are so good!), Taijin parrying blows with ease, before slicing one of the Sith’s sabers in two! The Elder attempts to use his force-lightning on the Jedi, but the Padawan distracts him, allowing Taijin to slay the Sith warrior!
9. LUKE SKYWALKER vs KYLO REN (The Last Jedi)
The Last Jedi is a controversial one for a lot of people, but regardless of how you think Luke’s story should have ended, you’ve gotta admit, this was a pretty amazing way to go out. It’s all very reminiscent of that final battle between Vader and Obi-Wan, even down to Luke taunting his nephew, and putting the fear of god in him. It’s great because Luke finally steps into the role of the legend, after years of exile. He faces off against the full might of the First Order with nothing, but a “laser sword”. It turns out of course that it was all a ruse, Luke uses the last of his power to project himself across the galaxy to distract Kylo Ren and his forces, long enough for the scrappy Resistance fighters to get away and regroup to fight another day. He gives them hope.
8. OBI-WAN and QUI-GON vs DARTH MAUL (The Phantom Menace)
This is hands down one of the most stunning lightsaber fights in the entire saga. While “The Phantom Menace” may not have lived up to the hype at the time, this sequence was one of the coolest scenes in the entire prequel trilogy. Darth Maul was just such a cool villain, with his double-bladed lightsaber, but seeing the Jedi and Sith at the height of their power was something we always wanted to see. Not to mention, a Jedi master and apprentice fighting together in tandem. The choreography is on par with some of the best martial arts movies.
It’s also one of the most impactful scenes, with Maul mortally wounding Qui-Gon Jinn, before young Kenobi avenges his master with Qui-Gon’s own saber, slicing the Sith apprentice in half! (But don’t worry, he gets better…) The thing that really sets this one apart though is of course the John Williams music: “Duel of the Fates”!
7. DARTH SIDIOUS vs MACE WINDU (Revenge of the Sith)
I just love this scene. Sure it’s chees. Sure it’s over the top, but man, seeing a Sith Lord wipe the floor with a bunch of Jedi is just pure magic. Palpatine finally reveals himself as the mastermind behind everything before he makes quick work of an entire squad of Jedi Knights! It’s also the reason Mace Windu is one of my all-time favorite characters! (I’m still convinced he survived that fall.)
The fight comes down to a duel between Darth Sidious and Mace Windu! Mace is tired of his shit and has him up against the ropes, but unfortunately, Anakin shows up at the worst possible moment and ruins everything – because of course, he does. If only Skywalker had listened to Master Windu, so much tragedy could have been avoided… but then again, we wouldn’t have Star Wars.
6. LUKE SKYWALKER vs THE DARK TROOPERS (The Mandalorian)
Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” gave us one of the greatest hero moments for Luke Skywalker in the finale. Unfortunately, we never got to see Luke at the height of his power in the original trilogy, because he hadn’t quite finished his training by the time of Return of the Jedi. Thankfully, the geniuses behind The Mandalorian heard our prayers and finally gave us the scene we’ve always wanted: Luke Skywalker slicing through an entire squad of Imperial Battle Droids! The thing that makes this scene great though? It’s a nearly perfect mirror of the famous Vader scene from the end of Rogue One! Like father, like son…
5. REY and FINN vs KYLON REN (The Force Awakens)
The Force Awakens was an awesome celebration of Star Wars history, but it was also a bold new chapter in the Skywalker saga. It all culminated in a fight between Rey and Kylo-Ren in the snowy landscape of Starkiller Base, as the entire super weapon begins to break apart. We get to see the heat emanating off of the sabers, really giving a sense of how dangerous these blades are, especially as they’re chopping through tree trunks with ease.
This fight is great for a number of reasons: it’s visceral, raw, and intense. It starts with Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned Rebel, picking up Anakin’s old lightsaber to try and defend against an angry (and highly trained) Kylo-Ren, wielding his custom cross-hilt saber.
After cutting Finn down, Kylo goes to grab his grandfather’s saber for himself, but Rey (who is equally powerful in the force) snatches the lightsaber away, and taps into her full potential, proving that good always overcomes evil… or something? Regardless, it’s a great fight!
4. RONIN vs THE BANDIT (Star Wars Visions: The Duel)
Arguably the best episode of Star Wars: Visions – ‘The Duel’ also gives us one of the best lightsaber battles ever! The twist here? It’s between two Sith! Ronin is a rogue Sith warrior (former Sith?) wandering the galaxy and hunting down other Sith.
The way the Ronin unsheathes his lightsaber from its scabbard, like a samurai drawing his katana, is one of the coolest things ever. He steps in to stop the Sith Bandit Leader, who is sporting one of the most unique lightsabers to date, with an add-on that funnels the beam into a spinning umbrella? At one point, she slices through the log they’re fighting on, and the two continue to battle downriver. It comes to an end when he tricks her with a fake-out, and stabs her in the back. We then come to find out that the Ronin is collecting the Sith Kyber crystals of his fallen foes, before wandering off into the distance.
The great thing about this battle is the style – it’s black and white, except for little remnants of color, like the red blades of the clashing lightsabers. It’s like a mix between Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and an old samurai flick by Akira Kurosawa!
3. DARTH VADER vs THE REBELS (Rogue One)
Rogue One might be my favorite Star Wars movie of all time. It’s a dark, gritty take on the Galactic Civil War that we all know and love. One of the greatest things about it is the way it ties in so well with the opening of the original movie (Episode IV: “A New Hope”). And one of the best things about that ending? We finally get to see Darth Vader unleashed! Vader goes ham on an entire platoon of Rebels, and it’s straight-up terrifying! It’s possibly the only time we really get to see Vader at his most ruthless and unstoppable. Seriously, the hallway fight at the end of Rogue One is one of the greatest sequences to date.
2. OBI-WAN vs DARTH VADER: Round 2 (Obi-Wan Kenobi)
Even though I still think it should have been a movie instead of a mini-series, I really enjoyed Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sure, it’s a slow burn, almost entirely focused on a side quest, but the important thing is it pays off with the epic rematch we never knew we needed! In Episode 3, Obi-Wan is confronted by his old friend, a full 10 years after he left him for dead on the volcanic shores of Mustafar, but we don’t get a proper duel between the two until Episode 6, where the former master and apprentice draw swords on some random, deserted alien world…
The fight that follows is nothing short of spectacular! One unique aspect of the fight is that it’s almost entirely illuminated by the lightsabers themselves. However, the reason this fight (and this series as a whole) matters so much to the overall story is that (like Rogue One) it fills in so many plot holes and threads that the prequel trilogy never solved. We not only learn how Obi-Wan knows about Vader being “more machine than man now, twisted and evil”, we also learn why Kenobi chose to tell Luke his father was dead in A New Hope; we even get an explanation for the scars on Anakin’s head that we see at the end of Return of the Jedi!
Everything about this scene adds more weight and meaning to that original lightsaber duel. We get to see just how powerful Obi-Wan is when he’s fully tapped into the Force, which explains why Vader was so cautious in his final confrontation with him later on. And it ends with a haunting moment where we get to see Anakin’s face behind the mask, as he tells Obi-Wan, “Anakin is gone, I am what remains…”
1. LUKE SKYWALKER vs DARTH VADER: Round 1 (The Empire Strikes Back)
That’s right, the number one spot goes to one of the most iconic scenes in one of the absolute best sci-fi movies ever made. I’m of course talking about the Luke / Vader encounter on Cloud City, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back! Was there ever any doubt?
It’s really hard to top this one. The visuals and dialogue are seared into my brain. The dark lighting of the carbonite chamber, Luke igniting his blue blade against the still silhouette of Vader who then pulls out his own. “Obi-Wan has taught you well… but you are not a Jedi yet!”
This is Luke’s hero moment, he’s completely confident in his abilities, but we all know just how outclassed he really is, because of his haste in hurrying off to save his friends instead of finishing his training, and Luke has to learn the hard way. Luke soon realizes he’s in over his head, and promptly has his ass handed to him by the menacing Sith Lord.
Of course, as we all know, the duel ends with one of the most dramatic (and parodied) moments in Star Wars: the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father! After lopping off his hand, and cornering his son, Papa Vader tries to convince Luke to join him, so they can destroy the Emperor, and rule as father and son: “With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy!”
Between the intense action, character dynamics, operatic stakes, epic dialogue, and that mind-blowing reveal, this one is without a doubt the best lightsaber match in Star Wars… probably…
What are your lightsaber battle rankings? Are there any we missed? Feel free to argue in the comments below!
For more great Star Wars content, check out: “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and the Emotional Impact of Interactivity” or “Every Star Destroyer Ever”!
And check out my latest book, “2299” – a sci-fi / noir novella!