By Darin Skaggs
*Hey! Hey! Spoilers for all the Star Wars*
To many, including me, Star Wars is hugely important. They are great memories to those who saw the originals in the theaters and mostly a horrific experience to those who saw the prequels. The new film, The Force Awakens has acted as an apology note for the prequels and a reminder on how the original films were great. It is also a pretty great film all about the new generation finding their destiny. In the films there are lightsaber duels, which are pretty much sword fights with futuristic looking swords, but you all know what a lightsaber is. These are the moments that people look forward to the most. While they are some of the most exciting parts in an exciting series, they actually say a lot about the movie and what the filmmakers are going for, intentionally or not. So here I have taken all seven films and ranked there lightsaber duels to match the quality of the film.
7. ATTACK OF THE CLONES
In the second of the prequel trilogy and the hardest to get through we sit through two hours of clone talk, a poorly acted and written love story and clunky action. Then we get to the duel. The mopey Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and decent enough Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) end up chasing down the decent as well Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). It seems like an exciting time, Anakin is finally going to duel someone in a lightsaber fight and it is two against one. We will see how powerful Count Dooku really is. It is not executed well, through this fight we see George Lucas trying to apologize for The Phantom Menace. Not through the duel, but through the whole movie. That is what the whole film is and again, the duel reflects that. So Anakin and Obi-Wan are taken down pretty quick. Obi-Wan is hurt so Anakin takes both lightsabers and starts to fight Dooku. After a bit of visually uninteresting blade fighting it is not Anakin’s turn to fall, first losing one of his sabers, then his arm. There are many uninspired shots that are supposed to reflect The Empire Strikes Back. The two Jedi are taken out so quickly that you wonder what the entire movie was building up to. Then we hear distant footsteps. These mysterious, almost out of nowhere steps are from Yoda himself. Now at first there are some great back and forth between Lee and Frank Oz as Yoda absorbed Dooku’s electric force power. Then Lucas’ insecurity comes out and he tries too hard yet again while he gives Yoda a lightsaber and then him and Dooku duel. Of course Yoda is CGI and Lee was in his eighties so in the scene’s reality a stunt man with a CG Christopher Lee face is painted on swinging at nothing, which turns into Yoda added later. As a kid this was awesome but now it just looks absolutely terrible and even worse it lessens the character of Yoda who used to just be wise and powerful and now is just a floppy, wild Muppet sounding mess. Lucas tried to give the audience something they wanted, Yoda in a lightsaber duel, but it just became over produced, hard to follow garbage.
6. THE PHANTOM MENACE
There is something to be said about The Phantom Menace, don’t get me wrong it’s bad, but it is from a guy with a vision. Not a vision of a Star Wars prequel, but another film, it seems that Lucas just put the name on the product and put his new ideas in the movie, which include a slapstick race, a lot of political talk and an impersonal duel. There are a lot of cool ideas in The Phantom Menace including Darth Maul. Ray Park looks great as Maul and is a haunting presence, but ultimately a nothing character that dies before he could really get any real memorable moments. But he does have a double sided lightsaber. This says a lot about the film. The Gungans are an annoying race and fall into some odd racial stereotypes, but at least the place they live looks good. The lightsaber fight is cool, lots of fun uses of the force and cool looking sets, but sadly, the duel means nothing. Qui-Gon Jinn dies, but we don’t know him just like we don’t know Maul. It also has so many moments of “Why didn’t they do that?” The whole groups of twenty-plus people are standing when Maul is revealed. Why don’t they all just shoot and slice him up? Then there is no more problem. This is the Star Wars with so many inconsistencies. There are plenty of times where a character does something, mostly using the force, and could use it in a situation, but because of, maybe, apathy Lucas does not think of it. The duel looks fun, the music is most people’s favorite part, but when it comes to great movie moments this is not one because there is no weight behind the duel, no emotional character beats. The characters are nothing, just stilted actor’s reading from a script to complete George Lucas’ CGI vision.
5. RETURN OF THE JEDI
Return of the Jedi is a messy film. Not messy in the sense that is just a big failure, but messy in the sense that there is so much bad mixed with so much good. In fact the best part is the lightsaber duel and every moment leading up to it. It has Luke determined to bring his father, Darth Vader back to the good side and The Emperor determined to bring Luke to the dark side. Eventually The Emperor’s taunting gets Luke angry enough to pull out his lightsaber and start an emotionally filled duel. This part of the film is filled with intense moments including a threat to take Leia, who was just recently revealed to be Luke’s twin sister, to the dark side if Luke does not join them and The Emperor zapping Luke to the point where Vader finally snaps and turns good again. Now the problems with these dark, emotional scenes are surrounded by cheese filled lined Harrison Ford fight off Stormtroopers with little teddy bears and Lando blowing up another Death Star alongside a fish man. Mark Hamill seems to be the only one trying out of the main cast. Carrie Fisher and Ford gave up by this time and just needed a paycheck or were contractually obligated. The duel works but with these surrounding scenes takes away from the emotion. The Phantom Menace has the same problem, there are three other stories going on alongside the lightsaber duel. Here there is only two other plots distracting us. It works, but other aspects take away from the full effect.
4. REVENGE OF THE SITH
Revenge of the Sith is an odd film. As Jedi takes a big dive downward in quality from the other two, Sith rises up in quality from its predecessors. Nearly, everyone in Jedi gave up while everyone in Sith took the complaints and the cast and crew gave it their all. The opening shot from a special effects standpoint is fantastic. Christiansen isn’t great still, but is a little better in the film, which is admirable. Lucas does better with this one, throwing in some pretty effective moments with Anakin and Palpatine. He also overdoes it with the references and connecting every single dot to the previous trilogy. Again, this explains the duels fairly well. In the film there are several fights with the lightsaber including Mace Windu against Palpatine in which Lucas finally gives Samuel L. Jackson something to do and a pretty weak fight between Obi-Wan and a weird robot with a dying lung named General Grievous. There is also the mostly effects heavy fight between Palpatine and Yoda. This is a huge step up from the boring Dooku/Yoda battle in Attack of the Clones. It is powerful in more ways than one, a clunky reason why Yoda goes into hiding, but it works. Then there is the big one; the fight between recently turned to the dark side Anakin and the reluctant Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is hugely CGI, they are on some sort of lava planet and at some point they are swinging on ropes, it becomes a fist fight and the two run away from trouble they accidentally caused. It’s a mess, but a well-made one. Some of it makes no sense and parts are not very cool at all, but you know it feels like two people falling apart. You can feel a friendship break, a friendship that only was made believable in the present film. You feel pretty sad when Obi-Wan has to do what he does. It is confusing why or how he does it, but you feel the pain. This is probably the first time you feel something for a character in most of the prequels runtime. That is what the third prequel is, an emotional mess with plenty of ridiculous moments.
3. THE FORCE AWAKENS
One of the biggest events in recent years has been the seventh entry in the Star Wars saga and that is The Force Awakens. A perfect, maybe at times too perfect by design, follow up to the disastrous prequels and a throwback to the beloved original trilogy. Here is something that is those things along with being its own film separately. Here the lightsaber duel comes near the end and there is no Jedi to be found, only hints of the force. What the film did bring was two solid main characters that are fighting for good and now with the death of their mentor, an ignited passion for justice. First after Rey gets knocked out and Finn takes charge with Luke’s old lightsaber in hand. It is intense and clunky. Not clunky like the filmmakers do not know what they are doing, clunky like the inexperienced characters would be in a fight like this. He has a bit of training with combat, but is nowhere near the strength of Adam Driver’s character Kylo Ren. Finn does okay but eventually, is gotten the best of. The lightsaber flies over into the snow, looking just like when Luke lost it in the caves of Hoth in Empire. Kylo raises his hand to pull it over to him with the force, again like when Luke floats its over to his grasp to escape, but it flies right past him right into Rey’s hand. It is exciting, similar to the old movies and at the same time a fresh take on saga. Another fairly clunky battle, again that is on purpose, takes place. This time it is a believable, fun fight between a man and a woman. This is a step up and the only real fight that has a woman as the hero. It is the progressiveness of the times being reflected on the film. It also shows the new group has a lot of room to grow, even Kylo has room for improvement. And with the help of the old players they will become a new generation of heroes.
2. STAR WARS
Now here is the movie that started it all, Star Wars. And that was sort of an accident. No one really knew if they this would be anything at all, but it was a phenomenon. Here is a movie about strangers having an adventure and becoming friends. Here the lightsaber duel is not showy like the prequels or as emotionally big as the other two duels from the originals. It is not any of the main heroes. It is Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, a recent mentor to Luke, fighting the main villain Darth Vader. It is on one set, the elder actor Alec Guinness and Vader who is stiffened up in the suit don’t give off much spectacle. They just stand there, swinging their swords and recollecting on how long it has been and how far they both have come since their last entanglement. As Luke watches from a distance he sees his mentor get hacked by Vader and totally disappear. After that with a little help from Kenobi’s ghostly presence, finds the courage to fight and destroy the evil in the galaxy. In no way is this a great action achievement, but as a dramatic one it is incredibly powerful
1. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
1977’s Star Wars is one of the greatest and most important films of all time. Now The Empire Strikes Back is great as well and there is a never ending argument on which is superior. When it comes to that fight, Empire gets a few advantages. First of all the crew is making a good movie, that is the most important. Also we know the characters, so there is less set up, just more advancement in their development. The lightsaber duel is one to behold, it begins with Luke being led into a trap because he sensed his friends were being tortured by Darth Vader, which was true. Then Luke is supposed to be frozen in carbon to be hand delivered to The Emperor. Surprisingly to Vader, Luke puts up a fight. Vader is clearly stronger but the movie has Luke show his determination throughout the fight. And of course we all know the character beats of Vader slicing off Luke’s hand, revealing he is the father and driving Luke to suicide rather than be joined by him. This is the whole movie, it is darker, it is filled with wall to wall action and is easily the most emotional. Luke does lose a hand and gains an evil father figure, but Han Solo is frozen in the carbon and taken away. Chewbacca and Leia lose their best friend. Everyone loses a part of their selves in the film, emotionally and for others literally.