The 10: Best Fights

Welcome to The 10, a new feature where’s editorial staff huddles to discuss — in a committee — various topics relating to a galaxy far, far away. First up: the best fights of the six Star Wars films.

10. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. General Grievous, Revenge of the Sith

Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. General Grievous, Revenge of the Sith

Obi-Wan versus General Grievous is maybe the most varied and dynamic fight of any Star Wars film. It moves from lightsaber duel to high-speed chase to a knock-down drag-out fist fight, and ends in a pretty surprising (if uncivilized, by Obi-Wan’s standards) way. Not counting the Clone Wars cartoon, the sequence gives audiences their first real look at what Grievous can do — his two arms become four, he spins lightsabers, his mechanical body is adaptive (and creepy) — and also works to reinforce Obi-Wan and the droid army general’s characters. Obi-Wan never gives up, even after losing his Jedi weapon, and is creative throughout; Grievous relies on brute strength and fear, and once those prove ineffective, his cowardly nature takes over and he tries to escape. All in all, a fast, fun scene, mixed with both thrills and — unique for a one-on-one Star Wars fight — laughs.

9. Mace Windu Vs. Darth Sidious, Revenge of the Sith

Mace Windu Vs. Darth Sidious, Revenge of the Sith

Teased to great effect in the trailer for Revenge of the Sith, this fight was something fans have wondered about for years — even before Mace Windu’s debut. How exactly did the Jedi try to deal with Palpatine? How did Palpatine reveal himself to them? The answers are given here, and they’re awesome: Mace Windu and three other Jedi show up in Palpatine’s chambers, ready to arrest him after the revelation that he is indeed the mystery Sith Lord they’ve been searching for. After some of Palpatine’s usual superficial pleasantries, Windu states plainly why the Jedi have come. With a dark, guttural scream and the ignition of a crimson blade, we get our first true glimpse of Darth Sidious. He welcomes the combat. Enjoys it. And quickly dispatches Windu’s support. The sequence is full of close-ups — Windu is grim, Sidious hisses and scowls — showing what’s at stake for both men. The ending continues to be debated; Windu seemingly has Sidious beaten, unarmed and cowering. But was this all planned to get Anakin to come to his defense? Either way, it doesn’t end well for Mace.

8. Yoda Vs. Count Dooku, Attack of the Clones

Yoda Vs. Count Dooku, Attack of the Clones

A memorable fight for one huge reason: this is the first time we see Yoda in action, and it’s thrilling. Yoda’s skills were hinted at earlier in the film (“If you spent as much time practicing your saber techniques as you did your wit,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin, “you’d rival Master Yoda as a swordsman.”), but the idea of seeing Yoda in battle was almost unbelievable. And if handled incorrectly, the scene could have been a disaster — would audiences laugh? Yet from the second he walks into Count Dooku’s hangar, it works. The short, green Jedi Master leaps and parries with a fast, exhilarating style, one never before seen in Star Wars. We also see, for the first time, that Force lightning can be stopped, when Yoda absorbs Dooku’s attack. Crowds loved it in theaters, and it stands as one of the prequel trilogy’s most memorable scenes.

7. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Darth Vader, A New Hope

Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Darth Vader, A New Hope

The first lightsaber duel ever seen in a Star Wars film finds an older Obi-Wan squaring off against his former pupil — providing a diversion for Luke and friends to escape the Death Star. What’s significant about this fight is not the choreography, but what happens before, during, and after the duel. The I’ve-just-seen-a-ghost look on Obi-Wan’s face when he first sees Vader. The exchanges (“When we last met, I was but the learner. Now I am the Master.”). The smile Obi-Wan gives Vader before sacrificing himself. In the span of a few minutes, these moments tell us of the history between the characters — reinforcing what we already know and raising more questions, too — and establish lightsaber duels as high-stakes and emotional. It’s not the longest or most complex of duels, but Obi-Wan versus Vader looms large over the entire saga.

6. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Jango Fett, Attack of the Clones

Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Jango Fett, Attack of the Clones

Known as the “Rumble in the Rain,” Obi-Wan squares off against bounty hunter Jango Fett in the ceaseless downpours of Kamino. While investigating an assassination attempt on Padmé, Obi-Wan finds himself on Kamino, a world dedicated to cloning, where he uncovers a strange plot involving a clone army created for the Republic, based on the genetic blueprints of Jango Fett — who is also behind the attacks on Padmé. After a tense meeting, the two battle as Jango tries to escape. This fight delivers on something fans had longed to see: what can Mandalorian armor really do? Moreover, we got to see what it does in use against a Jedi. Jango pulls out all the stops to take down Obi-Wan: flame thrower, rocket, blasters. Obi-Wan handles it all, but both sides take their lumps, with the Jedi and bounty hunter proving to be formidable opponents. Overall, a unique fight for Star Wars in setting and style.

5. Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi

Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi

The final duel of the original trilogy in which the fate of, well, everyone and everything depends on the outcome. Luke seeks out his father, Darth Vader, with the hopes of bringing him back from the dark side; clearly conflicted, Vader still does his Sithly duty and takes his son before his Master, Emperor Palpatine, who wants to turn Luke to the dark side. After the Emperor goads Luke into an aggressive attack, father and son do battle but with Luke intermittently stopping the fight, hoping to find another way to resolve the conflict. Still, the young Jedi is eventually pushed into a blind rage, but pulls back at the last moment, throwing away his weapon and letting his father live; it’s a move the Emperor cannot comprehend — and proves the only way to truly defeat him. What happens next is one of the key moments of the saga, bringing the stories of Anakin Skywalker and his son full circle. All lightsaber duels in Star Wars have some differentiating factor, and Luke/Vader II is particularly original: there’s a third party involved who’s more powerful than either combatant, yet he’s just watching; Luke continually disengages from the fight. Moreover, this battle maybe ties in more directly to the themes of Star Wars than any of the others. “How am I to know the good side from the bad?” Luke asks Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. “When you are calm, at peace,” he replies. That sounds good, but it’s hard to believe — until you see Luke choose compassion for his father, instead of the easy killing blow, in Return of the Jedi.

4. Yoda Vs. Darth Sidious, Revenge of the Sith

Yoda Vs. Darth Sidious, Revenge of the Sith

Battle of the ultimate Masters. That’s what this fight is, as it moves from precise lightsaber combat to an awesome back and forth display of Force wizardry. The Emperor revels in unleashing his power, gleefully tossing Senate pods at the Jedi Master and cackling as he blasts his “little green friend” with Force lightning; Yoda is calm and determined, able to evade the attacks and absorb Sidious’ dark side powers. As a meeting between arguably the two most powerful beings in the galaxy, this battle does not disappoint. And it reinforces what we learn in Return of the Jedi, which is that the Emperor wants to fight, as the fight is where he thrives — Yoda learns this the hard way. While he holds his own with the Sith Lord, even the ancient Jedi cannot outright defeat him.

3. Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith

Obi-Wan Kenobi Vs. Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith

The most highly anticipated of any Star Wars fight scene, and a marvel of choreography and visual effects. With Anakin lost to the dark side and having killed countless Jedi, Obi-Wan reluctantly agrees to find and kill his former apprentice. The two meet on the lava planet Mustafar, with Anakin clearly deluded and power hungry (“If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.”). The former friends square off in a blistering, kinetic sequence, epic in scale and scope unmatched by any other entry on this list. They battle in interior corridors of a mining facility, balance and duel on a narrow pipe above a lava river and then along a giant collection arm, and continue face to face on a small hovering platform. And then there’s the tragic, numbing end. To go from the shiny exterior of The Phantom Menace to the hell of Mustafar in just three films is an amazing thing, illustrating (on the surface, at least) just how far Anakin has fallen. It’s the one lightsaber duel in which the dangerous surroundings are a factor — a major threat to both combatants — yet Anakin seems oddly at home. Ultimately, while the sequence dazzles with its grand spectacle and unmatched swordplay, the biggest testament to its success is the fact that while we already knew the outcome, it was still shocking.

2. Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

It’s not the flashiest lightsaber duel. It doesn’t feature the acrobatics of Anakin/Obi-Wan, and it doesn’t have the wow-factor of Yoda/Dooku. But it’s probably the most emotionally powerful Star Wars duel — the slow pacing, the haunting aesthetic, and the tangible reality of Luke’s first duel with Darth Vader all make for one of cinema’s most memorable sword fights. Luke heads to Cloud City — against the wishes of Yoda and Obi-Wan — in an effort to save his friends, and finds Vader waiting. Holstering his blaster, Luke ignites his lightsaber and battles the Sith Lord in the Jedi tradition. But Luke’s training is incomplete, and he takes his licks — by the duel’s end, he’s battered and bloodied, having been slammed left and right with debris and machinery through Vader’s dark side trickery, and eventually, loses a hand. There’s a harsh beauty to this particular fight. Every saber strike seems thought-out and deliberate; Luke’s missteps, including multiple falls, add to the tension; and there’s a sense that Vader is holding back until Luke tags him, at which point he quickly ends the fight. It’s all shot beautifully, it’s thrilling, and the ending, of course, is the stuff of legend.

1. Obi-Wan Kenobi & Qui-Gon Jinn Vs. Darth Maul, The Phantom Menace

Obi-Wan Kenobi & Qui-Gon Jinn Vs. Darth Maul, The Phantom Menace

This duel, in many ways, captures much of what makes every other entry on this list special. Darth Sidious dispatches Darth Maul to Naboo, where he awaits Queen Amidala and the Jedi. During Amidala’s raid, Maul engages Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, moving from the Theed hangar to the Generator Complex, a maze of never-ending walkways. Finally, Obi-Wan becomes separated from Qui-Gon and Maul, and can only watch as the Sith Lord jabs his Master through the gut. When he finally reaches Maul, Obi-Wan is seemingly bested, left dangling, unarmed above a bottomless shaft — until he uses the Force to leap over Maul, grab Qui-Gon’s lightsaber, and cut the Sith Lord in two. This is a breathtaking duel from start to finish, showcasing Jedi and Sith at the peak of their powers. The choreography is astonishing — not too fast, not too slow — and that is probably due to the fact that Ray Park (Darth Maul) is a trained martial artist. Maul is the quickest, seemingly deadliest villain we’d seen in Star Wars up to that point, and we believe in him as a viable threat, spinning a double-bladed lightsaber with ease, and unbelievably agile. At the same time, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are impressive, as well, parrying relentlessly with the silent Sith. As the fight progresses, it gains in momentum, but also takes its time to play with the audience — note the breaks when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are separated from Maul, and then the break after Maul kills Qui-Gon. It all pays off in Obi-Wan’s explosive solo attack on the Sith Lord, a sequence that is maybe the most visually exciting of any lightsaber duel, and Obi-Wan’s exhilarating defeat of Maul is classic Star Wars — a how-are-we-gonna-get-out-of-this-one moment that’s inventive and downright fun. Taken together, it has great action, high stakes, and heartbreak, and it’s the best fight in Star Wars.

That’s it. What do you think? Did we nail it? Are we out of our minds? Did we overlook something? Let us know in the comments below!