“History” here meaning the six live action movies.
There have been 13 separate lightsaber duels in the history of the Star Wars movies (depending on how you split up the fight with Dooku in Attack of the Clones, and not counting the Clone Wars movie). That number figures to climb another tick or two in a week.
But before we get there, let’s take a little look back through every lightsaber duel in Star Wars history, because some of them were definitely better than others. And some of them, philosophically, were just wrong.
At their best, though, the lightsaber duels in Star Wars convey physically what’s going on inside the characters’ heads like few other moments can. Yeah, the, “I love you,” “I know,” moment is classic. But moments later, you learn as much about Darth Vader as you knew from nearly two minutes put together. And I mean the part before the, “I am your father bit.” Really.
So yes, that one’s pretty high on our list. But we’ll get there. Let’s start with #13 and work all the way to the top.
Oh, and for it to count as a “duel,” it has to be between two named characters, each of whom has a lightsaber. So Mace Windu trading shots with Jango Fett doesn’t count, and neither does Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting with General Grievous’s bodyguards.
Tier 4 – The Forgettable Contests
Let’s be honest: There were a couple lightsaber fights that were just filler, uninspired or ill-inspired messes that we’d rather not recall. And in fact, they both come from exactly the same sequence of exactly the same movie.
#13 – Anakin vs. Count Dooku, Attack of the Clones
There is so much wrong with this fight.
Ok first, the least offensive part of the choreography, which is still pretty bad. I get it, you’re limited by an elderly Christopher Lee, so lots of close-ups and wide shots help you hide things. But seriously, Dooku cuts the handle off one of Anakin’s lightsabers right away, then then spend most of the rest of the fight staring at each other and twirling their sabers over their heads.
But worse is that the duel has no context and no stakes. Right before this, Anakin charges Dooku, and Dooku Force lightnings him right out of the way without any trouble. And that actually makes a lot of sense – Anakin ought to get dominated by the power of the Dark Side so it has at least a little seduction for him come Revenge of the Sith. This lightsaber duel probably shouldn’t have ever even happened.
If you’re going to commit to doing it, though, make it matter. Anakin’s arm gets lopped off and we immediately forget about him. No body horror? No reaction? He’s thrown into a pile with Obi-Wan and then we cut away to other things. Anakin losing his arm is a meaningless outcome, not at all like the thing it’s trying to emulate.
#12 – Yoda vs. Count Dooku, Attack of the Clones
I can see it coming already. I’m going to get some crap for naming this the second worst lightsaber duel in Star Wars history. But it is. There’s another Yoda fight coming up later on, but let’s be honest, no one ever asked to see the wisest Jedi master in history transmogrified into a whirling dervish. It’s completely against his character.
Rating this fight badly doesn’t even take into consideration the mostly lame Force contest before the saber battle. But once we get there, what are we supposed to think of it? What is Yoda trying to accomplish? He’s clearly not interested in killing Dooku – there are at least two instances where Yoda has clear shots and doesn’t take them, like when he goes flipping past Dooku’s head and just doesn’t bother to swing his lightsaber. The fight tells us next to nothing about either character, it’s short, and it’s never clear what either is trying to gain by it.