Star Wars has made an undeniable impression on popular culture. Even the most casual of fans can recognize popular phrases and references like “may the Force be with you.” Star Wars has also provided some absolutely epic duels for audiences and fans, mostly involving those defenders of the Force known as the Jedi.
Taking into account both films and television, but limiting to only that which is now considered official Star Wars canon, we’ve compiled our list of the best duels we’ve seen yet. These battles were ranked based on everything from choreography, cinematography, dramatic effect, and importance to the overall narrative. In the end, we identified a handful that stood out and helped define that Galaxy far, far away.
Here are the 15 Best Duels in Star Wars History.
15. Qui-Gon Jinn vs. Darth Maul on Tatooine (The Phantom Menace)
The first time audiences saw this battle in the sand transpire, the only one who had ever sported a red lightsaber was Darth Vader. Taking place about halfway through the film, Darth Maul had been teased as a menacing presence at this point. However, the audience had yet to see him in action. In a scene that unfortunately starts with a bit of bad editing (why were Qui-Gon and Anakin running?), Star Wars fans had their first lightsaber duel on-screen in 16 years, though it wouldn’t be later in the movie till we would see Darth Maul’s famous dual-sided saber in full.
14. Obi Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (A New Hope)
Seven films later and this duel made the list more for the dramatic weight than the execution. A Jedi Knight long past his prime and his former pupil, now reduced to aged man in a clunky machine body. At times, Obi Wan and Darth move like a couple of senior citizen learning to polka dance, but it was the first lightsaber duel in SW history.
Even though it is clumsy at times, this duel comes to encapsulate so well the greater battler between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. And when Obi Wan meets his fate, it might be the most emotional moment in all of Star Wars…
13. Anakin and Kenobi vs. Dooku above Coruscant (Revenge of the Sith)
In a battle not only for the freedom of Chancellor Palpatine, but also for the soul of a young Jedi, Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi get a long anticipated rematch with Count Dooku. The former Jedi taunts them, taking pleasure in toying with Anakin.
After Kenobi is incapacitated, the fight is left to his former padawan against the formable Sith foe. In an unexpected turn of event, the young, impetuous Anakin gains the upper hand in the battle before taking both of Dooku’s. After being encouraged by Palpatine, Anakin takes one more important step towards the Dark Side when he kills an unarmed Dooku.
12. Luke Skywalker vs. All of Jabba’s Thugs (Return of the Jedi)
Even if Yoda had one more task for him to complete, most fans were convinced Luke had arrived as a bona fide Jedi once they saw him take on all of Jabba’s crew. In an exciting sequence from Return of the Jedi, Luke (with a little help from R2-D2) springs a big surprise on the nefarious Hutt. With his newly constructed lightsaber in hand, Luke takes on two skiffs full of thugs all while fending off some pesky blaster fire from the Sail Barge.
It’s a great cinematic movement as Luke steps up to save his friends, but it’s perhaps a little too bad that Bobba Fett, one of the most promising villains in Star Wars history, had to die so suddenly.
11. Qui-Gon and Kenobi vs. Maul on Naboo (The Phantom Menace)
This duel has a lot going on and maybe at times too much, given that it’s interspersed with scenes of Anakin in the fighter above the planet and Padme making her way to the throne room. But one could also argue that this was the best choreographed fight scene at this point in the Star Wars franchise.
Maul’s aggressive and acrobatic fighting style versus the patience and practiced style of two Jedi. Ending with Kenobi utilizing some acrobatics of his own, the intensity of this duel is enhanced by John Williams’ fantastic score and the emotional impact of its ending.
10. Luke vs. Vader on 2nd Death Star (Return of the Jedi)
It was a duel that was inevitable and, as Yoda told Luke back on Dagoban, his destiny. Even with the knowledge that Darth Vader was his father, the fate of the galaxy rested on Luke’s willingness to face and ultimately defeat Vader.
In their second meeting, the younger Skywalker shows his improved skills and bests his father. But it is his refusal to finish him off (in a scene that intentionally mirrors Anakin’s final battle with Dooku) that adds the dramatic bravado. Unlike Anakin, Luke is able to resist the temptations of the Dark Side, and in doing so, he is even able to redeem his father, who returns to the Light after his final duel.
9. Kanan Jarrus vs. The Inquisitor (Rebels Season 1)
After being on the run for most of the first season, rebel Jedi Kanan Jarrus is finally left with no other option to face his biggest fear. The Inquisitor (voiced by Jason Isaacs) is the ultimate Jedi hunter. He is a cold calculator who has mastered the Dark Side of the Force and seems to take a little too much pleasure in his job. He wields a double-lightsaber (ala Darth Maul) with a slight enhancement.
While naysayers might argue this fight is too similar to the Kenobi and Jinn vs. Maul duel in The Phantom Menace, it’s hard not agree that this is one of the best animated duels in the Star Wars canon. In a duel that could have gone either way, season 1 of Disney’s Star Wars Rebels ends in spectacular fashion.
8. Maul vs. Pre Viszla (Clone Wars)
In our first entry that involves villain versus villain, the uneasy partnership between Darth Maul and the Mandalorian splinter group known as Death Watch comes to a head. After double-crossing Maul and his partner, Savage Oppress, Pre Viszla figures he’s in the driver’s seat as Death Watch is now effectively running Mandalore.
After the two Sith escape their captors, Maul challenges Pre Viszla to a duel. With his honor and the control of Death Watch at stake, the Mandalorian wields a unique weapon used by Jedi of the Old Republic. What follows is a brutal match that holds nothing back. For an animated series, it is certainly something to behold.
7. Kenobi vs. Jango (Attack of the Clones)
In another epic battle involving a Mandolarian, Obi-Wan Kenobi gets into a tussle on Geonisis with Jango Fett. The bounty hunter and “father” of Bobba Fett is full of nifty tricks. In a scene that was likely a response to fan criticisms that Bobba’s death was too quick in Return of the Jedi, Jango gives Kenobi all he can handle.
It doesn’t hurt that he gets some well-timed help from little Bobba as well. Considering the poor response that the prequels sometimes get from fans. It’s scenes like these – emotional, thrilling, exciting – that make us wonder if we were really right about them.
6. Maul and Savage Oppress vs. Darth Sidious (Clone Wars)
You do not cross Darth Sidious. In an epic scene where he shows why he is the only Sith Master, Sidious takes on his former apprentice and his sidekick. Wielding two lightsabers and throwing the force around with such casual ease, the Master proves to be too much for his two challengers. Viewers get the most poignant example of why Sidious is the Master.
5. Kylo Ren vs. Rey (The Force Awakens)
In some ways it’s hard to believe that a fight between two relatively young force users would rank this high. But it is in many ways the rawness of both their skills and emotions that make this duel one of the best.
Starting with that great shot of Anakin’s saber flying not to Ren but to Rey, their battle embodies the age-old struggle between the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force. Their duel gives confidence to fans everywhere that the Force is in good hands with this new generation. In what is unlikely to be their last battle, Kylo Ren and Rey have a legendary duel outside the Starkiller base.
4. Ahsoka Tano vs. Vader (Rebels Season 2)
For viewers who haven’t been following the Star Wars animated shows over the past several years, it might seem perplexing how this duel ranks so high. By way of quick summary, in the 2008 animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a new and important character is introduced. Ahsoka Tano is a young padawan who is paired with a begrudging Anakin Skywalker. She is young, impulsive, and in many ways very naive about the galaxy. But viewers learn over the next seven years of The Clone Wars animated series, she is critical anchor for Anakin, often providing one of the only voices of hope that keeps him from slipping further toward the Dark Side. After a being accused of a crime she didn’t commit (she was later acquitted), Ahsoka leaves the Jedi Order and her master, Anakin. She’s not around to see his final descent to the Dark Side of the Force and doesn’t realize for long time that he has become Darth Vader.
So in the second half of this season’s Star Wars Rebels, viewers have known the eventual confrontation between Ahsoka and Vader was coming. It took place in the ruins of a Sith temple in the season finale and it did not disappoint. Ahsoka intervenes just when Vader is ready to destroy Ezra Bridger. Their duel is heightened by the emotional intensity (especially after Ahsoka damages Vader’s mask and realizes it is Anakin underneath), a great score, and the significance of the battle to the overall plot. When she engages Vader, Ahsoka allows her fellow rebels to escape with the important artifact they came for. The aftermath of their battle is left as a cliffhanger that may or may not get answered next season.
3. Luke vs. Vader on Cloud City (Empire Strikes Back)
In a fight he really had no chance of winning, Luke Skwalker stands alone to face the dreaded Darth Vader. His friends have been captured and a premonition in the Force told him they may be killed. Leaving his training and against the wishes of Jedi Master Yodi, Luke flies to Bespin to the exotic Cloud City. There he is carefully lured into a trap set by Vader. Determined to capture and convert the young Skywalker, Vader is seems prepared for Luke’s every move.
This is a really terrific fight that comes to define Luke forever and features some of the best cinematography of the entire series. It also ends with that enormously famous twist, one of the most memorable in all of cinema.
2. Yoda vs. Sidious (Revenge of the Sith)
In the ultimate fight between Masters (one of good, one of evil), Yoda and Darth Sidious finally go toe-to-toe in the climactic third act of Revenge of the Sith. In a fight that involves a variety of uses of the Force, these two have quite a tussle.
Spilling out from the Emperor’s office to the Senate floor, their duel is one for the ages. Beautifully shot and scored, in the end, the Jedi are overcome by the rise of the Sith. Even Jedi Master Yoda, one of the most powerful warriors in all of the Star Wars canon, is unable to overcome the strength of the Sith Lord.
1. Anakin vs. Kenobi (Revenge of the Sith)
It’s a fight that Star Wars fans knew was coming for twenty years. While not explicitly explained in the original trilogy, Darth Vader’s origins were detailed in a variety of supporting materials and merchandise.
In the Return of the Jedi novelization, fans read the ghost of Obi Wan describe the battle between himself and Anakin that led to his current state as Vader. But Star Wars enthusiasts could only imagine this epic battle until it was finally brought to screen in Revenge of the Sith. Even with the eventual outcome being known, fans are still moved by the dramatic power of this duel between master vs. student and brother vs. brother. It is truly the best duel so far in the Star Wars canon.
What do you think, fellow Screen Ranters? Do you agree with our list? Did we miss your favorite Star Wars duel?