One of the more recognizable elements of the Star Wars franchise is the lightsaber. Since its debut in 1977, the weapon has gone down in pop culture lore and still fascinates people to this day. Whenever a new Star Wars movie is coming out, the lightsaber duel is always greatly anticipated, as it gives audiences a chance to see exhilarating action that is very much unique to this particular franchise. Whether it’s the Duel of the Fates from Episode I or Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting Darth Vader on the Death Star, lightsaber battles are always compelling.

As the series has progressed, so have the lightsaber duels. As fans wait to see how J.J. Abrams portrays them in his Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, they’ll get an opportunity to reflect on the history and evolution of the sword in a television special that will air just days before the film’s theatrical premiere.

A trailer has been released for Star Wars: Evolution of the Lightsaber Duel (watch it above), which will be shown on ESPN December 15 at 7 p.m. EST. The program explores how the Jedi fighting style is similar to the real-world Kendo and what series creator George Lucas did to improve the lightsaber sequences as he went along. Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, will narrate the piece, making a rare but welcomed appearance in the Force Awakens marketing campaign.

An interesting aspect of the documentary will be comparing and contrasting the techniques displayed in the originals and those from the prequels. Showing Jedi and Sith in their prime, Episodes I-III certainly had spectacle, but some fans prefer the more intense, less-choreographed nature of the classic trilogy duels. Abrams has hinted he went back to those methods when planning out the Finn vs. Kylo Ren fight, so fans will be watching with great interest to see if there are any Episode VII clues shown in the special.

Luke vs. Vader in Empire Strikes Back Star Wars 7 Lightsaber Featurette; J.J. Abrams on the Force


The teaser for Evolution of the Lightsaber duel does show that Star Wars 7 star John Boyega will be included, and in a sound bite he talks about how the first three films felt like it was a “spiritual thing.” As it turns out, Abrams shared that sentiment and worked hard to make sure the Force’s mythological roots were maintained in his film. He told Slash Film how Force Awakens explores the concept:

I’m not someone who quite understands the science of the Force. To me Star Wars was never about science fiction — it was a spiritual story. And it was more of a fairytale in that regard. For me when I heard Obi-Wan say that the Force surrounds us and binds us all together, there was no judgement about who you were. This was something that we could all access. Being strong with the Force didn’t mean something scientific, it meant something spiritual. It meant someone who could believe, someone who could reach down to the depths of your feelings and follow this primal energy that was flowing through all of us. I mean, thats what was said in that first film!

Abrams stresses that he respects the canon Lucas created and he’s not trying to undo anything that was previously established in the saga (read: midi-chlorians). But he stated that he always felt the Force was “more inclusive and stronger than that,” harkening back to Luke’s initial lesson in the first film. The director has maintained all along that his goal with Star Wars 7 was to craft something that honored the tradition of the original trilogy, and making the Force more about the power of belief than biology goes a long way in accomplishing that. Time will tell if the story itself can be a worthy continuation, but at least Abrams got the Force right.

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Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens releases in theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.

Sources: Disney/Lucasfilm, Slash Film