The 13 Best Lightsaber Duels Of All Time, Ranked

Star Wars fans will never forget their first experience with a galaxy far, far away. Whether they saw "A New Hope" on the big screen in 1977, rented the original trilogy on VHS in the '80s and '90s, caught "The Phantom Menace" on opening night with a group of rabid fans, or ducked into "The Force Awakens" to see what all the fuss was about, multiple generations have become entranced by the magical world created by George Lucas. And, of course, one of the most iconic images associated with Star Wars is the lightsaber — nothing beats a good lightsaber duel. 

Clashes between saber-wielders are a Star Wars staple, often serving as the climactic set piece that caps off a rivalry between two (or more) heroes and villains. However, just as filmmaking has evolved over the years, so too has the franchise's approach to these duels. According to Vulture, the original trilogy's duels were "largely based on fencing," while the prequel's had to "invent an entirely new form of sword fighting." Prequel stunt coordinator Nick Gillard used a combination of "kendo ... rapier, samurai, and even tennis and tree-chopping" to construct these epic bouts.

So, what makes a good lightsaber duel into a great one? The best lightsaber fights dazzle us as much emotionally as they do visually, combining epic storytelling with impressive choreography and technical wizardry. While a good lightsaber duel still looks cool, it may feel a little hollow. To demonstrate, we've ranked our top 13 lightsaber duels from all nine Skywalker Saga films. The Force is strong with this list.

13. Obi-Wan vs. General Grievous — Revenge of the Sith

What could top Darth Maul's scene-stealing double-bladed lightsaber in "The Phantom Menace?" How about a half-Kaleesh, half-cyborg wielding four lightsabers? At least, that seemed to be the intent behind this fight, but General Grievous is a little cartoonish when compared to the frightening Maul. Let's not throw the Kaleesh baby out with the blue milk, however. Grievous' showdown with Obi-Wan is still a fun and flashy fight.

The battle begins with General Grievous gloating that he was trained by Count Dooku, which means that he'll easily defeat the Jedi. He steps back and sheds his cape to reveal that he's had four arms hiding under there this whole time. Obi-Wan takes his stance with a smirk as Grievous does his best "Raiders of the Lost Ark" impression, unleashing an unnecessarily showy flourish. Obi-Wan separates Grievous from two of his hands rather quickly, then Clone Troopers show up and Obi-Wan Force-pushes Grievous against the hangar ceiling. Why didn't he just Force pull Grievous into his lightsaber and end it there? Because Lucas needs to set up a bonkers chase sequence. Look, you'll find no complaints about that here. Overall, this is a quick fight, but it has enough unique elements to crack our top 13.

12. Obi-Wan and Anakin vs. Count Dooku – Revenge of the Sith

For many fans, the prequels are a bit of a mixed bag. When they're great, you get "Duel of the Fates." When they're not, you get Jar Jar Binks. Of the three films, though, "Revenge of the Sith" is often cited as a favorite, and this duel is a perfect example as to why. It features solid choreography and storytelling, along with several moments that prove that this chapter of the Star Wars saga isn't going to shy away from getting dark.

As a space battle rages outside the window, Obi-Wan and Anakin walk into the room where Chancellor Palpatine is being held hostage with stone-cold calm. Count Dooku enters just afterwards with droid backup, and lightsabers instantly clash. Obi-Wan is Force-tossed out of the fight not once, but twice. That makes sense; the narrative focus here is Anakin versus Dooku, while creeper Palpatine gleefully watches in the background (as he tends to do). 

The duel ends when Anakin chops off the poor Sith Lord's hands. Palpatine cackles and tells him to kill Dooku. Anakin debates for a few seconds, but is pushed over the edge by Palpatine's argument. Goodbye to Dooku's head, and hello to children crying in the theater. From this moment on, it's clear that there's no turning back for Anakin.

11. The Jedi Arrive — Attack of the Clones

While this isn't technically a duel, what lightsaber enthusiast wouldn't include Star Wars' answer to "Braveheart" on their list? Everything fans love about Star Wars is crammed into one giant set piece: fantastic creatures, swinging lightsabers, deadly blasters, goofy droids, noble Jedi, and more.

The setting for this clash is a gladiator pit on the hostile planet of Geonosis, where hope is quickly fading. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme stare down an army of battle droids with little chance of surviving. Our heroes need a miracle ... or a gaggle of clone troopers and more Jedi than we've ever seen before on screen. Thankfully, they get just that. The Jedi arrive with their new army in tow, and the Clone Wars begin.

During the fight, Mace Windu sneaks up on Dooku and Jango and delivers a truly perfect Samuel L. Jackson line: "This party's over." Then, dozens of Jedi from all ends of the galaxy show up and sprint towards the droid army. The droids are sliced down like cardboard cutouts, Mace Windu chops off Jengo Fett's head, and nerd perfection is achieved.

10. Yoda vs. Darth Sidious — Revenge of the Sith

The ultimate Sith versus Jedi showdown revels in prequel trilogy excess, topped with some glorious cheese. Ian McDiarmid, who plays Darth Sidious, chews the scenery so much that it's amazing that there's a single piece of the set left.

Before things get too heavy, Yoda struts in, calm as a shriveled cucumber. Darth Sidious over-confidently cackles and zaps Yoda with Force lightning, pinning him to the wall and proclaiming, "The Jedi are no more." Yoda uses the Force to toss Palpatine across the room and over his chair — intentional or not, it's hilarious. 

Then, the main event begins. Yoda and Darth Sidious clash over Palpatine's throne, which rises into the main Senate chambers. Yoda hops around Sidious and deflects all of his attacks without breaking a sweat. Sidious starts Force-throwing any and every Senate pod he can find at Yoda, then attempts round two of Force lightning, only to have that countered by Yoda, who absorbs it and blasts it back at him. However, Sidious escapes and lives to devour the scenes in the next trilogy (and to make a surprise appearance in "Episode IX").

9. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader — Star Wars

It's hard to get better than the original "Star Wars." Sure, by today's standards, the choreography in the Obi-Wan Kenobi versus Darth Vader battle makes it look like an improvised sword fight between a couple of Renaissance Faire actors, but it's important to remember this was the very first time that audiences saw lightsabers clash. This one duel led to decades' worth of lightsaber scuffles for fans to geek out over, and for that reason alone it deserves a place amongst the best.

Modern audiences may be a bit spoiled by what special effects artists can do today, but there's something special about the imagination George Lucas and his VFX team used to pull off these sequences in the late '70s. Alec Guinness is brilliant as Obi-Wan Kenobi. He projects a calm and stoic demeanor from the first moment he appears on screen, making audiences instantly believe he's a Jedi master. We also see Darth Vader's abilities beyond simply Force-choking a few of his generals. The moment that Obi-Wan Kenobi decides to give himself over to the Force is one of the most memorable moments of the entire original trilogy. Lucas also smartly focuses on the characters during the fight, not the acrobatics, which always elevates a duel to greatness.

8. Rey vs. Kylo Ren — The Force Awakens

Fans cheered many times while watching "The Force Awakens" on opening night, but the biggest came for the reveal that Rey has Force abilities. There's an equal amount of love and vitriol out there for the sequel trilogy, but in this one moment, everything felt perfect. "Star Wars" was back, and older fans were pumped to see a new generation experience the wonder they felt watching the original trilogy as kids.

"The Force Awakens" utilizes slick choreography and a combination of practical and CGI effects. However, what makes this duel stand out is that it feels messier than previous battles. Rey's inexperience shows in her initial lack of strategy, while Kylo's skills are on full display — even with a blaster shot to the gut and a lightsaber burn to the shoulder, he keeps barreling at Rey. 

The character work is just as good. Kylo offers to teach Rey the ways of the Force, Rey takes a long beat to soak that in, and then unleashes a more realized version of her powers. Rey ends the fight by giving Kylo a Two Face make-over, and the ground below them cracks in two, symbolizing that their paths have split. A little on the nose, but who needs subtlety in a space opera?

7. Yoda vs. Count Dooku — Attack of the Clones

When Count Dooku and Yoda squared off in "Attack of the Clones," it was the first time that viewers saw the full extent of Yoda's Jedi abilities on screen, and audiences appropriately lost their minds. Until this moment, Yoda was everyone's favorite goofy little green puppet. This fight showed why he's a true Jedi master.

The fight starts out pretty tame, with Count Dooku Force-throwing spare parts at Yoda, who counters with random space junk. Dooku busts out the Force lightning, a Sith favorite, and Yoda absorbs it and sends it back like a soft high five. That's when Dooku realizes that his "Force-measuring" contest isn't working and decides to settle things the old-fashioned way. 

Lightsabers ignite and Yoda runs circles around Dooku. It's clear who the true master is from the get-go. Dooku goes for the cheap way out, using the Force to pull a tower down on Anakin and Obi-Wan. Yoda stops it from crushing his former apprentices, giving Dooku time to escape. Although brief, this duel features the first glimpse of Yoda in his prime, and Count Dooku learns that Yoda doesn't take Sith from anyone.

6. Rey and Kylo Ren vs. The Praetorian Guards — The Last Jedi

Discussing "The Last Jedi" is like playing hopscotch on a minefield. Fans either love or hate this movie, but most moviegoers can at least agree that, from a cinematography standpoint, this movie is gorgeous. The fight sequence in Snoke's throne room is especially incredible.

Director Rian Johnson starts the battle with a shock: Supreme Leader Snoke is cut in half by his own apprentice, Kylo Ren. The fight that ensues between Kylo, Rey, and the Praetorian guards uses minimal cuts. It begins on a wide shot of the throne room as the guards descend on Rey and Kylo Ren, forcing them to fight back-to-back. Rey stabs one of them, and Kylo impales another and chucks him into an electrical pit, where he explodes on impact. Rey pulls an Arya Stark, drops her saber, kneecaps a guard, and slices his throat. Then she tosses her lightsaber to Kylo, who ignites it through the face of the final guard. It's a fight that's brimming with fluid action, and one that's both beautiful and brutal.

5. Kylo Ren vs. Luke Skywalker — The Last Jedi

Some may argue that this isn't really a duel, since Luke never makes contact with his lightsaber (spoiler: as we learn at the end, he's not actually there). However, we'd counter that it's one of the purest Jedi moments in the entire saga, as Luke battles his failed padawan with pacifism and reason, not violence or anger.

Before the duel begins, a brigade of AT-ATs blast Luke as Kylo screams at them. It accomplishes nothing; Luke appears from the rubble without a scratch and coolly brushes dust off his shoulder. It's a small act of defiance that ratchets Kylo's anger up to 11. When Kylo opens his lightsaber and unleashes several furious attacks, Luke responds with a full "Matrix" backbend and spins like a Jedi break dancer. Kylo petulantly claims that killing Luke will end the Jedi, to which Luke responds, "Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong." 

Enraged, Kylo goes in for the kill; for a moment, we are led to believe that Luke Skywalker has been cut in half. But Kylo turns around to find an unscathed Luke, and we learn that he's Force-projected himself across the galaxy to distract Kylo and give the Resistance time to escape. The duel ends with Luke channeling his inner Han Solo, saying, "See you around kid..." to his nephew as he fades away.

4. Anakin Skywalker vs. Obi Wan Kenobi — Revenge of the Sith

Calling this violent clash epic would be an understatement; this fight encapsulates Anakin and Obi-Wan's entire character arcs in the prequel trilogy. The quick and fierce choreography, the sense of pathos and genuinely gut-wrenching emotional beats, and the wanton destruction in the background make this a top-tier lightsaber duel.

With the battle taking place on the volcanic planet of Mustafar, the location serves as a parallel to the eruption of Anakin's dark side, which destroys everything around him. Throughout the fight, Obi-Wan's former padawan reaches his full potential, and nearly surpasses his master. For the first time in the prequel trilogy, Obi-Wan and Anakin are true equals, trading saber hits and Force attacks. At times, they practically mirror each other. 

Then things get excessive, as they often do in the prequels. The clash continues as the two Jedi climb up a sinking bridge, swing on wires like Tarzan, and fight on floating debris as they race down a river of fire. It ends when Obi-Wan gets the high ground, but Anakin decides to attack Obi-Wan one last time anyway. Kenobi responds with a swift blow, taking out both of Anakin's legs. Obi-Wan yells in anguish, "You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you!" The words go unheeded; what's left of Anakin's legs dips into the lava, and the supposed Chosen One burns alive in front of his teacher. It's grotesque, heartbreaking, and an incredibly dark endto both their friendship and the prequel trilogy.

3. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader — Return of the Jedi

Luke's entire hero's journey leads up to this duel, which hinges on a pivotal question: Will Luke turn to the dark side? The scene starts with an impossible decision for Luke: Watch as his friends perish, or give into his hate and strike the Emperor down. Luke succumbs to his darker impulses for a moment and attempts to kill Palpatine, only to be blocked from delivering the fatal blow by Darth Vader. Palpatine lets out a delighted, villainous laugh, and the duel begins in earnest.

The choreography here is faster and more complex than it is in "Star Wars" or "The Empire Strikes Back." Palpatine acts like the nastiest bench coach in the galaxy, constantly prodding Luke to finish off Vader. Luke gives Vader multiple chances to make the right decision and put down his weapon, but Luke's attempts at pacifism end when Vader suggests turning Leia to the dark side instead. An enraged Luke batters Vader to his knees, eventually cutting off his hand. 

This leads to another huge character decision on a literal precipice, as Luke chooses not to kill his father while standing over a seemingly bottomless abyss. This act of compassion leads Vader to decide to save his son, redeeming himself in the process. He throws the Emperor down the miles-long reactor shaft, never to be seen again ... until J.J. Abrams brought him back in "The Rise of Skywalker."

2. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul — The Phantom Menace

This duel is a fan favorite for a reason: It's the first time that lightsabers were truly unleashed on the big screen, with lightning-fast choreography and raw, emotional storytelling to match the fight's epic scope. When John Williams' "Duel of the Fates" first kicked in as Darth Maul revealed his second lightsaber blade, viewers' minds were blown. For those of us catching "The Phantom Menace" on opening night, it was unlike anything we'd ever seen before, while still feeling 100% like Star Wars.

Showing what it's really like when true masters of the Jedi and Sith orders go head-to-head, Darth Maul fends off the two Jedi like he's taking a light aerobics class, blocking Obi-Wan's attacks without even looking and charging full-steam ahead at Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan ends up trapped behind an energy field and helplessly watches as his master is killed. It's brutal. 

When Obi-Wan is released from his energy-encased prison, he unleashes a lightning-quick combo of attacks that all play out in a single wide shot. He splits Maul's saber in half, takes a boot to the face, then backflips back to his feet like it's nothing. Maul then Force-pushes Obi-Wan over the edge of another one of Lucas' beloved bottomless pits. Defeat seems inevitable until Obi-Wan uses the Force to retrieve Qui-Gon's lightsaber, flips over Maul, and chops him in half. This fight seems like it's impossible to beat — but wait! We have one more...

1. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader — The Empire Strikes Back

From a technical standpoint, one could argue that the climactic duel from "The Phantom Menace" is better, but "The Empire Strikes Back" remains a near-unanimous favorite among Star Wars fans, and this showdown is one of the main reasons. It features improved choreography over "A New Hope," and a slowly-building anxiety that culminates in one of the best twists of all time. It also ends the movie on the hero's defeat, a move that would be copied by the second chapter in trilogies for decades to come.

In a notable departure for a Star Wars film, the fight begins without a musical score. Darth Vader's methodical breathing, Luke and Vader's echoing footsteps, and the hum of lightsabers create all of the tension. Darth Vader appears in a foggy silhouette and tells Luke, "The Force is with you, Young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet." Really, that sets the stage perfectly for what's to come: The entire fight is character-driven, with Vader testing how much Luke has learned from Obi-Wan and Yoda, and seeing how far he can push the young man. 

As Luke's anger builds, steam fills the room. Vader quickly goes on the offensive, throwing anything he can find at Luke until they're both sucked out a window. The battle continues across another impossibly high walkway. Sabers clash, sparks fly, and, ultimately, so does Luke's hand. Luke then discovers that he has the worst dad in the galaxy and narrowly escapes with his life. "The Empire Strikes Back" is peak Star Wars because it deftly balances dark and mature character work with a rip-roaring sense of adventure and moments of levity. As this duel proves, the fights are bigger and the stakes higher. It's a perfect sequel.