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Why The Original Star Wars Trilogy Has The Superior Lightsaber Duels

The debate around which Star Wars trilogy has the better lightsaber fights has existed since Star Wars was expanded beyond the original three films. Many people who aren’t fans of the prequels as a whole still argue that, despite their many other flaws, they have the superior duels.

The Darth Maul Vs. Qui Gonn Jinn & Obi Wan Kenobi from The Phantom Menace

I can see why some people hold this opinion. Other than the excellent world building and score, the combat is possibly the only other redeeming quality about the prequels. The scale and impeccable choreography are certainly a feast for the eyes. You gain even more appreciation for them after watching the behind the scenes. Despite the backgrounds being plastered wall to wall with rapidly aging CG, there is nothing CG about the combat. The actors really did spend days practicing and, whilst some of it was done by stunt doubles, most of it was done by the actors (Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Ray Park, etc.).

However, despite the well executed visuals, they evoke almost no emotional reaction. Most people when watching them are impressed by them but not actually that engaged. The closest they come to anything emotionally engaging is the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin/Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith but unfortunately the robotic and unnatural dialogue, that sounds like it’s written by a poorly coded machine learning algorithm fed cheesy romantic novels, almost completely undercuts any emotional reaction someone might have. The main reasons that duel in particular is loved by some fans is the incredible score by John Williams, who is in my opinion the real star of the prequel trilogy, and the extra context added by The Clone Wars, which a topic of itself for another time.

Obi Wan Vs. Darth Vader duel from A New Hope

The main criticism of the lightsaber fights in the original trilogy is that they’re boring. I completely disagree. Whilst they may be less choreographed and less spectacular than ones released decades later, I find them to be so much more engaging to watch. My favourite out of the trilogy has to be the battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire Strikes Back on The Cloud City of Bespin. This is a bit of a cliche opinion but it’s cliche for a reason. It’s shot so well. The fact that the environment around them is so dark allows the lightsabers themselves to really pop. It’s not all action, all the time either. It’s a lot slower and frequently pauses all together, not to let you breathe but increase tension: almost in the same way that a horror movie does. Because they knew that, if done well, silence can be be louder than action. Another reason that the original trilogy’s fights carry so much more emotional weight is because the writing and direction is significantly better than the prequels, in fact it’s probably the most stark difference between the two. The characters talk like real people and thus we are much more invested in them because they feel real, the consequences feel real.

Darth Vader Vs. Luke Skywalker duel from Empire Strikes Back

In summary, I think that, due to better written characters and the creators’ restraint in how the fight are presented, the original trilogy has more engaging, emotional and suspenseful lightsaber combat (although the prequels fights are still fun to watch).

Obi Wan Vs. Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader duel from Revenge Of The Sith

P.S. I didn’t touch on the sequel trilogy because I didn’t think they are worth mentioning when it comes to lightsaber combat. In my opinion they have neither the spectacle of the prequels nor emotion of the originals.