The Star Wars universe has given the world so much. From backwards-talking aliens to familial plot twists, Star Wars has sparked millions of people’s imaginations. However, the films also introduced us to one of the coolest weapons ever to grace the big screen: the lightsaber.
We’ve already discussed how superb cinematography can enhance any lightsaber battle. Now, we’ll look at other components that help give some Star Wars lightsaber duels more cinematic resonance than others. But don’t worry. Even if you aren’t directing a Star Wars film any time soon, you can still use these pointers to enhance fight scenes in your own movies.
Star Wars Lightsaber Duels — What Makes Them Great?
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Epic Lightsaber Duel
Location and Presentation
The setting you choose for your lightsaber fight should have some personal or thematic importance for your characters. Most Star Wars lightsaber duels take place on planets that signify something important or add emotional gravitas to the battle. Just look at the location chosen for the epic Jedi battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan.
Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan • Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Once the two combatants go outside, they are surrounded by molten lava. This setting serves multiple purposes. Later on, it will function into the lightsaber battle as Anakin is burnt to a crisp after having his limbs chopped off by Obi-Wan.
Having lava spewing everywhere also has thematic weight. The planet was clearly intentionally designed to look like Hell, and the battle is Anakin’s last descent into transforming into the sith lord Darth Vader. Part of what makes the final lightsaber fight in Revenge of the Sith so memorable is where it takes place and what it means for both characters involved.
Let’s take a look at another one of the best Star Wars lightsaber duels in cinema―Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.
Star Wars lightsaber duels • Luke Vs. Kylo Ren
This time, the Jedi battle takes place on a planet covered in salt. Throughout the film, director Rian Johnson has metaphorically “salted the earth” of what is possible with a Star Wars film. He established that Rey came from nothing. Luke has cut himself off from the Force.
Johnson subverted expectations throughout the movie, and with the final lightsaber battle, he carries on that theme that Star Wars movies do not have to continue meeting fans’ expectations. You can do more interesting things in this grand universe than what has been established in the past.
Star Wars Lightsaber Duels
Rite of Passage
Having a Star Wars fight scene for the sake of a Star Wars fight scene is a good way to make even a thrilling battle seem bland. The lightsaber battle should be about more than just winning against the bad guy. The hero should undergo some form of transformation that aids his or her character arc.
As an example, look at one of the best Star Wars lightsaber duels in history: the battle between Luke and Darth Vader at Cloud City.
Star Wars lightsaber duels • Luke Vs. Darth Vader
This lightsaber fight ends with two major changes for Luke. The first is that he loses his hand. It is eventually replaced with a mechanical one, but this actually factors into the second rite of passage. Luke learns Darth Vader is his father, which changes his perspective with his entire role in this.
With his robot hand, Luke becomes more like his father. He becomes more like Darth Vader, and he knows he’s at risk of succumbing to the Dark Side more than ever. This lightsaber fight changes everything, and Luke deals with the fallout in the final episode of the first trilogy.
To give your fight scenes more emotional weight, you should make sure your characters undergo something profound. They should learn new information, or if you really want to enhance your fight scenes, make the plot more challenging for the protagonist even if he or she wins the duel. It helps give your fight scenes meaning, so they are more than just flashing lights and blood.
Star Wars Lightsaber Fight
A hero fighting a horde of faceless, unnamed goons may look cool if you choreograph it right. But it’s unlikely it will have any staying power in the minds of the viewers. You want to clearly establish a relationship between the two combatants. The state of this relationship will not only raise the stakes but inform the audience of how they should feel.
In The Force Awakens, the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is clear. He’s on the Dark Side, having just killed his father. She’s on the Light. The final lightsaber battle is a combination of these two sides dueling for the fate of the galaxy.
Star Wars lightsaber duels • Rey Vs. Kylo Ren
It’s one of the more basic Star Wars lightsaber duels around, but seeing as how it’s staged in a beautiful environment with the lives of millions on the line, it’s a well-executed one. However, the way a relationship impacts a battle is more pronounced and interesting in the team-up of Rey and Kylo Ren in the famous Star Wars throne room scene.
Star Wars lightsaber duels • Rey and Kylo Ren Vs. The Imperial Guards
The alliance may be short-lived, but it does prove two things. Rey is closer to the Dark Side than she would like to admit, and there is still a bit of the Light in Kylo Ren. The team-up is the conclusion to the two Force users being connected throughout the film. Their intimacy grows, and this is the final piece of evidence these two are forever linked in this particular movie.
When creating your own fight scene, you need to consider how a relationship can grow and emerge through a fight.
Spider-Man Vs. Doc Ock
One final example
To see how these three principles can apply in any film, let’s look a fight scene from a different franchise. Namely, the epic train scene from Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man Vs. Doc Ock • Spider-Man 2
The setting is an intense one. Doc Ock has destroyed the brakes for a train, causing it to go on a collision course. Not only does Spider-Man have to contend with Doc Ock not, he now has to save a train full of civilians, and they have no way of escaping.
The relationship between the two is clear but complicated in light of recent events. Yes, it is “good guy versus bad guy,” but Harry Osborn recently commissioned Doc Ock to bring Spider-Man to him. This means Doc Ock cannot merely kill Spider-Man on his own. He needs to bring him back alive, and the audience understands why he won’t just kill him right then and there while Spider-Man is weak.
Finally, the most significant aspect of this fight is the rite of passage Spider-Man goes through. After he stops the train, he is carried down the aisle by the passengers, who all see his face. A train of New Yorkers now know who Spider-Man is, but they promise not to tell anyone. Peter Parker learns he can trust people with his secret identity, which will come into play later when he finally shares his identity to Mary-Jane.
You do not need a cool lightsaber duel or superpowers to have an amazing fight scene. You just need to be mindful how why people are fighting, what the characters are going through with this fight, and how the setting factors into the confrontation.
How to Shoot Dynamic Fight Scenes
Before you roll cameras, you want to make sure you know precisely how your fight scene will go down. With the help of StudioBinder’s software, you can map out precisely how a fight scene will take place, so you know every beat before your actors even learn the choreography.
Up Next: Shooting dynamic fight scenes →
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