The lightsaber: "an elegant weapon for a more civilized age." Ever since Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke those words in the original Star Wars movie, our collective pop culture hive mind has been obsessed with lightsaber duels, along with the abilities and choreography of the fantastical "laser sword." From comic books to video games to children's toys, the lightsaber seems to effortlessly cross all boundaries and embed itself in all mediums, but its allure will always be tied to its celluloid roots.
Whichever Star Wars movie you think is the franchise's best, behind-the-scenes stories about the various lightsaber duels in the series suggest that a lot of thought went into each skirmish.
This lightsaber behind-the-scenes list explores every duel the Jedi Knight tool was involved in, uncovering how it has changed with the times and technology, and how it has been used not only as a physical prop, but also as a storytelling tool.
Darth Vader Vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi - 'Star Wars'
Way back in 1977, a whole new type of "laser" sword needed a whole new type of fighting style. Stunt coordinator Peter Diamond discussed the creation of the lightsaber style in the Empire of Dreams documentary:
George [Lucas]... wanted a broadsword type of fight with a touch of Japanese behind it. But instead of becoming samurai moves with one hand, I kept it with two hands, so all the moves were two hands, completely like that. The first [sabers] were bits of wood with the foam projecting material wrapped around them.
Now the hardest thing for me on the first fight, Darth Vader was a very heavy man; Obi-Wan Kenobi was a gentleman... who had done some fencing in the theater. I had to teach them if that was the sword, to stop before the touch because the blades were breaking. We broke so many blades! They just kept snapping.
Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader - 'The Empire Strikes Back'
The story of The Empire Strikes Back goes beyond space opera to intimate character study. The climactic duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker adds up to the revelation of one of cinema's greatest plot twists. Director Irvin Kershner and actors Mark Hamill and James Earl Jones discussed the scene in the Empire of Dreams documentary:
Kershner: "I met with Mark and said, 'You know Darth Vader's your father and we're going to do the scene and [he'll] be saying stuff that doesn't count. Forget it. Use your own rhythm compared to what he's doing.' We did a few takes and he finally got into it... and here is Darth Vader who had this dialogue..."
Hamill: "You don't know the truth, Obi-Wan killed your father!"
Kershner: "And then of course we re-recorded everything."
Jones: "When I first saw the dialogue that said, 'Luke, I am your father,' I thought, 'He's lying. I wonder how they're going to play that lie out.'"
Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader - 'Return of the Jedi'
An amalgam of actors portray Darth Vader, including a performer most don't know about: swordsman Bob Anderson, who played Vader during all of his duels. When Mark Hamill was asked to pose for publicity photos crossing blades with a different actor while promoting Return of the Jedi, he decided to reveal the secret:
Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vader’s fighting. It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told George [Lucas] I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man. I thought that was nonsense.
They had us pose in rehearsal clothes with our [lightsabers] crossed. I had actually been rehearsing all morning with the "real" Darth Vader, and then Dave just came in for the photo session.
Qui-Gon Jinn Vs. Darth Maul - 'The Phantom Menace'
When Darth Maul goes after Anakin and Qui-Gon on Tatooine in The Phantom Menace, it's meant to be a small taste of the promised finale. George Lucas knew giving the farm away too early would leave him with a redundant third act, so he made the best of his landscape, costumes, and special effects to give fans only a small tease of what's to come, according to Wookiepedia:
The scene where we first get a confrontation between a Jedi and a Sith, I wanted it to be very abstract, you know, not deal with it. The end of the movie... is the confrontation between these two characters, so I didn't want to give it away at this point. So I did it with a lot of swirling robes and flashing swords and kicking up a lot of dust but not actually seeing the fight.
There might have been more to the scene where Maul chases Qui-Gon into the ship, but whether it was filmed or even scripted is not known, according to the fansite TheForce.net. The scene is described this way:
The SITH LORD immediately jumps onto the ramp after QUI-GON, but barely makes it. His heels hang over the edge of the 40-foot drop. QUI-GON swings his laser sword with all his might and knocks Darth Maul off the ramp onto the desert floor.