Sound off, nerds! We’re talking the best lightsaber battle in ALL of Star Wars – movies AND TV shows! Which one do I think is the best? Well, you’ll have to watch the latest episode to find out! (Transcript down below)
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Friends, in 1977 a goofy little science-fiction movie came out filled with space wizards and dirty ships and silly costumes, and everyone involved thought it was going to be a disaster and a flop. It went over budget several times, and back-up plans were being made up for the film’s inevitable failure. That plucky little movie – made for $11 million dollars – would go on to gross $410 million dollars in its initial run, become the highest-grossing film ever at the time, and would fundamentally change how movies are made FOREVER.
And that movie, of course, was War of the Planets, starring John Richardson and West Buchanan.
I’m kidding – it was fuckin’ Star Wars.
Welcome aboard Space Castle! Our continuing mission is to search the universe for all things nerdy – and I’m your captain, DT!
So, to follow up this colossal success and industry-changing film, the logical next step would be to play it safe, learn from oversteps and mistakes from making the first film, and create a crowd-pleaser to keep the franchise going, right?
Nope. George Lucas had creative freedom and ownership of the franchise after Fox kinda stupidly let him keep most of the rights because they thought the film would fail.
So, George was able to make the movie he wanted to make, and funded it independently with some of his own Star Wars cash, and a hefty loan from a bank. He decided not to direct the follow-up to Star Wars, because it was just too much doing all the business stuff, running and developing the incredibly influential new companies he built to make it. A hundred different directors were considered before Lucas recruited the talents of director Irvin Kirshner to helm the film.
Kirshner wanted no part of it. The first film was such a huge success and so groundbreaking that Kirshner felt the second film would naturally be a lesser film. Lucas talked him into it by explaining that the film was less a sequel and more a singular chapter in a grand story — and that Kirshner could make the movie however he wanted.
This follow up would be darker, more mature, would deal with some heavy shit, and would delve deeper into the Force – unifying, mystical energy that’s central to the saga’s story.
The result of all this was a truly bizarre movie that went over budget and production schedule multiple times, and ran out of money because the bank wouldn’t increase the loan. It terrified George Lucas himself, and should not have worked at all.
Production was a disaster, with cast and crew injuries, exhaustion, extensive negotiations for more financing… it was a mess, friends. Kirshner’s hands-on style of directing pissed off the cast, and Kirshner was pissed off at the cast for not following his direction.
But, through the fire and flames came yet another industry and genre-defining film, and arguably the best film in one of the most beloved franchises ever. It’s a staple in the conversation of heroic storytelling, and it produced what is STILL TO THIS DAY the greatest lightsaber battle in all of Star Wars.
[EMPIRE STRIKES BACK STILL HAS THE BEST LIGHTSABER FIGHT]
GOLDBLUM: Ah, yes, oooh… you know you’re going to be straight fuckin’ murdered for this video, right?
I’m vaguely aware of that fact, yes.
GOLDBLUM: Well, ah, well, there it is. I’ll start drafting the Craigslist ad for a new captain.
…sounds good, Goldblum. All I ask is that everyone watching click like and subscribe, so that my foolish death might be remembered outside the Space Castle’s black box, which Goldblum is likely to alter.
GOLDBLUM: …previous captain deceased from asphyxiation while eating one of those candies that looks like you’re sucking on Jar Jar Binks’ tongue.
WHAT? We don’t… we don’t still have that onboard, do we?
Now look, lightsaber battles are a huge part of Star Wars, and most of the big climactic moments in the saga are centered around one. I mean no disrespect to the other lightsaber battles in the nine Star Wars films and even the TV shows. They’ve brought us badass fighting moves…
important emotional moments…
and even character development.
Except for this piece of shit. I don’t know what this even is. When she drops her saber, it doesn’t do anything. I doesn’t free Rey up to make this move and kill that guard. I just…
The absolute best lightsaber battle in Star Wars is still Empire Strikes Back. And I can back this up!
I know the choreography isn’t as wild and flashy as the prequels, and the special effects and lighting aren’t as good as the sequels. But it’s not about the cool moves and technology. Like any good sword fight, what’s key is the emotion involved, and the dynamic between the two characters.
Like I said before, Empire Strikes Back is a weird movie. It doesn’t follow typical Hollywood blockbuster conventions. The heroes are scattered and isolated for much of the movie, and despite there being a ton of action, there aren’t any heroic beats, side from Han Solo’s cleverness in evading the Empire. Everyone is on the run and, the one guy destined to save everyone else is hanging out in a swamp with a muppet for most of the runtime.
This totally turned people off at the time. People wanted more whiz-bang Star Wars hi jinx, and even critics were confused by the film. It got mixed reviews, and people didn’t really know what to make of it.
But the people who made it knew what they were doing. While it was misunderstood at the time and didn’t make quite as much at the box office as Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back is a brilliantly crafted film that turned out to be a fantastic mid-point to the grand saga Lucas had promised Kershner it would be.
And all of that culminates in the lightsaber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Now, what’s weird about all of this is that Star Wars – as a trilogy – has gone almost two entire films before our main hero and our main villain actually meet face to face. We know that Vader is a bad dude and hunted down all of Obi-Wan and Yoda’s fellow Jedi, and Luke is the only one with the ability and vigor to stop him and save the galaxy.
Luke’s struggling with a lot of tough things during the course of the film. The weight of being the galaxy’s last hope, the struggle of trying to learn a very difficult skillset and free his mind of limitations. His training is grueling, emotionally, mentally and physically.
Luke has probably made a big mistake in running off to this confrontation, because he hasn’t completed his Jedi training, and he was vulnerable in many ways. Vader has cunningly lured Luke to his location by torturing his friends and causing Luke to sense their suffering and come running.
Remember I said before, this movie deals with some heavy shit? And they say Star Wars is just for kids…
The tension of Luke and Vader’s first meeting has absolutely no music. We get music from the intercut scenes of Leia and friends making their escape from Cloud City, but there is literally no music in the Luke and Vader scenes… until a very pivotal moment.
The absolutely brilliant decision was made to ease back on John Williams’ score for the film – which I think is undoubtedly his best work to date – and just let the drama between these two characters play naturally.
The only sound we get in these scenes are Vader’s mechanical breathing, some scant dialogue, ambient noises from the Cloud City’s Carbonite freezing chamber, and the sounds of Luke and Vader’s lightsabers.
Now, let’s talk about that for just a minute. The sound design for the Star Wars films has come from the mind of Ben Burtt – a mad scientist and genius in his own right.
The continuous hum of the lightsabers comes from recordings of the interlock motors of vintage 35mm Simplex film projectors. Burtt married that with a secondary sound he actually discovered by accident! When he unintentionally moved a shieldless microphone in front of a 70s tube TV, he found that incredible vroom sound that we all know and love!
The sounds of the lightsabers swinging was captured by taking this combination of sounds, playing them on a loudspeaker, recording them with a moving microphone, creating that fantastic doppler effect.
The total result was an absolutely iconic sound effect that can either be heroic and exciting, or absolutely creepy and tense, as it is with Empire Strikes Back.
Now, Luke is totally outmatched in this confrontation. He puts on a good show, but his lack of experience with both the Force and a lightsaber, and Vader’s continuous taunting and attempts to lure him to give in to his emotions have him on the edge almost immediately.
To top it all off, Luke’s whole mission to find his friends has gone bad, aside from a brief encounter where Leia tries to warn him that the whole thing is a trap.
Everything’s gone to shit, and Luke is literally just trying to survive, and is on the receiving end of a game of cat and mouse with Vader – who is effortlessly pulling out all the stops to break him.
And the music kicks in for the first time in this battle when Vader disarms Luke by cornering him and severing his right hand. Only then does the film brilliantly introduce John Williams back into the sequence.
And what proceeds from there is still to this day one of the most important and iconic exchanges of all time. When Luke is broken mentally and physically, Vader — hang on – this is where things get real good, and it’s about to blow your mind. It’s time for a brief interlude to prepare you mentally.
This whole fucking time, Vader is aware that Luke Skywalker is his SON. Luke has no idea because Obi-Wan and Yoda have conveniently left that bit of information out of things. WE have no idea because Luke is our hero and our surrogate in the story.
This whole time, we think Darth Vader is trying to capture Luke so he can deliver him to the Emperor. But really, Vader has been playing both sides, and wants Luke to join him!
He breaks the news to Luke and tells him the Emperor fears him, and together they can destroy him, end the war and rule the galaxy.
Luke knows he’s right, but refuses to believe him. In that moment he’s not only learned a terrible secret of his heritage, but his heroes and mentors – Obi-Wan and Yoda – are diminished in his mind. They’d lied to him the whole way.
Luke is dealing with so much turmoil in this moment. Learning that his father is a terrible monster. That his heroes were conspiring to have him kill his own dad. And a calm comes over him despite all this anguish, and he decides to remove himself from the equation.
Mark Hamill’s acting so so under-appreciated in the Star Wars saga. Yeah, all the movies are a bit cheesy in their own right, but Hamill does such a fantastic job of showing Luke’s growth from a naive, plucky farm boy in Star Wars to the reserved and calm Jedi Knight he becomes in Return of the Jedi. And all of that hinges on this incredible lightsaber battle and its aftermath.
Knowing full well that he’ll likely die, Luke lets go and refuses to be anyone’s pawn. Given a choice between surrendering to Vader and becoming what he’s trained to defeat or removing himself as a weapon to be used for the agenda of others, he makes the ultimate sacrifice.
In retrospect, this lightsaber battle had so much going on. On your first viewing, you think it’s just a simple good versus evil confrontation between the hero and the villain. But the psychological battle happening for both characters involved is staggering. Luke just wants to save his friends, and how he’s being pummeled and toyed with by a villain who could probably easily kill him if he wanted to. And now he learns that this beast is his papa.
Vader is presenting himself as a mustache twirling bad guy who wants to capture the hero and bring him to his master. But in actuality, he knows this kid is his FAMILY, and he wants to recruit him to overthrow the biggest villain the universe, and start a new family business of ruling everything.
This is the most emotionally impactful, most culturally significant, and still to this day the most well-crafted lightsaber battle in all of Star Wars. To this day, Vader’s revelation remains one of the most enduring pop culture events, ever. It still knocks first-time viewers on their asses!
Yes, the prequels have all the flashy moves. Yes, the sequels have the advantage of modern special effects and cinematography. But for my money, Empire Strikes Back still has the most important, emotional, and best lightsaber fight there is.
Goldblum, do you agree?
GOLDBLUM: …new captain should preferably resemble Geena Davis, and
GOLDBLUM: Ah, yes! Yes! I was absolutely listening this entire time! I’m sure all the Star Wars fans will only maim you terribly, rather than kill you. I’ll just file this job listing away someplace to be on the safe side, though…
Okay Goldblum, good call. In the meantime though, I’m still captain of this Space Castle, whose continuing mission is to explore the universe for all things nerdy!
What do YOU think is the best lightsaber battle in Star Wars? Leave a comment below with your thoughts, and be sure to like and subscribe! and share it with a friend! What’s better than an in-depth debate about Star Wars to really strengthen a friendship?
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That’s it for this episode of Space Castle! Thanks so much for hanging out with me, and I hope to see you next time! This is D.T. …signing off!
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