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I noticed that in almost all of the Jedi lightsaber fights they are constantly spinning as they fight.

I know because it's a movie it looks cool, but does it actually help?

It almost seems like it would hinder their fighting not help their fighting.

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up vote 38 down vote accepted

[EDIT: I am concentrating on light saber duels: that is a Force user versus a Force user, which is where the spectacular moves come in. Against a non-Force-User, spins and tricks could be helpful -- or just plain fun -- but the Force is a large enough advantage that you could spin all you want and not disadvantage yourself.]

An excellent read by a Broadsword instructor thinks not:

http://www.theforce.net/fanfilms/production/clements_tutorial/index.asp

Perhaps, you could say that in-universe the Jedi can see the future and therefore can afford to turn their backs to their opponents. But in a more realistic world, the answer is basically "No".

To quote:

As a personal anecdote, in my 25 years of training with swords (mind you, that’s martial, not choreographic or sport practice) I’ve had countless students and people attempt this spinning move without success in sparring against me with all manner of long swords. I’ve heard countless claims that they or someone else made it work against others. But the reality is, it’s silly and leaves you horrendously vulnerable. I cringe every time I see it in a sword fight scene. To show you what I mean, stand on guard with your partner and ask them to try to spin around and hit you high or low. When they do this, simply step in with your weapon and tap him between the shoulders or on the back of the head as soon as they turn their back. Or, right when they spin step backward out of the way and just stand there waiting for them to miss you. Or to be safe, try it without any weapons at all using just your open hand and finger tips. Even a child playing innocently understands how useless a move this spinning is.

Fighting is about perception, about footwork, timing and spatial awareness of distance, and about proficient delivery of deceptive technique. But this spinning move violates just about all of that.

[EDIT 2: I'm not trying to be the out-of-universe spoiler here, as some comments seem to be suggesting. For example, when discussing comic books like the Flash, someone might ask, "When the Flash grabs someone as he Flash's by, how come the sudden acceleration doesn't break that person's neck?" But the fact is, the Flash does do this, so there is an in-universe explanation, even if you have to struggle to find it. I'm not doing that.

This question is different. Even the accepted answer -- and it does show a lot of thought and has some great quotes -- can't show that acrobatic fighting actually provides an advantage against other Force users. In fact, the quote that most directly addresses it -- the Dooku v Skywalker/Kenobi fight -- clearly says that the acrobatics adds nothing and is actually laughable. The real threat is not Skywalker's acrobatics, but his speed and attempts to flank Dooku. (Which if spinning and turning your back on your opponent doesn't matter, why would Dooku care about being outflanked?)

So I'm not trying to argue that the physics of our real world disprove that something that does happen can't happen in the Star Wars world. I'm disagreeing with the idea that the acrobatics gives a Force user an advantage over another Force user. And that's the key: Force user on Force user. A Force user fighting a non-Force user negates the disadvantages described in my link because the Force user has foresight that the non-Force user does not.

Copying and pasting the accepted answer's fourth quote (emphasis mine):

Oh, they were certainly energetic enough, leaping and whirling, raining blows almost at random, cutting chairs to pieces and Force-hurling them in every conceivable direction, while Dooku continued, in his gracefully methodical way, to out-maneuver them so thoroughly it was all he could to do keep from laughing out loud.

It was a simple matter of countering their tactics, which were depressingly straightforward; Skywalker was the swift one, whooshing here and there like a spastic hawk-bat-attempting a Jedi variant of neek-in-the-middle so they could come at him from both sides -while Kenobi came on in a measured Shii-Cho cadence, deliberate as a lumberdroid, moving step by step, cutting off the angles, clumsy but relentlessly dogged as he tried to chivvy Dooku into a corner. - Revenge of the Sith Novelization

So why, in-universe, do they spin? I would say because of a sense of style. It's like watching the Princess Bride sword fight. There were flourishes because two extremely skilled swordsmen enjoyed doing flourishes, and could appreciate their opponent's flourishes. It didn't change the battle.

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That's ultimately the point (pun not intended). What we're looking at is the three-dimensional visualisation of a fight in 5 dimensions; The Jedi can see the future (to some extent) and the Force is also guiding their actions. – Valorum Jan 15 at 17:46
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@Richard: Still it would work both ways: real-world, non-Jedi fighting techniques emphasize things like efficiency and speed, and a Jedi could simply take those techniques to the next level. Adding in a slower technique (spinning) and then compensating with the Force isn't really a win. Against non-Force opponents, it could provide deception, but non-Force opponents aren't going to be effectively wielding light sabers, so... – Wayne Jan 15 at 18:18
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That explains why not to do it, or that because they can "see the future" it doesn't hurt them, but I'm still not seeing how it helps them. – Sam Harrington Jan 15 at 18:24
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@ryan: I'm concentrating on a Jedi v Jedi (i.e. light saber) fight, so everything you say applies on both sides. A Jedi, against a spinning Jedi could in fact dodge backwards or move forwards, just as a non-Jedi fighting a spinning non-Jedi could. If a Jedi is fighting a non-Jedi it would't be a light saber duel, and the Jedi might choose to spin, but doesn't need to. – Wayne Jan 15 at 20:07
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@Malcolm: There are actually three perspectives in most questions on forums like this: 1) in-universe, 2) out-of-universe (related to film production), and 3) out-of-universe (related to our physical reality). In the accepted answer (the Dooku fight quote), the spins and acrobatic moves are described as not useful in-universe. The OP openly stated the out-of-universe (#2) idea, and hints at out-of-universe (#3)/in-universe (#1), and I answer that. Once you have two Force Users fighting with light sabers, it becomes much more of an out-of-universe (#3) question. – Wayne Jan 15 at 22:29

Out-of-universe answer: Lucas wanted the Republic-era Jedi to look different and "more civilized", to be showing highly trained skills. So instead of European fight choreographers, he hired Asian fight choreographers and had them do flashy non-practical art moves, including spins and somersaults which are visually entertaining and suggest skill to people who don't know a lot about actual fighting.

Practical fighting answer: Spins do involve skill or practice to make look good - just not practical skill for real fighting. A great example of what spinning would usually result in is shown at the very end of the Anakin-Kenobi duel, when one of them jumps spinning into the air - in real fights with weapons like light sabres, jumping and spinning would usually have that kind of result. Wayne's quote underlines this point - committing to a large movement lets your opponent react to what you're doing for a while, and if it involves turning your back, losing sight and having your weapon far away, it gives the opponent a huge opportunity.

In-universe answer as I tend to usually see it written, translated to how well it seems to make sense to me: Mumbo jumbo it's part of the style of trained Jedi, makes sense because of the Force etc etc.

My personal in-universe sourced semi-retcon that even I think makes some sort of sense if one is willing to believe it: People who use the Force who fight each other are always getting a sense of what is about to happen, and if they "let the Force guide their actions" (Obi-Wan talking to Luke), then since the Force connects all living things and binds the universe together (also Obi-Wan), doing so can result in far better results than would be possible by plain skill or computers (e.g. see battle of Yavin). This is consistent with how the Jedi can relax and parry lots of blaster shots fired by many droids or even non-Jedi humans, because the Force guides their movements to just the right places at the right times. Ok, so given all of that, while the practical non-Force fighting technique would never involve spinning, perhaps that's actually why spinning ends up happening, because it is avoiding the anticipated flow of predictable events, and so when someone lets the Force control their actions, it has them doing some moves that wouldn't otherwise make sense because they are outside the predictable flow. As for why the opponents can't just tag them while they spin, perhaps they don't experience that opportunity while letting the Force guide them. (This could be like Vader trying to shoot down Luke's X-Wing in the trench, which should be an easy shot, but the Force interferes with Vader shooting Luke, as Vader remarks after not being able to hit him "The Force is strong with this one!" - the same thing might give someone "strong with the Force" a way to spin without getting killed, by somehow messing with the ability of others to hit them).

I actually think the first light saber fight (between Obi Wan and Vader) is a good example of this too. Some people criticize that scene, but it's one of my favorite light saber fights. To me it's clear that the sabers are only a part of the conflict - the main contest has to do with the Force, not direct physicality. "Your powers are weak, old man." Vader doesn't say his saber skills are rusty. They spend time apparently engaged in something other than physical fighting. And even Obi-Wan turns fairly slowly - in a real fight, Vader could tap him on the back, but doesn't.

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I didn't interpret Vader's comment about Luke being strong in the Force as an attribution for his inability to hit; his targeting computer seemed to take a normal amount of time to lock on to Luke considering Luke was using slightly more evasive maneuvers than his wingmen were. – TylerH Jan 16 at 2:59
    
@TylerH Interesting. I always took it that way. Vader and his wingmen take out 8 Rebel fighters in a row before Luke. Only Red Leader and Wedge take more than one quick burst. Then Vader says "The Force is strong with this one" and doesn't fire for some time. When he does fire, he only hits R2D2. Then he takes a very long time before being able to lock, and when he does, many shots are fired, but none of them hit despite the lock indication. There's a further delay and then Han intervenes. – Dronz Jan 16 at 5:27
    
@TylerH I added some data on that to an answer to another question here: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/115141/21254 – Dronz Jan 16 at 7:32

The narrator certainly thinks so. The overall impression that can be taken from the novelisations is that all the spinning and whirling makes the Jedi (and the Sith, for that matter) into a highly unpredictable, fast-moving whirligig of death and destruction:

But Qui-Gon recognized that while it might seem as if the Jedi were driving him before them, it was the Sith Lord who was controlling the struggle. Wheeling and spinning, leaping and somersaulting with astonishing ease, their enemy was taking them with him, drawing them on to a place of his own choosing. His agility and dexterity allowed him to keep them both at bay, constantly attacking while at the same time effectively blunting their counterattacks, relentlessly searching for an opening in their defense. - Phantom Menace Novelisation

and

The fight began immediately, the whole stadium filling with screaming laser bolts, Jedi leaping and spinning, trying to close into tight defensive groups, their lightsabers deflecting the bolts wildly. Geonosians scrambled all about, some trying to attack the Jedi-and dying for their trouble-others just scrambling to get out of the way of the wild fire. - Attack of the Clones novelisation

and

Never could he strike low, though, for never did Yoda seem to be on the ground, leaping and spinning, flying all about, parrying each blow and offering cunning counters that had Dooku skipping backward desperately.

Notably, Dooku is somewhat unimpressed, right up to the point that he gets killed

Oh, they were certainly energetic enough, leaping and whirling, raining blows almost at random, cutting chairs to pieces and Force-hurling them in every conceivable direction, while Dooku continued, in his gracefully methodical way, to out-maneuver them so thoroughly it was all he could to do keep from laughing out loud.

It was a simple matter of countering their tactics, which were depressingly straightforward; Skywalker was the swift one, whooshing here and there like a spastic hawk-bat-attempting a Jedi variant of neek-in-the-middle so they could come at him from both sides-while Kenobi came on in a measured Shii-Cho cadence, deliberate as a lumberdroid, moving step by step, cutting off the angles, clumsy but relentlessly dogged as he tried to chivvy Dooku into a corner. - Revenge of the Sith Novelisation

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Your second quote about the Geonosians is talking about Force versus non-Force users. In the end, the fight was won by Clones who don't leap or spin. Your fourth quote mentions Dooku dying, as if spinning moves did him in. I may be remembering wrong, but this was more that he was killed in spite of the whirling rather than by it. Note also the distinction between "swiftness" -- which includes fast moving and "leaping" -- and "whirling". Overall, I read the narrator as confirming what happened, not that there was any advantage in spinning about wildly. – Wayne Jan 15 at 18:56
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@Wayne - The Jedi were immediately assisted (on Geonosis) by the whirling. It seems to have made their reflected laser bolts highly unpredictable. As to the fight with Dooku, he is indeed killed in spite of the whirling which he considers somewhat childish. That being said, the narrator does mention several occasions when spinning results in a successful parry being made or a killing blow not connecting. – Valorum Jan 15 at 19:06
    
I guess, it makes a difference for the value of spinning, whether you are dueling another Jedi or whether you are surrounded by guys shooting with blasters... – Holger Jan 16 at 15:11

I don't know anything about why the jedi do it, like you said, probably just to look cool, but in a real fight, if you find yourself knocked off balance, rather than trying to correct it, you can spin to add to the energy away from your opponent (meaning they hit you less hard) and sometimes regain your balance faster this way.

If you get tripped or knocked backward, turning it into a flip can mean that you land back on your feet and are ready to meet your opponent (who "didn't see that coming").

Not to mention it could be a really good distraction technique. Did you see Dooku's face when Yoda started? Also, for a tiny guy like Yoda, it could make him nearly impossible to hit.

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For two human, non force users with light sabers, the answer is very clearly 'no'.

Other people have posted quotes from sword instructors confirming this. And likely, with lightsabers, it would be worse than swords - swords need to be moving fast to do damage, and spinning could potentially help there.

In fights with multiple opponents, I would suggest it could actually be not the worst option, although happy to be proven wrong.

But perhaps the real cause for spinning, is to do with the way force users read the future.

By spinning, the spinner does not telegraph where their lightsaber is going to strike, to anywhere near the same degree they do with a traditional strike. Even the person making the strike does not know where it will land precisely, So a Sith that is sensitive to other's thoughts cannot use this to predict the strike.

So your opponent, knowing that you are about to spin, has 3 options:

a) Block, and hope they block the right height.

b) Strike and kill you.

c) Back off.

If the defender chooses option a, the result is checkmate of your opponent or nothing.

If they choose option B, you die, but you will have enough momentum that your swing will continue. Your strike will lose strength, but the defender's lightsaber is stuck inside your body, so you will hit the defender softly (still killing them, differentiating lightsabers from swords again). Stalemate. Jedi can rely on sith not to take this option - a high ranked chess player is unlikely to push for stalemate against a lower ranked player, and Sith always think they are higher ranked. Also, Sith are unlikely to go for a noble self sacrifice.

If they choose option c, you have gained advantage of position, respite etc.

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