In the prequel trilogy of Star Wars (the more recent three), the swordsmanship of the actors is very coordinated and fast. There's lots of aerobatics and fast swordplay; generally impressive (albeit sometimes over-the-top) performances.

But in the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker's swordsmanship appears to be an aimless, desperate swinging motion in nearly every scene. He flails the lightsaber back and forth like a wild boar. It's astounding that Vader didn't quickly put him out of his misery.

Here's what I mean:

Is there some sort of explanation as to why Luke's skills are so poor? Does it have to do with the story element, or is it to do with the film itself?

  • 27
    I always thought it was because Luke was losing control at the thought that Vader was attempting to seduce Leia to the dark side, thus causing Luke to go rage and start swinging madly.
    – Jared
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 3:17
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    The phrases "first trilogy" and "second trilogy" are potentially confusing, given the episode numbering. I suggest "original trilogy" and "prequel trilogy" instead. Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 19:40
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    @bitmask Another great title edited out for political correctness. Shame, really.
    – LarsTech
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 16:59
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    @bitmask Geez, bit of a personal attack there. Both titles convey the same thing, but the original was funny, the new one, not so much.
    – LarsTech
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 22:24
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    SHHHhhhhh!!! He'll remake the fight scenes! Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:51

25 Answers 25


I always thought it was obvious that in all their fights up to this one, Vader could have killed Luke at will; he wasn't trying to kill him, he was trying to break him down and then turn him.

In the words of the incomparable Mr. Plinkett,

In "Empire"... Luke is just barely keeping up in his fight with Vader. Vader is just basically toying with him, he could totally kick his ass at any moment, but he holds back.

In the final duel in "Jedi", Luke is still very much a novice, but Vader is surely under strict command from the Emperor not to kill Luke, perhaps not even to save his own life. Luke's berserk rage is exactly what the Emperor was trying to bring about.

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    This is exactly what I was thinking. But also the reason for him being so poor is his very little training in comparison to Jedi's of the new trilogy.
    – Tom Bowen
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 9:29
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    +1 -- the incomparable Mr. Plinkett also points out something along the lines of the lack of choreography making the fight more interesting; You can see the anger and desperation in Luke building up, while (e.g.) the Obi-Wan / Maul fight is boring beyond measure because it's too perfect.
    – bitmask
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 16:30
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    The answer addresses Luke's abilities ("Luke is still very much a novice") and also gives an explanation of why the obvious consequence of being a novice (getting killed swiftly by more skilled/experienced duelists) doesn't come about.
    – PeterL
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 17:30
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    I think it's also an important point that Vader had to abandon much of his previous skill once he became the cyborg of the original trilogy, and shifted his saber style to one of power over speed and agility.
    – Monty129
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 18:23
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    Luke Skywalker never does receive proper training in lightsaber dueling, does he? Both Obi Wan and Yoda are too old and die before they can adequately train Luke. Yoda seemed more interested in teaching balance and control to Luke, not fighting skills (although Luke did learn a lot of fancy acrobatic moves from Yoda).
    – RobertF
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 21:46

In the prequel trilogy of Star Wars (the more recent three), the swordsmanship of the actors is great. There's lots of aerobatics and fast swordplay; generally impressive (albeit sometimes over-the-top) performances.

I disagree. The fight choreography was structured specifically to be flashy and full of special effects; there was very rarely any plot advancement or character development during any of the fight scenes (other than a character being killed or injured). I submit to you that the fighting is also highly unrealistic and you only haven't noticed it because of the aerobatics, fast and uninterrupted swordplay, camera cuts, etc. etc. distracting from how far the combatants come from striking each other.

Why is this? IMDB says the fight coordinator for the Phantom Menace was Andreas Petrides (IMDB film credits), who has a long and accomplished career as a Stunt Coordinator, with Nick Gillard as the Swordmaster. Wikipedia gives fuller credit to Nick Gillard for the sword battles. The key point is that neither one of them has real sword fighting experience.

Others have already pointed out the choreography for the original trilogy was by champion fencer Bob Anderson, who actually fenced on film in the Darth Vader costume in Episodes 5 and 6.

My biggest problem with the prequel's lightsaber duels come from the physics, as in this question. The blades would be very light, approaching weightless, and much faster than other movements of the body, and yet you routinely have lightsaber combatants performing all kind of compromising, exposing acrobatics in extremely tight proximity to others' blades without getting nicked. The excessive stunt work and jumping around makes the fights of the prequels even less realistic to my eye.

The duels in the original trilogy usually had the combatants facing each other, generally in sword-fighting stances (with the exception of one poorly executed spin move by Sir Alec Guinness). Fighters only talk when separated by safe distance (which is admittedly somewhat unrealistic, as a really interested combatant would open fire whenever you opened your mouth - but this is a storytelling conceit), then close with one another and fight with earnest lethality until separating. This is critically important to the realism of the fights in my opinion. When fighting in close quarters with weapons as swift and deadly as weightless blades of pure energy – Force enhanced muscles and perception notwithstanding - moving your weightless blade to block with a flick of the wrist is a far superior defense than jumping and spinning around.

On a different track, as I alluded to before, every duel in the original trilogy had a specific purpose to the plot and the characters in them. Luke flails around like an idiot at times because he is just a kid and an inferior fighter with less training and far less practice. Anakin began training before he was a teen and has been Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith for exactly as long as Luke has been alive.

Obi Wan was more than Darth Vader's equal in sword play, as evidenced by the fight at the end of Attack of the Clones, where Anakin learns his lesson excessive acrobatics by losing his legs. (Ironically, this move is incredibly similar to the video above, where Darth Maul misses the perfect opportunity to bisect Obi Wan in mid-air.)

In the re-match aboard the Death Star, Obi Wan's goal was not to defeat Darth Vader; he only needed to give Luke, Han and Chewbacca enough time to escape with Leia. Knowing that the tractor beam was disabled and being back in clear view of the Millennium Falcon, he knew his goal was accomplished when the others appeared with no Stormtroopers in between them and the ship. So he gives up, allowing himself to be slain knowing that he has a better chance of guiding Luke to defeat the Emperor than by slaying Vader himself.

Admittedly, the sequence is slower paced that the action sequences of the prequels, despite being minutes shorter than the shortest prequel duel; this fight features purpose and people actually trying to hit each other.

There is a similar purpose behind all the other duels in the original trilogy. (Another telling point is that each original film only had one major lightsaber duel per film, showing a restraint completely missing from the pre-quels.) I agree with the commentary from other answers on the original scene you linked. I would like to add that Luke's rage and the energy he gains from it are a great part of how he wears down and defeats Vader. Additional to the dark side Force boost Luke gains, his rage and pain have an effect on his father that penetrates Vader's defenses in a way his swordsmanship cannot, in my opinion, causing Vader to collapse on the walkway without even being struck.

I leave you with this quote from Wikipedia about the approach to swordplay in The Phantom Menace, which I feel was ironically captured by the original trilogy and sorely missed in all the prequels.

Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard was recruited to create a new Jedi fighting style for the prequel trilogy. Gillard likened the lightsaber battles to a chess game "with every move being a check." Because of their short-range weapons, Gillard theorized that the Jedi would have had to develop a fighting style that merged every swordfighting style, such as kendo and other kenjutsu styles, with other swinging techniques, such as tennis swings and tree-chopping. While training Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, Gillard would write a sequence to be an estimated 60 seconds long, meant to be among five to six sequences per fight. Lucas later referred to Jedi as being "negotiators", rather than high-casualty soldiers. The preference of hand-to-hand combat was intended to give a more spiritual and intellectual role to the Jedi.

The prequels have a much more stark view on good vs. evil, with the Sith being agents of pure evil in want of vanquishing by the Jedi. The redemption story line of Darth Vader in the original trilogy is much more nuanced, actually portraying some of the spiritual, negotiating and intellectual side to the Jedi. Also, the prequels show rather a large number of Jedi fighting and dying, exactly like the "high-casualty soldiers" Lucas claims they are not.

Gillards attributed theory of lightsaber combat combining "kendo and other kenjutsu styles, with other swinging techniques, such as tennis swings and tree-chopping" is rubbish. All of those are terrible ways to wield a light blade with unprecedented cutting power on all edges and points. Let's consider each in turn:

  • Kendo: Kendo is a stylized martial art descended from the katana and kenjutsu sharing many of the same problematic applications to lightsaber combat, which we'll consider next. But Kendo additionally limits the types of attacks and defenses that are allowed, which is rubbish for an actual fight.

    Kendo techniques comprise both strikes and thrusts. Strikes are only made towards specified target areas (打突-部位 datotsu-bui) on the wrists, head, or body[...] Thrusts (突き tsuki) are only allowed to the throat.

  • Kenjutsu: "Kenjutsu (剣術) is the umbrella term for all (koryū) schools of the Japanese swordsmanship", which has been tailored and refined to the use and strengths of Japanese curved, single-edged swords (the most famous of which is the katana) over nearly 1,000 years. The debate over the strengths and weaknesses of a katana vs. other types of swords rages on; I'll not touch on it. However, I will say that a katana was very specialized towards cutting down opponents with lethal, single-swing strikes and preventing the blade from getting stuck in flesh, bone or armor. There the similarity to a lightsaber ends. Freed from real-world materials and physics, a lightsaber is a superior weapons and very different in the following aspects:

    1. Curved vs. straight blade.
    2. Single edge vs. omni-directional edge.
    3. Sharpness and strength. Katanas can be razor sharp, but they'll never be sharp and strong enough to plunge tip-first through a reinforced blast door (Episode 1, trade ship bridge incursion attempt by Qui-gon and Obi-wan).
    4. Blade weight and balance; katana typically weighs over a kilogram, balanced over the length of the blade. Lightsaber weight and balance is not canonically established, but it's very difficult to imagine a plasma/energy blade has similar properties to solid steel.
    5. Blade length. Variable-length lightsabers are established in canon. Any fixed-length blade will be a very different weapon to handle than a variable-length blade.

    Any one of these would dictate noticeable differences in fighting style. Considered all together, Jedi and Japanese swordplay should be completely incomparable.

  • Tennis: really? I guess that explains why the combatants in the prequels are frequently fighting so far apart.

  • Tree-chopping: Jedi use light sabres not lightaxes. Furthermore, tree-chopping is best done with heavy strikes with as much mass and force behind them. You wouldn't swing a chainsaw at a tree like an axe; you wouldn't even need to swing a lightsaber to cut a tree down, just touch it. It takes less than a pound of pressure to cut skin with a conventional steel sword; how much pressure do you think it takes to cut skin with a lightsaber?

  • "other swinging techniques": Hopefully I've made it clear that speed of attack is a critical advantage of lighter weapons. A thrust is a faster attack than a swing, since it moves in a straight line rather than a curved arc. That is why foil fencing (lightweight blade restricted to stabbing with the tip) or sabre fencing (similarly lightweight blade, but allowed to score hits with either edge) would be the modern day martial art with the most similarities to lightsaber fighting.

In conclusion, the major differences you observe between the prequel and original trilogy are by design. The original trilogy uses lightsaber as a storytelling vessel, exploring the meaning of the Force and the character development of Father and Son Skywalker. The choreography is minimal and pointed, the realism of the foil fencing technique taking a back seat to the fighters themselves. The prequel trilogy features Hollywood/Kung Fu choreography as action set pieces, designed to show off the acrobatics and special effects, largely superfluous to the story line. In short, the fights are so different because they are different styles of movie.

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    +1 That first video is devastating. I never consciously noticed these things, but maybe they're what made that fight so uninteresting. In fact, 2:33 makes the whole thing more real, even thought it's obviously a joke.
    – Beta
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 2:11
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    @Beta yeah, it's pretty bad. The 2:33 part is my favorite too. A lot of commentators on the video elsewhere point out that you can pick apart a lot of Hollywood fight scenes in a similar fashion, including the light sabre duels from Episodes 5 and 6. But you know, even though Luke is flailing about in Jedi, it's clear (from the fighting and the other thing actors do: acting) that he's trying to attack and hurt Vader, to defend his sister from the Dark Side.
    – Dacio
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 4:01
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    I also, after seeing fights in films such as Rob Roy, The Duellists, classic Zorro movies and even The Princess Bride, have come to loath the prequel choreography. An opponent so dangerously capable he can swipe bullets out the air would not simply stand still while you jump over over his head. I might just create 100 sock puppet accounts just to vote your answer up!! ;-) Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 12:48
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    @Richard Sure I can! They're only pretending to be dead. ... Although you did get me on a minor point: the deaths from those fighting scenes do serve to advance the plot (in my opinion, in very limited, narrow and often anti-climactic ways). I still contend that the acting and events other than violence in the original trilogy's fight scenes serve to make them far more gripping and potent than anything the prequels threw at the screen.
    – Dacio
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 20:25
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    Even without the weight, there are just so many times in the prequel trilogy where a fighter ends up entirely turned away, body and face, in range to be hit with a short lunge and nothing happens. A real fencer would know that doing that even once would likely lead to death, much less over and over.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 18:19

There is one principal difference between swordsmanship in real fights and in movies.

  1. In real fights

    You aim at your enemy, trying not to open your defense.

  2. In movies

    You aim at your opponent's weapon, often both actors are too far away from each other to successfully hit the other one.

Real fights are actually pretty fast. If you want the actors to talk during fights and have all that dramatic clashing of weapons, you will have to sacrifice a lot for that sake. Most people won't notice anyway. It's no coincidence that most of the fights in the new trilogy are without talking.

However, the swordsmanship is not so bad as you might think. If you notice the movement of their legs, it's pretty great. The actor playing Darth Vader in this scene was actually an English Olympic Fencer.

Also note there is 30 years of difference, a huge difference in budget and in number of digital effects involved. In the new movies, every fight movement is planned and rehearsed multiple times. In the old trilogy, the fights were filmed in real speed (the only option you have when people are talking during the fight). In the new trilogy, a lot of the fights were done in slow motion and then sped up (that's your "fast swordplay").

If you are asking about the aerobatics, you would be hard-pressed to make an old English fencer include them into his choreography in the seventies. You have to wait another 30 years for everybody to start loving Asian fighting choreography.

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    I wish I could find the article by a broadsword instructor about how to behave in a real sword fight (and therefore how to make stage fighting more convincing) with specific reference to light-saber combat. He gave a long list of rules, including "aim at your opponent's body, not his sword", and "act as if your life is really in danger". He devoted a whole paragraph to the spinning-around move.
    – Beta
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:10
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    @Beta - That one? (I just googled it from your description). Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 22:24
  • @MaciejPiechotka: Yes! Thank you!
    – Beta
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 23:40
  • Hah, yeah, the very first two things I noticed in the clips were (1) their legwork is great and (2) they are not actually aiming at each other. In some cases, they aren't even aiming at one another's swords :) Of course, since lightsaber "blades" can't be damaged and have very little momentum, aiming for the sword might be a viable tactic (once in a while). "Chopping" at Vader's head (actually, half a meter above Vader's head) is outright silly; how did they even film that scene? Notice how Vader looks about as tall as Luke in that shot - did they give Luke a stool or what? :D
    – Luaan
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 9:39

There are some other excellent answers here covering the mechanical, emotional, and training elements of what was going on. What I would like to add is that, from the perspective of the characters in the story, there's a level of activity taking place beneath the surface through the Force that we can't really see on the screen. Sometimes this results in things that are more than what you expect, such as super-human jumps or a lightning-fast parry of a blaster bolt. But sometimes this can result in things that are less than what you expect: an apparent opening could be a deliberate feint, well-blocked through the Force, to convince an opponent to over-commit a strike and thus expose themselves to counter-attack. That's just one example.

We get a small taste of this kind of fighting in Empire, when Vader pulls equipment through the air to strike at Luke. Other tricks should be possible as well. The point is that I wouldn't expect a fight between two Jedi to look anything at all like a fight between two non-force users. If I'm disappointed with anything about the prequel choreography, it's that they don't do enough of this: they only tend to adjust "up", for the flashy stuff, and not so much "down".

In the scene in question, I always had the feeling that an enraged Luke lashes out with the Force directly. Vader is unable to effectively counter Luke's wild swings, as it takes everything he has just to keep his own light saber from being pushed back into him, or protect his body from a more direct attack like the Force chokes we see him use elsewhere. Luke himself is feeling the Force like never before. The light saber seems by comparison only a crude instrument. At this point, what remains visible for us is only a shadow; the raw Force battle is far more significant.

The difference in styles are because, in the prequels, the combatants are both more evenly matched, and better trained. Neither side ever has the ability to toy with the other through finesse, as Vader does to Luke at Bespin, and neither side is ever able to completely overcome the other with raw power, as Luke does to Vader on the second Death Star. For the prequels we instead see more quick fight sequences, where each attacker tries to provoke the other into making a mistake. In other words, the prequels have better fights, because they have better fighters.

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    +1 for that last sentence. Sums up everyone elses answers perfectly.
    – Monty129
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 17:29
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    downvote, because i thought the prequel fights were boring and long.
    – bharal
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:44
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    I agree with the remarks on the Force contests. In the original trilogy, particularly the scene in the question (though the version in the question is in slow motion), something is restraining Vader - there's more going on than tag with light swords. However the final sentence of this answer undermines it for me, as I see the prequel fights as largely silly stage acrobatics, per the first video in Dacio's answer - they're trying to be impressive, but the moves are silly non-combat stunts.
    – Dronz
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 19:22

Lucas and Hamill address this directly in the Birth of the Lightsaber featurette from the DVDs.

First Lucas explains that the battle between Obi-Wan and Vader is barely a fight at all, due to their age and condition.

It started out as a kind of Oriental form of swordplay where there was a lot of honor involved, a lot of skill, and craft, and higher spiritual meaning to the swordfight. And, so they were very simple. And in the beginning, in the first film, Episode 4, there was this fight between a very old man, and a man who was only partially a man, mostly a mechnical being. So it wasn't really much of a swordfight at all.

Hamill then explains that the lightsabers were meant to be heavy.

George was adamant that these things were really, really heavy, that we couldn't take a hand off, that we always had to have two like Excalibur with 40 to 50 pounds of weight.

Lucas continues

They were very powerful and a lot of energy in them, and so you worked with them as if they were heavy because when they crash together they make explosions and all kinds of things.

Finally, he explains that the Luke is meant to be slowly progressing his skills as a swordfighter.

As we went on, we wanted to have the lightsaber fights become faster and more intense as Luke became more proficient in the art of swordfighting. And so we very slowly started moving away from the two-handed form which is more oriental to sometimes using a one-handed form, and it progressed further and further and a more two-handed and one-handed form. But originally, it was that you needed two hands to hold onto this lightsaber because of the amount of energy that is being swung around.

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    Aaaaaaaaaand George Lucas doesn't understand the difference between energy and matter.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 1:00
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    @WadCheber What difference?
    – user54588
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 2:43
  • Although Lucas might not have said it, since he was highly influenced by Japanese films like Hidden Fortress at the time, I tend to think the choreography of those films influenced him as well. Physical performances in those films, like Toshiro Mifune's, tended to use swordplay to convey character and/or the emotional content of a scene, and not to "look cool".
    – tbrookside
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 20:49

I imagine it is a little bit of both. Luke hardly had any training compared to the Jedi, who go through a whole school program (which, if I recall correctly, is very selective and only the best get through). So his fighting skills wouldn't be as impressive. Also, the limitations of the cameras and graphics back then probably limited some of the choreography.


This needs a quote from the horses mouth.

In writing the prequel trilogy, George Lucas said he wanted the lightsaber combat to be

"reminiscent of what had been done in the previous films but also something that was more energized. We'd seen old men, young boys, and characters who were half-droid, but we'd never seen a Jedi in his prime. I wanted to do that with a fight that was faster and more dynamic – and we were able to pull that off.

Star Wars: The Making of Episode I: The Phantom Menace (via wikipedia)


Some of these answers are not really correct.

In the original Star Wars trilogy, the sword play is basically a combination of fencing and some Japanese sword fighting, but fencing is still the major part of it.

By the time of the prequel movies, gung-fu and Chinese martial arts had become more mainstream. With the introduction of Ray Parks (Darth Maul), who is a European Wushu champion, you can clearly see influence of gung-fu moves, acrobatics and sword play. This is especially evident in the very beginning of Phantom Menace when Qui-gon and Obi-Wan are just coming out of the room after being gassed and Qui-gon is using the spinning moves, circling the lightsaber around and close to his back as he is striking. This is taken right from Chinese gung-fu sword fighting using the Dan Dao sword. He is using a style called "Wiping the blood".

There is also some tai chi sword fighting moves in there as well, since a lightsaber is really a multi edged sword, similar to a tai chi sword being a double edged sword, in which it's often as dangerous to the user as the opponent.

In any movie, the fighting is only going to be as good and skilled as the people doing the fighting. That is why fight scenes in movies like Jackie Chans, Jet Li's and other movies that have martial arts actors that have undergone serious training are worlds above most other western style martial arts choreography.

Since Ray Parks had many years of similar training as many famous gung-fu movie actors as those mentioned, he brought that knowledge, skill, speed and style of fighting to the movies, which is the main reason why the fighting was so much better in the new movies than the original ones.

When Yoda fights Dooku in Attack of the Clones, he uses a variety of gung-fu techniques, including advanced gung-fu stepping called Sky horse circle turning, stance shifting, along with the usual acrobatics of the Ataru style. I recognized all of these right away as soon as I saw the movie, thus confirming that Lucas knew that he could increase the realism and quality of the fight scenes by using gung-fu type techniques and moves in his movies.

Even with a movie like Spiderman 2, they also had Spiderman using wushu type of fight moves against Doc Ock.

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    +1 for "because fight choreography in the US has come a long way since the '70s..." Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:49
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    i disagree - you have a completely weightless blade that can cut through anything with effectively zero effort. Why then, in the prequels, do they swing the blade like lunatics? The fencing style of the originals makes more sense.
    – bharal
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:47

If we assume that these various Jedi were actually trying to kill each-other (and not just being ruled by a stunt coordinator) the difference in fighting styles between the core trilogy and the prequels is simple.

According to sources from interviews given during the making of the Prequels, the idea on who Vader, Obiwan, and Luke all fought so terribly had to do with their ability at that time in the story arc.

Obiwan was old and unpracticed. A light-saber is a dangerous thing, so he still retains enough skill and connection to the force to know how to wield it to defend himself from things like blasters and the occasional stray attack - but a skilled and properly trained Jedi Knight would probably have killed him.

Darth Vader was "more machine, now, than man - twisted and evil" and simply didn't have the physical capability to do much more than the occasional wild swing or ineffective brute force block.

Luke wasn't trained by the Jedi, he learned on his own. Without good practice, constant drilling, and a teacher capable of guiding him in Lightsaber techniques, he too was limited to what the Force could convey. We see him kind of ungracefully block blaster fire in "The Empire Strikes Back" as he was guided by the force - but not a Lightsaber master like a fully trained Jedi Knight from the pre-empire republic.

Jedi, before their destruction, were all trained from a very young age how to properly wield and use a lightsaber. By the time they reached adulthood their fighting technique could be fast and furious as muscle memory, guided by the force, did most of the work. Which is why, they look much shinier when they are blocking blaster fire when charging enemy ranks.

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    That is not true at all about Obi Wan being unpracticed, old yes, but he was still a Jedi Master in terms of skill and power. He was able to sucessfully deflect the two blast bolts fired from the thugs in the Mos Eisley Bar fight. When he fought Vader, Vader came in with a viscious attack, one which Kenobi barely parried. But Vader said "You still have your skill old man". Kenobi was powerful enough to use the techniques that Qui-gon taught Yoda, then Yoda taught Obi, to simply dissovle yourself into the living force At Will. That is NOT the mark of someone that is old & weak in the force. Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:17
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    To be clear, I wasn't saying that Obiwan was unskilled or practiced when it comes to being in tune with and using the force - only that he probably didn't have a lot of time to keep his Lightsaber skills at peak efficiency. Deflecting blaster fire is something the force helps with, which is why Luke could do it with a little training in the Falcon. Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 17:51
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    While it's true that without someone else to train against, your skill will go down. But there are many methods, even in true gung-fu, to train on your own and keep your reaction, timing and skils at a Master level. I know this from my own decades of experience, as do my students. Remeber that Luke was able to do it so fast because of his highly unusal power in the force from his father. Luke mastered skills in a matter of weeks that took most Jedi years or decades to accomplish. Obi-Wan actually grew in power during his solitude which is why he was able to become one with the force at will. Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 7:14

I don't think there is a believable in-universe explanation for this. bgardner suggested that it was because of a lack of lightsaber training for Luke which does make sense, but we see how competent Anakin was at lightsaber fighting in the prequel trilogy that as the OP says, Vader would have cut him to pieces. Especially when you factor in his additional years of learning the force. You also look at the first lightsaber duel between Obiwan and Vader. That was an extremely dull fight, but when you look at it outside of the universe, you can understand why. Sir Alec Guinness was quite old and the Vader costume does not look easy to move deftly in. We also see in the prequels how good a fighter Obiwan was as well.

  • 2
    I find the lightsaber duel in IV the most compelling of all, and the carefully choreographed ones in the prequels emotionless and boring. It's all about the acting (although I admit that "only a master of evil, Darth" was a very bad line).
    – Beta
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 4:03
  • 1
    I agree about the Preqeul duels, although I felt the Luke/Vader duels in V and VI had more impact because they could be more aggressive and you knew more about the story to buy into it.
    – Trido
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 4:17

Aside: How did this become a "let's trash the prequels" opportunity?

The differences in fighting styles in the different sets of movies were due to choices made by the filmmakers. But the key point is that they made those choices on purpose, as a direct result of the stories. ESB and RoTJ-era filmmakers were quite capable of employing expert swordsmen, and guess what: they did employ expert swordsmen. Thing is, Luke was by no stretch of the imagination an expert in anything related to swordplay.

Luke flails around like an amateur because he IS an amateur. He's had, what, a few days worth of training? It's obvious that Vader could defeat his son in two seconds flat, if he wanted to. Thankfully for Luke, he doesn't want to.

In the prequels, the Jedi are trained from an early age, so they have technique down pat. This translates on screen to greater agility and much more speed. Also, because of all their training opportunities, Old Republic Jedi can specialize. Thus, you see individual Jedi using different techniques or styles than their fellow Jedi.

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    Aside: The asker posited an opinion that the fight scenes of the prequels were superior to those in the originals. This borders being off-topic, but it's still integral to answering why Luke looks uncoordinated compared to the acrobatic and choreographed movements of Maul, Windu, Dooku and Yoda.
    – Dacio
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 20:57
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    Luke actually had several weeks of training with Yoda on Dagobah, not just a few days. He was already more powerful and skilled than many Jedi with years of training in just that short time, showing the incredible potential and drive he had. His determination made him a quick study, as it says in the novel. It's simply that Vader was so much more powerful, skilled and experienced than Luke was at that time. In Return of the Jedi, the moves that sometimes look sloppy are designed to be feints, to test the opponents guard, they're not actually sloppy moves. Many of his moves were quite flowing. Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:06

Given that Yoda made a big deal about Luke being "not ready" before he bailed on his training I think it's fitting that he's a crap swordsman compared to Vader or pretty much any other Jedi who spent years at the Academy. He isn't so much a "swordsman", more of "a guy with a sword".

Also he's emotionally shattered so most of it is pure rage fighting like a pub brawl with no technique.

  • Yoda meant that he was not ready emotionally even more than just in terms of skill, though that was part of the problem. Otherwise Yoda would not have said "Strong is Vader, mind what you have learned, SAVE you it can", if he thought that Luke was not skilled overall. Yoda was actually very impressed with how fast & how far Luke had come in just a few weeks time, proving he has all the same power & potential of his father. But he has only had a few weeks of experience compared to Vaders almost 30 years, so that makes a HUGE difference in fighting skill of course Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:19

True fans anywhere know that Jedi training during and before Anakin and Kenobi's time was a test of not only their intellect and comprehension of the force but a great test to their physical endurance as well. The Jedi had numerous Academy trainers that specialized in every field imaginable to a Padawan learner.

By the time Luke came to be trained, the Jedi had been almost completely eradicated during the waning days of Palpatine's Jedi purge. The only known Jedi in the cinematics to have survived the great Jedi hunt were Obi-Wan and Master Yoda both of whom were well past their prime during Luke's days of becoming a jedi and made the hands-on aspects of lightsaber training extremely limited.

Added to that, both Yoda and Kenobi died before Luke could officially complete his training leaving us to believe that he in fact didn't learn nor pass every trial that would have been traditionally required for a Padawan to pass into ranks of a Jedi knight. He certainly didn't learn any saber forms during his training which would explain why his moves seem clumsy and uncoordinated in comparison with the prequel films.

  • I've taken the liberty of adding some section breaks to tidy this up as well as removing the "chatter".
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 10:53

A lightsaber duel between two Jedi consists of several different things all interacting at once in ways which would be beyond comprehension or utilization by non-force sensitives. The first and most obvious element is the physical act of dueling: the technique and physical exertion that goes into any sort of swordfight. This is honed for years by the Jedi, who are trained from the earliest years of childhood in more than 7 different overarching fighting styles, each completely different and focusing on different skills, and each with hundreds if not thousands of other skill factors within it. A Jedi in her prime has trained her agility, her physical strength and endurance, her stamina and control, even her breathing and heart rate, to be at their optimum level, and to be able to utilize her skills any time she needs them requires immense skill and a lifetime of regimented practice.

The second element is emotional control: there is a reason Jedi are taught to separate themselves from their emotions. In a life or death situation, such as a duel with another talented duelist, you cannot let your emotions get the better of you. If you give into your fear, you will be cut down. If you give in to your empathy, you will be weak and hesitate to throw the final necessary blow. If you allow your emotions to bubble out of control, you will lose control of yourself and, ultimately, your life. This is the strong difference between the Jedi and the Sith: the Sith, unlike the Jedi, do not avoid emotion. They embrace it, believing that it will give them power. And through embracing hatred and anger, by idolizing attachment, you can become a master fighter. However, such emotional surrender will make one more apt to risky and dangerous decisions. They might try maneuvers that will almost certainly fail, simply because they are blinded by a desperate need to destroy their opponent. It also destroys any hope of a peaceful solution, and makes negotiation, teamwork, and planning much more difficult.

The third element, and the hardest to grasp, is the Force. Because this is such a broad topic, I will break it into three subcategories, the first of which being force assisted moves. With the Force, a Jedi is stronger than the average duelist, faster than the average duelist, and overall more powerful. He can make greater jumps, do faster and more demanding maneuvers, and use his environment as a weapon in ways which non-Force users cannot. This is the most readily visible element of the three Force considerations. The second is the use of the Force itself as a weapon. There are many fights in which you see Jedi apparently slip up: they leave something unguarded, they ignore an opening, they do something which looks cools but leaves them completely open (for example, spinning to gain power or jumping over and landing with their back to their opponent), they dodge a move which wouldn’t have harmed them, or they go halfway through an attack and then back off, even when the outcome would have been victory. These are easily explained if you consider that the Jedi are consciously using the force as a weapon (though sometimes they just slip up, of course). Often, if something is left unguarded, it is a feint, designed to make an opponent commit his entire offensive into one killing blow to a place which is defended by the Force, allowing the Jedi fighter to catch him off-guard and strike at him when his concentration and stance are broken. Similarly, when the Jedi spins around, she can be assured that a quick use of the Force will allow her momentary protection to gain back up her speed and re-adjust her stance and/or style. If a Jedi halts an attack halfway through, he has realized that the attack would be useless, and may well have fallen for a feint. The third category under the Force consideration is the “will of the force.” Often something happens simply because, for some unexplainable reason, it is the will of the Force. Often Jedi, especially those lacking in training, can rely on the Force to get them through a fight, even with a far more skilled opponent. Just as relying on the force can allow one to sense feeling and intentions, or to block laser bolts on instinct, so too can it be used during a duel to anticipate an opponent’s next move or strategy. Thus, half the battle is invisible, done entirely on a level which we cannot sense but which the Jedi and her opponent can fully understand, feel, and counter.

This is why Luke appears so weak in his skills in the original trilogy: he lacks the years of arduous training, the knowledge and practice of legitimate lightsaber techniques, and the skill and experience to be able to consciously and in split-second decisions use the force during his duels. Instead he relies almost entirely on a combination of his normal instincts and his Force honed skills, which, while providing him the ability to stay alive since the Force is so powerful with him (a result of his lineage), does not even come close to giving him the well-developed skills of highly trained, highly disciplined, and highly experienced Jedi.

There are, of course, many other bits and pieces that go into every duel (nothing, in life or in fiction, is ever so clean cut and simple), for example the lightsaber being used, the interaction of specific and different fighting styles, the size and strength of the fighters, the nunmber of fighters, the environemnt they are in, etc. etc. But these are the three most important to this particular thread.


An in-universe explanation is that Luke was... well... a trainee. Unexperienced. Not trained by a professional. His style was practical and simple, without any flashy moves. Lucas expounds upon Luke's training and knowledge of his adversary and how it impacted fight choreography in the below video around the 12 minute mark.

An out-of-universe explanation is that in the old trilogy, they've used fragile, wooden sticks for lightsabers. Literally. Wood painted with highly reflective paint. These would often break. For episodes V and VI they'd use carbon rods. Sturdier, but still troublesome.

In the new trilogy, they've used steel and aluminum rods. Much harder to break, but prone to bending. Allowed for all the flashy fights.

Finally, for the episode III they were replaced with carbon rods laced with plastic and glass. Hard to break, didn't bend, but would hurt the actors. However, you could go all out with these.

Source for the materials of the props: Star Wars Wikia cites The Birth of the Lightsaber, "a featurette in the bonus material of 2004 DVD release of the Star Wars original trilogy."

  • Great citations. I proposed an edit to cover Lucas' commentary in the video and the original source for the materials of the physical blades.
    – Dacio
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 18:06

Luke did not study any lightsaber technique prior to Empire. He was operating entirely on force-driven instinct. He was basically putting the blade where the Force told him to. The Jedi in the prequels trained from early ages in all sorts of disciplines. Luke had a month on Dagobah where most of his training was mental.

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    Most of his training being mental was only from the movies. In the books, Yoda often threw up a metal bar at random times in which Luke was required to instantly activate his saber and cut it in half while in mid-air. Luke missed the first time and Yoda said "It would be in seven pieces were you a Jedi". Luke was able to cut it in four pieces by the time he left, which is amazing for just a few weeks time. Luke did actually undergo a lot of saber and other physical training while on Dagobah, including practicing jumping over the pond in which his X-wing eventually sank in. Commented May 6, 2014 at 2:07

This has a spoiler or two in it. You probably already know about them...

Luke never learned or trained to be a full Jedi like his father, Anakin, AKA Darth Vader. Anakin was trained by the great Obi-Wan Kenobi to use a saber properly, and Kenobi really knew his stuff on the glowing sword front.

With no training at all, you have to cut the poor guy some slack.

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    Wait, wait, wait, WAIT...Vader is Luke's father?!?!?
    – Monty129
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 17:30
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    – Jared
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 21:17
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    I, erm, did mention about the spoilers in it...
    – HugMyster
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 8:53

ONE of the reasons (alluded to in other answers) that Vader wasn't at a greater advantage against Luke despite the latter's lack of skill was because Vader had difficult-to-use lightsaber.

From Luceno's book "Dark Lord - the Rise of Darth Vader", we have this:

Determined to please his Master, lie had tried to create something novel, but had ended up fashioning a black version of the lightsaber he had wielded for more than a decade, with a thick, ridged handgrip, high-output diatium power cell, dual-phase focusing crystal, and forward-mounted adjustment knobs. Down to the beveled emitter shroud, the hilt mimicked Anakin's.
But there was a problem.
His new hands were too large to duplicate the loose grip Anakin had favored, right hand wrapped not on the grip but around the crystal-housing cylinder, close to the blade itself. Vader's hands required that the grip be thicker and longer, and the result was an inelegant weapon, verging on ungainly.


Lucas put more effort into having the fights in the prequels being faster and more coordinated. He wanted to show the Jedi during their prime, whereas when Luke and Vader fought, Vader is limited by his suit to a degree, and Luke has probably only had at most a month of actual instruction under another Jedi (and is still pretty good considering that). Another big reason is simply better special effects and cameras allowed the crew to make more epic lightsaber duals in the prequels. I am hoping to see Luke (if Hamill can manage it!) engage in some more intense fights in 7.


At the risk of disillusioning some; The fight choreography back then was basically comprised of a few simple and easy to remember moves that reflection the lack of understanding of fighting skills and the limited ability of the actors themselves. Modern fighting skills and choreography have far surpassed what was excepted and expected during the 70's and early 80's. Also, the different Jedi fighting styles themselves weren't even thought of, much less defined and developed stylistically as they are today.

Modern fight choreography and the actors' ability to perform them, as well as modern CGI and other enhancement aids, has evolved quite a bit over the last 30+ years.


Recall that in the prequels, all the Jedi were "properly trained." That is, they were taught by a variety of masters in the Order including many different sword-masters like Dooku and Windu. Exposure to all these fighting styles coupled with the intense training at the Academy honed they skills to a much higher degree than Luke could have learned from just two Masters (one of whom was dead most of the time).

And ya know, choreography and CGI weren't really up to snuff with what we have today.


In addition to the things already mentioned there are two things that should also be kept in mind here:

  1. Stunts / way of thought
  2. Technology

Back then the most similar actions in terms of combat we saw was in eastern films (although even there I don't remember anyone sommersaulting over another) while the western films had more traditional sword fights, or brawl fights (almost never a combination of brawling and sword fighting styles). So back then in the sequel trilogy times there was a different way of thinking of how a fight with swords HAD to look.

Also in those times the thought of a 60 or 70 year old man making acrobatic stunts and sommersaulting over someone else was just out of the mind of people in the western countries.

But in addition to this the technology also comes in. Back then you saw stunt men doing things for the actors when the actor was not identifyable (example: seen from behind), but the sequel films showed many closeups of actors (which was quite modern way of doing scenes back then compared to the more wide area views one gets nowadays in films). Thus back then it would have been hard if at all possible to switch the actors out accordingly compared to nowadays at least. Now you have a stuntman and just put the actors face on his via computer (which was NOT possible back then). Thus in the sequel trilogies you would have had to put an 70 year old guy under enormous physical stress (doing acrobatics, .....) which is nowadays not necessary as you just use a stuntman with his face or an outright CGI model.


In the original trilogy, George Lucas's idea about the Lightsaber was to seem like a samurai blade. It required two hands to use and when the prequels came around, Lucas made the blades a lot lighter, leaving room for fancy sweeps, acrobatics, and martial arts. While this did make it all the prequel fights look graceful, the fights lacked purpose and feeling. Just look at Count Dooku and Yoda in AOTC. Flipping and spinning took up more of the fight that actually hitting the other's blade or person.


If Luke had spent more time with Yoda, its likely that Yoda would have trained him to be a better-than-average swordsman. Yoda being 800 years old, knew all the fighting styles and would have likely trained Luke in a light saber style that best suited him based on Luke's physical size, physical strength, and his Force abilities.


There are two reasons. The first is just that they had better CGI and better fight choreography of course. But there is actually a deeper reason...and that reason is Luke didn't know what the hell he was doing anyway. He was almost an entirely untrained fencer. That doesn't actually make him harmless. The best fencer in the world has more to fear from a guy who doesn't know what he's doing than he does from the fifth best fencer. With ignorance comes unpredictability but Darth Vader could have killed Luke easily enough, had he been willing to. But he wasn't willing to because Luke was his son and Vader knew it. George Lucas deliberately tried to make the fights in the prequels look better because those guys were in fact supposed to know what they were doing in a way Luke wasn't and aren't going easy on each other the way Darth Vader was going easy on Luke.

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