Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens had a mammoth task of re-launching the series and appeasing one of the most opinionated fan bases on this, or any planet. It had to prove its right to exist, and continue cinema’s most sprawling epic story, and it did just that. Even without it’s great new characters, its returning old ones, JJ Abrams kinetic direction, and it’s back to basics effects, the Force Awakens truly soared with its lightsaber battle. Perhaps the best lightsaber battle of the series so far. Heresy! I hear you cry, but with a little bit of analysis we can see why this battle deserves to sit alongside the rest.
Spoilers for The Force Awakens and the Star Wars Saga below. Those two stubborn Star Trek fans who haven’t seen these movies have been warned.
In order to see why the battle of Kylo Ren vs Finn and Rey we have to look at what makes a lightsaber battle tick. It comes down to three things: choreography, plot significance, and character motivation. The Force Awakens hits these targets in a way that the series other battles just fall short.
For choreography, the fighting style of all three characters tells you so much about their characters. Kylo Ren, while fighting Finn, toys with him- making the fight last longer than it needs to to assert his dominance. Finns fighting style is ragged: when on the offence he lets his rage get the better of him with Ren easily parrying his shots, whereas when he’s on the defence he’s beaten easily. Rey on the other hand has better luck: with her proficiency with her staff, her experience with this kind of combat, and Kylo Ren’s injury at the hands of Chewie, the fight is more even.
Next is plot significance. This is the very aspect of a battle that makes Obi Wan and Darth Vader’s battle in A New Hope so cinematic, despite the choreography being so lacklustre. In The Force Awakens this battle is one of the ways that the film legitimises its new characters. This is the battle that the whole film was building too, despite the nostalgia of seeing old favourite like Han and Leia, the final act is about the new recruits, the faces of this new trilogy.
Finally, it’s the characters motivation that elevates this above Luke and Vader’s battles in the original trilogy, and the fantastic fight between Obi Wan, and Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. Luke and Vader’s battle is the classic power of good versus evil. In the Phantom Menace, despite the breathtaking choreography, the battle doesn’t become personal until Darth Maul kills Qui Gon Jinn. Up until that point Darth Maul was merely a cool looking obstacle for our hero’s, it is only a personal battle for about a minute and a half as Obi Wan goes full berserker and dispatches Maul.
In The Force Awakens it Kylo Ren’s motivations, and what both Finn and Rey represent to him, that gives the battle an add sense of gravitas. Kylo Ren has just killed his father Han, in doing so symbolically extinguishing his allure to the light side of the Force. He pursues Finn and Rey into the forest of Starkiller base to finish what he started with Han’s death. His scream of “Tratior” at Finn belies his own fears: if a programmed storm trooper can turn good, then he fears that he still could. With Rey, she is the representation of the power of the light. He wants to kill Finn due to what he symbolises to him, and teach Rey in order to corrupt her power.
The film ends with his defeat, Rey can’t be turned, and Finn nearly died for a noble cause. Despite Han’s death Kylo Ren failed- a victory for the light that will surely affect what happens next in this great cinematic epic.