“[It’s] got to be the best lightsaber fight in the history of Star Wars movies,” McGregor said in a chat with IGN. “We rehearsed it so much. Me and Liam [Neeson] and Ray [Park] and then especially the bit after Liam’s down where [it’s] me and Ray. We just had it so well-rehearsed. They were having to overcrank the camera to slow it down a bit because we were so fast. I’m not joking. It’s usually the opposite: They undercrank the camera to speed it up a bit. But we were doing it so fast they thought ‘no one’s going to believe it,’ so they slowed it down a little bit.”
“We were young and on fire. And it was the first movie and we just got really good at it. We didn’t hurt each other. We just could see what was happening. It was like … It was a blur. It was so good fun to do,” McGregor enthused. “And I think it set the bar quite high, you know? And I don’t know that anyone’s ever got better.”
The lead visual effects supervisor for the prequel trilogy, John Knoll, explained why the duel had to be so spectacular when compared to the fights we saw in the original trilogy.
“It wasn’t lost on me that all throughout the original trilogy you’ve never seen Jedi at their prime fighting. You saw Obi-Wan versus Darth Vader; Darth Vader now kind of getting up there in age. In Empire, it’s Luke who’s a kid who’s never really done this before, has just sort of started his training, fighting against Vader who is not really going at him particularly hard,” Knoll said. “Now you go to a situation where you have two Jedi that are in their prime against this baddie that is supposed to be also at his prime, just going at it. It was clear that the choreography had to be something really very dramatic and special because the expectations would be pretty high for this.”
When it came to orchestrating the fight choreography for the three-man duel, prequel trilogy stunt coordinator Nick Gillard started with one guideline that informed everything else. He explained that his “one rule” was that the combatants had to project their heads at all costs. You can lose an arm or a leg, but if you lose your head then it’s game over forever. That’s why all strikes and blocks are oriented around defending their heads and informs when it’s safe to turn your back to an opponent and how they’re always looking at where the enemy saber is going.
“The fact that it was a double ended lightsaber in fact helped us because you can maneuver the thing quicker if you’re against two people,” Gillard said.
But ultimately there came the moment where, after Qui-Gon was taken out, Obi-Wan fought Darth Maul solo and cut his lightsaber in half. That was by design, Gillard says, because it freed him up to have Darth Maul do something different.
“We were interested as well in breaking it in half, only because there’s only so much you can do with a quarterstaff,” Gillard said.
Seeing his master killed then sparked a fire within Obi-Wan. “After Qui-Gon gets killed and Obi comes through, it did have to be more intense. I mean technically Obi would have remained the same in that fight. But we wanted to show that [the Jedi] had passion,” Gillard explained of Obi-Wan’s aggressive, vengeance-fueled attack on Darth Maul.
Knoll also had a bit of trivia about that segment of the fight, saying, “There’s also a wonderful little moment right before the electron beam opens, Ewan was just sort of anticipating the door’s about to open and he’s kind of bouncing up and down a little bit. That wasn’t directed. That was just what Ewan was doing to kind of psych himself up for the take about to start. But George [Lucas] liked it so much that he included that in there.”