Prequel Trilogy,  The Phantom Menace

Video: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace team talks to IGN about the big lightsaber fight

From IGN:

With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker wrapping up the nine-movie Skywalker Saga, IGN is celebrating the occasion by looking back at one of our favorite parts of the franchise: the iconic lightsaber duels. Each episode of Star Wars: Breaking Down the Duels will focus on one of the many lightsaber fights as we catch up with the cast and crew members that created them. They share behind-the-scenes stories, offer insightful commentary, and even toss in some trivia you might not have known.
In this episode, Obi-Wan Kenobi actor Ewan McGregor, VFX Supervisor John Knoll, and Stunt Coordinator/Fight Choreographer Nick Gillard reflect on the crown jewel of the Skywalker Saga’s lightsaber fights, known as the Duel of the Fates. The fan-favorite fight from The Phantom Menace saw Jedi duo Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn take on the Sith assassin Darth Maul in a two-on-one fight for the ages. They explain why the fight had to be so spectacular and point out some cool details they put in the fight, and McGregor makes a bold statement that many are likely to agree with.You can watch the episode in the video player above or keep reading to see what the cast and crew had to say. And be sure to keep an eye on our main hub page as every week we add new episodes of Star Wars: Breaking Down the Duels.

“[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.”

Despite having filmed the fight over two decades ago, McGregor lit up with enthusiasm while talking about it. It was clear that the same passion he put into the fight still burns within him, and he’s immensely proud of the work he did. (Which bodes well for McGregor’s return to the role in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+.)

“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 Phantom Menace featured the franchise’s first-ever double-bladed lightsaber, which was obviously a key tool that allowed Darth Maul to take on two opponents at once.

“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.”


  • archdukeofnaboo

    Terrific video. I love how unapologetic the thing was: no dithering, just a bunch of people happily and unequivocally pronouncing Duel of the Fates as the greatest lightsabre fight, ever.

    Well done IGN. Can’t wait for Anakin v Obi-Wan.

    • Alexrd

      Indeed. I’m no fan of IGN but this was a surprisingly well done video. No pointless fake-praise from so-called ‘journalists’ with the obligatory “sure, they have its problems, but” or “they aren’t perfect, but”. Just the professionals involved with the content having their say. Straight and to the point. The fact that it’s related to the prequels and was positive throughout is almost like a bonus (but not really, since I probably wouldn’t have watched the video otherwise).

      • archdukeofnaboo


        Agreed. Although I think, strategically speaking, the “sure, they have its problems” approach was necessary in trying to soften people up to our message around 2014-2017. Pro-PT polemics simply wouldn’t wash with the bashers. Nowdays, however, I think a more stern, celebratory approach, as in the video, is needed.

  • jarjarbacktattooguy

    The fight wasn’t bigger just to be bigger, it made sense within the context of the saga, as they explained – we were finally seeing Jedi in their prime go at it.

    The open industrial space tied it in with the aesthetic of the OT, though the scale is larger. The lightsaber fights in II and III had so many other characters or environmental hazards to make those scenes more complex, but here we just get undiluted saber fighting.

    Love Ewan’s enthusiasm here talking about the scene. It’s like an Obi-Wan documentary with him reminiscing about how awesome of a Jedi he was.

    • archdukeofnaboo


      Yeah, it seems the upcoming Obi-Wan series has really reawakened Ewan’s love for what he did with Star Wars. He’s been rewatching the films, and I think fans would do well to start quizzing him up more on the prequels now.

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