“[…] In this episode of IGN’s ongoing video series Star Wars: Breaking Down the Duels, we hear from those who worked on the heated battle between Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker. Visual effects supervisor John Knoll and stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Nick Gillard offer insight and trivia on how this epic clash on Mustafar was created, including the silly way the memorable “I have the high ground!” moment came to be.
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.
At the climax of the lightsaber fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan jumps to the shore and declares, “It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground!” But, ever the defiant and cocky one, Anakin challenges his former master by attempting to jump past him, only to have his limbs chopped off, sending what’s left of his dismembered body sliding down to the bank of the lava river below. It’s a brutal moment that puts an end to the friendship that had we saw grow, blossom and tragically tarnish throughout the trilogy. But despite the moment’s dramatic impact on the Star Wars mythology, it actually has a humorous backstory.
Gillard recalls how Hayden Christensen and he used to live next to each other in Australia during production of Revenge of the Sith. “We would eat in this restaurant every night that was up a hill. You could walk up the road and down to this restaurant, or you could walk across a steep bank to it. For me, I always want the most direct route so I’m going for the bank, and [Hayden] hates walking on a slope, so that was in my mind about the higher ground. If I can get [Anakin] on the slope, Obi might have a chance,” Gillard explained.
So there you have it, Star Wars fans. What started as a friendly argument between actor and stunt coordinator became a memorable piece of Star Wars history that went on to define the character of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and create an endlessly memeable moment.
Gillard offered more insight on the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan, like what he saw as the biggest challenge.
“The Revenge of the Sith fight, the biggest challenge was just the length of it. It was 12 minutes long, and George wanted to at one point show it in its entirety. So we had to teach those two actors a 12 minute fight that traveled a kilometer,” Gillard said.
In previous lightsaber duels, the camera would often be undercranked in order to make the movement of the actors look slightly faster, but visual effects supervisor John Knoll said it was a testament to how good McGregor and Christensen got at the choreography that they no longer needed to use that filmmaking tricks.
“I’m pretty sure that we didn’t do any speedups on anything with Ewan after [The Phantom Menace] ‘cause he just got to be so fast, and then became a point of pride for Hayden that he wanted to be as good as Ewan at doing that,” Knoll recalled.
Remember the part of the duel where the two combatants both throw out a Force push, only for them to cancel each other out before both finally get blown back? Gillard revealed that he had devised a different version that was ultimately scrapped.
“We had a different ending to that where they plunged their lightsabers directly into each other and that caused the percussion that blew them apart,” Gillard said.
Despite Obi-Wan cutting Anakin down to size, that’s not how Obi-Wan wanted things to end. Gillard reveals that he designed the fight so that Obi-Wan was trying to wear out Anakin in order to calm him down and set things right.
“I did write [the fight choreography] like a husband and a wife having a fight. Anakin thinks Obi is maybe having an affair with Padme at that point, so he’s already gone to the Dark Side. For Obi, it’s about just trying to absorb it long enough that he can get him back,” Gillard said.”