'Star Wars: Episode IX' Has to Flip the Script on Lightsaber Duels. Again.

The ending of the Skywalker saga deserves a flurry of lightsabers, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Arguing which Star Wars movie has the best lightsaber battle remains the most fun of all Star Wars debates. Because even if you dislike a particular Star Wars movie in general, the chances that you loved a lightsaber battle within it are very, very high. For example, though Revenge of the Sith isn’t most people’s favorite Star Wars movie, it has four fantastic lightsaber duels. Revenge of the Sith also happens to be the last time a Star Wars trilogy came to an end, meaning it set a pretty high bar for Episode IX to clear. In other words, the lightsaber action in Episode IX has to not just top Revenge of the Sith, and The Last Jedi, but the entire saga, too.

Speculation ahead for Star Wars: Episode IX. However, if any of this turns out to be true, you could be reading accidental spoilers.

With The Last Jedi, some might argue that Rian Johnson set a new standard for how to do lightsaber duels. Both fights in The Last Jedi— Rey and Kylo’s team-up and the showdown between Luke and Kylo — seem newish in structure insofar as the combatants and the stakes blur the line between good and evil. When Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn fought Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace it was pretty easy to understand how to feel: Darth Maul was bad because he had horns and a red sword, and the other guys were good.

This holds true for the lightsaber battles in Attack of the Clones, A New Hope, The Force Awakens, and like two-thirds of the fight between Luke in Vader in Empire Strikes Back. But, the important lightsaber duels, the really really good ones, are actually more like the emotional muddiness of The Last Jedi because they tend to be confusing in terms of how you’re supposed to feel.

The beginning of really emotional lightsaber duels. 

This pivot started with The Empire Strikes Back. Up until the last third of that fight, Luke was just fighting a giant asshole. But after that, Luke is fighting a family member who is asking him to take up the family business. In Return of the Jedi, Luke goes into the lightsaber fight loaded with these emotional stake. This arguably makes Vader vs. Luke in that movie the best lightsaber duel of the whole saga because the fight is telling the story while being a great fight at the same time.

The Last Jedi offers a similar emotional rollercoaster with its big lightsaber battle. The reason so many fans love seeing Kylo Ren and Rey take down the Praetorian Guards isn’t just that the fight looks incredible, it’s also because it tells the story of their relationship and the romantic tension that’s been building throughout the movie.

Similarly, at the end of that movie, when Luke fools Kylo Ren into thinking he’s fighting him, it’s exciting for all the obvious reasons, but it’s tricky for the audience because on some level, we now have a little sympathy for Kylo Ren. I mean, from his point of view, Luke did try to kill him while he was sleeping.

Luke Skywalker is loco crazy.
'Don't you know I'm loco?"- Luke Skywalker

The bottom line is that though some of the more acrobatic lightsaber duels in the prequels are memorable, the subtle, emotional stuff makes lightsaber fights feel more important. This means, J.J. Abrams and the team on Episode IX have their work cut out for them.

The lightsaber fights in Episode IX must not only replicate why we’ve all loved lightsaber duels from previous Star Wars films, they also need to alter the emotional stakes in a way we don’t see coming. A rematch between Rey and Kylo Ren seems fairly obvious, and almost certainly will happen, but the results and emotional takeaway are very uncertain at this point. I’ve written before about how much agency Kylo Ren has within these films, perhaps more than any other Star Wars character has before, meaning, what he does with his lightsaber seems to be the edge upon which the entire ending of the movie will rest. After all, in terms of familiar lightsabers, Kylo Ren’s is the only lightsaber that we know all in one piece.

Not counting any potential flashbacks, every single lightsaber we’ll see wielded by the “good guys” in Episode IX will be a new one. Sure, Rey could repair the famous Skywalker lightsaber, but it seems so much more likely she’ll have a new one. The real weird thing, though, is that other than her and Kylo, the new Star Wars films have eliminated all other known lightsaber combatants. So, if Rey and Kylo Ren aren’t fighting each other, then who are they fighting?

Knights of Ren, remember these guys?
These guys might ALL have lightsabers in 'Episode IX.'

The Knights of Ren seems like the obvious answer, but if J.J. Abrams wants to really deliver the goods, the identities of other lightsaber-wielding characters need to remain a secret up until the movie comes out. After all, when The Force Awakens came out in 2015, no one knew Rey would fight with a lightsaber. Episode IX could — and should — hold a similar surprise.

Star Wars: Episode IX is out everywhere in theaters on December 20, 2019.

Media via Lucasfilm