compares lightsaber duels

A while ago I wrote an article searching for the best lightsaber duel. Thanks to a 1-hour compilation of all the duels (which sadly is no longer online), I was able to watch them all back to back and in the end determined, in my own opinion, that the final duel between Luke and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi was the best one.

In a similar vein, Andrew Clark from just published an article that compares how duels are treated in the original trilogy versus the prequel trilogy, as well as how The Force Awakens approaches them. It’s a great comparison and reveals many of the same character notes I found when watching the duels.

Andrew sums it up well when he writes:

If the original trilogy’s duels can be defined by character development and thematic resonance, the prequels can be conversely defined by their lack of purpose or depth.

Action should never just be action for action’s sake. The best action scenes reveal character along with adrenaline.

Head on over to The Dance of the Lightsabers: Duels in the Original “Star Wars” Trilogy vs. The Prequels to enjoy the geeky discussion.


Fueling My Words

Sites post 2015At the start of 2016, my fiancée and I started Whole30. It’s a diet that focuses on eating only natural things, such as meat and vegetables, and cuts out grains and added sugar. As a bachelor I had eaten the same thing for… gosh, who knows how many years? It consisted mostly of chicken, rice, bread, apples, cheese, and cookies. But food is fuel for your body, right? While tasty, those six things may not have been the best for me, so I was excited to switch things up.

I had a similar realization last year with the websites I visit. In a post titled “A Change of Intake”, I listed the handful of sites I routinely read and asked the question, “What if I spent my time reading websites that wrote about the things I’m directly involved in?” I am a filmmaker and a writer, and I like to process life through reading and writing, and I wanted to read things that encouraged and fed those areas of my life.

Thus, 2015 went from four tech sites to this list:

  1. Fifty Foot Shadows, thoughts on life and photography
  2. Analog Senses, thoughts on life and photography
  3. Prolost, thoughts on and products for film
  4. The Dissolve, film editorials and reviews—great content here!
  5. Jamie Todd Rubin, the writing life
  6. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, consistently insightful writing advice
  7. Backchannel, a new addition with well-written, in-depth tech articles
  8. Suggestion of Motion, in-depth articles about film, specifically the Panasonic GH4, which I own
  9. Garrett Koepke’s blog—my brother is writing some great stuff about travel, with beautiful photographs
  10. The Music Bed Community—at first just a stock music site, TMB have become so much more

Now that it’s a year later, I wanted to (you guessed it) process through writing how that list has changed and if I’ve noticed anything different in my life.



The first thing I’ve noticed is that the list gathered into three categories: processing life, film, and writing. Sites that fit the first category were Backchannel (edited by Steven Levy and hosting several writers), Analog Senses (written by Alvaro Serrano), Fifty Foot Shadows (written by John Carey), and Garrett Koepke’s blog (written by my youngest brother!).

The first two fell off over time: Steven’s articles for Backchannel are incredibly personal and insightful about technology today, but I don’t connect as much with the other writers and I can find out about Steven’s articles by following him on Twitter. Alvaro’s writing and curation for Analog Senses attracted me because of his love for analog film cameras, but it has become more Apple/tech-centered, which is the content I was trying to leave.

That leaves Fifty Foot Shadows and Garrett’s blog. I love their thoughtful way of approaching life and pointing out things that are important to enjoy or cherish in life. Combined with wonderful photography, each post is a pleasure to read visually and intellectually.

I kept my eye out over the year for other sites to read, and the two that caught my attention were Lindsay Crandall and articles by Craig Mod.

Lindsay is a photographer and mom who gives snapshots of how she handles the pressures of being a parent and an artist, and I really appreciated her honesty and insight into her process. Unfortunately she doesn’t write too often (probably that whole parent thing), but I still check her site now and then with the hopes of seeing something. One website she does frequently update is a shared blog with a fellow parent called Hello there, Friend. They write short, daily letters to each other about life and when I have time to read them they are really enjoyable, if not helpful.

Craig is photographer and writer who lives in Japan. I found him on Twitter over the last year and his articles about technology and life are so good. One of my favorites from him this last year was Future Reading, an article about the important place of printed books in our lives. His thoughtful approach is really inspiring to me, not to mention his photographs. Unfortunately he is published more through other sites than his own, so I usually find out about his new writings through Twitter.


This category ranged from reviews and editorials to technique and gear talk. Prolost (written by Stu Maschwitz), Suggestion of Motion (written by Sol March), The Dissolve (reviews and editorials), and The Music Bed Community (written by various authors and staff at the fantastic stock music site).

For technique sites, Prolost and Suggestion of Motion have been invaluable. Stu at Prolost is a leading filmmaker and not only talks about gear and software but also his approach to creativity and filmmaking. He doesn’t post as often as I would like, but it’s always worth reading when he does. Suggestion of Motion was also a fantastic site about cameras, particular the Pansonic GH4. I was the owner of one when I found Sol’s site and tried to read as much as I could in order to learn how to work with the GH4. Late last fall, though, I purchased a Sony A7s II and haven’t had as much need for Sol’s writing. He did just say he bought the same camera as me, so I’m hoping he’ll start posting articles about that camera as well.

The Music Bed community has shifted over the past year, but it still remains a great place for thoughtful articles about the filmmaking process. They have transitioned a lot of the content into the Film + Music magazine, which has been a fantastic resource.

The only new gear site to make it onto my list was Noam Kroll. Like Stu, he’s a great filmmaker and posts frequently about his gear tests and projects he’s working on. Mixed in with it all is his approach to storytelling, the gear market, and the future of filmmaking.

In the realm of film literature, this year sadly saw the death of two of the best websites I had found about film and pop culture: Grantland and The Dissolve. The reviews and particular the editorials by The Dissolve were a step above anything I had seen online and I was really sad to discover one day that it was ending. I had hoped Grantland, with its witty commentary and exhaustive pop cultural essays, could take it place—only to find shortly after that it was closing too.

Thankfully, over the course of the year I found Decent Films, the website of Steven Greydanus, who is the film critic for the National Catholic Register. Secular film reviews often focus on the story and technique in judging a film but don’t take into account the spiritual or moral aspect, whereas Christian film reviews usually only focus on the spiritual. As a filmmaker who is a Christian I wanted both, and Steven does that splendidly. Not only is he steeped in film history and what makes a great film, but he has a great theological perspective as a Catholic. He has helped me be more of a thoughtful film-goer, and shown me some of the good and helpful perspectives of Catholicism. The only downside is he is just one man, so it takes a while for new reviews to come out. But when they do, you better believe I’m going to read it.


The writing category of my list is an interesting beast. On one hand, I want to grow as a writer. But on the other hand, I only have so much time to read online. Consequently, when I do have time I have to decide if I want a thought-provoking article or a technique exercise.

When I felt like the latter, I turned to Jamie Todd Rubin and Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. Jamie inspired and encouraged me to write every day through his blog, and it has been helpful to see his process of writing, revision, and publication of his stories. And I can’t say enough about Janice’s website. If you want to learn anything about writing, read her stuff. Nearly every article is so helpful and about every part of writing.

The new writing websites to make it on the list were from Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance trilogy, and David Farland, author of Runelords. I’ve followed Christopher’s career since I first read his self-published book just out of high school, and it’s been fun to get an inside-look at his process and stories. As for David Farland, I actually just realized he was on the list; guess I forgot about his site! But I do know he is a fantastic writing teacher and I need to check his site more often.

The New List

That was probably all more information than anyone needed to know, but as I said at the beginning I like to process life through reading and writing, so there you go. The big question now is, what have I learned from all of this? Did changing my intake help in any way?

The first thing I noticed is that I like writers who are also photographers. I think that’s because there is something slower and more thoughtful about photography; you have to think about what image you are going to take, which image to use, and how it illustrates your writing. I haven’t been good at doing it, but I would love for the creative exercise of photography to be a bigger part of my life. I’m about to move into a new house when I get married, and I just had the thought that the basement could work for a dark room—hmm….

The second thing that comes to mind is, I feel like I become a more thoughtful person when I take time to read things like this on a regular basis. Doing that helps me formulate what I think about situations or topics or processes, and helps me be a better storyteller and artist.

For me, I really think it’s all about a blank piece of paper and a pen, an empty document and the keyboard before me. Life can be so hectic sometimes, so unorganized, so disorienting. The words I eat are fuel for my own words, and the act of recording them—even just the act of it—helps bring clarity and order to what I’m experiencing.

It’s funny, really. I’m almost 31 and still discovering how I approach life. There are a lot of people and influences that are helping that journey (my aforementioned fiancée above all), and what I realized over last year is that the websites I read can also help.

So the list for 2016 stands as such:

  1. Fifty Foot Shadows
  2. Lindsay Crandall/Hello there, Friend
  3. Garrett Koepke
  4. The Music Bed blog/Film + Music magazine
  5. Decent Films
  6. Noam Kroll
  7. Prolost
  8. Jamie Todd Rubin
  9. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University
  10. David Farland
  11. Christopher Paolini

Before I end, let’s go back to Whole30. It’s halfway through the month and while I haven’t noticed a huge shift in energy I have noticed two big things: I’m always hungry and I’ve lost weight. While that might not be a glowing review for Whole30, I think it still works as an example for the things I read. I shed the weight of putting things in my brain that don’t apply to my life, and it makes me hungry for more good content.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a salad. Or eat a steak. With eggs on it. Lots and lots of eggs.

What kind of sites do you read? If you have any suggestions, leave a comment below!

In Search of the Best Star Wars Lightsaber Duel

Some dedicated soul cut together all the lightsaber duels from the first six Star Wars episodes. 1 hour of lightsaber action? Yes, please.

And because I spent way too much time watching this and enjoy the geekier things in life, below are some filmmaking/sword fighting/Star Wars thoughts, all in an attempt to decide which lightsaber duel is the best.

The Criteria

In my opinion, a lightsaber duel in film should be graded on four criteria:

  1. Swordplay – are we in awe of the participants’ skill with a “blade”?
  2. Emotional tension – do we emotionally care about who wins the battle?
  3. Shot composition – is the duel filmed in an interesting and energetic way? Wider shots that are on screen longer can help showcase the skill of the duelers and maintain the illusion that holy cow—these guys are really fighting!
  4. Creative use of environment – does the fight move through different spaces? Are there unique obstacles that change the tempo and style of the duel?
  5. Bonus: Music – some fights don’t have music, while others do. Both are used to strong and weak effect.

The Prequel Trilogy

With these four (+ bonus) things in mind, I think the prequel trilogy started out incredibly strong. The final duel with Darth Maul is perhaps the second strongest fight of all six films. It easily meets all four (+ bonus) criteria. The sword play is dazzling, accentuated by the wide shots and low angles that pan with the action.Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 5.44.10 PM This is the desperate fight against the Sith, who could destroy everything the Jedi have worked for, so emotional tension is at a peak. (Plus this was the first lightsaber duel in 16 years, and also the most energetic Jedi/Sith fight audiences had ever seen.) The environments move from the hanger to those walkways around huge beams of light and then into some bizarre tunnel with rotating shields, which give the fight moments of tense silence and frustrating separation. As a bonus the music here is really strong, especially when [[SPOILER!!]] Qui Gon is killed. [[END SPOILER]]

From there, though, the duels drop off precipitously. The next real duel between lightsaber-weilding masters is with Count Dooku, but the emotional tension is low. Yes, Dooku is the bad guy they’ve been searching for, but why are they searching for him? Is he the guy in charge of the taxes or the blockades? And how the heck did he accidentally bend his lightsaber?! The swordplay doesn’t really dazzle—to me it looks like they’re trying to hit each other’s swords instead of each other—and the fight takes place in just one area of a nondescript hanger.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 5.49.24 PMWhat really breaks this duel, though, is the use of close-ups in the middle of the fight. Sadly this shot becomes a frequent sight in the following duels. It lacks any context for where the duelers are or what is happening with the lightsabers. Thus the tension of “Will his arm get chopped off?!” is lost.  To top it off, most of this fight has no music and it just feels awkward and lifeless. To top off that top-off, the use of CG for the location and body doubles lacks any weight or authentic texture. (I’m not arguing against the use of CG entirely. We wouldn’t have lightsabers without it, after all.)

To give a contrasting example, just think back to the duel with Darth Maul—or check out this amateur lightsaber duel. It is also between two Jedi and a Sith, but the wide shot and fast movement through the parking lot result in far more energy and tension than the fight with Dooku.

The only thing that saves the Dooku duel from obscurity is Yoda, who for the first time flips and spins and is all-around awesome and not old. I’m sure that got a huge cheer in theaters.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 11.35.23 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-20 at 11.35.30 PMThe next several fights all blur together. Even Obi-wan fighting General Grievous with four (FOUR!) lightsabers holds no tension, despite covering the most ground out of any of the fights. Or maybe it’s that I can’t take that two-finger pose of Obi-wan’s seriously.

The next fight of note could possibly be the one between Yoda and the newly-revealed Emperor. There’s a good amount of emotional tension there and the fighting is decent, but other than Yoda’s present the fight doesn’t feel unique. Plus it quickly shifts into a force-throwing battle instead of a duel, which as we all know is a different conversation entirely ;)

Thus it’s not until Obi-wan and Anakin face off at the end of Episode 3 that we finally get another good lightsaber duel.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.14.48 AMAnd what a duel it is. Emotional tension is definitely high. This is the showdown the whole prequel trilogy has been leading to, and boy do Lucas & Co. let it rip. The fight itself is the longest duel in the six films at over 10 minutes long and has over 1000 moves, according to the actors in one of the behind-the-scenes videos. They make excellent use of environment, moving from landing pad to control room to walkways to lava shields! to lava flows!! —gasp for breath–

The fight does have close-ups and a lot of pointless lightsaber spinning (that one part in the control room where they both spin their lightsabers around and around before clashing still makes no logical sword-fighting sense to me), but what saves this duel, I think, is its relentless pace and skill (never have we seen two master Jedis fight to the death), incredibly high emotions (“You were supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them!”), and some of the most stirring, tragic Star Wars music John Williams has composed.

It also has my favorite shot in all of Star Wars:

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.19.23 AM

There is such tension in that shot! And the music hits such a beautifully tragic, epic note. I would watch Episode 3 just to get to this moment. George Lucas is not without cinematic genius.

Given how much I’ve praised it, you might be surprised I would say this duel only ties for third best. That’s because the duel with Darth Maul is so tightly choreographed, well paced, and shot that it has an immediacy and efficiency that this duel seems to be missing.

(Side note: I like that they included an insert of Obi-wan picking up Anakin’s lightsaber. He had to do that in order to give it to Luke in Episode 4.)

The Original Trilogy

At last we arrive at Episode 4. The duel between Darth Vader and old Obi-wan gets high emotional marks, both because Obi-wan is [[SPOILER!!]] about to give his life so Luke & Co. can get away [[END SPOILER]] and because this was the first lightsaber fight anyone had ever seen. That second fact, though, also means that the swordplay lacks any vigor or creativity and the fighters barely move from where they stand, let alone throughout the room. Shot composition is decent, but nothing noteworthy.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.26.12 AMThe next thing that is noteworthy is the first time Luke duels Vader. Emotional tension is high, obviously, and—unlike the Dooku duel—the lack of music lends the fight a sense of dread, both because we know the fate Vader has planned for Luke and also because the only sounds are the buzz of lightsabers and Vader’s ominous breathing. The fight makes excellent use of the environment and the silhouettes of Luke and Vader crossing lightsabers is one of the iconic Star Wars shot. The only criteria that I wouldn’t give high marks to is the swordplay; Luke is still learning and the moves are mostly feints and slashes.

If it weren’t for the earlier duel with Darth Maul, the first Luke/Vader duel would probably come in second for best fight. Instead I would put it at a tie for third with Obi-wan vs. Anakin. The second and final Luke/Vader duel, however, maxes out each criteria.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.35.53 AMNot only was the ending of Episode 6 the final film of the original trilogy, in the big picture it’s also the end of the six-film cycle. All twelve hours of film have been leading to this showdown and at last Luke is ready to fight. Emotions are high from the start—but the film doesn’t stop there. Several times throughout the fight the emotions are cranked up: the Death Star is actually operational, the rebels are no longer winning, Luke accidentally reveals his sister to Vader, Luke almost goes to the dark side, the emperor starts killing him–gasp!–The newer versions of the film make the mistake of cueing Vader’s turn by adding audio, but in the theater audiences had no idea which side Vader would choose until he makes his move. Talk about emotional!

(Side note: it’s interesting how similar the two frames from Luke and Vader’s fights are. Both are fought on a flight of steps, both in black. The only thing that has changed is Luke now stands where Vader once stood. Perhaps an intentional nod to the Emperor wanting Luke to take his father’s place with the dark side?)

The swordplay is more involved than their first meeting and does a great job of illustrating the emotional state of Luke. The fight makes use of the entirety of the emperor’s chamber: they move down the steps from the emperor, Luke jumps up to the second level in possibly my favorite flip in all of filmdom, they fight under the second level in the shadows, they fight along the walkway and railing, and they look down into the chasm below.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 1.00.18 AMShot composition is spot on, moving from wide shots as Vader and Luke fight to intimate close-ups of Luke worrying about his friends. The desperate image of Vader clinging to the railing as his lightsaber is hammered from his hands has always stuck in my head. Lastly, the music supports the duel magnificently, aided by that foreboding choir.


For me that final duel of the six films takes the trophy and concludes the original trilogy in the best way possible. It squarely hits all four (+ bonus) criteria.

So to recap, here are my top three fights:

  1. Luke vs. Darth Vader final duel (Ep. 6)
  2. Qui Gon and Obi-wan vs. Darth Maul (Ep. 1)
  3. Obi-wan vs. Anakin (Ep. 3) / Luke vs. Darth Vader first duel (Ep. 5)

It will be interesting to see what a new generation of lightsaber duels looks like in Episode 7 and beyond. One thing I noticed is there are no duels with female Jedi. We do see a few female Jedi but none of them are involved in the main duels. I’m hoping J.J. Abrams & Co. bring some diversity to the fights, and also treat the duels like the classic sword fights of old.

If they need some ideas, they can take a cue from this amateur duel, which still remains one of my all-time favorites. (Hint: it fulfills all of the criteria superbly, particularly lightsaber skill and environmental use.)

Now if only I could find a compilation of all the times a lightsaber is dropped….

What are your favorite fights? Are there other criteria to consider? Let me know!

A Change of Intake

New Sites

For the past several years my nightly web surfing consisted of visiting the following websites:

  1., a blog about Apple, tech, and design.
  2., a blog about iOS app development and tech
  3., a blog about Apple, iOS app development, and tech
  4. The Verge, a site about all things tech and pop culture

Here’s the thing: I am involved in a lot of creative environments, film and fiction writing being foremost. But iOS app development has never been one of them. Yet every night I would spend time looking at all these tech sites unrelated to both my job and the projects I did on the side.

I knew these things were outside of my regular sphere, but I shrugged it off as a guilty indulgence. I do find the Apple/tech world intriguing so after a while I just went with it. I would listen to podcasts like Accidental Tech Podcast, which is all about development. I would sketch app ideas and even considered learning how to code apps. But in the end it was just a side hobby. Actually, not really a hobby. More like a vague interest.

At the start of 2015, I decided to change things up. What if I spent my time reading websites that wrote about the things I’m directly involved in? It’s only been a couple months into this experiment and I am loving it.

Here are a few sites I’m trying out:

  1. Fifty Foot Shadows, thoughts on life and photography
  2. Analog Senses, thoughts on life and photography
  3. Prolost, thoughts on and products for film
  4. The Dissolve, film editorials and reviews—great content here!
  5. Jamie Todd Rubin, the writing life
  6. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, consistently insightful writing advice
  7. Backchannel, a new addition with well-written, in-depth tech articles
  8. Suggestion of Motion, in-depth articles about film, specifically the Panasonic GH4, which I own
  9. Garrett Koepke’s blog—my brother is writing some great stuff about travel, with beautiful photographs
  10. The Music Bed Community—at first just a stock music site, TMB have become so much more

This is a longer list than I used to check, but that is offset by the fact that they post less frequently. Instead the pieces are more focused on really thinking about a topic. It’s a slower pace that I’ve come to appreciate. And yes, there is still a tech website on there. That’s because Steven Levy writes some of most insightful, engaging, and well-written articles about tech I’ve found.

After just a couple months of changing the websites I read, I’m already feeling a difference. Reading Fifty Foot Shadows and Analog Senses has inspired me to get a film camera and try my hand at slower paced, more focused photography. The editorials by The Dissolve and Stu’s writing at Prolost is helping me be more thoughtful about my filmmaking—a category to which I’m excited to add The Music Bed.

The point is, I’m reading good writing about the topics I daily interact with. The content is encouraging and inspiring me in the things that I create, and I’m really thankful that I made the change.