The Phantom Menace Will Never Be Topped By Star Wars In One Undeniable Way

By Zack Zagranis | Published

darth maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace turns 25 this year, and chances are, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you have some strong feelings about Episode I. Many older fans, for instance, couldn’t get past the Jar Jar Binks of it all. But whether you love the movie or hate it, The Phantom Menace has one sequence that blows away anything in live-action Star Wars before or since: the Duel of the Fates.

It’s Objectively The Best

first lightsaber

The passion, the choreography—all of it. Anyone who doesn’t admit that the three-way lightsaber fight at the end of The Phantom Menace is objectively the best in the whole series is a dirty liar, and I would ask them kindly to exit the internet posthaste. Fans born after 1999 can almost get a pass—after all, between all of the Disney+ shows and The Clone Wars, fancy, flippy lightsaber battles have become a dime a dozen.

OG Star Wars fans, however, have no excuse. If you grew up with the crusty-old, stiff-armed duels of the original trilogy and you didn’t lose your mind when Qui-Gonn, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul started twirling their lightsabers and flipping around like a bunch of rabid squirrels, all hopped up on sugar there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.

Alright, that may be a slight exaggeration. I don’t condone gatekeeping when it comes to fandoms and art is subjective, blah, blah, blah. For real, though, I’ve been watching Star Wars since 1983, and even now, in 2024, when I watch The Phantom Menace and I see Darth Maul ignite the second blade of his lightsaber, I get chills.

The Duels In The Original Trilogy Aren’t Great In Comparison

I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever stop loving the original Star Wars Trilogy—George Lucas not being on X certainly helps—but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the fights were somewhat lacking. That’s because, as far as Force-users go, by the time the originals take place, the galaxy is down to two shriveled old prunes, a bulky cyborg, a slightly less shriveled hermit, and a naive farm boy. On top of that, the shriveled old prunes don’t really count because they don’t even fight in the OT.

Not that we knew any better. To us ’80s/’90s kids a glowing laser sword was the coolest weapon ever shown on screen, period. No matter what we swung around at playtime—sticks, paper towel rolls, pool noodles—it was always accompanied by a “wooosh,” as we did our best impression of a lightsaber hum.

Lucas Wanted To Show Us What The Jedi Were Capable Of Before The Fall

liam neeson phantom menace

Luke Skywalker could have just stood there for twenty minutes gently waving his lightsaber around, and I would have still worn out my Return of the Jedi VHS. For The Phantom Menace, however, George Lucas wasn’t content with just having two combatants stand there lightly tapping their glowsticks together. He wanted the way Jedi in the Old Republic fought to melt our brains. Hence, the Duel of the Fates.

In behind-the-scenes footage from the making of The Phantom Menace, George described wanting fans to see “a Jedi in his prime, fighting in the prime of the Jedi.” Thanks to fight choreographer Nick Gillard, that’s exactly what we saw. Then, because Lucas wasn’t done completely eviscerating our sense of what was possible in the Star Wars universe, he had John Williams write the best piece of music in the whole saga—yeah, I said it—”Duel of the Fates” and then set the fight to it.

The Phantom Menace Is Still Bad

Trust me, I hate Jar Jar as much as you do. I hate the fact that he steps in poop, I hate the way he Mr. Magoo’s his way through the Battle of Naboo, and I especially hate it when he says, “Ohh, Maxibig da Force. Well that smells stinkowiff!” with unearned condescension in his voice.

But even with all that going against it, I can still acknowledge that the “Duel of the Fates” sequence in The Phantom Menace is peak Star Wars. If you look at it from the POV of the characters in the duel, it’s even better.

The Fight Shows Us A Lot

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Darth Maul, the first Sith in a millennia to fight a Jedi—let alone two—doesn’t play fair and is more than willing to throw kicks in wherever he can to even the playing field. You best believe that Maul brought feet to a swordfight, and it absolutely works. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon, the first Jedi to fight a Sith in just as long, gets fed up enough to throw his own cheap backhand at Maul—a detail Maul probably secretly savored.

In fact, both Jedi, at one point or another, lower themselves to Maul’s level during the Duel of the Fates. Obi-Wan only beats Maul at the end when the death of his master sends him into a rage. Maul’s “death” is still a victory as far as the Sith are concerned because it exposes a crack in the Jedi’s pious, self-righteous facade.

Duel Of The Fates Is Priceless

phantom menace

In short, Duel of the Fates is a perfect gift of lore, acrobatics, and inner turmoil wrapped in a killer score with a bow of red, green, and blue plasma swords tied around it. It’s just too bad most fans can’t get far enough past the goofier aspects of The Phantom Menace to acknowledge it.

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