November 14, 2015 7:35 PM   Subscribe

This stuff is very cool, but I think my main issue with contemporary (that is to say, prequel) lightsaber dueling is that no one ever really looks like they're trying to kill or disarm their opponent. Except for Sith, and that's usually right before they lose.

I know it's possible to view the whole enterprise as some sort of sacred martial trance, and I understand the desire to show dueling in a far more refined form than in the original trilogy, but the close-ups (i.e. without the use of Force powers) seldom transcend their choreographic origins to maintain my suspension of disbelief.
posted by lumensimus at 8:22 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Apart from cinematography, is there ever any advantage to turning your back on your opponent?
posted by oheso at 8:25 PM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Came here to ask exactly what oheso did. I know that they created multiple different forms of combat for lightsabers, none of which we can ever actually see, given that a real lightsaber would have no mass beyond the hilt, but still, if you watch the fight scenes in the new trilogy, you can see that the blows are not actually designed to hit the opponent, except in a few cases.
posted by Hactar at 9:14 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm reminded of this video in regards to the lack of lethality in light saber combat.
posted by zabuni at 9:37 PM on November 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

Enh. That's sort of the nature of choreography. People's memories of the OT duels are a little sugared up. A lot of the time they're not close enough and really obviously aiming for each other's swords, but various tricks keep you from dwelling on this. Removing these tricks with slowmo freeze frame stuff isn't clever. It's just sort of being snarky about the fact that human beings are not going to beat each other with metal rods or whatever for our passing amusement.
posted by mobunited at 12:01 AM on November 15, 2015

I remember Ewan McGregor saying that they had to tell him to stop making lightsaber noises with his mouth when they made Episode 1.
posted by teponaztli at 12:13 AM on November 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

Apart from cinematography, is there ever any advantage to turning your back on your opponent?

Almost none. My martial-arts training is mostly empty handed rather than with weapons, but even there turning your back is extremely rare and limited to very close-in stuff where you're basically wrestling on two feet anyway. Typically having weapons extends the sphere of what you're doing which would rule out even that much. I actually think there would be some place for it if this page on Renaissance Fencing is reliable, but I think the peculiar nature of light sabers would make them unlikely. But there is this picture where the guy throwing his opponent has his back to him—although he's also controlling the opponent's sword by that time, too. This other picture from that page shows another typical technique where the opponents are close enough the question of whether they're back-to-back is basically semantics.

But yeah, this battle from Episode I really does stand out for looking like a Morris Dance—everyone's trying to hit each other's sticks, even if they are glowing vrrrrm-ing laser sticks. It looks nice and dynamic and fun but it's all over the place. I was inspired to pull up all the original trilogy's light saber duels on YouTube just to see how well they age, and it was actually interesting:

The first one, between Vader and Obi-Wan, they both move pretty stiffly and slowly. It's a bit hidden by camera cuts and flashes of light, and it could also be explained by age and being more machine than man. Compared to the prequels, though, it at least seemed more like an actual duel: both of them may have been rigidly walking through textbook 101-level "position one, position two, parry" exercises but at least they were textbook and aimed at each other.

The one between Luke and Vader in Empire Strikes Back was really interesting—they must have gotten a sword choreographer because there's a lot more story happening, especially. At the beginning of the fight Luke is showing his inexperience by swinging his saber all over the place in wide, telegraphing arcs. Meanwhile Vader is using just one hand and minimal motion to defensively guard his centerline and parry everything. While that might be as much costume as anything it still clearly says "I'm just toying with you". The fight spends as much time without sabers as with them, ranging all over the place, and eventually by the end Luke is still swinging wildly but he's getting more desperate and more aggressive. Vader has also gotten more aggressive with more offensive moves, and has his share of wide-and-sweeping action but it's still stiff, limited, linear, and powerful. Again I think that's partly costume but it works well with his backstory of being limited by his machine prosthetics, and relying more on his power with the force and his pure intimidation than graceful saber agility. And it works with his overall motivating being to beat Luke into submission rather than kill him.

By Return of the Jedi the franchise is starting to really get into flashy saber choreography but there's still some good story and plausible action here. Luke's still whooshing his saber around but he's a lot more graceful, although changing to aggressively slashing with power and momentum as his anger pushes him toward the dark side. Vader's still toying with him, and again they spend as much time without sabers, talking or hiding, as actually fighting with them. Vader once again gets more aggressive but not any less stiff as he switches from toying around to, this time, fighting for his life. He really shows how out of practice he is fighting against an actual Jedi, and how much the costume limits the actor's motion.
posted by traveler_ at 12:35 AM on November 15, 2015 [27 favorites]

I'm prepared to sort of handwave away a lot of the prequel saber dueling as being essentially a test of extended force-concentration rather than sword-fighting. Most Jedi/Sith are pre-cognitively gifted so it naturally becomes choreographed morris sticks. But the points about the lack of story in the prequel fights is sadly very very true.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:45 AM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What you're noticing in Empire and Jedi is is the late great Bob Anderson.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:47 AM on November 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

Combat at superhuman speeds that maintains a sense of consistent lethality has been done - hello, The Matrix! - and I'm hopeful that we'll see scarier duels in Episode VII.
posted by lumensimus at 2:29 AM on November 15, 2015

Turning your back on your opponent is a violation of the rules in sport fencing. First offense will get you a yellow card, and subsequent fences in a bout will cost you a touch. It could also be dangerous as your neck is not really protected by the mask on your backside.
posted by COD at 6:18 AM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm reminded of this video in regards to the lethality of light saber blades. "Dude you're not even bleeding; the saber seared it."
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

if we want to talk about real sport fencing rules...

1) as mentioned, you can't turn your back on an opponent. that's a card.
2) You most certainly can't fence without a mask, as both these guys are.
3) Sabre doesn't allow crossover advances, so all that running straight at the opponent would halt the action right there.
4) Action stops when the fencers cross paths, so no switching sides.
posted by subversiveasset at 8:53 AM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

In Luke & Vader's fight in Empire, I always half-expect Luke to start whining about right-of-way, and Vader to tear his helmet off and throw it on the ground out of sheer frustration.
posted by culfinglin at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I dunno about saber fencing and real world martial arts and such, but that was pretty friggin' awesome.
posted by numaner at 8:35 PM on November 15, 2015

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