How J.J. Abrams Made Star Wars 7's Lightsaber Battles Different From The Prequels

Over the course of the build up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams has taken great pains to set the new film apart from George Lucas’ prequels. There will be no mention of midi-chlorians, no Jar Jar Binks, and instead of ubiquitous green screen, they used practical special effects whenever possible. Another way he set his movie apart was by staging the lightsaber battles differently than in Episodes I, II, and III.

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without at least one badass lightsaber duel, and we’ve seen footage of Finn (John Boyega) about to throw down with the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In Abrams’ opinion, the duels in the first three Episodes were highly stylized, choreographed almost like a dance. He wanted something else when it came to the Finn/Kylo Ren fight, and looked to the original trilogy for inspiration, telling Empire (via Star Wars News Net):

When you look at Star Wars and Empire, they are very different lightsaber battles, but for me they felt more powerful because they were not quite as slick [as the prequels]. I was hoping to go for something much more primitive, aggressive and rougher, a throwback to the kind of heart-stopping lightsaber fights I remembered being so enthralled by as a kid.

Not only is this yet another way to link his film to something that most people love, the original trilogy, and distance itself from something many hate, the prequels (I know there are prequel supporters out there, but there are even more haters), but this approach makes a great deal of sense in the larger context of the saga.

In the early Episodes, the Jedi have a much larger presence. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi have trained their entire lives, so the level of skill they have with their weapons is going to be higher and they are bound to be much more polished, honing their technique with years of practice. Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, lives in a time where there are, for all intents and purposes, no Jedi. He’s barely trained and fights on instinct and with emotion, especially in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back—he has had some time to work on technique by the time Return of the Jedi rolls around.

In The Force Awakens, we know that the Jedi have become little more than a myth and legend, so, again, those wielding lightsabers aren’t going to be as skilled as their predecessors. We don’t know if Finn is a Jedi, though there are a lot of theories—there are also rumors that stormtroopers work with lightsabers as a form of hand to hand combat—but even if he is, he hasn’t spent that much time training. Kylo Ren is in a similar boat. We know he built that cross guard lightsaber himself, based on an older, possibly ancient design. It’s rough around the edges, and more a blunt instrument than a fine tool, and we anticipate his fighting style reflects that. When he and Finn face off, we expect to see something more like a messy street brawl than a refined, sophisticated duel.

We’ll see just how this clash plays out when Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally opens everywhere in just a few weeks on December 18.

Brent McKnight