On May 19, 1999, Star Wars fans prepared to finally see another chapter of their beloved franchise. Decades had passed since the last installment, and the internet had not yet grown into the cynical beast it is today. Nothing could derail fan excitement for The Phantom Menace, except, perhaps, actually seeing the movie. Ultimately, most Star Wars geeks would go home disappointed.
Nevertheless, there's still some stuff to love in The Phantom Menace. If you move away from things like young Anakin’s forced “yippee”, Jar Jar Binks, and a fourteen-year-old Queen making heart eyes at a kid who was nine, there is still at least one shining bit of greatness: the lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul.
Emotion in film is often assisted by its score. Regardless of the film, John Williams’ music has consistently elevated Star Wars to the next level, and “Duel of the Fates” is no different. It certainly aids what is already the film's best moment:
A certain duality is at play during that final battle, including a noticeable difference between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's fighting styles. Obi-Wan (a Padawan at the time) uses a much more energetic set of moves, while Qui-Gon appropriately moves like a seasoned master - nothing fancy, but never a wasted strike, either.
When they reach the barricades, each fighter exhibits a different kind of reaction. Darth Maul waits arrogantly for the shield to lift before killing Qui-Gon, and then mockingly as he waits to deliver the same fate to Kenobi (or so he thinks). Obi-Wan’s emotional responses couple nicely with his fighting style in the sense that both mark his relative lack of experience. He is both reactionary and rash, making for a completely satisfying finish when he chops Darth Maul in half.
Exceptional fight choreography coupled with one of the best songs in Star Wars’ history certainly isn’t enough to save The Phantom Menace, but next time someone makes the ill-advised choice to check it out, you at least have this great sequence to look forward to.