AS WE PREPARE to welcome a new generation of Star Wars heroes and villains to the screen this week, there are high hopes that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is going to leave the oft-maligned Star Wars prequels far in the Jakku dust. Yet first, let us pause to pay tribute.
Now, this is no ode to “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.” And I fully expect “The Force Awakens” to be at least good enough that I can further distance myself from those prequels I saw a long time ago, in a Jedi time-frame seemingly far, far away. One question, however, has lingered with me since shortly after director J.J. Abrams was tasked with making Star Wars matter again:
Will there be a Duel of the Fates moment?
As musical theme, “Duel of the Fates” is part of John Williams’s masterful “Phantom Menace” score — beautifully long minutes of the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices recording that is organically fused with the fight scene on the screen.
That scene is the lightsaber battle between Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn, a young, beardless Padawan named Obi-Wan Kenobi and that black-and-crimson-faced Sith, Darth Maul.
Whatever you think of the Star Wars prequels, it’s difficult to deny that this sequence of lightsaber greatness is the true reflection what George Lucas had in mind when he waited all those years for special-effects technology to catch up to his imagination.
And it is that scene that for me prompts the question: Can J.J. top that?
I know a better Star Wars movie is coming. Better dialogue. Better plot. Better bad guy. Yet the memory persists: Watching for the first time as those gigantic sliding doors opened to reveal Darth Maul patiently waiting for the Jedi Knights on the other side. There are those red-yellow eyes of Darth Maul hiding beneath a black hood. There is Qui-Gon calmly telling Luke and Leia’s soon-to-be mother: “We’ll handle this.”
Then, no words spoken. Just the hard, cold gazes of three men strong with the Force. The robes come off. The sabers light up. Greatness ensues.
So much happens in this scene. Darth Maul uses his double-bladed saber to fend off Qui Gon and Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan briefly is separated from the fight, leaving Qui Gon to fight solo against Darth Maul. Darth Maul kills Qui Gon, who is unable to defend against the Sith’s quickness without Obi-Wan by his side. Obi-Wan, having to contain his rage from Qui Gon’s death as an energy field separates him from Darth Maul, grows into a Jedi Master before our eyes, taking down Darth Maul by himself — but not before a display of some of the best one-on-one lightsaber fighting we’ve seen.
With “The Force Awakens,” we already know there will be at least one prime opportunity to top Duel of the Fates — based in the brief instant we’ve all seen of Finn lighting up his blue lightsaber against Kylo Ren in the trailers.
But for now, I hold on to the one truly great scene from those otherwise inferior sequels.