By James Hibberd and Devan Coggan
November 22, 2019 at 02:20 PM EST

Even Star Wars fans who have gripes about The Phantom Menace admit its climactic lightsaber fight is one of the best — if not the best — laser sword bout in the franchise. The riveting three-way battle with confident Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his eager apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) facing the ferocious Sith apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) is a spectacular sequence combining acrobatic moves and a clever deployment of an array of Force powers.

EW spoke to stunt coordinator Nick Gillard about that sequence — as well as the arena scene in Attack of the Clones and the Anakin vs. Obi-Wan fight in Revenge of the Sith

The Phantom Menace

Lucasfilm

Gillard initially designed Phantom Menace fight with a five-minute demo reel to show Lucas. The director noted his films are for kids and played the footage for his then-5-year-old son Jett for a verdict. “Effectively, Jett Lucas decided the style of that fight,” Gillard says. The sequence ultimately took two months from start to finish because the team wanted to use the actors for as many shots as possible rather than stunt doubles.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment is when the fighting stops thanks to a series of forcefield chambers that briefly separate the fighters, ramping up the suspense. Neeson improvised the idea that Qui-Gon would use the time to sit and meditate, Gillard says. While Gillard suggested to Park what Darth Maul would do: “You look like a tiger in that makeup,” he recalls telling Park. “Why don’t you do what tigers do at the zoo when they walk back and forth looking at you through the cage?”  

Attack of the Clones

Lucasfilm

If The Phantom Menace teased what two Jedi could accomplish together, this frenetic arena battle showcased the full strength of the Jedi Order. Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leads a small army of fighters to rescue Obi-Wan, Anakin (Hayden Christensen), and Padmé (Natalie Portman) from a gladiator arena, with dozens of Jedi facing down hordes of battle droids and insect-like Geonosians. Blue and green lightsabers swirl throughout the coliseum (with one purple exception for Mace), but the Jedi are outnumbered, and only a small group survives.

Filming took place over multiple days in Sydney, and the stunt team relied on detailed storyboards to capture both the overwhelming chaos of the battle and a few more intimate character moments — like Mace’s fateful clash with the mercenary Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison). Lucas also wanted familiar Jedi fighters like Ki-Adi-Mundi and the grinning, green Kit Fisto to participate in the battle, so Gillard worked with each actor to develop a signature lightsaber style. To populate the rest of the Jedi army, Gillard enlisted more than 100 fighters from sword clubs around Australia. He then spent a few days rehearsing with his new recruits, putting them through Jedi boot camp and adjusting their fight styles to be lightsaber-friendly.

Revenge of the Sith

Lucasfilm

The prequel trilogy’s most devastating moment was the one that was fated all along: the brutal duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin. The master and apprentice finally clash on the molten planet of Mustafar. The fight that ensues is a whirlwind — a confrontation between former allies who know each other’s every strength and weakness. When Obi-Wan croaks, “You were my brother, Anakin,” it isn’t just the end of a years-long friendship; it adds a heartbreaking new layer to Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s original duel in A New Hope. Filming the entire sequence took about a week, but McGregor and Christensen rehearsed for two months until they could nail every kick, spin, and jump. The entire path of the fight had the actors traveling one kilometer and through seven different soundstages. “Obi and Anakin had to be really similar, as one taught the other, but Ewan moves very differently to Hayden, so the differences are very subtle,” Gillard explains. “When you saw them at full speed in the rehearsal room, it was a thing to behold.” Obi-Wan ultimately bests his apprentice, but it’s no victory: Anakin Skywalker dies, and Darth Vader rises.

For more, read EW’s entire cover story inside The Rise of Skywalker, and check out our eight new exclusive photos.

To read more on The Rise of Skywalker and other untold stories from the Star Wars universe, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly at Barnes & Noble now — or buy your choice of covers featuring stars of the prequelsoriginal trilogy, or current saga. (The issue will be on newsstands starting Nov. 28.) Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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