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Choreography of Lightsaber Battles (Taken from The FanFilms Forum)

by Tumblemonster and LoganSaj

This tutorial has suggestions/tips and comments about Lightsaber Battle Choreography. It was taken from the Jedi Council FanFilms forum. The topic was initially started by Tumblemonster with a reply from LoganSaj. I have inserted LoganSaj's comments into the appropriate places.

Tumblemonster:

While thinking about my film, I knew right away I had to have a lightsaber duel. Why? Even really bad ones look incredible. That glowing blade can turn even the most mediocre match into a heart-pounding battle.

So, although I have spent many hours working on my time line and my script, spare time when I don't need my brain for other tasks, I am thinking about my saber fight.

I have watched all the films on the TFN site, and seen a lot of things I like, and a lot of things I dislike. I thought it was time to share these thoughts with the group. (Or, as I think of it: Stand up and get thrashed) Oh, before I go on, I want to say that I may site some scenes from particular films or trailers, and I don't mean any offense, I am just using them as examples to support my ideas.

LoganSaj:

Whew! You did have a lot to say, Tumble. But I couldn't resist responding. First of all, I have researched this topic quite a bit, IMO, and have taken various styles of martial arts. I'm not a professional in any sense of the word, so this is just my opinion... Don't worry, though...I'm not going to flay your flesh...just make counter-points/additions. I am NOT starting an argument here, so I hope no one else gets that impression. I view this as a discussion in observation. In other words, no flame, no fire unless you're into that sort of thing. :-P

I'll reemphasize your point about the fact that there are many "sword" duels in fan films (e.g., Matrix, WotF, etc.) & major motion pictures (e.g., Blade, Princess Bride, etc.) that I think are incredible, spectacular, etc. However, there are also those that make me cringe (e.g., The Mummy, , etc.) It must be noted that nearly all of the major films put extensive time into studying, training, choreographing, and filming their fight scenes to look good. But that's not always the result.

THE SWORD FIGHT: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Tumblemonster:

Any sword fight should follow some basic and obvious rules.

The first, most important, and most often broken rule: NEVER LOOSE SIGHT OF YOUR OPPONENT!

How many times have you seen a Jedi spin around and swing at his enemy blind? (I know, hes a Jedi, he can sense his opponent, but really...) How many of those times have you thought "that guy should already be chopped in half."? I think it almost every time I see it, but people keep doing it. It has its places, it a sword battle, sometimes its quicker to turn backwards for a block, but keeping your back to an opponent is asking for a quick death. I don't need to list examples of this. Watch any trailer on TFN, youíll see it. Human bodies are designed to function very well in one direction. In a sword battle, your arms can easily and freely pivot to protect any part of the front of your body. Protecting your back is much more difficult, because your arms do not have the range of motion behind you that they have in front.

LoganSaj:

You are absolutely accurate & correct about everything you said here regarding swordplay, with one exception...the Jedi. I will mirror Yoda's words, and refer to the lessons of Obi-wan, both to Luke during his training, regarding this point. "You must feel the Force around you." & "Your eyes can deceive you...don't trust them." By the way Jedi train (from the beginning), they learn that their eyes are not as important to them as they are to a 'normal' sword fighter. If you watch the duels in TPM, you will see that there are many times when the attack or defense is made from or to a rear target. In fact, the first exchange in the 3-way duel includes Obi-wan's acrobatic attack above Darth Maul, and a rear attack to Obi-wan (when he lands). It's obvious that the Jedi don't rely on the same principles of combat as we normal folk do.

THE SECOND RULE: PRESS YOUR ADVANTAGE

Tumblemonster:

Very few times in a sword battle is it wise to not take advantage of an opponents weakness. A major example of this is 45 seconds into the SEEDS OF DARKNESS trailer. you see one Jedi swing over the Siths head, and the Sith ducks under. All fine and dandy, but why did the Sith pull his blade AWAY from the Jedi, instead of slamming it into his stomach as he ducked underneath the Jedi Blade? A quick, easy finish.

Rule number three: AIM FOR THE BAD GUY, NOT HIS BLADE! I have noticed a few battles in which the embattled Jedi seem to be aiming to hit their blades together. Will hitting the other guys weapon hurt him? Aim your strikes for the opponent, where they can do some harm.

LoganSaj:

Again, I agree with you 100% in normal sword fighting. The only response I have to your point is "cinematography". In other words, it looks better when you show off than when you kill your foe instantly. Realistic not really. Practical no. But, I must also state that in real fights this CAN also happen, even to highly trained fighters - everyone makes mistakes. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, you notice. Even the best slip, fall, tweak their wrists, throw out a shoulder, etc. But we're talking about films, right? OkayÖthen it's all in the appearance. Nearly every real fighter will pick apart a fight scene, but might not actually do as well if faced with the same situation.

STUPID JEDI TRICKS

Tumblemonster:

Flips, butterfly kicks, spins, and cartwheels all look great, but when is a good time to use them, and when isn't? Two Jedi doing a butterfly kick simultaneously looks cool, but why are they doing it? There is a place in a fight for acrobatics, it makes the fight more exciting, but donít overuse them. Ultimately it will detract from the reality of the fight.

LoganSaj:

There is nothing really to say here except, you're right. Overuse = bad. Although I have seen trained fighters (fencing) attempt the same maneuver at the precisely the same time in a real fight. Both got hurt doing it too. It's fairly common in fencing.

SOME THINGS I REALLY LIKE

Tumblemonster:

Now that I dissed everybody (Flame away) I want to mention some things I have seen that I really really like.

First is speed. I have watched some trailer and test footage of battles that knocked my legs off! One of the most impressive short battles I have seen yet is the short MATRIX test . The speed of the battle is incredible.

The double ended saber first made its debut in one of the Star Wars series novels, I think, then in TPM. It could become old hat eventually, but some of the things you guys are doing with them are amazing. I especially like the Two double ended saber clips from A QUESTION OF FAITH, as well as the two saber clip near the end of the trailer. That glimpse has a ton of potential.

LoganSaj:

I don't think that you have 'dissed' anyone, IMO. I think you have stated your opinion, and did so humbly. Very few of us here are professional fighters, choreographers or stunt coordinators. But imagine what we could accomplish if we all combined our skills into one film. Also, I hate to agree with the fact that the double-bladed saber is reaching for antiquity based on its use. I don't think that's due to existence in the films themselves, though. I believe it's more due to the inappropriate uses - those "look at the double saber, we have one too" showoffs. On the other hand, think about how long swords have been in existence. Sword fights still capture an audience when they're done correctly. The Matrix fight scene was very well rehearsed. It looked extremely reminiscent of the Maul fight scenes, but Clay certainly did an awesome job. There are quite a few intricate maneuvers performed in the WotF also.

SOME TIPS FOR FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY

Tumblemonster:

Have you ever seen Highlander: The Series? Some of the sword fighting scenes in that TV show are incredible. Rent a bunch of the videos and watch them. You would be hard pressed to find a better resource for dynamic, cinematic sword play.

Practice! Plan you fight and practice it untill the moves feel instinctive. Your shots will have a much more spontaneous feel to them. It will look a lot better, and be a lot faster.

LoganSaj:

I would like to add to your statement here by saying that after perfecting a choreographed fight, then work on mood, attitude, and most certainly dialogue (which Tumble mentioned earlier). An aspect that would have improved the final duel in TPM tenfold is dialogue. Interaction and personal involvement is the best aspect of a duel. To quote George Lucas with indirectly related advice, "A special effect without a story is just a special effect." The same goes for a fight scene (which is, and should be, a story within a story).

IN CONCLUSION

Tumblemonster:

And Now I contradict myself. There is place for breaking every rule I have mentioned. Its up to the director to decide when its appropriate. (Don't think for a second I won't have a bunch of cool flips in my show!)

Finally, I guess I should say I'm not trying to preach to anyone, and Iím not trying to insult or denounce anyone's efforts. I have some expertise in this area (choreography, acrobatics, etc) and I thought I would share my thoughts.

-Tumblemonster

LoganSaj:

"Finally, I guess I should say I'm not trying to preach to anyone, and I'm not trying to insult or denounce anyone's efforts. I have some expertise in this area (choreography, acrobatics, etc.) and I thought I would share my thoughts."

(taps fist to heart) I'm hear ya', bro'.

-LoganSaj

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