There are plenty of reasons to hate the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, but one of the few things that everyone pretty much immediately liked (and still likes!) is the climactic fight scene in The Phantom Menace. Maybe it’s because of its blissful lack of Jar Jar or Hayden Christensen or dialog; maybe it’s because, unlike later, jokey fight scenes with Yoda or Anakin Skywalker, the whole thing is played and taken seriously by the actors. But Darth Maul’s two-sided lightsaber duel against both Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi has stood the test of time as a uniquely tight piece of martial arts choreography, and a new article on Vulture explores the making of the scene with input from its stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard.
The article unearths a lot of fascinating points, like the way Gillard blended swordplay styles to create the fight and the way Ray Park got the part purely through his physical presence. But it also digs up the story of the scene’s best moment: when the shifting gates briefly separate Qui-Gon from Darth Maul, and the opponents are forced into a brief tableau that says more about their characters than any of Lucas’ leaden dialog could’ve. Maul paces from his side of the divide, while Jinn simply kneels and meditates. While Gillard had put in the hard work choreographing the scene, this most memorable moment didn’t come from him at all:
“It’s a tricky subject, but bollocks, the truth should come out,” he says. “The gates are closed, you’ve got however long it was, 20, 30 seconds to wait. He’s going to find something as an actor. What he found was he sat down and meditated.” Park’s physicality in that moment, on the other hand, came from Gillard: “Ray said, ‘I don’t know what to do. What do I do?’ I said to him, ‘When you see those tigers in the zoo and they’re just pacing up and down their cages all the time — why don’t you do that vibe?”
So there you have it: Liam Neeson’s particular set of skills also includes fight choreography. Also of note is the fact that the actors all made little lightsaber sound effects while practicing, which is just adorable. Check out the whole article for much more about the scene, which you should probably never watch in its surrounding context ever again.