The 7 Forms and How They Characterize Their Users
The Star Wars franchise, as a whole, is a setting that grew and evolved over time prior to Disney’s acquisition, and nowhere is this more true than with the classic symbol of the Jedi order: the lightsaber. This elegant weapon for a more civilized age is such an icon of the films that it has spawned mountains of merchandise, choreography competitions, and even recognized leagues among established fencing bodies, as detailed by ESPN.
The choreography of the prequels, as created by stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, has been particularly expanded upon in the franchise’s many spin-off novels, video games, and comics. Gillard created the fight choreography in the prequels with the physicality and the personality of the characters in mind, as quoted in the Tatooine Times. However, the expanded universe, now referred to as “Legends” post-Disney, expanded this idea into seven distinct forms of lightsaber combat, each one with its own techniques and philosophies.
While this isn’t what Gillard originally had in mind, the seven forms mesh remarkably well with the characters that they are attributed to, and can even serve as additional characterization for when the dialogue ends and the fighting begins. Let’s take a look at each of the seven forms as described in the “Legends” continuity, and how they each serve to enhance the characteristics of their users.
Form 1: Shii-Cho
The basic “form” of lightsaber combat, and described in Legends material as a method focused on letting the mystical force guide a Jedi’s movements, has been called “Shii-Cho.” Most Jedi characters in the old continuity began their training with this form before moving to something more specialized. When we are shown Jedi characters being trained, such as in A New Hope or Attack of the Clones, this is the form that they are supposedly using, and the Jedi youngling that is seen fighting clones in Revenge of the Sith, with movements that are conservative and practiced, is generally accepted to be using the tutorial style as well.
In short, Form 1 is the term for the most grounded and basic movements seen in the prequels. The lack of elaborate movements is either reserved for characters with limited screen time, or those that are explicitly at the beginning of their training.
Form 2: Makashi
Heavily inspired by fencing, and featured most prominently anytime Christopher Lee’s character, Count Dooku, is on-screen. Using a style of fighting that employs single-handed movements derived from fencing adds a sense of aristocracy to the character. From a practical perspective, having the elderly Lee utilize a sort of minimalist style of fighting allows his character to retain a sense of capability, and even menace, when pitted against the more aggressive and kinetic styles that define the younger actors. By painting his movements as deliberate and tactical, the character is portrayed as using experience and intelligence to his advantage, distracting from the limitations imposed by the actor’s age.
In the “legends” continuity, it was established that this technique is designed especially for fighting against other lightsabers, and this lines up with every appearance that Count Dooku has in the prequel trilogy, never once fighting anyone or anything that wasn’t wielding a lightsaber. This is a good example of how the expansions to the lore of the series worked with the core films, enhancing the world building that was in place with additional information that didn’t clash with it.
Form 3: Soresu
The defensive technique employed by Obi-Wan Kenobi has been labeled as “Form 3” by the original expanded universe, and it is one of the few styles that remains consistently depicted after Disney’s acquisition. This technique is about defense, only ever striking out in answer to an attack and maximizing the possibility of a surrender, rather than death, as the final outcome.
In the prequel trilogy, Obi-Wan’s focus on defense over everything else serves as a foil for the more aggressive and dominating style that Anakin used. This added to the distinction between the two characters, and painted Kenobi as an archetypical Jedi character with a devotion to peace and serenity. Having the two characters fight side by side helped the audience see this difference, even if they didn’t realize it at first.
In Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the style makes another appearance, once again serving to compare Obi-Wan and Anakin, this time as Darth Vader. The duels between Kenobi and Vader were miniature stories, and an excellent return to the type of choreography that defined the prequels’ action scenes.
Form 4: Ataru
The style that most prominently features superhuman acrobatics and twirls is called Form 4 by Legends material, and it is used most notably by characters that rely completely on the force. Jedi Master Yoda’s fights in the prequels depicted him as constantly in motion, spinning and twirling around his larger opponents in a spectacle of animation that still hasn’t been revisited outside fully CGI works such as The Clone Wars.
Yoda’s fights are the most flashy and extreme, and it is noteworthy that his movements were devised entirely by animators. Gillard had very little advance notice when it came to Yoda’s first duel with count Dooku, and gave no input to the way the old master fought.
When applied to a character, what this form demonstrates is how the force makes the Jedi into superheroes. Extreme acrobatics and kinetic moves are facilitated entirely by the force, and a character depicted using this style of fighting is always one that is defined by their relationship with the mystical elements of their order.
Form 5: Djem-So
The heavy, dominant fighting style employed by Darth Vader and other aggressive fighters in Star Wars became known as Djem-So. Characters using this “style” grind down on their opponents and dominate the scene. When seen on-screen, this fighting style depicts characters that use emotion and rage to their advantage. They swing hard, and their killing intent is evident with every movement. This style of choreography also returned in Obi-Wan Kenobi, highlighting the difference between Vader and Kenobi.
Characters that fight this way can also be unsettling to watch, as they are matched up against smaller opponents. The oppressive and dominant way that the choreography is done serves to not only characterize the user, but to visualize the power struggle between the two fighters. Having a murderous and dominant fighter pummeling a defensive one adds suspense to the conflict.
Form 6: Niman
The fluid and balanced style used by Ahsoka, with her two lightsabers and back-and-forth approach is a holdover from the prequel-era style that “legends” referred to as Niman. This style was described as balanced between offense and defense.
Ahsoka Tano, featured in live action in The Mandalorian, employs a technique reminiscent of samurai films, switching between attacking and defending in a balanced cadence that is outstanding to watch. This is in line with descriptions of the sixth form in pre-Disney books and tie-ins.
This technique, with its middle-of-the-road approach, adds a level of flexibility to the character using it. Rather than committing to defending themselves, or going on a homicidal rampage, the character tailors their approach to the moment. It is a method that depicts characters of great balance who, like Ahsoka, transcend the categories of “light side/dark side.”
Form 7: Vaapad
The style used by Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu was termed Vaapad by the Legends continuity, and is defined by its aggressive and straight to the point attitude. Much like the choreography of Vader, Windu’s style was direct, and meant to end the fight immediately, but this time without the dominance and rage that featured for the villain.
Best demonstrated in Attack of the Clones, the choreography was brutally direct. Windu spends roughly eight seconds actually fighting in the film, and, in that time, establishes himself as relentless and efficient. His later fight with the Emperor in Revenge of the Sith was the least flashy of all the prequel fights, and it is a fight that Windu ultimately won before Anakin’s interference.
The characterization here is about Windu’s attitude more than anything. He always got to the point, didn’t say a word more than was necessary, and his choreography reflected that very well. In a series of films featuring a lot of very flashy action scenes, being the one character that gets straight to the point with their fighting helped Jackson’s character be more fleshed out despite his relatively small amount of screen time.