In this article:
- Lightsabers are sword-like weapons used by Force-sensitives in the Star Wars franchise.
- Fans have experimented with fighting with lightsabers over the years which has resulted in lightsaber fencing and lightsaber kendo.
- Lightsabers already exist because some guy on YouTube made them happen.
- Stores that you can buy lightsabers from.
Lightsabers are one of the most iconic weapons in fiction. Even if you’ve never seen a single Star Wars movie, the franchise’s influence on pop culture has made the lightsaber as recognizable as its main characters and no one who wants to write about glowing swords made of light can avoid being compared to it.
On a more personal level, a lightsaber is a nostalgia trip. It’s a beloved symbol of childhood or young adulthood (if you’re old enough) and the bond between Star Wars loving parents who named their children after the movies’ characters. Yes, I know you people exist.
For me, though, the lightsaber is one of the only toys from my childhood I remember wanting. That, and a Barbie as Princess Anneliese doll.
But what exactly are lightsabers? Is there actual science behind them or will they forever remain in the realm of sci-fi? And if they’re not real, how come there are people fighting with them already?
What Are Lightsabers?
Lightsabers are a Force sensitive’s weapon of choice. It’s used by both Jedi and Sith in melee combat, whether it’s against each other or non-Force sensitive combatants. Each lightsaber features two main parts: the blade and the hilt. When a lightsaber isn’t in use, you’ll only see the hilt that the plasma blade comes out of. Once it’s turned on, a bright and hot beam of plasma appears, ready for battle.
Because the lightsaber’s blade is made of plasma, it’s hot enough to cut through most items. Combine that with a wielder who has telekinetic powers and you’ll start to see why the lightsaber has a formidable reputation in the Star Wars universe.
That said, lightsabers aren’t all-powerful.
A lightsaber could still be countered with special weapons and materials that can conduct energy or resist a lightsaber’s heat. One such weapon was the electrostaff, a melee weapon that’s a cross between a spear and a taser. It was designed for blocking lightsaber strikes and electrocuting enemies.
There’s also Mandalorian iron which The Mandalorian fans may know as beskar, a type of iron mined only in Mandalore. Its rarity and usefulness against Force sensitive fighters made it a valuable metal.
Makes the lightsaber seem a little less magical, does it? But Star Wars lore establishes that the lightsaber is ultimately a piece of technology. It needs a power cell, meaning that it’s battery-operated, and it relies on a system of circuity for it to work in the first place.
As for kyber crystals, the Force attuned stones that made the lightsaber’s blade possible, their mystical properties don’t exclude them from being used in other energy-based weapons.
While kyber crystals start out as a clear crystal, they develop a color once they’re claimed by a Jedi or broken in by a Sith, producing the red blade we see Dark siders wield in the Star Wars movies.
But that’s their in-world lore. On a practical level, the red vs green or blue of the early lightsabers are a great visual shorthand for a good versus evil fight. Plus, the colors of lightsabers make them almost hypnotic to watch in a competitive duel.
Lightsaber Duelling Is a Competitive Sport
During one of my many “Should I buy a replica lightsaber or not?” deliberation sessions, I found this video on YouTube that featured what appeared to be a Jedi and a Sith duking it out in a stadium. The video is from the School of Saberfighting, an organization that conducts lightsaber performances.
That doesn’t mean their Jedi or Sith are “fakes,” though, since the School of Saberfighting explains that: “Many of our trainees have won the highest stage fencing athletic titles in various Russian championships, and acted in fencing combat scenes in theatre and films. They also collaborated with a Combat Choreographer from Hollywood, and performed during the World Fencing Championship 2015.”
Okay, it’s a fake fight. But the athleticism required and the actual combat skills of the people involved aren’t fake. And honestly? You’ll see better lightsaber fighting in that 2-minute video than in the sequel trilogy. Everything about it is done so well and you can feel the force, pun intended, between each swing.
Choreographed or not, it was awe-inspiring.
But this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen people bring “fictional” fights into real life. Full Contact Sword Fighting is a sport that combines history with fantasy. People dress up in real medieval armor and hack away at each other with swords and axes that, while blunt, don’t feel great to be hit with. It doesn’t get more real than that, short of letting combatants actually kill each other.
But if history and fantasy-loving nerds (I say this affectionately) can bring the medieval knight out of the page and into real life, was there a lightsaber dueling community that actually fights with their lightsabers?
Of course there was. Never underestimate people’s willingness to make fictional things real.
I’ll be upfront. This video, which was uploaded by the Saber Legion, shows Jimmy Sourile and Alain Bloch fencing with lightsabers during a championship match in 2019. It is nowhere near as flashy as the choreographed lightsaber duel video, but it hammers home what lightsabers really are: weapons.
Real-life martial arts fights are often fast and brutal. Many martial arts are a blink and you miss affair. Or, as I learned in my Taekwondo days, a blink and you get all the air knocked out of your lungs affair. No one has time to waste on looking cool in a fight by doing twirls with a laser sword.
Other real lightsaber fights are similar to this one. Aside from lightsaber fencing, there’s also lightsaber kendo which looks a bit more like the lightsaber fights we see in the Star Wars movies.
The video linked above shows two Japanese young men engaged in a typical kendo spar except they’ve replaced their shinai, the traditional bamboo swords used for kendo, with a blue and purple lightsaber.
While there’s far less footage of Jedi and Sith engaged in lightsaber kendo fights, there’s no need to worry about lightsaber kendo becoming a dying art. The Jedi and Sith Masters over at Sung Moo Kendo Academy seem to be training a new generation of fighters, as evidenced by this cute clip of two Padawans fighting tooth and nail to represent their masters.
If you want to become a professional lightsaber dueler, though, you’ll have to fly to France where it’s officially recognized as a competitive sport. Its development as a sport is being supported by the French Fencing Federation which wants to train young Padawans against the true Dark Side of the Force: the negative health effects of a sports-free life.
By allowing the use of lightsabers as a weapon in an officially recognized sword-fighting sport, the federation hopes to get young people from watching Star Wars to becoming part of the Star Wars universe.
Hacksmith Industries Just Made the First Real Lightsaber
For many years we have been told by scientists that the lightsaber can never be real. At least, not in our lifetime and that mostly comes down to the fact that you can’t exactly contain light in just one meter long or so beam.
Light tends to travel indefinitely. That’s how we get sunlight even though we’re 93 million miles away from the sun.
Now imagine a sword with a blade that just goes on indefinitely. If you had a real lightsaber and turned it on, wouldn’t it just go on forever, cutting through every building in your city and shishkabobbing every unfortunate human and alien that happened to be in its way?
According to J. Murray Gibson, who is the dean of the College of Engineering at Florida State University, we could hypothetically make a real lightsaber in the future. And by real, not just battle-ready lightsabers but real lightsabers that work just as they do in the films.
“The idea of a lightsaber with a laser beam that only goes so far, I think it’s about four and a half feet, and stops doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he explains, “That’s the biggest challenge.”
But big challenges, sci-fi, and engineering go hand in hand so there’s already a currently existing tech that could bring us a step closer to creating the first lightsaber.
“[It] allows us to squeeze light through holes that are smaller than its wavelength,” Gibson says. “And when that happens, the light beam stops propagating and penetrates a small distance and then stops. So in principle, that technology, which we’ll be able to use for a lot of things nowadays, can be used to create a beam that only goes a certain distance and doesn’t go any further.
Okay, Dean Gibson, but how about the dueling part? I think I speak for everybody when I say that what we really look forward to is the creation of a lightsaber that can be used for dueling. There’s just a teensy problem: even if they could shorten the blade, two lightsaber blades would still pass through each other because they’re both made of light. Think of two flashlights crossing. Yeah, not exactly Jedi vs. Sith geeky fun times you imagine with your friends.
“There’s a thing called non-linear effect,” Gibson brings up, “which would make the lightbeams rebel each other.”
But the next problem is where the lightsaber gets its energy. Even in Star Wars, lightsabers are reliant on an energy source. They don’t just turn on because someone can use the Force.
Plasma lighters, pocket-sized, real-life approximates of the lightsaber, require anywhere from 3 to 5 volts of power. Dean Gibson thinks it will take about 50,000 volts to power a real lightsaber. Much higher, he says, than the average power consumption of a typical household. For perspective, the average as of 2019 is 10,647 kWh for the entire year. Not very energy efficient.
It makes sense considering the first lightsabers, called protosabers, needed an external power pack for them to run because of the same tech limitations that Dean Gibson discussed. Naturally, it made the first lightsabers clunky since you were using a weapon that was weighed down and limited in movement by its cord. But archaic doesn’t mean not real and in that sense, the first lightsaber already exists.
Hacksmith Industries, a YouTube channel known for bringing fictional weapons to life, has already made the first protosaber complete with a retractable blade.
Like unbonded kyber crystals, Hacksmith Industries’ lightsaber is a pure white beam of ultrahot plasma but you can change the color with a little chemistry know-how. With a bit of calcium chloride, you can make your lightsaber turn amber yellow.
Proportional control valves built into the protosaber allow for the flow of gas to be controlled which makes extending and retracting the blade possible.
The result? Nothing less than magical.
Where to Buy a Lightsaber
While legal, mass-produced protosabers are still a long way to becoming as common as guns. Until then, you’ll have to sate your lightsaber fantasies with these lightsabers.
Companies like Saberforge produce modular lightsabers, allowing for a variety of customizations to be made. Saberforge also makes helmets to complete your Darth Vader cosplay.
If you’re looking for a lightsaber you can actually go slaughter some Younglings with, Ultrasaber‘s battle-ready lightsabers are the lightsabers you’re looking for.
As for me, I’m going to look for the lightsaber Grimes used in the music video for Player of Games.
Happy lightsaber shopping and may the Force be with you!