No weapon in science fiction is as iconic as the lightsaber. The weapon of the Jedi and the Sith, the laser sword is “an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age,” as Obi-Wan Kenobi famously put it. A lightsaber consists of a metal hilt that projects a bright plasma blade, the power of which is so great that it can cut through almost anything. The lightsaber has become synonymous with the Star Wars Universe, and it has become what is probably the most popular and recognized weapon in sci-fi and film history. Millions of fans around the globe own toys or replica of the saber, and its very image is associated with the Force and the mythos of the Jedi and their Sith counterparts.
The lightsaber made its first appearance in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope and has appeared in every Star Wars film since then; every movie since has also had at least one lightsaber battle, which shows the symbolic importance the mighty weapon has for the series. When someone uses a lightsaber, you know they’re something special. Anyone in the universe can use a regular blaster or melee weapon, but it takes more skill and a strong connection with the Force to properly wield the lightsaber. A lightsaber is much more than a weapon - it is a status symbol, a sign that a fighter is revered and a cut above the rest.
But how much do we really know about this legendary weapon of the Jedi? How many among us know the full history or all the intriguing details about how it works? How did George Lucas first come up with the lightsaber and what changes did the idea go through during filming? To answer these questions and more, here are 15 things you might not know about lightsabers. We hope you enjoy, and may the Force be with you.
15 They Were Created Tens of Thousands of Years Ago
Although it’s unknown when the first lightsaber was created, they were in use tens of thousands of years before the foundation of the Galactic Republic. Different stories of the development of the weapon exist in the Star Wars canon. It’s often asserted that lightsabers were first developed by the Dark Side 26,000 years before the Battle of Yavin, since in the Star Wars Legends continuity we see the forcesaber, a weapon using concentrated blades of dark energy via the use of crystals set in metal handles. Due to their ties to the Dark Side of the Force, a Jedi simply picking up a forcesaber and using it could be turned to the Dark Side. However, forcesabers were not the same as lightsabers, since they were not plasma beams but pure dark energy.
The first “true” lightsaber was seen in Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was called the “First Blade” and was the basis for all modern lightsabers. The First Blade was built by the Je’daii Order, the ancient precursor to the Jedi. This version, too, happened long before the foundation of the Galactic Republic, which itself took place 25,000 years before the Battle of Yavin. How these histories interact with the current “protosaber” history is unknown, but one thing’s for sure: lightsabers were created many millennia ago, pre-dating the founding of the Jedi Order.
14 Building One Requires the Force and Can Be Fatal
It’s a common misconception that only Force users can wield lightsabers; in fact, everyone can wield the weapon, including non-Force users like Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith, and Finn in The Force Awakens. But for someone not trained in the ways of the Force, a lightsaber is not an effective weapon at all, since you need use of the Force to perform all the awesome flipping, slashing, and blocking moves. What few fans know is that while anyone can wield a lightsaber, you need to be a Force-sensitive individual to construct one in the first place.
Lightsabers are powered by kyber crystals within the metal hilt that gives energy to the plasma blade. According to the Star Wars Visual Dictionary, it is only through the use of the Force that a person who builds a lightsaber can ensure the crystals are properly aligned. If this is not done precisely, the weapon can explode when activated, killing the user and anyone else in close proximity. It’s because of this that building a lightsaber is considered a sort of “final exam” for Jedi in training. In Return of the Jedi, Vader noted that Luke had built a new lightsaber and thus his "skills were complete."
13 They Can Be Any Color Depending On The Crystal
Lightsabers shown in the Star Wars films are almost all blue (for the Jedi) or red (for the Sith). The difference in color can be seen as showing the conflict between good and evil, and perhaps also the two factions’ differing set of beliefs, with the Jedi wanting peace and knowledge (soothing blue) and the Sith wanting passion and power (aggressive red). But Luke Skywalker is also shown wielding a green lightsaber, Mace Windu has a distinct purple one, and others are seen with yellow, white, and black blades, though the latter are rare.
The truth of the matter is lightsabers can be just about any color depending on the color of the kyber crystal that is used to focus its energy. The Jedi often use the naturally-occurring crystals that grow on planets across the galaxy to power their lightsabers, resulting in mostly blue and green blades. The Sith prefer to use synthetic red crystals imbued with Dark Side energy. This gave them their distinctive red blades, which became fashionable after they were used by Darth Revan and Darth Malak.
12 There Are Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat
There are seven classic forms of lightsaber combat. Form I, Shii-Cho or “the Way of the Sarlacc,” is the oldest and most rudimentary form, mostly based on ancient sword fighting techniques. Form II, known as the Makashi or “the Way of the Ysalamiri,” was a graceful combat form used by experienced duelists against the Sith Order; this style was particularly useful in combatting Shii-Cho. Form III, Soresu or “the Way of the Mynock,” is a defensive style used for close-quarter fighting against blaster-wielding opponents. Form IV, known as Ataru or “the Way of the Hawk-Bat,” is an acrobatic fighting style used to defend against incoming projectiles in wide open spaces. It was an aggressive yet fluid style that imbued the user with heightened agility.
Form V, also known as Shien, Djem So, or “the Way of the Krayt Dragon,” allows the user to deflect blaster bolts back at an opponent, turning defense into offense. It is a more aggressive version of Soresu, and the Djem So variant is based on blocks followed by overwhelming counterattacks. Form VI, or “the Way of the Rancor,” was used to combine aspects of the other five styles into a balanced system, and would combine double-bladed lightsaber combat with Force abilities. Finally, Form VII, called Juyo/Vaapad or “the Way of the Vornskr,” was an aggressive form of combat, described as the most vicious and unpredictable form. It was remarkably hard to practice, but very powerful once mastered. Mace Windu developed the Vaapad lightsaber style.
11 Lightsabers Were Banned Under Palpatine
Apparently not satisfied with exterminating the entire Jedi Order, Emperor Palpatine made owning a lightsaber illegal during the days of the Galactic Empire. Not only was wielding a lightsaber a crime but even possessing one as a collectible was illegal. The Emperor also razed many of the sites where the Jedi gathered the kyber crystals used to make their lightsabers and imposed strict sanctions forbidding the trade of the crystals across the galaxy. The Sith that wielded them, such as Darth Vader, had special licenses that allowed them to carry their lightsabers.
The ban on the legendary weapons served its purpose in making it functionally impossible for the Jedi to train or operate in the open. Under the laws, drawing a lightsaber would immediately attract attention and state repression, and out the user as one of the few remaining Jedi. Lightsabers, already uncommon Jedi artifacts, grew impossible to find. This also shows the incredible personal risk Obi-Wan took in keeping Anakin’s old lightsaber for Luke’s future use in learning the way of the Jedi.
10 Lightsabers Can Cut Through (Almost) Anything
The blade of the lightsaber is a controlled form of plasma, and given what we’ve seen of the weapon’s awesome performance on the battlefield, it seems like the blade can cut through anything given enough time and a skilled wielder. But there are a few materials that lightsabers can’t cut through which some opponents have used to their advantage. One such material is cortosis which can actually short circuit lightsabers in its original state. Cortosis was often made into a mesh to form a sort of blaster-resistant armor. The alloy is also toxic to the touch and has to be refined.
Another such lightsaber-resistant metal is Mandalorian iron, which bounty hunters like Jango and Boba Fett used for their distinctive armor. Another was phrik, the nearly indestructible metallic compound. The armor of the fireworm, or lava dragon, was shown to be naturally resistant to lightsaber blades. Finally, the near-invincible Orbalisk armor used by the Sith Lords Darth Bane and Freedon Nadd was able to deflect lightsabers, though not Force lightning. The armor was made up of thousands of parasites that fed on the Dark Side energy of the host.
9 They Originally Had Battery Packs
While the exact timeline for the development of the modern lightsaber remains shrouded in mystery and conflicting lore, one thing’s for sure: archaic lightsabers - referred to as protosabers - had portable battery packs instead of internal power cells. Since power cells had not been invented yet, the hilt of a protosaber was connected to an external power source via a cable. The Jedi had to wear the battery packs on their backs, hip, or belt, which limited the mobility of the user and left the weapon vulnerable to its cord being cut by an adversary.
Protosabers had very inefficient energy use and would often overheat. Even larger battery packs only provided temporary power, limiting the usefulness of these early lightsabers. Improvements in technology and materials soon rendered the protosaber obsolete. The invention of power cells and the idea of placing them in the hilt of the weapon with an internal superconductor that “looped” the energy in the blade back into the internal power source eliminated the need for battery packs, making the modern lightsaber a much more effective combat weapon.
8 There Are Many Forms of Lightsabers
The standard lightsaber consists of a metal hilt about 20 to 30 centimeters long. No two lightsabers are exactly alike, since every weapon is built by its wielder and customized to suit their needs. But there are many other kinds of lightsaber-type weapons besides the variations on the standard model. There are also double-bladed lightsabers called saberstaffs which project the laser blade from both ends. Another variation is the double-bladed spinning model, which has a circular rim to spin its blades. The crossguard lightsaber has a standard blade with two shorter blades at the end of the hilt (similar to Kylo Ren’s unique design). There are also lightsabers with curved hilts, like that used by Count Dooku.
Lightsabers could also be built in the form of pikes, or long handles with a short lightsaber blade on the end. There was also a trident variant. These were a favorite of the Jedi guards. Lightsabers were also combined with blasters, concealed as canes, and Lumiya, Dark Lady of the Sith, used a lightsaber whip. Training lightsabers with a permanent low-power setting were built for young Jedi in training. There was even a double-bladed lightsaber design where they could separate and remain connected by a cord, turning into a weapon resembling lightsaber nunchaku.
7 Mace Windu and Kylo Ren’s Lightsabers Are Unique
While we’ve already said that each lightsaber is unique, the ones wielded by Jedi Master Mace Windu and Kylo Ren of the First Order stand out. Mace Windu wields the only purple lightsaber in the Star Wars Universe. Before then, it had been the standard blue and green for good, red for evil. So how did the Jedi Master end up with a purple lightsaber? The reasons are surprisingly meta: actor Samuel L. Jackson often asks to have purple props in his movies, since purple is his favorite color.
Jackson asked George Lucas if the character of Mace Windu could have a unique identifying feature so that he could find himself among all the Jedi during the huge fight scenes in 2002’s Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones. Jackson recalled, “We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi and they’re fightin’ or whatever. And I was like, well s---, I wanna be able to find myself in this big ol’ scene. So I said to George, ‘You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?’”
When Lucas replied that lightsabers usually only came in red and green, Jackson replied, "Yeah, but I want a purple one. I’m like the second baddest Jedi in the universe next to Yoda."
As for Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber, many viewers noticed from the very first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that the weapon’s red plasma blades looked fearsome and unstable. Symbolic for its creator, Ren’s lightsaber was assembled based on an ancient design dating back thousands of years. He used a single cracked kyber crystal, which proved unstable and barely able to contain the weapon’s power. This necessitated the lateral blades diverting excess energy produced by the cracked crystal and gave the red plasma blades their crackling and serrated appearance.
6 Lightsabers Are Apparently Waterproof
Though it’s never made clear how a lightsaber doesn’t short out while submerged in water, contact with water is never shown to cause the weapon any serious harm. Rain just sizzles and steams off the plasma blade, and getting the hilt wet has shown no effect. One would think due to the chain reactions caused by the energy loop and the overpowering nature of the blade, a lightsaber would be destroyed by being submerged in water. But Jedi of amphibious and aquatic alien races have been shown to be able to wield them underwater with no trouble at all.
It’s not clear if this is the result of specially designed or modified lightsabers or an inherent trait the weapon possesses, but on the oceanic planet of Mon Cala, the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Kit Fisto, and Ashoka Tano were all able to use their lightsabers underwater with no ill effects and no apparent modification.
5 Early Concepts Were Quite Different
The original concept for the lightsabers came from sci-fi pulp magazines from the early 20th century, which often featured heroes fighting villains with laser guns in combination with medieval-style swords and armor. This combination of science fiction and fantasy elements inspired George Lucas to create early concepts for the weapons, which were called “lazerswords” in his earliest drafts of the script. Lucas also initially intended for many lower-ranking Stormtroopers and rebel forces to have lightsabers. Eventually, it was decided that only Force-sensitive warriors of the Sith and Jedi should possess the weapons, which would make lightsabers seem more mystical and rare, and the characters wielding them seem exceptional.
As late as the start of filming, lightsabers were originally just going to be white with no variation in color, but when animation became necessary to capture their modern look, Lucas decided they should have colors. Interestingly, in the Star Wars lore the earliest conception of a lightsaber was based around the concept of a “frozen blaster,” and crude experimental devices were built using blaster technology to create a fixed energy beam.
4 Getting Them On Film Was Complicated
Even after George Lucas had the basic idea of the lightsaber, getting them on film would prove to be a whole new challenge. The first attempt to portray the lightsabers during the filming of A New Hope used long, three-sided rods covered in reflective material. These rods were spun rapidly by compact motors inside the hilts which would cause the blades to continuously reflect the stage lights. However, these props proved to be inadequate. The rods were fragile, often breaking during fighting scenes. The glowing effect was also inconsistent, and the spinning rod would be exposed whenever it moved out of the light. Next, the blades were rotoscoped and glowing animation was added by tracing blown-up copies of the frame with pen and colored ink, frame by frame. It was during post-production that Lucas decided to give the blades different colors; previously the props had been plain white blades.
Years later during the filming of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker’s newly-constructed lightsaber was going to be blue during the initial editing. Promotional materials, the early movie trailer, and the official theatrical posters all show it colored blue. Lucas made the decision to color it green in the final edit of the film in order to stand out better against the blue sky of Tatooine during the Sarlacc fight scene. The original blue blade was too difficult to see against the sky during the scene, and ultimately the lightsaber was colored green in re-release posters as well.
3 Cutting Off Limbs Was a Legitimate Technique
Someone loses a limb in almost every single Star Wars film. Though this could also be seen as a reflection of the old adage that "war is hell," another reason so many people get their hands severed is because it’s an actual, recognized lightsaber technique. The technique is called Cho Mai, or “to cut off the weapon hand.” It may seem brutal at first, but the precision move was actually developed by Light Side users as an honorable way to obtain a victory without killing the opponent. Jedi Knights commonly employed Cho Mai against blaster-wielding opponents.
Cho Mai is a preferred method in combat for both the Jedi and the Sith, the former due to it being an act of mercy, and the latter due to it effectively disarming an opponent. Cho Mai was not the only recognized form of limb removal, either: Cho Mak is for when you cut off a more substantial portion of the opponent’s limb, while Cho Sun means to remove the entire weapon-wielding appendage. Mou Kei is to cut off several limbs in one attack, as Obi-Wan famously did to Anakin on Mustafar.
2 They Were Also Ceremonial
When we see lightsabers in Star Wars, it’s almost always in a combat situation - the trademark sound and the flash of light lets us know that it’s about to get real. But though Force users find them invaluable in a fight, combat is not the only function the Jedi have for their famous weapon. Lightsabers are also an integral part of the Knighting ceremony of the Jedi Order.
During the Knighting ceremony, a Padawan learner who has been selected to become a Jedi Knight has their Padawan braid ritualistically severed by the presiding Jedi Master. The Master then motions the blade of a lightsaber above each of the Padawan’s shoulders (obviously without actually touching them), and says, “By the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, [insert Padawan’s name here], you may rise.” Since lightsabers were considered sacred and unique weapons, it stands to reason they played a part in other Jedi rituals as well.
1 Attempts to Make a Real One Have Failed So Far
It’s safe to say most of us would like to own a lightsaber. For some, the light-up glass-bladed ones sold in stores are enough, but some people take this desire more seriously than others. Scientists have been trying to answer fans’ calls for a real working lightsaber for decades now, but the problems with making a working model are many-fold. For starters, the electrically-generated plasma blades are powered by kyber crystals, a fictional crystal, and no battery-sized power source exists that could provide the required amounts of electricity for such a device. The plasma blade would need about 20 megawatts (enough to power 14,000 households) in order to be strong enough to melt through materials like steel.
For another, assuming the laser blade could be generated, there is no known technology that can make a laser loop back in on itself; if a working lightsaber blade were activated, the blade would continue on indefinitely. Lightsaber blades would also pass through each other instead of clashing like in the movies, eliminating the possibility of epic lightsaber fights. But hey, here's hoping that one day science will find a way to bring the galaxy's most famous weapon to life.