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The lightsaber is a science fiction weapon with a key role in the Star Wars movies and in the novels, games and other forms of media that constitute the Expanded Universe. The lightsaber has a metal hilt that is the base of a blade of energy. Its distinct appearance was created using rotoscoping for the original trilogy, and digitally for the prequel trilogy. The lightsaber first appeared in the original Star Wars film (1977), and in 2008, a survey of approximately two thousand film fans found it to be the most popular film weapon.

The lightsaber hilt is a polished metal grip that can project a blade about one meter long. The blade cuts through most substances without resistance, leaves cauterized wounds in flesh, but is deflected by another lightsaber blade and energy shield/wall. Some vibroswords and shields are also able to deflect them as seen first in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and later on in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, and The Force Unleashed. An active lightsaber gives off a distinctive hum, which rises in pitch and volume as the blade is moved rapidly through the air, and bringing the blade into contact with an object or another lightsaber blade produces a loud crackle. The lightsaber is the signature weapon of the Jedi order and their Sith counterparts, both of whom can use them to deflect blaster bolts. Every Star Wars movie features at least one lightsaber duel.

The name "lightsaber" is often used to describe other similar weapons that appear in science fiction.

Production

Visual effects

Animator Nelson Shin was tasked with drawing the lightsaber to match the film scenes that the film producers brought. Shin explained to the people from Lucasfilm that since the lightsaber is made of light, the sword should look "a little shaky" like a fluorescent tube. He suggested inserting one frame that was much lighter than the others while printing the film on an optical printer, making the light seem to vibrate. Shin also recommended adding a degausser sound on top of the other sounds for the weapon since the sound would be reminiscent of a magnetic field. The whole process took one week, surprising his company, and Lucasfilm demonstrated the film to him, having followed his suggestions, including using an X-Acto knife to give the lightsaber a very sharp look.

Sound

The lightsaber sound effect was developed by sound designer Ben Burtt as a combination of the hum of idling interlock motors in aged movie projectors and interference caused by a television set on an unshielded microphone. Burtt discovered the latter accidentally as he was looking for a buzzing, sparkling sound to add to the projector motor hum.

The pitch changes of lightsaber movement were produced by playing the basic lightsaber tone on a speaker and recording it on a moving microphone, generating Doppler shift to mimic a moving sound source.

Off film, advanced micro controller boards are now used to produce lightsaber sounds. These are commonly referred to as "sound boards". Four major sound boards are in use today, Hyperdyne Labs sound module, the UltraSound produced by Ultra Sabers, the Crystal Focus Core produced by Plecter Labs, and the Force FX board produced by Hasbro. In fact, the accelerometer motion-based saber sound concept was first patented by Jim Shima in 1998 (patent 6,150,947).

Prop construction

For Star Wars, the original film prop hilts were constructed from old camera-flash battery packs and other pieces of hardware. The "switched-on" sword props were designed with the intention of creating an "in-camera" glowing effect. The "blade" was three-sided and coated with a retroreflector array—the same sort used for highway signs. A lamp was positioned to the side of the taking camera and reflected towards the subject through 45-degree angled glass so that the sword would appear to glow from the camera's point-of-view.

Depiction

Lightsabers were present in the earliest drafts as mundane laser weapons that were used alongside laser guns. The introduction of the Force in a later revision made the Jedi and the Sith supernaturally skilled, eventually the only swordsmen. The lightsaber became the Force-user's tool, "...not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age." The more practical reason for their omission is due to the potential high cost of having multiple lightsaber-wielding characters on a film that was bound to be overbudget.

Types

Lightsabers are typically hand-built as part of a Jedi's or Sith's training regimen. Each lightsaber is as unique as the one who built it, though some may bear resemblance to others (such as those sported by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker). Lightsabers can be wielded as either one-handed or two-handed weapons. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace introduced a double-bladed lightsaber—essentially two lightsabers bound together at the pommels—for Darth Maul, and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones introduced a lightsaber with a curved hilt, wielded by Count Dooku.

The series' "Expanded Universe" of novels, comic books and video games adds several lightsaber types, including short, dual-phase (changeable length), those attached to the end of a staff, those connected by a tether to emulate nunchuku, and those bearing a resemblance to a tonfa.

Colours

Lightsaber blade colours in the original Star Wars trilogy were initially designed to be either blue (for the Jedi) or red (for the Sith), as seen in the first two released films; Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker's newly-constructed lightsaber in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was coloured blue during the initial editing of the film, and appears so in both an early movie trailer and the official theatrical posters, but it was ultimately coloured green in order to stand out better against the blue sky of Tatooine. Green would later become another standard blade colour for Jedi lightsabers in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Mace Windu's purple-bladed lightsaber, as seen in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, was a personal request from actor Samuel L. Jackson as a way to make his character stand out more among other Jedi.

The various Expanded Universe sources add a multitude of blade colours. The Kenner figure of Luke Skywalker in his Tatooine costume from Star Wars was released with a yellow-bladed lightsaber. While no yellow-bladed lightsabers appear in the films, they have appeared in several computer games, such as Jedi Knight, Jedi Outcast, and Jedi Academy. The Knights of the Old Republic video games further expand the number of colours, adding cyan, viridian, violet, silver, and orange, and The Force Unleashed video game adds black, gold, and pink in the Nintendo DS version. With the release of The Clone Wars film and series, a build-your-own lightsaber kit was released in toy stores, and included red, blue and green shards that when put into a lightsaber you built, can light up. More than one shard can be inserted, so brown can be used, with red and green.

Multiple sources refer to a focusing crystal in the hilt as the source of the blade's colour, mainly from the video game Star Wars Galaxies.

Choreography

The technical lightsaber choreography for the original Star Wars trilogy was developed by Hollywoodmarker sword-master Bob Anderson. Anderson trained actor Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and, in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, performed all the stunts as Darth Vader during the lightsaber duels wearing Vader's costume. Anderson's role in the trilogy was highlighted in the film Reclaiming The Blade where he shared his experiences as a fencer developing the lightsaber techniques for the three original movies.

The lightsaber duels in the Star Wars prequel trilogy were specifically choreographed by stunt-coordinator Nick Gillard to be miniature "stories". For these films, Gillard was the primary sword instructor for actors Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) among others. His goal in choreographing the action for The Phantom Menace was to create stunts that flow from the story; "You can't just think, 'I'm a stunt coordinator, I'm going to make a big stunt happen'," Gillard says. "It's all about making it tie in nicely with the film so that you don't notice the stunts." Creating narrative through physical expression, Gillard wrote each fight as an individual story that supports the overall structure of the movie. "All the fights have a beginning, a middle and an end," he says. "I worked hard to write them like a story.....No two sword masters have exactly the same style, and the subtleties of distinct identities are woven into the choreography of the lightsaber battles. It was important to me that each character in Episode I have a distinctive fighting style," he says.

In writing the prequel trilogy, Star Wars creator George Lucas said he wanted the lightsaber combat to be "reminiscent of what had been done in the previous films but also something that was more energized. We'd seen old men, young boys, and characters who were half-droid, but we'd never seen a Jedi in his prime. I wanted to do that with a fight that was faster and more dynamic — and we were able to pull that off."

According to Gillard (who would later go on to perform a cameo role in Revenge of the Sith), various lightsaber combat styles were devised for the prequels and intended to further characterize their practitioners.

I developed different styles for the characters, and gave each of them a flaw or a bonus.
So with Obi, for instance, he's got a very business-like style — when he was younger he could border on the flashy and might twirl his lightsaber a bit, because he was taught by Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon was brash, that rubbed off on Obi and Obi then taught Anakin, who was way too old to learn anyway.[...]I think the style really worked well.
The Jedi style of fighting is an amalgamation of all the great swordfighting styles.
Melding them together is the difficult part — to move from a Kendo style to, say, Rapier requires a complete change in body and feet movement, and this must look effortless.
The style moves seamlessly between the different disciplines, but remains technically correct throughout.
It's unlike any other style of fighting and I think it's beautiful to watch.


For The Phantom Menace, Gillard set out certain styles and faults for the saber-wielding characters. He added that the Jedi's use of such "a short-range weapon" meant "they would have to be very good at it"; combining a variety of disciplines from various swordfighting styles to martial arts "with a touch of tennis and tree chopping", he created the style seen in the Episode I lightsaber battles.

In popular culture

  • In 2007, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars, the lightsaber prop used by Mark Hamill in Return of the Jedi was flown aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-120 to the International Space Station and returned to Earth.
  • A mobile phone program called the Phonesaber, which simulated a lightsaber, became very popular on Applemarker's iPhone.
  • In the television series South Park, the episode "Fatbeard" depicts Kevin Stoley using a toy lightsaber in an act of piracy to intimidate the French crew (who believe the lightsaber to be real) into abandoning ship. The French crew, after being rescued by a United Statesmarker ship, exclaim that the pirates have "le Lightsabre terrible!", to which the American official curses: "These pirates are getting better equipped every day!".
  • The game Phantasy Star Online features many different light-saber weapons, in single blade, double-bladed and two-handed forms, their colors include green, blue, purple, red, and gold.
  • The television series The Venture Brothers episode "Tag Sale, You're It" shows Henchman 21 purchasing lightsaber like device from Dr. Venture. The item is for sale because it cost too much for Kenner to mass produce and the Army "...doesn't sword fight anymore." Later in the episode, when 21 attempts to kill Brock Samson with it, the "blade" merely passes through his body without damaging it.
  • In Iain Banks' novella The State of the Art, the Culture ship 'Arbitrary' created a lightsaber for one of the characters during their exploration of Earth.
  • In Bryan Davis' Dragons in Our Midst series, the sword Excalibur is jokingly compared to a lightsaber by the characters in the story.
  • In the latter installments of the Megaman X series, the character Zero is equipped with a melee weapon similar to the lightsaber.
  • In the Gundam anime franchise, many of the giant robots have a lightsaber-like weapon called a "beam saber" in their arsenal for close combat, also in Gundam Wing beam sabers come in many forms including the scythe of one of the main characters.
  • In How I Met Your Mother episode The Fight, Marshall is seen to be cutting a turkey with a lightsaber three to five years later.
  • In MythBusters episode Phone Book Friction, Tory was handed a "lightsaber", which was actually a dynamite, and "cuts" Grant with it.
  • Star Wars Kid. An Internet phenomenon which started when a fourteen-year-old French Canadian high school student filmed himself wielding a golf ball retriever like a lightsaber in a similar fashion to that of Darth Maul.
  • in animal crossing: lets go to the city, players can find a hacked version of a axe as either a red or blue lightsabre through online play.
  • 17 Again. The two main characters have a lightsaber duel when Mike O'Donnell walks in his house as a teenager which scares Ned.


References

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