Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (Obi-Wan Explains): 00:03
Star Wars: Episode V – Empire Strikes Back (Luke vs Vader): 01:32
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Jedi Unstoppable): 02:58
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Anakin and Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul): 04:09
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (Mace Windu vs Palpatine): 05:04
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (Obi-Wan vs General Grievous): 07:52
Star Wars: Rogue One (Darth Vader vs. Everyone): 09:39

 

The ‘lightsaber’ is among the most iconic gadgets/tech in science fiction history, of all time. Ever since they first appeared in 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope, these hi-tech blades – which paradoxically manage to harken back to a more romantic era – have captivated audience imaginations.

The movie magic responsible for the lightsaber has evolved considerably since it first debuted on screen in 1977. Where once the distinctive colored glow of the laser sword was realized with painstaking manually rotoscoped animation, this process is now achieved relatively simply via digital effects.

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”

― Obi-Wan Kenobi

The lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi, an elegant weapon of a more civilized age. It is also the evil tool of the dark side. Although also used by the Sith, the lightsaber was synonymous with the Jedi, with some in the galaxy believing only Jedi could use lightsabers. At the heart of every Jedi lightsaber is a so-called ‘kyber crystal’. The force-attuned crystals once grew in nature and were found on scattered planets across the galaxy.

“The strongest stars have hearts of kyber.”

―Chirrut Îmwe

“The heart of the lightsaber, the crystal is.”

―Yoda

The crystals are attuned to the Force and connected to a Jedi Knight on a deeply personal level. A lightsaber crystal is colorless until first attuned and connected to a Jedi – at which time it glows blue or green or, in some rare instances, another shade. And from that point on, it retains that color.

Lightsabers were generally used for both offense and defense. A lightsaber could cut through virtually anything, from enemies to blast doors (as seen above in ‘Episode I – The Phantom Menace’). It is capable of deflecting force lightning (as seen above in ‘Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’). The only ways to block the incoming attack of a lightsaber was with a weapon made with material that conducted energy, such as an ‘electrostaff’, ‘Z6 riot control baton’, some rare metals or simply another lightsaber.

Lightsaber combat is the preferred fighting method used by lightsaber wielders, with both the Jedi and Sith honing their skills for centuries developing different styles of combat. Lightsaber dueling is actually a sport in real life too.

The choreography used in the thrilling lightsaber duels have become a signature element of the Star Wars series. Even if the dueling has grown more refined over time, certainly when comparing the old trilogy with the prequel trilogy. The overall look and sound of the lightsabers have changed very little over the years, however, which is probably a testament to the enduring appeal of Star Wars creator George Lucas’ initial concept.

Besides the standard lightsaber, there have been numerous variations in the canon and non-canon Star Wars universe; For example the double-bladed lightsaber (as seen above in ‘Episode I – The Phantom Menace’), the double-bladed spinning lightsaber, the dual-phase lightsaber, the crossguard lightsaber, the curved-hilt lightsaber, the lightsaber pistol, the lightsaber rifle etc.

Fiction to Fact?

According to the Star Wars Wiki (and books), lightsabers are somewhat complex devices but their design essentially boils down to a few key elements: a power source and emitter to create light, a crystal to focus the light into a blade, a blade containment field, and a negatively charged fissure. A lightsaber simply creates energy, focuses it, and contains it.

The lightsaber beam of energy goes through the crystals then arcs back on itself and returns to the negatively charged fissure in the hilt and its length depends on the power source and simply how long the Jedi or Sith has adjusted it to.

You might think laser would be the obvious choice of energy, but photons cannot really be contained and the laser beam does not bend, it will simply go on until it makes contact with something and then comes to an end.

Plasma is a much more realistic alternative, it is the fourth state of matter in addition to solid, liquid, and gas. In theory, this super-heated gas could be contained through ultra-strong magnetic fields. However, a fundamental plasma physics process called ‘magnetic reconnection’ would be unavoidable when two blades got close enough to clash. Since the entire pattern of the magnetic field lines would change immediately, explosively releasing all the hot plasma contained in both lightsabers. Highly recommend Kyl Hill’s – famous from the Nerdist ‘Because Science’ – deep dive into the science of Star Wars lightsabers.

A recent research paper by MIT and Harvard University have shown that photons can be made to “interact” with each other. The scientists found that the photons bound together at a fraction of the electron’s mass which meant they became more sluggish – traveling at around 100,000 times slower than a normal photon. The light also remained bound together even after leaving the cloud and had a “memory” when they got out. This means the photons that have interacted with each other can be thought of as strongly entangled – a key property for any quantum computing bit.

“What’s neat about this is, when photons go through the medium, anything that happens in the medium, they ‘remember’ when they get out,”

Vuletic and Harvard professor Mikhail Lukin are lead authors of a paper explaining their findings published in the journal Science. The team is now looking for ways to make other interactions with photons, such as repulsion.

“Can they be such that they form a regular pattern, like a crystal of light? Or will something else happen? It’s very uncharted territory.”

“Maybe a characteristic of a lightsaber is that you have these two light beams and they don’t go through each other as you might expect they just kind of bounce off each other,”

– Co-author Professor Vladan Vuletic.