Lightsaber Facts

The classic hum of lightsabers being activated tends to mesmerize or terrify the citizens of the galaxy. The Jedi are a symbol of peace and to those supporting them it signifies hope, unless of course, you are a criminal. To the Sith, it’s merely a tool and symbol of power.

obi-wan-vs-darth-maul

This weapon is your life!

Obi-Wan to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith
obi-wan-returns-anakins-lightsaber

Construction

The reason only a Jedi (or Sith) can build a lightsaber is because the initial energizing of the power pack requires the Force. The alignment of components must be precise for it to function properly. Failure can be disastrous for the user. Anyone after that can usually use it for basic cutting, unless it has special modifications. But only someone trained as a Jedi (or Sith) can use the lightsaber to it’s true potential. The building of one was considered a right of passage for a Jedi.

I see you have constructed a new lightsaber. Your training is complete.

Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi

The required parts include:

  • a focusing crystal
  • focusing lens
  • power pack
  • handle
  • dimetris circuit – unless you NEVER plan to use it under or near water (This is a circuit including a pair of rotating crystals that prevents the lightsaber from shorting out.)

Most of the parts are easy to get. Just find your local junk dealer or even a trash pile and you are probably set. You can make fancier handles and use fancier parts. But the basic items like a handle and power pack, even the lens, are used on many items.

The Lightsaber Crystal

This is the most challenging item on the requirements list. A lightsaber may have several crystals in the dimetris circuit or to adjust length. But the focus crystal is the most basic requirement. It has to be intact and shaped properly. Any cracks or chips could lead to a dangerous malfunction.

Barriss Offee holds a lightsaber crystal before Luminara
An Ilum Crystal, held by Barriss Offee as
she is guided by Master Luminara to build a new weapon.

The Jedi’s main source of lightsaber crystals was Ilum. The crystals here were usually blue or green, which is why these lightsaber colors are the most common. There are other lightsaber crystal caches in the galaxy however. Kaiburr crystals, such as the one Luke Skywalker discovered on Mimban in the Circoupous system, make excellent crystals but are very rare, during ancient times, adegan crystals were considered the best. In a pinch, even synthetic homegrown crystals can be used. The Sith preferred these in fact, believing them to be stronger. And there are records of the red synthetic crystal Sith lightsabers breaking or nearly breaking a Jedi’s blade.

Jedi went to the Ilum temple to build their lightsaber to test themselves. They said their specific crystals called to them. As they constructed the lightsaber out of the parts they had brought, they would see visions challenging them.

The Crystal is the Heart of the Blade. The Heart is the Crystal of the Jedi. The Jedi is the Crystal of the Force. The Force is the Blade of the Heart. All are intertwined. The Crystal, the Blade, the Jedi, you are one.

~Luminara Unduli
Chapter 15, Clone Wars shorts

Lightsaber Variations

Straight up lightsabers are simply frozen beams of plasma energy that is strong enough to cut through anything and block blaster shots. But Jedi lightsaber were very personalized. An expert could identify the owner just by looking at the hilt. Training sabers are the most basic practice version of a lightsaber. They are powerful enough only to give a bit of a burn, as opposed to cutting through the opponent. These were used as training for the younglings. One variation of the full lightsaber was to have lower settings that allowed them to be set on a training level for practice between a master and padawan in the field.

Some Jedi actually went farther and had two lightsabers, either two size or one a ‘shoto’ (short saber). The latter was useful against light whips and similar weapons. Finally, some use the saber staff, which has a hilt in the center and a blade at either end. This was considered a more aggressive weapon. The customization was largely in the hilt and was to enhance its use or decorate it. There was little you could do with the blade itself to alter it and still have it safely function. Unstable blades or forked ones were as dangerous to the handler as to their opponent.

Limitations

A lightsaber will cut through nearly anything. It’s a weapon that requires a lot of training to use, or it’ll cut through it’s user just as easily. If you want to cut through a wall or a dead tauntaun, those are things just about anything can use it for in a pinch. But for fighting with it, you need a Jedi. It’s only part dueling with a blade as you might with a metal sword. It’s also a matter of deflecting higher powered blaster bolts and long distance weapons, and for that you need the Force to give that extra response time.

There are things that can resist lightsabers. Phrik and cortosis ore were used heavily in the various galactic wars as both were known to do so. Phrik alloys it simply failed to cut. But cortosis would momentarily short out the weapon as well. Cortosis actually was otherwise a very weak ore and not useful for much else. But even so both substances grew rare in the galaxy since both sides, Jedi and Sith allies alike, would rely heavily on it.

One other little known limitation was that water could short out a lightsaber. This meant they were of little use on water worlds, or in areas with large bodies of water. This is something an opponent could take advantage of.

History

The first sighting of a weapon similar to a lightsaber is the Rakata Force saber. This blade relied on the dark side to be activated. The ancient Je’daii were forced to utilize this technology when the Tython system was invaded. It left it’s mark afterward, since sometime after Force wars raged between the Jedaii who believed the dark side was not to be used. Until this time, the Jedaii had used blades designed by their weapons designers that may or might not have had the Force used to refine them.

By the time the ancient Sith would return to plague the Republic, the Jedi used lightsabers attached to power packs on the belt. Due to the cords required this obviously limited their reach and made the weapons vulnerable. At that time the Sith mostly used metal blades, but they were refined with Sith force alchemy. The war in all likelihood forced both sides to innovate, pushing the Sith to adapt a lightsaber and the Jedi to seek ways to further improve the technology as well.

Finally by the time of the Sith War, the Jedi had the familiar lightsabers that had a power pack in the hilt. Some were seen to wield dual blades. It was the former Jedi turned Sith, Exar Kun, who first showed up with a saber staff. Interestingly, he once dueled with his Master Vodo (while still a Jedi) who was armed only with a wooden stick. While Vodo lost, the fact he held his own at all suggested impressive ability with the Force to enhance his own meager weapon.

The next big step in these weapons development came sometime before the Clone Wars. At this time, most Jedi had lightsabers that shorted underwater. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn had various adventures where they had to use other cutting tools underwater. It was Kit Fisto who invented the circuit (or at least made it popular) that allowed the lightsaber to work even when underwater.

Famous Blades

Usually a Jedi constructs their own weapon as part of their rite of passage. But there were exceptions. Luke Skywalker’s first was handed down by Obi-Wan and was built by his Father. It had a heroic history through the Clone Wars until the end, when it turned tragic. When he recovered this after losing it at Bespin, he passed it to Mara Jade. Vima Da Boda had an ancient one she handed on to Leia, either her own or an ancestors. Master Thon handed his to his greatest student, Nomi Sunrider. Asharad Hett had his Father’s weapon as well as his own. Corran Horn’s first lightsaber belonged to his grandfather, Nejaa, who used it in the Clone Wars.

Continuity

anakin-turned-vader-vs-obiwan
Anakin turned Vader battles Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith.

All lightsaber lore goes back to the six movies. But it is a symbiotic relationship when it comes to the prequels. The lore of the original trilogy shows only the basic function of how a Jedi uses the weapon. We didn’t even see Luke build his replacement (although that is in cut scenes and was detailed in the Shadows of the Empire multimedia project.)

Most of the vast variations in the lightsaber we see in the various media are a direct result of era. They are set long before the movies, therefore, they had room to evolve. With that evolution came new lightsaber styles. In turn, we see things like Exar Kun’s lightsaber staff was inspiration for Darth Maul’s.

We never saw lightsabers work submerged in water in the movies. The first mention is in the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, where Luke uses his Father’s underwater successfully. It was mentioned however in the Phantom Menace novelization that Obi-Wan’s weapon had shorted out in the Naboo swamp (a cut scene probably). This no doubt is why the Jedi Apprentice books say the same. So the closest we come is Kit Fisto in the Clone Wars Microseries.

Training lightsabers were not seen until the prequels either. This explains in the real world why Luke’s Jedi Academy student’s were using solid weapons for practice. In their galaxy it still makes sense, since they are still rebuilding and lightsaber crystals are still comparatively rare. They’d have to take time to build the training sabers and probably create the crystals too.

Contradictions

The only contradiction we see in lightsaber lore is in the novel ‘Riptide’. This has Jaden ‘cleanse’ a crystal from a dark side taint so it changes from red to clear to yellow. This may be an interesting idea, but it fails to take into account the movies it is based on. In Revenge of the Sith we clearly see that Anakin’s lightsaber remained blue until Obi-Wan took it from him even after he turned to the dark side. So if lightsaber crystals changed colors based on user action, we would’ve seen it turn red here.

Sources

  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Jedi Apprentice Series
  • The Phantom Menace novelization
  • Dawn of the Jedi comics
  • Tales of the Jedi especially:
    • Golden Age of the Sith
    • Fall of the Sith Empire
    • Dark Lords of the Sith
    • The Sith War
  • Knights of the Old Republic (comics, Phrik)
  • Knights of the Old Republic (game)
  • Jedi Quest (YA novel)
  • I, Jedi, Vision of the Future – Cortosis
  • Young Jedi Knights: Lightsabers
  • Jedi VS Sith: An Essential Guide to the Force
  • Riptide