The first thing you probably think of with the light sabers is the movie, Star Wars. It is, after all, the ultimate weapon used by the Jedi and Sith orders. But the light saber has taken on a life of its own since the film and may have its origins in a very different universe in medieval days.
The Original Sword
One of the earliest accounts of a weapon with mythological powers comes the legend of King Arthur. Though his true existence is subject to debate, he allegedly was a prominent British leader back in the late 5th century AD. He came to power by pulling the sword, known as Excalibur, from an anvil sitting atop a stone.
His ability to accomplish this feat meant that he was the true king of Great Britain based the early legend and later work of the 12th-century poet, Robert de Boron. Excalibur was said to possess magical powers, not unlike the surreal light saber. Some stories also refer to it as the Sword of the Stone, though the latter took on its own meaning in the literature.
The lure of this weapon is the energy and advantage that it gives its owner. It’s a powerful meme that is as old as mankind. It’s no wonder that it should make an appearance in modern day culture. However, the creators of the contemporary reincarnation could scarcely predict how far it would go.
Fast Forward to the 1970s
The saber that we think of today was a mishmash of materials constructed by special effects expert for Star Wars, John Stears. It’s hard to imagine that something so mundane could be so powerful. But even the creation of that light saber had inspiration from earlier and contemporary sources.
Even the King Arthur story with its magical Excalibur appeared as a common theme in fiction through the ages. The legend has made appearances in Irish mythology, French poetry, and British theater. The romance and timelessness of the legend have proved to be a compelling story. The saber provides a modern take on this myth.
The light saber has a similar history in both print and film. It appeared in many science fiction titles including the 1933 story, Kaldar: World of Antare by Edmond Hamilton. It made a later appearance in Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr series as the force-blade. The weapon combined the allure of power with the legend of a formidable warrior.
The concept of this energy sword showed up frequently in sci-fi stories as a powerful weapon in combat. The interesting thing is that it has had a consistent style and shape in both literature and film. The hilt is less than a foot long, but the light emitting from it is a force to reckon with too.
TV, Video, and Film
The weapon has taken on so many forms that it’s almost hard to know what is the real light saber. You could almost call it an archetype because of its universal presence and its symbolism. But it isn’t just a part of a successful movie series. It has moved from literature to other realms too and taken on different forms.
You’ll see it as the Beam Saber in the Gundam series. It appears as the Sunsword in the cartoon series, Thundarr the Barbarian. And, even turns up in video games such as the popular Halo series with its Type-1 Energy Sword. It has even made its way into the HBO series, Game of Thrones. In many ways, it has become the go-to weapon of choice.
The Star Wars Phenomenon
The Star Wars light saber is a special effects wonder. For what seems like a small, insignificant prop, a lot of trial and error went into its production. Perhaps even in these early days, Lucas and his team sensed how important the cultural icon that would later become. It was evident in the construction of the prototype.
The attention to details for creating a custom light saber included everything from its appearance on film to its signature sound. A magical sword, after all, needs an aura about it. The intent was to create an elegant weapon that went beyond the seemingly mundane ray guns of yore. The saber was going to become the ultimate choice.
In keeping with its lore of being hand-built devices, there were custom light sabers in the Star War films. And they evolved with the movies. The light saber colors changed with each part of the epic. It has been blue, green, or red, depending on the characters and installment. The merchandise of the film has seen similar changes, adding yellow to the mix.
The saber is one small part of a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. The Star War franchise has produced 138 video games and 358 published books. Over 12 billion action figures have been sold. The total revenue has topped $30 billion. The light saber and its own unique mythology were key factors in its success.
Light Saber Toys
It’s safe to say that the prop has reached far beyond George Lucas’s original idea. The customization of sabers has created a full line of swords depicting the different colors and styles of weapons. Many carry the name of the particular movie title so that you can buy an authentic toy for your favorite film.
It has even morphed into other products such as night lights and toothbrushes. And as you probably can expect, it’s a popular accessory for Halloween costumes. The revenue from Star Wars merchandise alone is an estimated $975 billion. Darth Vader and Stormtroopers remain some of the most favorite costumes.
For a small idea, the light saber is a cultural phenomenon. It has fueled dreams and legends that go back to medieval times. Its modern reincarnation has provided the foundation for a successful franchise and universal meme for power and strength. Who could have guessed that some old battery packs and a lamp could make its way into film history?