Probably no prop used in any of the eight Star Wars movies (soon the be nine) is more famous than the lightsaber. The iconic rod of light that can sever body parts and deflect laser blaster shots with ease is as recognizable by its sound as it is by its sight. Although many use it, the lightsaber is identified with Jedis, the guardians of everything right and honorable in the galaxy.
How do Jedis get their lightsabers? Jedis get their lightsabers by making them. This is an important rite of passage for Jedi younglings, who learn to build a lightsaber as proof they are ready to advance to the next level in their Jedi training.
The Jedi were not the only group to build and use lightsabers. The evil Sith lords used lightsabers and were as skilled in their use as were the Jedi.
How Do Jedis Build Their Lightsabers?
It’s not an easy build. The young Padawan (learner) must have at least a rudimentary grasp of the Force in order to align the delicate components and connect the various complex circuits. They were assisted in this endeavor by a 1000-year-old droid named Huyang, who taught generations of Jedi trainees how to build a lightsaber. He even taught Yoda, who was over 900 years old when we first met him in Empire Strikes Back.
Every lightsaber is unique, reflecting the artistic capabilities and the preferences of the Jedi knight. Design can be ornate with scallops and upswept ridges or simple and straightforward. While an activated lightsaber can extend up to four feet in length, the only part that is permanently on display is the hilt. There are one-handed hilts and two-handed hilts, and each one poses different design challenges.
The Gathering – First Lessons Learned.
The actual step-by-step process of building a lightsaber begins when Jedi trainees – called younglings – make a ritualistic pilgrimage of sorts to the planet Ilum. This ritual dates back over 1000 years and is called The Gathering. The younglings are accompanied by a Jedi knight on the starship Crucible to the planet at a time when the planet’s solar cycle is at a particular point.
Their first task upon arrival is more housekeeping than hero-creating (but it teaches humility – an important state of mind for a Jedi of any age). The younglings are charged with the task of clearing the debris that piles up before the entrance to the Jedi Temple. Inside the temple, a Jedi knight would provide a lecture on kyber crystals, the essential building block of an operational lightsaber.
At dawn the next morning, the younglings experience an amazing display – the rising sun, shining through a giant kyber crystal on the vaulted ceiling of the Jedi temple, melts a frozen waterfall blocking the gate to the crystal cave. After the waterfall melts, the younglings are free to move into the cave. But their time in the cave is limited. The waterfall refreezes after only a short span of time.
With a rapidly closing window of opportunity, the younglings have a sense of urgency as they journey through a maze of tunnels and passageways. Not only that, a surge in The Force exposes the younglings’ insecurities and fears, with the hoped-for result of teaching them courage and perseverance.
The Gathering – Crystal Revelations
If the younglings successfully conquer their fears and insecurities, they are rewarded with a musical fanfare and the appearance of a crystal intended for their use alone.
It would be at this point in the ritual that younglings who were not predisposed toward becoming a Jedi would be faced with the often heartbreaking truth – they weren’t suitable for the honorable order of Jedi. No crystal would appear to them.
Kyber Crystals – The Force is With Them
A kyber crystal is not your ordinary crystal. It has the power of The Force within it. The Jedi were very diligent in keeping the extraordinary capabilities of the kyber crystals secret, and few outside of their order fully understood what they were dealing with.
Kyber crystals focus energy to ramp up its intensity, and they’re practically living organisms, responsive to The Force. They are considered “force attuned” and can communicate with one another and force-sensitive persons. Kyber crystals respond only to living organisms and not inanimate objects and respond only to the light side of The Force in their natural state. They can be warped into compliance with the dark side only by those who are extremely force-sensitive themselves and cunning in manipulation, such as the Sith.
Insert Tab A Into Slot B
After the younglings receive their crystals, they move on to the next step that of actually constructing their lightsaber, by an engineer droid, affectionately known as Professor Huyang, a venerable old trainer estimated to be over 1000 years old.
While the younglings are given great latitude in the style and cosmetic features of their individualized lightsaber, there are some absolutes in their construction. Failure to follow the proper procedure for assembly could result in a malfunctioning lightsaber.
The crystal provided to each youngling who was successful in their mission within the cave is then set in place with all the other components. It’s not a simple procedure of threading a few screws into matching pilot holes, but involves, again, The Force. The crystal is first activated, or brought to “life” and then fitted into the other parts within the hilt via telekinesis.
If everything was done properly, the lightsaber was then dubbed complete. The younglings would also have the knowledge to build another lightsaber if theirs was ever damaged or destroyed.
What Do the Jedi Lightsaber Colors Mean?
When lightsabers first came into use, around 4000 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), the color of a Jedi’s lightsaber indicated his or her chosen class, and how he or she interacted with The Force. Over time, however, the significance of the colors became less distinct.
Early on, the colors meant:
- Blue – Jedi Guardian. This was someone who used The Force on a more physical level.
- Green – Jedi Consular. Jedis of this distinction were more attuned to the mysterious wanderings of the force and fought the dark side at its heart.
- Yellow – Jedi Sentinel. This Jedi learned to balance physical skills with intellect.
Centuries later, however, the colors had become more of a personal choice than a reflection of a Jedi’s skillset or methodology. Different colors emerged as well, including orange, red, purple and various shades of all the colors, as well as gradients from one color to another.
During the Galactic Civil War (0BBY-5ABY), the Empire forbade the possession of all Ilum-based lightsaber crystals, leaving Jedis of the New Order to find alternate sources of crystals, resulting in a rainbow of colors, none of which having any significance anymore.
Crystals of the Dark Side
Sith Lords, who were as skilled in lightsaber combat as the Jedi, had greater challenges with crystals, particularly those from the planet Ilum, which were attuned to the light side of The Force.
To use crystals in connection with the dark side, a Sith Lord had two options: one, struggle with the inherent light side Force, manipulating it to surrender its will to their own, or, two, create synthetic crystals.
Synthetic crystals were more readily usable for dark side purposes and took on the negative energy of their creator. They were generally red in color.
The Jedi developed a skill that allowed them to redeem crystals that had been turned to dark side purposes, resulting in a lightsaber that displayed a bright yellow coloration.
Ilum, Home to the Best Crystals This Side of the Unknown Regions
While crystals could be found on virtually any planet in the galaxy, kyber crystals, the most pure and the most force-attuned crystals, existed on the snow-covered planet of Ilum, located in the 7G sector of the mysterious Unknown Regions.
True kybers were found only in veins of kyberite. If the crystal contained impurities, it was considered a false kyber, lacking in both structural integrity and connection with The Force. Some crystals, like ranite, mimicked kyber crystals, and while they had some value, they were inadequate for use in lightsabers.
Kyber crystals were found in the Crystal Caves of Ilum, and through their inherent connection to the light side of The Force, became an ally of the Jedi for thousands of years. They even produced music, audible only to force-sensitive individuals. The Jedi kept their source of kyber crystals a secret for as long as they could, but the Empire eventually poached the Jedi crystal reserves on Ilum.
By 18BBY, the Empire had stripped Ilum of much of its kyber crystals for use in the Death Star. Huge chunks of the planet were carved away, and lava bubbled up unhindered from the planet’s core.
Giant Kyber Crystals Capable of Serious Damage
While the vast majority of kyber crystals were of the small “nugget” size, some frightfully large crystals were discovered, and some led to the creation of weapons of unspeakable power.
- The first to use giant kybers for super weapons were the Sith, who incorporated a large crystal into a weapon hidden within a Sith Temple on the planet Malachor.
- During the Clone Wars, a giant crystal was discovered on the planet Utapau. The Confederacy of Independent Systems attempted to acquire the crystal, but the plot was uncovered by Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. That provided temporary relief for nervous light-siders, but the likelihood that the Empire would find another one was very strong.
- Another large crystal was found five years before the pivotal Battle of Yavin. Rebel scouts destroyed it rather than let it fall into the Empire’s hands.
- Four years later, an Imperial cargo freighter carrying a large crystal was intercepted by a Rebel strike team. The crystal was destabilized, later resulting in its explosion that destroyed two Imperial spacecraft.
Top 10 Lightsaber Duels in Star Wars
The lightsaber duel is to Star Wars movies what the showdown at noon is to westerns. Carefully choreographed for excitement and peril, the lightsaber duel has become synonymous with the Star Wars genre.
These are – arguably – the top 10 lightsaber duels in the Star Wars franchise:
No. 10 – Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi in a New Hope
After battling the fearsome Darth Vader blow for blow and at times seeming to have taken command of the action in the hangars of the Death Star, Obi-Wan suddenly stops fighting, raises his lightsaber, and allows Vader to strike a fatal blow. His sacrifice allows his traveling companions – Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca to escape in the Millenium Falcon.
As it turned out, at least in regards to the storyline as Star Wars fans knew it at the time, Obi Wan’s sacrifice didn’t have to be. By Darth Vader’s orders, the security forces on the Death Star were supposed to let the Falcon blast off and escape against only token resistance. The hope was that the Falcon would unintentionally lead them to the location of the Rebel base.
No. 9 – Rey and Finn vs. Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens
Finn, the Imperial stormtrooper defector, took on Kylo Ren (Ben Solo – son of Han Solo and Leia) and didn’t fare very well. But then Rey, the feisty former vagabond who desires to become a Jedi, steps in and Kylo is in for the fight of his life. He ends up with a messed-up face and a really bad attitude.
No. 8 – Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda vs Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones
Anakin Skywalker, the rising young all-star in the Jedi realm, and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, are both bested by Count Dooku, with Anakin losing his right arm in the process. To the rescue comes the diminutive Yoda, whose high-flying float like a butterfly, sting like a bee moves keeps Dooku on the defensive. Dooku escapes, and Anakin and Obi survive Dooku’s attempt to crush them with a collapsing metal column.
No. 7 – Mace Windu v Sheev Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith
Jedi Mace Windu, recently informed of Chancellor Palpatine’s evil intents, engages with the soon-to-be evil Emperor Palpatine in a monumental struggle. He would have won, too, with his purple lightsaber, but soon-to-be Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, helps his soon-to-be master kill Windu.
No. 6 – Kylo Ren and Rey vs. Praetorian Guards in the Last Jedi
Kylo Ren assassinated his own boss, Supreme Leader Snoke, and he needs some help dispatching Snoke’s brutally efficient guards. Rey, on the light side of the force, and Kylo Ren, on the dark side, nonetheless team up against the guards and save one another’s hides. They don’t thank one another.
No. 5 – Yoda vs Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith
Yoda realizes that nearly all Jedi in the galaxy have been wiped out, per Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66, and he fights with reckless abandon, right on to the floor of the Senate. Yoda gains the upper hand but is zapped by a field of lightning from Palpatine’s fingertips. It’s the last the galaxy sees of Yoda for a long time.
No. 4 – Qui Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi v Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace
This is some fans’ favorite fight scene. Darth Maul, representing a return of the Sith after a 1000-year exile, takes on Obi-Wan and Qui Gon Jinn in a one-against-two lightsaber duel. If that seems unfair, remember that Darth Maul is a bad guy and that his lightsaber is double-bladed. He fittingly ends up in two pieces in the end.
No. 3 – Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back
As if wailing away at each other with lightsabers wasn’t perilous enough, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are skipping along some air shafts, and support beams high above Cloud City. Two key moments in this iconic scene are: one, Vader tells Luke he is his father, and two, Vader cuts off Luke’s hand.
Luke lives to fight another day, tumbling into the abyss below without pancaking on a platform.
No. 2 – Anakin Skywalker vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith
At this point, Anakin has pretty much converted to the dark side of The Force. Obi-Wan tried to reason with his former pupil but to no avail. They battle it out on a river of lava on the volcanic planet Mustafa, and Obi-Wan gains the upper hand.
He begs Anakin to surrender, but Anakin, having lost both legs and his left arm to Obi Wan’s lightsaber, refuses. He is left for dead on the ground, inches away from the lava, but is rescued by his new master, Emperor Palpatine, who recreates him as the fearsome cyborg Darth Vader.
No. 1 – Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi
In the most pivotal moment of the entire Star Wars series, Luke and Vader fight and plead with each other at the same time, each trying to gain an advantage, not to defeat the other but to gain leverage in arguing their point of view. Luke pleads for his father to join him on the light side of The Force, and Darth Vader pleads with Luke to join him on the dark side.
The action ramps up when Vader mentions Luke’s sister, Leia, expressing a desire to recruit her to the dark side. Luke, fighting with the anger he tried so valiantly to suppress, severs Vader’s hand and knocks him to the floor. Just when he might have otherwise ended Darth Vader for good, he relents, turning off his lightsaber and tossing it away.
After rejecting the Emperor’s attempts to turn him to the dark side, Luke is attacked by the Emperor, who nearly kills him with Force lightning. At the last moment, Vader intervenes, killing the emperor, and eventually, himself in a firestorm of electrical surges.