Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Do We Love Lightsabers?

In my last post I started to talk about Disney buying Star Wars, but I ended up talking about my fascination with lightsabers. I'm sure I'm not the first fanboy that's happened to. But I think I was onto something. What is it about lightsabers that makes everyone go gaga over them? Fans have made countless YouTube videos of the various movie light saber fights, bought or made light saber replicas of their own, and filmed themselves fighting with them against their friends in the backyard.

In the original trilogy, a lightsaber was truly something special. There were only four different sabers in the entire trilogy and only three people who could use them. A majority of the action centered around the use of blasters and space fighter ships, with lightsabers only making an appearance in special encounters. Luke used a blaster most of the time, even after his Jedi training on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn't until he had mastered his abilities by The Return of the Jedi that he depended on it exclusively.

That was a gross error of the prequels. Everyone had a lightsaber. Even the kids! Although I wager those were non-lethal training sabers, assuming there is such a thing. But lightsabers were so prevalent that they lost their impact as the weapon of a highly skilled warrior. Did you notice how Gandalf rarely used magic in The Lord of the Rings? He hardly seemed like a wizard until that bit with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring, but man when he cut loose it was awe-inspiring. That's why when dozens of Jedi were running across the screen with lightsabers in Attack of the Clones it didn't feel as awesome as it should have. In fact, it felt depressing to see so many "highly skilled warriors" go down while wielding everyone's favorite glowing sword. How special could those Jedi have been if they went down so easy?

Lightsabers go beyond Star Wars as to why they are so loved. Throughout all manner of story and legend, special swords are a recurring theme. Most notable is the Sword in the Stone from Arthurian legend. A special blade with great power destined to be wielded by a single owner. The same sort of feeling came when Obi-Wan Kenobi gave Anakin's lightsaber to Luke. It was a sacred family heirloom. A continuation of a legacy. Something that was unique and important because it was destined to be passed down to Luke when he came of age. And only Luke could wield it because of his predisposition to the Force. It's not the exact same story as King Arthur, but it has the same basic principles.

The list of important swords goes on: Link's Master Sword, Lion-O's Sword of Omens, Aragorn's Narsil reforged into Anduril, Harry Potter's Sword of Gryffindor. But where the lightsaber trumps other blades is how it looks, operates, and cuts. A glowing blade looks cool enough as it is, but imagery of a sword of light can be found dating all the way back to ancient times. Old paintings show angels wielding fiery blades to banish sinners. The lightsaber has religious undertones resonating off of it without even trying.

It's sleek and compact silver handle is easy to store and even hide up your sleeve, like we saw Emperor Palpatine do in Revenge of the Sith. And who do you know who hasn't made that "tssch" sound of a lightsaber igniting and the "bzzz" of its laser hum? It's practically alive with sci-fi magic. The lightsaber can cut through anything but another lightsaber, enforcing that its wielder can overcome any obstacle. One who uses a lightsaber can also deflect the laser bolts of lesser men's puny guns. It's a weapon of supreme power in both symbolism and practicality. You can imagine why so many fans, myself included, lost their shit when Darth Maul whipped out a double-bladed lightsaber. All that stuff I just talked about TIMES TWO!

If Episode VII is going to be a success, it's vital that they tone down the lightsabers. Make the movies about something else than different scenarios that call for the characters to whip them out. This problem might solve itself simply based on the fact that Luke is a lone Jedi in the universe. It's hard to say how much time will have passed in between films VI and VII, but even if in that time he set out to rebuild the Jedi Order, there couldn't be more than a handful of Jedi. And all for the better.

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