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Lightsaber

The lightsaber is a fictional weapon that plays a key role in the movies, games and novels that constitute the Star Wars universe. Lightsabers are science fiction versions of their namesake, the saber. Instead of a metal blade, the lightsaber holds a retractable, brightly colored energy blade about one meter in length. Though they often behave like regular swords, they are also depicted as able to cut through most matter with little or no resistance and to deflect projectiles and other weapons in the Star Wars universe. The lightsaber first appeared in the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). Rotoscoping was used to create the lightsaber's distinct appearance in the original trilogy. For the prequel trilogy, the effect was created using computer graphics.

Within the world of Star Wars, the lightsaber "blade" consists of a very tight loop of highly focused energy, or a loop of plasma contained in a strong magnetic or other field. When deactivated, a lightsaber appears as a polished metallic handle, about a foot long. Lightsabers emit a distinctive hum when active, which rises in pitch and volume as the blade is moved rapidly through the air. A loud crackling noise is heard when the blade comes into contact with an object or another lightsaber blade. According to a 2008 survey of approximately two thousand film fans conducted by 20th Century Fox, the lightsaber is the most popular film weapon.

Production

Concept and creation

Nelson Shin, renowned South Korean animator, was approached by his manager to work on the visual effects for a live action movie. He was tasked with drawing the lightsaber to match the film scenes that the film producers brought. Shin explained to the people from Lucas Film that since the lightsaber is made of light, the sword should look "a little shaky" like a fluorescent tube. He also suggested that when printing the film on an optical printer, one frame should be inserted that was much lighter than the others, making the light seem to vibrate. Shin also recommended adding a degausser sound on top of the other sounds for the weapon since the sound would be reminiscent of a magnetic field. The whole process took one week, surprising his company, and Lucas Films demonstrated the film to him, having followed his suggestions, including using an X-Acto knife to give the lightsaber a very sharp look.

Visual effect

When the prequel trilogy began filming, George Lucas said that all Jedi would have blue, green, or similarly-colored lightsaber blades, not only to differentiate themselves from the Sith, but also to give them their own visual identity. Whenever there were flashes of blaster fire or explosions around, the color of a Jedi's lightsaber would shine through.

There is a visual inconsistency throughout the Star Wars saga in regard to the light the sabers themselves cast. Light is typically cast across the face of a digital character, such as Yoda in Episodes II and III. When a saber passes by a human figure, there is very little glow cast across the figure or face. An exception is that during the Dooku/Skywalker fight in Attack of the Clones, the actors shot close-ups while holding, essentially, neon tubes colored appropriately for their blades. This was not done to contradict anything previously stated but purely dramatic effect.

Arguably one of the most sought-after props in film history, various toy replicas have been released, ranging from essentially a flashlight with a plastic tube attached, to accurate copies of the original film props, complete with motion-sensitive sound effects and colored blade. Toy lightsabers are consistently the best-selling of all Star Wars related merchandise.

Sound

The characteristic sound, that was added later by the sound effects team, is a combination of a film projector's idling motor and interference caused by a television on an unshielded audio cable. The latter sound was discovered accidentally when sound designer Ben Burtt was moving house, knocking his microphone behind his television and creating the sound.

Prop construction

For A New Hope, the original film prop hilts were constructed from old camera-flash battery packs and other pieces of hardware. The 'switched-on' sword props were designed with the intention of creating an 'in-camera' glowing effect. The 'blade' was three-sided and coated with a retroreflector array—the same sort used for highway signs. A lamp was positioned to the side of the taking camera and reflected towards the subject through 45-degree angled glass so that the sword would appear to glow from the camera's point-of-view. A motor in the hilt caused the blade to spin so that a reflective surface was always presented directly to the camera. This also created the familiar 'flickering' effect. Ultimately, this process yielded unsatisfactory results and animation was employed to enhance the brightness of the sabers. At this point, the artistic decision was made to assign different colors to the blades. For The Empire Strikes Back, the lightsaber-blade props were simple white rods, and the glow effect was achieved entirely through a special kind of animation called rotoscoping, in which animation is drawn over live footage to maintain precision. In Empire of Dreams on the 2004 DVD release, Mark Hamill originally thought that the sabers would simply be post-production "cartoon" blades, but a real rod was necessary to have something to hit against in knowing where to stop a swinging sword and to let the animators know where to "draw" in the special effect. Strangely enough, the lightsabers remained un-rotoscoped for the Special Edition's theatrical release, but were finally fixed when the Special Edition was released on DVD. For Return of the Jedi, the lightsaber hilts were machined from aluminium. In place of the glowing blade, carbon rods were used as blade reference during fight scenes. In Return of the Jedi, the prop blades' shadows can be seen during the fight sequence between Luke and Vader.

For the prequel films The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, the lightsaber props were upgraded to resin "stunt" hilts and aluminum tubes. Early on, the intense activity of recording these scenes revealed powdery flakes of debris against the green/bluescreen backdrops, a dust produced when the stunt blades slammed together. This was corrected by simply wrapping the stunt blades in color-coded construction paper. For the final film of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith, the aluminium was replaced by a carbon-fiber blend specifically manufactured for the production. These props had to be reinforced because during the early stages of these props' use, they would often snap from the impact when the actors used them to film combat sequences. The filming of one lightsaber sequence, such as the final Obi-Wan/Anakin duel on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, could take several months because each actor had to memorize a complex sequence of more than one thousand moves and execute them perfectly.

Combat choreography

According to Nick Gillard, the various styles were devised for the prequels and intended to further characterize their practitioners.

"I developed different styles for the characters, and gave each of them a flaw or a bonus. So with Obi, for instance, he's got a very business-like style--when he was younger he could border on the flashy and might twirl his lightsaber a bit, because he was taught by Qui-Gonn. Qui-Gonn was brash, that rubbed off on Obi and Obi then taught Anakin, who was way too old to learn anyway." "I think the style really worked well. The Jedi style of fighting is an amalgamation of all the great swordfighting styles. Melding them together is the difficult part--to move from a Kendo style to, say, Rapier requires a complete change in body and feet movement, and this must look effortless. The style moves seamlessly between the different disciplines, but remains technically correct throughout. It's unlike any other style of fighting and I think it's beautiful to watch."
The duels were specifically choreographed to be miniature "stories." Gillard's goal in choreographing the action for Episode I was to create stunts that flow from the story. "You can't just think, 'I'm a stunt coordinator, I'm going to make a big stunt happen'," Gillard says. "It's all about making it tie in nicely with the film so that you don't notice the stunts." Creating narrative through physical expression, Nick wrote each fight as an individual story that supports the overall structure of the movie. "All the fights have a beginning, a middle and an end," he says. "I worked hard to write them like a story."....No two sword masters have exactly the same style, and the subtleties of distinct identities are woven into the choreography of the lightsaber battles. "It was important to me that each character in Episode I have a distinctive fighting style," he says. Some of this shading came from the classic Star Wars Trilogy."

When interviewed for theforce.net, Gillard further notes how, at the beginning of The Phantom Menace, he set out certain styles and particularly faults for the various saber-wielding characters. "Once you know the line of them, you know why they're going to do something.

The stage combat used in the films are a combination of Kendo, Iaido, and various western sword styles including traditional fencing. "I figured that since the Jedi had chosen a lightsaber, they'd have to be really good with it," says Gillard. "So I took the essence of all the great sword fighting techniques, from kendo through saber, épée, and foil, and flowed them together. "These lightsaber fights seem to fall into two categories: On the one hand, those strongly influenced by Asian martial arts experience, typically adapting Japanese kenjutsu and kendo, the familiar Filipino Arnis/Escrima, or the stylistic Chinese Opera kung fu clichés of non-stop twirling and obsessive spinning with extra wide exaggerated motion."

Changes for the prequel trilogy

In writing the prequel trilogy, George Lucas said that he wanted the lightsaber combat in the prequels to be of a more "energized" form than of that in the original trilogy. In the original movies, the only people who fought with lightsabers were Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and his protégé, Luke Skywalker. George Lucas was looking for the kind of sword-fighting that was "reminiscent of what had been done in the previous films but also something that was more energized. We'd seen old men, young boys, and characters who were half-droid, but we'd never seen a Jedi in his prime. I wanted to do that with a fight that was faster and more dynamic-and we were able to pull that off.

The movies' stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard, said that: "they chose a short-range weapon, and so they would have to be very good at it... They would have to study every great sword fighting style: kendo, iaido even including stuff like "tennis and even some tree-chopping, everything you could swing at." He explains that having chosen such a short-range weapon to use against blasters, the Jedi would have to be well skilled in all manners of fighting and defending themselves. Combining a variety of disciplines from various fencing styles to martial arts "with a touch of tennis and tree chopping," he created the distinctive 'Jedi Style' seen in the Episode I lightsaber battles."

Depiction

Origin

Lightsabers are the principal weapons of the Jedi, but are also used by the Sith and other groups of Force-users. Their use is usually restricted to the Jedi for several reasons, primarily because lightsabers are very difficult to control by those who are not Force-sensitive. The creation of the weapon itself also requires the use of the Force to such a degree that it is impossible for non-Force-sensitives to integrate the finer pieces. However, lightsabers remain prized by some collectors, and some black market sales do occur.

Lightsaber technology was developed over thousands of years. The first lightsaber models, used thousands of years BBY, had to be connected to an external power source. The technology was vastly improved as smaller, lighter power sources were discovered and implemented. In the Expanded Universe, the cutting area of a lightsaber is portrayed as being only a few micrometres wide, with all of the rest being coronal discharge, as is illustrated in "Dark Force Rising".

Types

There are several types of lightsabers in the Star Wars universe, including short, dual-phase, double-bladed, those attached to the end of a staff, and those connected by a chainlink.

Colors

In the original film trilogy, lightsaber blades could be blue, green, purple, or red. The various Expanded Universe (EU) sources, action figures and the prequel films introduced several new colors, which are now canon to the series. Red is usually associated with the Sith whereas blue and green colors are usually associated with the Jedi. However in games such as Knights of the Old Republic II: Sith Lords, the color choices can be yellow, cyan, viridian, violet, silver, and orange.

Mace Windu's violet-colored lightsaber in the movie was colored differently because actor Samuel L. Jackson requested it in Episode II. Windu's lightsaber is violet because of the Hurikane crystal he received while on a mission to the planet of the same name.

During the initial editing of Return of the Jedi, Luke's lightsaber was blue, and appears so in an early trailer. This was changed because of the fact that in the scene where it first appeared, Luke's blue-bladed lightsaber would not have contrasted enough with the blue sky.

Seven forms of lightsaber combat

According to the Expanded Universe book Star Wars: Attack of the Clones The Visual Dictionary by David West Reynolds, each Jedi chooses the style of lightsaber combat that best suits him or her, noting the existence of seven forms: Shii-Cho, Makashi, Soresu, Ataru, Shien/Djem So, Niman and Juyo/Vaapad.

In the extended universe of Star Wars, other forms of lightsaber combat are known to exist. Sokan was developed for the Hero's Guide Star Wars RPG source book, web supplement. Jar'Kai, as seen in the film, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and noted in the Expanded Universe, allows for the use of two lightsabers, one in each hand.

Lightsabers in popular culture

In 2007, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars, the lightsaber prop used by actor Mark Hamill in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was flown aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-120 to the International Space Station and returned to Earth.

Toy lightsabers powered by a 9-volt battery have been constructed with a plastic electroluminescent lamp constructed with conductive materials zinc sulphide and indium tin oxide, with electrical circuitry screen-printed onto the plastic.

Some animated shows use Lightsabers as a spoof towards the Star Wars franchise. Examples include The Simpsons and Family Guy. While other animated series use lightsaber devices for their own plots such as in Futurama, where the cops use lightsaber-like batons to beat people with and Duck Dodgers where they are part of the assortment of weapons used.

Lightsabers are also commonly seen in different manga and anime series, such as Lost Universe and Yat Anshin Uchuu Ryokou as well as movies and video game franchises. Sometimes these weapons are given a different name to differentiate them from the Star Wars franchise. A notable example is with the long-running anime/manga series Mobile Suit Gundam and its sequels and the lightsaber which is called a beam saber is used commonly with various mecha that are part of the series. Another example would be the Blood Berry (and various other Beam katana), used by Travis Touchdown in the video game No More Heroes. The deuteragonist Zero from the Megaman X series also uses a variation commonly known as the Z Saber first as a secondary weapon in the second and third games, then as a primary weapon in the later games.

References

External links

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