May 2010 has undoubtedly turned out to be Star Wars month. With the 30th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Universal Day of the Jedi on May 25 (tomorrow!), we also had “May the 4th be with you,” “Revenge of the 5th” (wished-for by ThinkGeek.com), and George Lucas’ birthday. It’s been a big month of celebration for Star Wars fans around the world.
The Star Wars saga has developed a prosperous history over its 33 years of integration into the consciousness of pop culture, including the ever-developing Expanded Universe; which, through novels, games, comics, and more, has fleshed out an in-universe chronicle stretching from thousands of years before the life of Luke Skywalker, to hundreds of years after his death.
Arguably, one of the most unique aspects of the Star Wars saga is the lightsaber. The preferred weapon of the Jedi and the Sith, it is representation of, in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “a more civilized age.” Since the release of the first Star Wars film on May 25, 1977, fans have embraced the lightsaber as a representation of the Jedi, as have the creators of the Expanded Universe.
Within the Expanded Universe of the Star Wars saga, we can find a historic view of how the lightsaber came to be — its advancement and chronology. So, in-universe, how did the symbolic weapon of the Jedi come into being?
The earliest known use of sabers by the Jedi happened over 25,000 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Originating from some of the initial scripts and drafts by George Lucas, and now incorporated into the Expanded Universe, was an event that would become known as the Force Wars. The war was a conflict between the Light Side of the Force (the Ashla) and the Dark Side of the Force (the Bogan) wherein the combatants used bladed weapons like swords during close combat. The conclusion of the war became the origin and formation of the Jedi Order, and the sabers used in the war became ceremonial symbols of the Light Side of the Force.
Over the subsequent 10,000 years, there was a mild evolution of the lightsaber, with the blades becoming energized using power packs or some form of electricity to charge the solid blade. Essentially, this direction was a transitional phase for these weapons.
The first lightsabers, sometimes referred to as protosabers, were developed when the Jedi Order began researching how to combine technologies from other planetary systems with their own expertise, as well as from their existing forging rituals and guidance of the Force. Around 15,000 years before Episode IV, scientists and Jedi who were working to develop a “frozen laser beam” technology reached a zenith. According to Wookieepedia, “they developed a method to generate a focused beam of energy that arced circumferentially back to its source, creating a controlled energy circuit and leading to the first portable high-energy blades.” These protosabers were primarily very volatile and unpredictable, and even when these stability issues were overcome, the weapons used a great deal of energy. The only way these weapons could be used was by having them connected to belt-worn power packs.
Almost paradoxically, the next major evolutionary step of the lightsaber would be due to innovations of the Sith, not the Jedi. Following the victory of the Jedi Order over the Dark Jedi at the Battle of Corbos, the final battle of The Hundred Year Darkness (7,000 years before the Battle of Yavin), the vanquished Dark Jedi were exiled to the planet Korriban. Interbreeding with the Sith species, over hundreds of years they formed the Sith Empire. As the Empire grew, as did their technological development; the Sith Lords eventually overcame the necessity for the corded power pack with lightsabers.
While this advancement was a major step in the evolution of the lightsaber, the Sith Empire of the time preferred the use of a wide range of weaponry (notably Sith swords and sorcery). With Sith Lord Naga Sadow’s invasion of the Republic, 5,000 years before the events of A New Hope, and his eventual defeat, came the Jedi Order’s discovery of the tech advancements of the Sith. Within a couple of centuries, by the time of the Jedi Knight (and eventual Sith Lord) Ulic Qel-Droma, the Jedi Order had fully adopted the traditional stand-alone lightsaber; and would continue to use this standard through to the time of Luke Skywalker.
Ever since that time, there has been very little development of the lightsaber’s normal standard design; though there have been variations on the weapon. The most notable of these was the double-bladed lightsaber, as used by Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace — however the first time this type of weapon was ever used in Star Wars was in the Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War comic book series by Dark Horse, wielded by the Sith Lord Exar Kun. Other variations in different Expanded Universe sources have included a ‘forked’ lightsaber, the lightwhip as used by Lumiya in the Star Wars Marvel comics and the Legacy Of The Force series, and the Shoto Saber.
To a large extent, what this all comes down to is the fact that the lightsaber is such a memorable and iconic symbol of both the movies and the legacy of the Jedi within the stories, that its dynamics and mysteries has been embraced by both Expanded Universe writers and fans alike. While authors and designers add more to the in-universe mythology of the Jedi weapon, fans also continue to use items such as Force FX lightsabers (or even tattoos of lightsabers) to symbolize how much of an impact the Star Wars saga has had on their lives.
So for this Universal Day of the Jedi, on May 25, arm your lightsabers and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Empire Strikes Back!
…and speaking of lightsabers, many fans over the last few years have paid homage to the Star Wars legacy by making their own lightsaber duel videos. One of the greatest out there is this video here below of Ryan vs. Dorkman.