At its core, Star Wars is a fantasy story in space, a series of joyful, thrilling, and hopeful adventures. And what’s a good fantasy saga without a magical sword? They’re integral parts of these stories: Aragorn’s Andúril and Frodo’s Sting in Lord of the Rings, Jon Snow’s Longclaw in Game of Thrones, King Arthur’s Excalibur. In Star Wars, it’s the lightsabers that aid our heroes–and villains–on their journeys of war and self-discovery. They’re mythic weapons, individual to their makers, with histories rooted to the most ancient aspects of the galaxy far, far away.
We’ve seen them in all of the saga movies, starting with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. Now, as the sequel trilogy comes to a close with The Rise of Skywalker this December, let’s take a deeper look at the lore behind these incredible “laser swords”: Where they come from, what they mean to our main characters, and what we could see in the future.
How are lightsabers made?
In the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we learn of a ceremony called the “gathering,” where young Jedis in training–known as “younglings”–are taken by a Jedi mentor to the planet of Ilum. The sacred, icy location is where the younglings come to harvest kyber crystals. They are rare, naturally growing crystals that have a connection to the Force. These crystals are “the heart of the lighsaber” and help Jedi focus the Force, according to Yoda.
During the gathering, younglings enter a cave on Ilum where they’re given a set amount of time to find their crystal. The process is mostly intuitive; Jedi can only see the crystal meant for them in the cave, and their pull to it is based in their individual relationship with the Force. If the youngling successfully harvests the crystal in the allotted time, they pass the gathering, and move onto the assembling process.
In The Clone Wars, we meet a droid named Huyang, who is basically the Star Wars version of Ollivander, the wand shop owner from Harry Potter; he helps the younglings choose the hilts that will become the base of their sabers. (Huyang also contains a memory bank that keeps a record of every lightsaber ever made and the name of the Jedi that fashioned it.) Once the youngling choses their hilt–another intuitive process–they must “awaken” their kyber crystal with the Force, activating the lightsaber.
There are other ways to get a kyber crystal than just heading over to Ilum. In Star Wars Rebels, we see Force-user Ezra acquire his when he discovers an ancient Jedi Temple on the planet of Lothal. After the Force tests him, a kyber manifests and flies into his hands. It illustrates that crystals will find their way to any deserving Force user if they will it to be.
What is the purpose of a lightsaber?
“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight,” Obi-Wan Kenobi explained in A New Hope. “Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.” Though the exact origin is unknown, lore has shown evidence of lightsabers thousands of years before the events of the Skywalker saga. They’re good for protection and defense, but also for combat. The blades can defect blaster bolts and cut through just about any object, making them incredibly powerful and dangerous. Lightsabers gained a more prominent role during the Clone Wars, when the Jedi became generals in the Grand Army of the Republic.
In the films, we see the sabers used as melee-style weapons, with Light Side Jedi swords clashing with Dark Side Sith blades. After Emperor Palpatine enacted Order 66, wiping out most of the Jedi, the lightsaber became a rare relic in the galaxy.
Why are Sith lightsabers red?
The color of the lightsaber blade depends on the color of the kyber crystal. Most of the crystals on Ilum are blue, which is the most common color for a Jedi saber, but we occasionally see green, yellow, and even purple blades, too; the colors also represent a Jedi’s personal relationship with the Force. Red lightsabers, on the other hand, are exclusively Dark Side. They are unnatural at their core, as kyber never grows red. The color comes from a process called “bleeding,” where the Sith or Dark Sider drains the kyber crystal of its light, corrupting it in the process.
Because Sith don’t have training in the ways of the Jedi, they typically steal their crystals after slaying the “rightful bearers” of them. (In the Expanded Universe–which Disney de-canonized after purchasing Lucasfilm–red sabers were made from synthetic kyber crystals; in new canon, synthetic crystals still exist, but they aren’t associated with the Sith, and are actually illegal for being too unstable.)
What are some of the familiar lightsabers in Star Wars?
The most famous and recognizable lightsaber in Star Wars is Anakin Skywalker’s blue legacy saber. Audiences first got a glimpse of it in A New Hope, when Obi-wan Kenobi gave it to Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker. That saber has played a major role in every Star Wars trilogy so far; we see Anakin wield it in the prequels, Luke lose it during a confrontation with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and its reappearance in The Force Awakens, when it calls out to Rey in Maz Kanata’s castle. Though the saber is split in two during a Force fight between Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi, we see in the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker that Rey has rebuilt it–meaning it’s made it to the end of this story.
Luke’s replacement lightsaber–the green-bladed sword that appears in Return of the Jedi–is another popular one, although it only really appears in that film. (It does, however, get a brief cameo in The Last Jedi.) Darth Vader’s red saber is another big one. Same goes for Mace Windu’s unique purple-bladed sword and Darth Maul’s double-bladed Sith saber. Count Dooku’s is famous for its bent hilt, and Ahsoka’s two white sabers are special because they represent a Force user who is neither Sith nor Jedi.
What about the crossguard saber?
Probably the most original and controversial saber in Star Wars canon is Kylo Ren’s. When it first appeared in teaser trailers for The Force Awakens, it sparked debates among fans, who questioned the practicality of its crossguard style. In canon, we learn that this saber is an ancient design dating back to the Scourge of Malachor, a long-ago battle between the Jedi and Sith. Unlike most sabers, the blade is uneven and sizzles because of its cracked kyber crystal.
In The Last Jedi, we see in a flashback that Ben Solo had a blue saber; it’s likely, then, that when he changed his named to Kylo Ren and joined the Dark Side, he “bled” the crystal from that saber, cracking it in the process. This unhinged saber has come to represent Kylo Ren as a character; unpredictable, broken, and caught between the light and dark.
Will we see new lightsabers in The Rise of Skywalker?
Although Rey yields the mended Skywalker legacy lightsaber, she still doesn’t have one of her own. She may use this lightsaber exclusively, continuing the Skywalker family legacy (the film is called The Rise of Skywalker, after all). Or she may eventually forge one for herself. Maybe, if Kylo Ren finds redemption–as many fans assume he will, and as the film’s title hints–he’ll inherit his grandfather’s saber, which also paves the way for Rey to create her own. Fans have heavily speculated since we first saw Rey with her signature staff that she’d eventually wield a double-bladed saber; so maybe that’ll happen.
Technically, it already has, if you count the Dark Rey saber we see in The Rise of Skywalker‘s D23 preview. Although we’re pretty convinced this moment is just a vision of some sort, we do still see a new lightsaber–one that’s modeled after a design first seen in The Clone Wars, and with a jagged red blade like Kylo’s.
Currently, aside from Leia, Rey and Kylo are the only remaining Force-sensitive characters in the saga. Will we see new Force users pop up in The Rise of Skywalker? It’s certainly a possibility, as both previous films in the sequel trilogy hinted at an “awakening” in the Force; The Last Jedi even ends with a stinger that teases the next generation of Jedi. If we get more of that in the film, then we may in fact see several new lightsabers by the time the movie is over, depending on where–and how far into the future–the story takes us.
1. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 5, Episode 6: “The Gathering”
2. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 5, Episode 7: “A Test of Strength”
3. Star Wars Rebels, Season 1, Episode 10: “Path of the Jedi”
4. Star Wars Rebels, Season 2, Episodes 21-22: “Twilight of the Apprentice”
5. Ahsoka by E.K. Johnson
6. Star Wars Lightsabers: A Guide to Weapons of the Force by Pablo Hidalgo
Featured Image: Disney/Lucasfilm