Star Wars: This Weapon is Your Life

Sam joins us to talk about Lightsabers!

When I think of Star Wars, what I think about first are lightsabers. I always have. They’re flashy and cool, and even when they’re not ignited they have intricate hilts full of personal history. I wanted to be a Jedi not because I cared about the organization or saving the galaxy, but because they had the coolest lightsabers. I know, it’s a pretty terrible reason to join a cult, but maybe if more cults gave out lightsabers they would be more successful. Things to consider.

Now I’m one of those fanboys that was wary when Disney bought the rights to Star Wars. The promise of all that sweet Mickey Mouse cash gave me hope, but hearing that all non-Disney, non-movie creations wouldn’t be considered canon anymore immediately put my hackles up. It felt clear that the experimentation, the lore, the things that helped flesh out the originally quite basic concept from the movies would be thrown away because Disney couldn’t make money off of it. And that was both disappointing and scary. There aren’t many ideas in the Expanded Universe that could be considered marketable to the masses, and often that’s what gave them their charm. The Dark Horse comics and a crazy amount of novels were so endearing because they were basically glorified fanfiction. The lowest-common-denominator storytelling of the (still enjoyable) Disney Marvel movies gave a daunting blueprint of what to expect going forward and sadly it seems that is the case. Why was Poe Dameron retconned into a smuggler jerk barely distinguishable from Han in the final movie for no real reason? Because the Han Solo type made a lot of money over the years.

Though to be completely upfront, I am also that fanboy who loved The Last Jedi. Some characters acted a little odd and the themes were a little dissonant at times, but Rose was an incredible addition to the cast and the movie didn’t shy away from pushing boundaries of what we expect from Star Wars media. So basically, it hit a lot of the great beats that the Expanded Universe did too. The rest of the sequel trilogy didn’t quite match that standard, even from the beginning. Rey finding the Skywalker lightsaber in Maz Kanata’s basement was interesting, but when she might hear the story later made it almost rudely obvious that Disney didn’t care about telling a story, it cared about making a profit. If you want that story, you need to go buy a few series of comics and a handful of novels to understand an integral part of the main story. At least the Expanded Universe did just that: expand our idea of what the universe could hold so that you could enjoy the main story as a whole but fill in the gaps with other people’s creativity. Again, the world’s biggest fanfiction trove. Just wonderful.

But every now and then, Disney still surprises me by really breaking that mold. The TV shows like Rebels are an incredible example of this. They’ve got lore, they’ve got heart, they aren’t afraid to take minor aspects of the universe and expand on them in new and exciting ways. And that show, in particular, did so most spectacularly, in my opinion, through the Kyber crystal lore.

Before I get into what these novels did, I want to fill you in on how what lightsabers meant, both to me and to the lore/fandom.

One of the earliest Christmases I can remember was when I was in the third grade. My family had just moved from my childhood home and everything was new and different. It was the year that Revenge of the Sith was released in theaters and Star Wars merch was all that my siblings and I got. It was the best Christmas ever. In no small part, this was due to a build your own lightsaber kit that my parents bought me. It was all plastic, of course, but it had a multitude of interchangeable parts so you could customize every aspect of the lightsaber, and even three different crystals that fit into a special slot and changed the sound it would make. You could even put a little piece of colored plastic over the flashlight (because let’s face it, toy lightsabers are just glorified flashlights) that would change the color of the blade. I was ecstatic. I changed the hilt nearly every day and would swing it around behind the couch while we watched the movies, pretending to be a part of the fight alongside Obi-Wan. Definitely too old for that to not be a little embarrassing but no shame, I’ve been a fan since day one.

That gift definitely shaped my obsession with lightsabers, in no small part because they were a distinctly visual way of differentiating Jedi who could often blend into each other in the background of a scene. But if I looked at each saber, I could imagine the person who made it, what they went through to find the pieces of the hilt, their connection to the crystal, what aspects of their personality were evident in their lightsaber. And though it is a weapon, a lightsaber is also so much more! It’s the manifestation of how a Jedi is connected to the Force in general, their own personal lifeline to something that connects the whole universe. Though the meaning of a lightsaber has changed a lot over time, in the Expand Universe that was its main importance. Color didn’t signify much, though blue and green were the most popular for Jedi for a long time. Once varied colors, truly every color of the rainbow, became a staple in the EU, they acted basically like a Myers-Briggs test for Jedi. Those with blue lightsabers tended to act or look at the world in a certain way that was different from the others. Yellow or white tended to be utilitarian, largely for the Jedi Temple guards more than anything else. But it also opened up the possibilities for color to change meaning based on who you were at a given time. Are you feeling angsty in your young adult/early adult life? Try out an orange or magenta blade. Have you matured throughout your travels and have a different outlook on life? Maybe it’s time for a green blade to reflect that.

Changing the blade color usually meant changing the core. This brings us back to Rebels and Ahsoka Tano. When she first appears at the end of the first season, she’s carrying two white lightsabers. This is very unique in Star Wars, and though Dave Filoni said it was to signify that she was not part of the Jedi or the Sith, the lore quickly filled in to expand on that. The crystals came from an Inquisitor who she killed, but as they were full of his hatred, she meditated on them to clear their negative energy and leave two purified crystals in their stead. Which is such an incredible way of broadening our understanding of the Star Wars universe! We know that there will be all kinds of lightsaber colors in the coming High Republic comics and novels in the next few years, but seeing such an interesting way of rethinking a Jedi’s relationship to both the force and their lightsabers gives me hope for the future of the franchise. Mickey Mouse will always loom large over it, but so long as creators keep telling the best stories they can we can fill in the meaning and lore that has made Star Wars one of the most beloved franchises of all time.

Sam Nicol.

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