Fast Co. Design has the story on this mini documentary that explores the creation of the iconic lightsaber from Star Wars.
In all of the annals of film and science fiction, you’d be hard pressed to find an object as singularly identifiable as the Star Wars lightsaber. Even if you don’t like science fiction, you can probably tell a lightsaber sight unseen, just by the distinctive whooshing sound it makes. That’s an impressive feat for a prop that, originally, was nothing more than a rotoscoped stick. It’s a journey that has been documented in this great 15-minute film that details the secret design history of the lightsaber.
According to George Lucas, he came up with the idea of a lightsaber for Star Wars because the film was meant to be a space-age Arthurian epic. It needed its own legendary weapon that the Jedi could use to set them apart, but it also needed to seem futuristic. Most importantly, since Jedis were supposed to be peacekeepers, Lucas wanted the weapon to be purely defensive. He finally settled on the idea of a laser sword to be his franchise’s Excalibur.
Bringing the lightsaber to life in the Star Wars films was an organic process. Originally, Lucas’s vision was that a lightsaber should be an extremely heavy weapon, at least 40 or 50 pounds, that required two-hands to lift. This is why all of the lightsaber duels in Star Wars are two-handed affairs. Over time, though, Lucas realized that he needed a way to show that Luke Skywalker was getting to be more proficient as a sword fighter, so the lightsabers became conceptually lighter, capable of being wielded with one hand.