Star Wars

Star Wars
Lazer Swords and Thundersabers

Michael Fiegel | 1 Jul 2008 13:02
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This same mythic journey plays out in the 13th Century Icelandic Völsunga Saga, which inspired both Wagner's "Ring Cycle" and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Odin plunges a magic sword called Notung into a tree, only to have his great-great-grandson Siegmund pull the sword out; Odin soon shatters the sword, speeding Siegmund's death. Later, Siegmund's son Siegfried retrieves the sword's pieces and has them reforged, using the weapon to slay the dragon Fafnir and shatter Odin's spear.

It's not very hard to swap Luke, Vader, Obi-Wan and lightsabers into their respective roles above; the "young boy with a magic weapon" story is one of the defining myths of Western civilization. Luke is Arthur is Sigmund is Frodo is Harry Potter. It's an archetype that has become part of our collective unconscious.

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"I don't think Lucas sat down and schemed up this brilliant symbolism; it just sort of evolved naturally through the process of writing," said Kaminski.

The idea of a blade made of laser light was not original to Star Wars. Edmond Hamilton, the husband of Leigh Brackett (who wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back), used laser swords in 1933's Kaldar, Planet of Antares, and Asimov employed a similar instrument in his Foundation series (which notably chronicles the fall of a Galactic Empire). The Star Wars Origins website lists several other likely progenitors, including devices from Lucky Starr, Star Trek, and Space: 1999. Author Kristen Brennan says that Luke's lightsaber is memorable not because it was original, but because of the number of archetypal masks associated with it.

"It's a gift from his mentor, who passed it along from his father, which Luke uses to fight his father, which his father destroys, so he builds a new one, which he ultimately refuses to use against his father," says Brennan. "These are all important mythic steps."

"Swords are a symbolic statement of man's journey in life; they can symbolize his past as well as his future," said Jeffrey Parks of Parks Sabers, whose company still produces over 750 replica lightsabers every year. He added that metal-bladed swords in particular are "symbolic of man's past ... they represent the power and responsibility man has over nature and society."

Of course, lightsabers look nothing like the cruciform broadswords of the medieval era, so often associated with Arthur. A more accurate comparison would be to the saber itself, one of the three weapons of modern fencing and the only one in which the edge of the blade is used to score a hit. Like lightsabers, sabers were once in common use, but are now merely symbols of a bygone era, "an elegant weapon for a more civilized time."

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