156: Lazer Swords and Thundersabers

Lazer Swords and Thundersabers

"In October of 2007, in honor of Star Wars' 30th anniversary, the space shuttle Discovery carried into space a prop representing the franchise's success; not a Jar Jar Binks tongue lollipop, but the lightsaber used by Mark Hamill in 1983's Return of the Jedi, an icon rich in symbolism. Without its young hero and his lightsaber, Star Wars might have been just another Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, a tall glass of pulp filled with blasters and space ships, robots and aliens, lacking the central, mythic story arc that made it so memorable.

"This was nearly the case."

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Well done. Loved the research!

Why does everyone hate the prequels so much. I mean, I know Jar Jar was a bit ridiculous but the movies were good. How was the battle in the arena the "lowest moment" for the Star Wars Universe? It was a good looking scene that made sense in the story. I can't wrap my head around why its so heavily criticized.

Don't forget the Muslim holy sword Zulfiqar. It doesn't glow, but it's supposed to have the ability to cut through anything (shields, armor, etc). Which is one of the things that makes lightsabers so handy...

This is a wonderful article, but I'm afraid I have some errata here. The names regarding the Völsunga Saga are, well, wrong. The names that Mr. Fiegel uses in his rather wonderful article are from Wagner's Ring Cycle.

The actual Norse names are Sigmundr instead of Siegmund, Sigurðr (pronounced "Sigurthr") instead of Siegfried, and Gram instead of Notung (Notung is from Wagner - in Nibelungenlied, the German version of the Völsunga Saga, the sword is named Balmung). The incident where Oðin's spear is shattered, from what I can tell, only appears in Wagner's Götterdämmerung. While Wagner based much of his Ring Cycle on the Völsunga Saga, he did make several modifications, including changing many of the names, so you can't use Wagner and the Völsunga Saga interchangeably.

Sorry to bring this up, but as somebody who has studied this mythology in the original Old Norse (in some cases), accuracy is pretty important to me...

Best to all,

Robert Marks

Thanks for the corrections, Robert. I appreciate the clarification.

Robert B. Marks:
This is a wonderful article, but I'm afraid I have some errata here. The names regarding the Völsunga Saga are, well, wrong. The names that Mr. Fiegel uses in his rather wonderful article are from Wagner's Ring Cycle.

The actual Norse names are Sigmundr instead of Siegmund, Sigurðr (pronounced "Sigurthr") instead of Siegfried, and Gram instead of Notung (Notung is from Wagner - in Nibelungenlied, the German version of the Völsunga Saga, the sword is named Balmung). The incident where Oðin's spear is shattered, from what I can tell, only appears in Wagner's Götterdämmerung. While Wagner based much of his Ring Cycle on the Völsunga Saga, he did make several modifications, including changing many of the names, so you can't use Wagner and the Völsunga Saga interchangeably.

Sorry to bring this up, but as somebody who has studied this mythology in the original Old Norse (in some cases), accuracy is pretty important to me...

Best to all,

Robert Marks

Wow, loved that research too!

Fun article! Loved the shout-out to Amber.

The last paragraph reminded me that swords also have a different kind of mythological resonance in the west: their occult symbolism. Along with the wand, the cup and the pentacle, they are one of the four tools of the magus. They represent the element of air and the power of the mind. Reason, wit and science are the way of the sword. The sword brings with it the power of analysis, the ability to separate one thing from another, and reductionism, the ability to turn one big, seemingly impossible problem into a series of smaller, solvable problems (figuratively chopping something into little pieces).

There's even a connection to the Force down this line. The sword (in its occult significance) is best wielded calmly, rationally, dispassionately. Mix it with anger and trouble starts.

wadark:
Why does everyone hate the prequels so much. I mean, I know Jar Jar was a bit ridiculous but the movies were good. How was the battle in the arena the "lowest moment" for the Star Wars Universe? It was a good looking scene that made sense in the story. I can't wrap my head around why its so heavily criticized.

Jar Jar is an abomination, as is much of Hayden Christenson's acting. He comes off as a whiny loser for the majority of his time on screen. The love story that arcs through the prequel is hamfisted and Anakin and Padme have absolutely no chemistry. Their passion is simply not believable.

That's not to say there's nothing worthwile in the prequels, there are many well-done sequences -- the Duel of the Fates, for example.

Getting back to the article, I really, really enjoyed this one. I had no idea there was anything to light sabers beyond their innate niftiness. A very entertaining and informative article.

I'm sorry, but I have to mention that nearly everything that is good in Star Wars, follows very closely the path made clear in Joseph Campbell's works "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" and "The Power of Myth". Lucas has said himself, that he rewrote the story after reading Campbell, so that it followed more closely the monomyth that Campbell described.

It is obvious that Lucas has very poor understanding of physics, technology and tactics in combat, or that he simply ignores them. My guess is, that because he felt that he needed swords to create his own iteration of the monomyth, he just came up with something that would look nice and seem properly advanced from a technological viewpoint.

I always thought that lightsabres were a completely idiotic invention, but because they were used only by a couple of old-school, honor-bound knight-wizards, they seemed fitting as ceremonial artifacts. They were not powerful in themselves, but they represented a much greater force. It would have been an exercise in banality to give every jedi a badge and a gun.

Susan Arendt:

Getting back to the article, I really, really enjoyed this one. I had no idea there was anything to light sabers beyond their innate niftiness. A very entertaining and informative article.

Should there be anything to lightsabres beyond their niftiness? Whenever I read an article like this (very informative and well-written/researched, by the way), I always ask myself: "Why Star Wars?" Why should we be analysing the cool, glowing sword-thing from this particular set of films? What makes them special?

Though I suppose the point is that it doesn't have to be Star Wars, and these sort of connections can be made to many different works. It is just the popularity of the series that causes people to make connections to these particular films.

I think I just answered my own question.

As a fencer, I have to say that saber is definitely /not/ an elegant weapon.

>.>

but other than in name a "light saber"is pretty different from what we have as a "saber" so that seems kinda apples and oranges there, legerdemain.
We'll never escape the stories of our grandfathers, but I know I for one can't wait for this story to get retold, star wars has been rehashed and recycled for so long that it no longer seems epic. Its like a friend tells you a real intense story, then afterwards pauses for a couple minutes and then tells you a shorter story to either clarify previous points or give back story. That's the only thing I hold against the prequels\remasters\novels\fan ficts\videogames other than that they are entertaining movies, not necessarily the best films but entertaining.

Legerdemain:
As a fencer, I have to say that saber is definitely /not/ an elegant weapon.

>.>

Compared to a foil, sure. Compared to a blaster though? Or a Death Star laser?

zoozilla:

Should there be anything to lightsabres beyond their niftiness? Whenever I read an article like this (very informative and well-written/researched, by the way), I always ask myself: "Why Star Wars?" Why should we be analysing the cool, glowing sword-thing from this particular set of films? What makes them special?

I think because of every melee weapon I know of in reality or fantasy or sci-fi, it's the melee weapon that relies least on the *strength* of the user and most on the *skill* of the user. If instead of being a...whatever he was, Yoda was a Wookie he wouldn't be one bit more dangerous--the Lightsaber is the great equalizer between physical types.

Which is why I think it's clear that the inspiration was the katana--the most important aspect of the Lightsaber isn't it's shape or it's guard, it's that it is a weapon where even the weakest thrust or chop translates into irresistible offense. It takes almost no advantage of the muscle power of the person wielding it, and the weapon closest to that is the katana (the foil/rapier are similar, but they don't have the defensive capabilities of a Lightsaber and they are not equally dangerous in the chop as a Lightsaber and katana are; not to mention the Jedi clearly take their fashion cues from samurai).

Ranged weapons also are equalizers, but, there's only so much difference skill with a ranged weapon can make: no matter how skillful I am with a gun, that doesn't impact your ability to skillfully use your gun (except for that movie _Wanted_).

That's what I think makes them special: they're melee weapons so you can have actual duels, actual contests of skill; on top of that, they are weapons that are all skill and almost no muscle.

It's David vs. Goliath: only David goes right up to Goliath to fight him, and David is wielding a weapon with the cultural baggage of the sword as the author of this article describes.

Thanks for mentioning the katana connection, Cheeze. Lucas said that one of his inspirations for the Star Wars films was a Kurosawa movie, and I think the nature of the lightsaber and the Jedi "path" are almost identical to that of the katana and bushido. While the sword in the west is a symbol of honor and even gallantry, it is not an instrument of enlightenment. The concept of a "sword-saint" does not exist in the west. However, I think a Jedi Master is very close to the idea of a sword-saint, the Japanese idea that the katana is "the soul of the samurai" is echoed in the connection between the Jedi and their lightsabers.

The connection between the Samurai and Jedi Knights seems to be the strongest to me.

There are many less beheadings and seppuku in Star Wars than in Samurai history, though.

I've studied this stuff a lot for my own writings. I usually just give my guys regular swords. It's hard to get away with using a laser sword without immediately drawing comparison to Star Wars. Plus there's that thing about them being to cut through practically anything that can kind of be a plot killer to me.

you speak of a Star Wars prequel trilogy.... it doesn't exist.

But really, good stuff. wasn't jedi also some japanese twist on word or something?

I Really need a sword now... lots of swords actually...

Thank you sir, for ruining my economy :p

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minovsky_Physics#Minovsky_Physics Gundam makes there beam swords work... ya know in U.C.

As films go I think all the star wars films are pretty meh. I enjoyed the older ones when I was a kid, and no doubt they where amazing at the time, but stop living in nostalgia. the prequels are a better watch. the most enjoyable out of all 6 films is probably ep 3 (hate the kiddy droid dialog). the worst is ep 4, sorry but its shit nothing happens. ep 6 is classic though.

yes jar jar was awful but samuel L jackson, natalie portman, lien neslon are awesomely cast. just those casts alone means you can't knock the prequels, acting in the older films is crap in truth.

even though star wars is not my choice of film: I am a fan of starwars. mainly because of great games like battlefront 1 and kotor 1&2. also the 2d clone wars cartoons are actually pretty awesome (very different take on starwars though), the 3d version is pretty awful.

 

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