The Acolyte's Master Sol and characters wielding lightsaber-resistant weapons

A Brief History of What Lightsabers Can’t Cut Through in Star Wars

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for The Acolyte Season 1, Episode 5, “Night.”

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The latest episode of Disney+ Star Wars series The Acolyte is making waves for a bunch of reasons – including scenes where Mae Aniseya’s Sith Master shrugs off several lightsaber attacks. Shouldn’t that be impossible, given lightsabers can supposedly cut through anything?

Related: Is The Acolyte’s Sith Master Connected to the Sequel Trilogy’s Knights of Ren?

But that’s the thing: lightsabers can’t cut through anything – and Star Wars devotees have known this for a long time. As far back as the first Star Wars movie, 1977’s A New Hope, the franchise’s most iconic weapon has shown there are limits to its (admittedly incredible) cutting power. And in the 47 years since then, the list of saber-proof substances has only grown.

With that in mind, here’s a brief history of everything lightsabers can’t cut through, from A New Hope to The Acolyte!

The Original Star Wars Trilogy

Darth Vader versus Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope

So, what was A New Hope‘s inaugural exception to lightsabers’ superior slicing abilities? It’s kinda obvious: other lightsabers. While Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader’s blades crackle and hiss during the duel midway through the movie, they nevertheless remain completely unharmed. The original Star Wars trilogy’s two remaining entries, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi double down on this. Not even Vader’s superhumanly strong saber swings can damage another laser sword. Almost everything else – even the AT-AT’s thick armor – doesn’t fare half as well.

Related: The Acolyte: Was Amandla Stenberg Fired From the Disney+ Star Wars Show?

I say “almost” because the original trilogy also has a handful of easy-to-miss instances of lightsabers failing to cut through something. For example, when Luke Skywalker tags Vader’s shoulder pad in The Empire Strikes Back, he breaches it – but doesn’t slice the Sith Lord’s arm off, as well. Clearly, whatever Vader’s armor is made of (and current canon says it’s a durasteel alloy) is lightsaber-resistant. Similarly, during Luke and Vader’s Return of the Jedi rematch, the Death Star II’s guard rails withstand Luke’s less intense saber strokes. It’s not until the Jedi-in-training really hacks at one that it gives way.

The Expanded Universe

The player character using twin vibroblades in a promo still from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords

Still, instances such as these proved that – as far as the Star Wars films were concerned – a lightsaber could (eventually) cut through whatever non-lightsaber object you threw at it.

The Expanded Universe of books, comics, and video games begged to differ, however. Notably, 1998 novel I, Jedi introduced cortosis: a super rare metal that shorts out lightsabers on contact. Cortosis subsequently cropped up in a bunch of other EU projects. This included the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jedi Knight video game series, both of which replaced the metal’s shorting out property with more gameplay-friendly increased durability.

Cortosis wasn’t the EU’s only lightsaber-resistant substance, either. Sith alchemy-forged swords, Mandalorian iron, Yuuzhan Vong armor and amphistaffs, and even conventional melee weapons reinforced with Force power weathered lightsaber assaults in the EU. Energy shields had a decent track record against lightsabers, too. Indeed, by the time the Star Wars prequel trilogy rolled around in 1999, lightsabers were looking less potent than ever.

Related: The Acolyte: Did the Sith Master Really Kill [SPOILER]?

The Star Wars Prequels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Obi-Wan Kenobi confronted by General Grievous and his MagnaGuards in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

The prequels did little to dispel lightsabers’ flagging reputation, despite sabers doing more slicing and dicing than ever across the three flicks. The first installment, 1999’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, cemented the whole “patchy against energy shields” thing, with the Theed Power Generator’s laser gates. As Darth Maul learns through trial and error, nothing – not even a lightsaber – can penetrate these red, floor-to-ceiling barriers.

Three years later, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones‘ tie-in media ushered in yet another lightsaber-resistant material: armorweave clothing. According to that film’s Visual Dictionary, Count Dooku’s cape is made from this vaguely defined, partially saber-proof fabric. Then in 2005, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith armed General Grievous and his MagnaGuard goons with electrostaffs. Manufactured from a new anti-saber alloy, phrik, and spurting electricity at either end, electrostaffs were an effective foil for the Jedi’s signature weapon. They also appeared in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, where they proved equally resilient.

Speaking of The Clone Wars, that show gave us the Darksaber. Supervising director Dave Filoni and his crew developed this lightsaber variant after Star Wars creator George Lucas rejected the idea of a cortosis-weave vibroblade standing up to a lightsaber. Essentially an ancient lightsaber variant, the Darksaber possesses the same strengths and weaknesses. A lightsaber can’t chop through the Darksaber, however, the reverse is also true. The Clone Wars also equipped Nightsister Mother Talzin with a magick-infused sword capable of parrying sabers. Oh, and the show continued the EU’s tradition of ultra-tough creatures (such as the Zillo Beast) being unphased by lightsaber blows.

Related: The Acolyte: How Does the Sith Master’s Helmet Short Out Jedi Lightsabers?

The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and Disney+ Shows

Two Jedi Knights' lightsabers shorting out after cortosis contact in The Acolyte

That brings us to 2012, when Disney bought Lucasfilm (and Star Wars along with it). The House of Mouse hit reset on Star Wars continuity, relegating almost everything outside the six movies and The Clone Wars to non-canonical “Legends” status. Even so, plenty of lightsaber-resistant substances remained in play as part of this streamlined continuity – and even more were on the way. The Star Wars sequel trilogy ushered in the First Order’s Z6 baton and the Elite Praetorian Guards’ armor and high-tech melee weapons, all of which could block a saber to differing degrees.

Meanwhile, The Mandalorian reintroduced Mandalorian iron as Beskar, which was, if anything, even more impervious to lightsabers. 2019 novel Master & Apprentice featured kohlen crystal-powered energy barriers – the latest in saber-stumping shield technology. And Marvel’s licensed Star Wars comics depicted Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s Qi’ra holding off lightsaber-wielding opponents with her electro daggers.

Related: Is the Star Wars Prequels’ Ki-Adi-Mundi in The Acolyte?

Which brings us full circle to The Acolyte. The show’s fifth episode marked the live-action debut of cortosis (although the metal had already slid into the revised Star Wars canon via 2014 tome A New Dawn). What’s more, The Acolyte‘s version of cortosis produces exactly the result an EU aficionado would expect. Not only do the Sith Master’s Jedi foes struggle to cleave through his cortosis helmet and vambrace, but their sabers short out whenever they try. Now, as in 1998, cortosis is arguably the ultimate lightsaber deterrent.

But then, as the above potted history lesson proves, it’s far from the only material to beat Star Wars‘ most “unbeatable” weapon in the franchise’s 47-year run.

The Acolyte Season 1 is currently streaming on Disney+, with new episodes dropping Tuesdays.

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Leon Miller
Leon is a freelance contributor at The Escapist, covering movies, TV, video games, and comics. Active in the industry since 2016, Leon's previous by-lines include articles for Polygon, Popverse, Screen Rant, CBR, Dexerto, Cultured Vultures, PanelxPanel, Taste of Cinema, and more.