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The Masked Man Reviews the Star Wars Movies
The Masked Man Reviews the Star Wars Movies
The Lone Ranger
Published by The Lone Ranger
01-07-2007
Default Lightsabers

Lightsabers:
It’s unclear what a lightsaber is, exactly. If a lightsaber generates an intense laser beam, what makes the beam stop a meter or so out from the weapon’s emitter? The only thing that could make a beam of light turn back on itself would be a gravity field from an object so dense that it formed a black hole. Needless to say, there’s no way that each lightsaber has a black hole in its hilt! (Light wouldn’t be able to escape in the first place to form the blade; no one could lift the thing, since it would weigh as much as a mountain; and it would have a disturbing tendency to absorb all matter in the vicinity while emitting lethal gamma radiation.)

Maybe there’s a rigid rod that extends outward a meter or so from a lightsaber’s hilt when it’s activated, and the saber’s “blade” consists of laser beams that are focused to converge on the tip of the rod, where they’re absorbed. That’s my hypothetical explanation anyway. This would explain why lightsabers can interact with each other, since if the “blades” were actually made of light, they’d pass right through each other.

Or maybe the “blades” are actually made of plasma. If so, there must be some mechanism to confine the plasma so as to form the blades. No such mechanism is evident though. There’s also the nagging problem that plasma blades sufficiently powerful to cut through metal would emit so much heat that they’d cook the user almost instantly. This would limit their effectiveness as weapons, I should think.

Incidentally, this is one more reason to believe that the “lasers” in the Star Wars universe aren’t actually lasers. A lightsaber (whether the blade was a laser or a confined plasma) would not deflect a laser beam.

Some have suggested that the actual blade of a lightsaber is invisible, and that the bright glow is from ionized air. If that were the case, the blade would be emitting so much heat that it’d quickly cook the user’s hands.

Does the blade of a lightsaber weigh anything? They’re not too consistent on this in the Star Wars universe. If the blade is (somehow) made of light or is a plasma, it should be essentially weightless. Whether or not the blade is weightless is an important consideration, though, because it influences the saber’s performance as a weapon.

In the real world, different swords are designed for different functions. Some swords are intended to be used as chopping weapons. They typically have thick, heavy blades. Since heavier blades have more momentum, they’ll cut through resistant materials more easily than will lighter blades of the same sharpness. This shouldn’t be an issue with lightsabers though, since they’ll apparently cut through just about anything.

Every sword has a center of balance. This is the point where the sword is exactly balanced. The sword will tend to pivot around this point. For a chopping sword, you typically want the center of balance to be fairly close to the tip of the blade; the closer to the tip is the center of balance, the more momentum it can deliver to its target as it strikes. Such a sword is unwieldy, however. For a sword that’s designed with dueling in mind (lightsabers clearly fall into this category), you want the center of balance to be as close to the hilt as possible. The ideal dueling sword has the center of balance in or very near the hilt. This means the user can pivot the sword much more quickly than if the center of balance is somewhere closer to the tip, and so the user has far more control over the blade and can move the blade much more quickly for attack and defense.

If you watch how the lightsabers move in the Star Wars movies, it’s clear that the center of balance is usually (but not always) some distance beyond the hilt. This means the blades must have some weight to them; if the blades were weightless, the centers of balance would be in the hilts. When Luke was playing with his father’s lightsaber right after Ben gave it to him, it was clear that the saber’s center of balance was in the hilt, because it was pivoting around the hilt, even though he was using only one hand. (Using two hands, you can make a sword pivot around a point other than the center of balance; it's difficult with only one hand.) Later in the same movie, when Luke was “fighting” with the remote, he was using two hands, and the lightsaber’s center of balance was clearly a few inches out from the hilt, meaning that the blade had some weight to it.

On a related note, the blades of lightsabers sometimes cast shadows (which they wouldn’t if they were made of light), and at other times, they don’t. For example, in The Return of the Jedi, when Luke and Vader were fighting on the catwalk over the pit, both their sabers’ blades were casting clear shadows. At the end of the fight, when Luke was standing over the defeated and supine Vader, Luke’s blade cast no shadow.

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