Fiction is filled with heroes and villains whose weapons are nearly as recognizable as their faces. This isn’t a tactic that started with George Lucas and Star Wars or anything, but Lucas did what he’s best at, cribbing the idea from past classics, giving the world one of the most iconic weapons ever: the lightsaber. So prevalent is this laser sword that I can’t even turn on a flashlight without hearing the familiar vibratory hum in my head. Any sword, branch, broom, microphone, chopstick, baton, or severed arm immediately becomes a lightsaber using only your imagination (and perhaps actual lasers), so it’s only fair that the handheld Kenobi Killer gets an in-depth mini-documentary, called “The Birth of the Lightsaber.” Unsurprisingly, not as much imagination went into giving it a title.
Huge fans of Star Wars probably won’t be learning anything new in this featurette, but there are still some great behind-the-scenes shots that make it necessary viewing. To be expected, Lucas starts off by talking about the adventure serials of his youth that inspired his own franchise. The lightsaber itself is, of course, his version of a sword, the more respectable weapon to wield in comparison to a handgun (or blaster, as it were). And they probably would have been plain swords had Lucas not taken this story into the futuristic past. It’s interesting to hear Mark Hamill talk about Lucas’ intention to have the actors play it out as if they were in fact using the heavier, bladed counterparts, and to see the evolution of the stunt work as Hamill grew more comfortable and trained in the art of swordplay.
This is where we get to see a couple of pre-rotoscoped lightsaber battles, taken from Return of the Jedi. Hamill absolutely goes to town on Darth Vader, without all the signature sound and light effects. It makes the character seems a lot less noble when he’s just using a big black stick. It’s too bad Lucas wasn’t more inspired by using crowbars and tire irons.
Sound designer Ben Burtt also gets his due here, as he is the man responsible for that immediately familiar “Whrrr” noise, along with R2-D2’s bleeps, the blaster blasts, and much more. How iconic are these sounds? While they sound somewhat different now, the same files that he created are used in building today’s lightsaber noises. That is, assuming J.J. Abrams doesn’t go all cavalier on us with Episode VII.
Even though the prequel trilogy featured far more complicated battles and technically better effects work, nothing can top the fights in those first three films. I can’t begin to imagine what it will look like in the future, and so I’ll live in the past at least a little while longer. For those more in tune with the second trilogy, you can watch the entire story play out in just ten minutes in the retrospective below.