“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster, an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”
A weapon of prestige, power and skill. Many believe that this unique device is what has always defined the Sith and the Jedi, but in truth the Lightsaber was actually a late addition to both organisations due to a variety of reasons and, for a time, was shunned by the Sith in favour of more traditional blades.
ORIGIN OF THE LIGHT
When the Force Wars began, following the discovery of the Force by philosophers and researchers on Tython, the initial fighting which broke out was fought using bladed weapons which were often empowered with Force energies to make them more powerful. It was not until around 15,500BBY, more than a thousand years after the formation of the Jedi Order, that the lightsaber technology which had been discovered was put into practical use. However these first prototypes were extremely unstable and required a belt-mounted power-pack connected to the hilt of the weapon by a cable in order to function. Unfortunately they were so unreliable and prone to malfunction that they were largely ignored and kept for ceremonial purposes rather than actual combat.
Over time the design was perfected to allow for active use and they were proven to be highly effective against armoured threats. They were however quite cumbersome as the cable going to the belt-mounted power-pack caused movement to be hampered and it wasn’t uncommon for fighters to intentionally try to severe their opponents power cable in order to disable the lightsaber. That said, this became the primary weapon of choice for the Jedi during the 100 Year Darkness, a period of conflict when the original Sith race were conquered by the Dark Jedi.
In a bizarre twist of fate the shortcomings of the lightsaber were not overcome by the Jedi, but it was the Sith which first managed to successfully turn the weapon into the ones we recognize today. By fitting a power pack into the hilt of the weapon and introducing a micro-superconductor into the design, the plasma energy was able to continually loop the field without significant loss of power. The only time energy was lost is if the energy field of the blade came into contact with something. The energy was then released as intense heat and light. Despite this advancement the Sith continued to favour metallic blades which were imbued with the power of the Force.
“Although lightsabers are a superior weapon, there is still nothing quite as satisfying as feeling the warm spray of blood when one cleaves through one’s enemy with a real sword.”
This innovation was not discovered by the Jedi until the Great Hyperspace War which took place when Naga Sadow attempted to conquer the Republic. The majority of the Sith forces preferred to use Sith Swords and many of the ruling members of the Sith Empire at the time, including Ludo Kressh and Naga Sadow, preferred to use these Force-empowered blades rather than a lightsaber. Either due to preference and their relish of blood-letting or because these weapons were often granted unusual traits which far exceeded what was possible with existing lightsaber technology. Following the defeat of the Sith Empire and their apparent extinction the Jedi Order took the improved Lightsaber designs and reverse-engineered them to produce their own. From this point onwards in history the Lightsaber became the symbolic weapon for the Jedi Order itself.
CRYSTAL CLEAR TECHNOLOGY
While being a somewhat basic device in principle, an energy cell projecting a laser-beam into a containment field that loops the plasma beam back around in an endless cycle, the crystals needed to focus this energy are incredibly difficult to refine and produce. In essence, a lightsaber would be nothing more than an unfocussed blast of continual energy if the crystals being used are not properly calibrated and attuned.
The internals of a Lightsaber follow the basic laws of refraction and reflection combined with the mystical elements of the Force. This adds to the mundane refocussing of the laser from the power source, through the primary crystal and directed by the focussing crystals in the crystal energy chamber. The beam is then channelled through standard components which allow for modification of the beam and containment field to adjust things like the width and length of the blade and the intensity of the beam itself. Lightsabers can actually be made so weak that the energy blade itself can be held with bare hands. This does not however mean that training lightsabers such as these are totally safe as the blade is still able to cause severe bruising and minor burns. These kinds of low intensity lightsabers are often given to younglings for training purposes so they do not suffer from severe injury while practising.
The crystals themselves need not be rare or valuable. Luke Skywalker himself said that the very simple design of the lightsaber could function with just about any kind of crystal you use in its construction, but obviously the quality and function of the device will be largely defined by the crystals used. Some of the most valuable focussing crystals include ones cut from the Kaiburr crystal which is an ancient Force relic of immense Force attunement. It is known to cause Force energies to be magnified a thousandfold depending upon the size and density of the crystal and creates lightsabers of incredible power. Krayt Dragon pearls can also be adapted to serve as focussing crystals thanks to their highly reflective surfaces once polished and prepared, however an actual crystal is still needed as the main crystal is what the beam is focussed through.
Throughout the history of Star Wars the location and availability of crystals commonly used for lightsaber construction has fluctuated. One of the most well known sources for focussing crystals is the planet Ilum which became one of the most sacred places for the Jedi Order. Part of the Jedi Knighting trials often require the Padawan learner to travel to the frozen caves of Ilum to find crystals for constructing their first lightsaber. The world itself is a nexus of Force energy and the blue and green crystals found naturally under the surface have become attuned to the Force which makes them perfect for lightsaber construction. Through intense meditation and focus a Jedi manipulates the crystal on the atomic level to make it suitable for their needs before installing it into their lightsaber. Since the planet was largely under Jedi control for most of its history the most common coloured blades within the Order itself are either green or blue as Ilum only produces crystals of these two colours.
Due to the rarity of these Adegan crystals and the fact that the Jedi Order controlled almost all of the most well known sites where crystals naturally form, such as Ilum and Dantooine, the early Sith and Dark Jedi had to resort to creating synthetic crystals for use in their lightsabers. The artificial process is fairly straight forward and requires the use of a geological compressor which subjects a common lump of carbon to immense pressure over a period of 24 hours to 4 days. The individual then meditates to focus the formation of the crystals into the configuration they want. While this processes was initially used just as a necessity it eventually became accepted as a rite-of-passage because the Sith see the forced creation of a crystal to be a greater example of mastery over the Force than simply finding naturally formed crystals. Because they are often made to specific requirements they do actually suit the needs of the creator far more than natural ones. Hence they are perceived as superior.
“This synthetic crystal is stronger than the one powering your lightsaber now, and it is much, much stronger than the natural crystals the Jedi use in their own weapons.”
While the normal colour of synthetic crystals is red, the Force-Adept who is manipulating the crystals during their creation is able to alter their final colour if they wish. However many Sith see this as a pointless indulgence and often leave the colour unaltered or desire to intentionally separate themselves from the classical green and blue used by the Jedi. It has even been known for some Sith to intentionally create unstable crystals which produce a violently powerful lightsaber blade. While these lightsabers are prone to especially short functional life-spans, the blades themselves crackle and fizz with uncontrolled energy and are more powerful than standard lightsaber blades as they continually produce dangerous energy surges.
Because of the flexibility of synthetic crystals it has been seen more favourably in recent years by the Jedi Order who originally shunned the creation of the artificial crystals. Luke Skywalker was known to have no choice but to create his first lightsaber with artificial crystals as he did not have access to Ilum and many of the crystal mines used during the Old Republic period have been destroyed following Order 66.
A CUT ABOVE THE REST?
In the films the lightsaber is portrayed as an unstoppable force capable of cutting through any material. With the addition of the Extended Universe in novels, games and other media there was a gradual introduction of metals, energies and even creatures that could partly resist or totally resist being damaged by a lightsaber blade.
The films themselves do not acknowledge the existence of metals which are resistant to a lightsaber but energy fields are another matter entirely. It has been noted that George Lucas does not like the idea of anything other than energy fields being able to limit the activities of a lightsaber blade. In the recent Clone Wars TV series a Cortosis blade was changed into the now famous Darksaber simply because Lucas did not like the idea of a Cortosis blade being used in a lightsaber duel. Even the most basic energy shields are known to resist a lightsaber but depending upon the power source they can eventually be drained or be completely unaffected by contact with the blade. During the Mandalorian Wars and the conflict dubbed The Jedi Civil War the use of personal force-fields was widespread and provided excellent protection against lightsabers and blaster fire. The use of these devices became so widespread that the use of bladed weapons and ballistic firearms increased as the portable force fields only protected against energy discharges. The drawback was that the power supplies for these fields was quite limited and the power-packs expended power whenever they reflected or absorbed an energy impact. These personal force field generators eventually became so widespread and cheap to manufacturer that you even began to see them being used as an alternative to environmental hazard suits. Despite the films not recognising the existence of anything which can resist a lightsaber other than another energy field the Extended Universe has offered many alternatives.
Easily the most well-known naturally occurring minerals which resist lightsabers. Cortosis has a checkered history of inconsistencies which define its properties as being anywhere from an especially hard metal which simply resists lightsaber blades and energy beams to a malleable and brittle metal that not only resists the blade, but causes a feedback effect when it makes contact which shuts the blade down for a time. What is confirmed from all sources is that the metal is deadly in its unrefined state as it is naturally ionized and will electrocute anyone who touches it with their bare hands. Despite the benefits it is also incredibly expensive for a number of reasons. The energy resistant nature of the ore means that mining lasers are completely ineffective so hydraulic drills are needed, but the density of the ore often causes the drills and pneumatic jacks to quickly wear out. To reduce mining costs large scale drilling is often forgoed in favour of large labour forces on backwater worlds where the lack of labour laws ensures that miners could be paid very little and worked in conditions that where cost effective but dangerous. Cortosis dust is known to cause hair-loss and cellular decay when miners are exposed to it over an extended period of time, so air-filters and breathing masks or helmets are common place. But corrupt mining corporations often don’t pay for the best equipment so many Cortosis miners have very short lives. Due to this expense it isn’t uncommon for Cortosis to be mixed with other metals to produce Cortosis-weave, an alloy which allows for weapons and armour to be produced at a reduced cost as they are not made from pure, refined Cortosis.
A metallic compound made from Phrikite and Tydirium. The two raw ores are not unusually expensive but the process to combine them into the alloy known as Phrik is what causes the material to be unsuitable for widespread production. Once the two materials are smelted down, refined and combined the alloy is malleable in its molten state but becomes indestructible once it cools. This can be compared to the Adamantium metal from the Marvel comic series which is also indestructible once it hardens. The strength of this material was best demonstrated when a container made of Phrik with a Holocron inside was found to have survived the destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star. The origins of the alloy can be traced back to before 3,976 BBY and appears to have been created by an Arkanian scientist called Dr Gorman Vandrayk. However the now extinct Fenelar were a race conquered by the Mandalorians who had access to vast quantities of Phrik and used it to make their battle armour. Because molten Phrik can be easily combined with other materials without any loss of strength it is unknown if all items claimed to be made of Phrik are in fact 100% pure or simply compounds that contain this incredible alloy. Notable examples of items include the Electro-staffs used by IG-100 MagnaGuards during the Clone Wars and Emperor Palpatine’s lightsaber hilt. The notorious Dark Trooper suits and battle-droids were also produced with Phrik metals and alloys.
Also known commonly as Mandalorian Iron, is a naturally occurring mineral which is incredibly strong if properly refined. There is a Mandalorian technique which allows for the metal to reach its full potential as it becomes totally useless if processed incorrectly. Mandalorians also fold the metal multiple times to add to its strength. While continued strikes by a lightsaber to a specific point can create a breach, the precision required ensures that it unlikely enough to happen that it makes for highly effective armour against lightsabers. The metal is also unusually light which allows for the famous Mandalorian armour to have a thin, plated armour design that is as strong as much thicker armour produced from other materials. To date the mineral has only ever been found on Mandalore and its native moon. Almost all of it was strip-mined by the Empire following its founding but without the knowledge of Mandalorian metallurgists the ore was processed incorrectly and became worthless. A new vein of the ore was not discovered until an attack by the Yuuzhan Vong which left huge craters in the surface of the planet. The varied colours of Beskar are not the result of the metal being combined with other elements as the mineral is especially difficult to turn into an alloy. The fact is that Beskars colour is a result of the refinement process and the location that the ore was mined from on Mandalore or Concordia.
In addition to the minerals and alloys which are incredibly strong or have properties that resist an energy field there is a number of other things which a lightsaber is completely ineffective against. The most widespread is the use of the Force to empower any object with its own energy. Sith Swords for example were a normal sword which was forged using a combination of Sith Alchemy and Sith Magic to alter the atomic structure of the metal to make it stronger. The sword was also imbued with Force energy which functioned much like a standard energy field which lightsabers are also ineffective against. Wildlife on some worlds also have scales or hides which are naturally impervious to energy and high temperatures. Examples being the Tikulini mining worms of Jazbina, the ancient Zillo Beasts which were the dominant species on Malastare until the loss of its natural habitat and finally there is the Fireworms of Eol Sha which live in the lava pits found all over the planet. Their natural resistance to intense temperatures and ability to swallow lava and spit it out as a defence mechanism means that the intense heat and energy of a lightsaber is no threat to them.
A number of techniques to create new materials have also led to extremely strong forms of armour or plating which has been used on star ships and other space-faring vessels. These are normally found to operate in extreme environments such as within the corona of a star or other hostile situations. Quantum armour is known for being able to easily resist a lightsaber as well as the intense heat and radiation of a star and is produced by layers of atoms being densely packed and separated by another layer of atoms that are phase-shifted out of normal reality. Ultracrome is also a unique substance which is a superconductor and absorbs energy across the surface of whatever it is applied to. It is also incredibly strong against standard ballistic weaponry and can even be turned into lightsaber resistant shields which scatter and absorb the energy of the blade across the surface of the shield itself. But for all of the advancements. All of these technological wonders there is still one thing which the lightsaber is completely nullified by – water.
In small quantities the blade will evaporate water on contact but the blade cannot stand being submerged in part or totally under water without shutting down. The water simply prevents the lightsaber from completing its loop and continually releases the energy into the surroundings. This does nothing more than create a lot of hot water. Since water is all that is needed to short circuit a lightsaber you would think that we would see it being used more against Jedi and Sith, but it seems no writer or game developer has decided to use this particular limitation in their novels or games. Admittedly a lightsaber can be modified to function under water but this is normally only something done by species who can naturally survive under water for extended periods of time.
In part two of this exploration into the history and technology of the Lightsaber we will take a look into the more exotic variations on the classical design and see how the gameplay of TOR compares to the established lore of the Star Wars universe. Look out for part 2, next week!