- "Touch the brightly-colored button up there by the pommel…."
- ―Obi-Wan Kenobi
Lightsaber hilts were the basic, all-encompassing part of a lightsaber. A combination handgrip, blade emitter, activator switch and power source, it held within the inner workings of the weapon that allowed it to produce its distinctive energy-based blade. The first hilts were produced as early as the advent of the lightsaber itself, approximately 15,500 BBY; though cumbersome and requiring a backpack-mounted power source, the Jedi Order nonetheless began to embrace the technology. Eventually these hilts evolved to only require a small belt-mounted pack, and again to a fully self-contained weapon system; such designs saw service as early as 5000 BBY at the start of the Great Hyperspace War. Over the thousands of years that followed, power technology and indeed the construction of lightsaber hilts continued to evolve, eventually encompassing shotos, shorter hilts used in the off-hand, as well as double-bladed, curved-hilt, and dual-phase designs. There are many unique hilts, such as the lightsaber hilt of Gungi, a Jedi Initiate. His hilt was made from the wood of a Brylark tree, which is as strong as metal.
Both the Jedi and the Sith Order used lightsaber hilts; the former regarding them as tools rather than weapons, while the latter sought to use their sabers to fuel their quest for power. Both Orders saw the construction of a lightsaber hilt to be one of the primary stages of a being's development within their ranks, mostly signifying that a Padawan or apprentice was ready to ascend to the next level. Though double-bladed hilts were typically associated with the Sith, practitioners of the dark side of the Force, those who followed the light side occasionally preferred these over the commonly-accepted use of single hilts in battle. Despite two attempts to eradicate the Jedi, the technology of lightsaber hilts continued to live on as the Order that had originally supported them rose anew. In addition, other Force-using traditions, such as the Jensaarai, constructed lightsaber hilts.
Technology and construction
A lightsaber hilt contained many components, all of which were hand-selected by the Force-user who constructed it and tuned to be in harmony with each other at the completion of the weapon's creation. From focusing lens to pommel cap, such components typically included a blade emitter shroud, magnetic stabilizing loop followed by a ring tuning flange to ensure that the activated blade did not in turn burn through the hilt. Immediately below and mounted internally lay the blade arc tip, followed on the outside by the blade power adjustment and blade length adjustment knobs. Following the arc tip were mounted the blade energy channel which was nested amongst the cycling field energizers. Within the crystal energy chamber below this lay the focusing crystals, the focusing crystal activator and the primary crystal which was attached to the primary crystal mount and situated between the lightsaber energy gate.
The primary crystal mount was in turn connected to the diatium power cell, which served as the primary power source of the weapon. The power cell was in turn wrapped beneath the power field conductor, power vortex ring and an inert power insulator. Rounding out the components that went into a typical hilt were the handgrip connector and a sturdy belt ring.
Gathering the various components to construct a lightsaber was relatively simple, given the utilitarian nature of the materials involved; typically, these were readily available commercially, with the exception of the crystals. In the pre-Ruusan Jedi Order, such crystals could be found within Force-sensitive locations from across the galaxy; these were typically places that resonated with a powerful dark or light-side presence in the Force. In the wake of the New Sith Wars, however, the Jedi chose to limit their crystal harvesting to the frigid world of Ilum, which brimmed with Adegan crystals that only produced blue and green blades. In the New Jedi Order this restriction was not carried through, and Jedi of that era once again used a wide variety of gemstones that produced different-colored blades.
Nearly every lightsaber hilt was unique in its construction, born of the Force-user who created it and using whatever materials were at hand; typically, such weapons were created over a span of months. Ideally, the Jedi or Sith who created it would go into deep Meditation, poring over each individual component to be added and thus forging a connection with it through the Force.
While the individual components of a lightsaber were relatively common and could be mass-produced, aligning them and the crystals required a supernaturally-steady hand guided by the Force. No attempt to mass-produce lightsabers ever succeeded.
Types of hilts
Though each hilt was unique to the Force-user who created it, a number of basic designs evolved over the millennia. Included among these were the shoto, a shorter design that was balanced to allow a Jedi or Sith to use it comfortably in the off-hand; the curved-hilt lightsaber, which was developed to accommodate the needs of Form II: Makashi; the double-bladed lightsaber, also known as the saberstaff, which projected a beam from each end of the hilt; and, least common of all, the dual-phase lightsaber. Dual-phase hilts were unique in that they allowed the person who had created them to adjust the beam length of their weapon; one setting typically used a standard blade length of approximately a meter or more, while the other setting could extend the blade out to three full meters. Such weapons were rare because there was no known style or practical use for the extended beam, beyond a startling surprise for an opponent.
Shotos and short lightsabers
Shotos, or short lightsabers as they were known during the Old Sith Wars, were secondary weapons that served much the same purpose as a dagger in the off-hand of a combatant. They typically utilized the same components of regular lightsaber hilts, however both the hilt itself and the blade it produced were significantly shorter. Some Jedi or Sith, rather than using a normal-style lightsaber and a shoto, would instead use two shotos, one in each hand. Another style of short lightsaber, called a guard shoto, utilized a rare perpendicular grip on the hilt. Many years later, shotos would see a resurgence as another form of energy-based weapon similar to the lightsaber, the lightwhip, came to be developed. Luke Skywalker constructed and utilized his own shoto after confronting the whip utilized by Lumiya for the first time, using it to great effect the next time the pair met in combat.
Known styles of hilt
Behind the scenes
Lightsaber hilts appear, either directly or indirectly, in every work within the Star Wars library that also features lightsabers themselves. Their first reference was in the novelization of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, when Obi-Wan Kenobi presents Luke Skywalker with his father's lightsaber in the farmer's hut on Tatooine. Since then they have persisted as one of the most iconic symbols of the Star Wars saga, including the films themselves and the litany of canonical and non-canonical works. In early drafts of the script for A New Hope, however, these weapons were intended to be commonplace, in that common Imperial and Rebel troopers alike used them.
Though most works that reference lightsaber construction use a more complicated method, within Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, much like its predecessor, the process is markedly simplified. For instance, lightsaber construction is confined to a few simple parts and takes only "a few hours" to accomplish. However, most other canonical sources state that construction can take up to a few months, with many more parts needed besides.
Lightsaber hilts can be seen in the real world through a number of different series of Star Wars-licensed toys. Ranging from cheap plastic hilts that "grow" a segmented, fitted blade when a button is pressed and the hilt is "drawn", to hilts with blades lit from within by flashlights that also emit sounds and other features, to high-quality metal hilts that mount a blade with in-built LED lights. These hilts, manufactured and marketed by companies such as Master Replicas, are sometimes used in fan-organized sparring matches, such as those seen at various Star Wars conventions. In addition, more mechanically-inclined fans produce their own hilts through the use of a metalworking lathe and inner wiring to produce lights, etc. for use in costumes. These hilts are sometimes fitted with custom "blades" that also emit a colored light and can be used in mock lightsaber duels.
- The New Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology
- Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary
- Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force
- Jedi Academy Training Manual
Notes and references
- I, Jedi
- Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary
- Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force
- The Essential Guide to Warfare
- Star Wars (1977) 96
- Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones
- Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
- Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
- Star Wars Galaxies
- Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords