Did you know that the original Star Wars lightsaber was made using antique camera parts? If you have an old Speed Graphic press camera, you may even have a replica lightsaber sitting on your shelf without knowing it.
How the Original Lightsabers Were Made
Star Wars set decorator Roger Christian shared the story of how the design of this iconic weapon came about in an interview with BBC News back in 2017.
Christian was in London’s West End when he discovered handles of a Graflex Flash Gun in a photography store on Great Marlborough Street. It was a Graflex 3-cell flashgun that held flashbulbs for vintage Speed Graphic press cameras.
First, Christian added removed the circular bulb housing and added a black grip. He then modified the handles by attaching cabinet T-tracks with Super Glue (AKA Crazy Glue AKA cyanoacrylate glue). Next, based on a suggestion by George Lucas himself, a clip was added to the lightsaber so that it could be carried on Luke’s belt.
The sum of these modifications was still relatively minor, so the original lightsabers still very closely resembled the camera part on which they were based.
This handmade prop became Luke’s first prototype lightsaber prior to the production of 1977’s A New Hope.
The lightsaber was then passed onto special effects guru John Stears, who inserted a wooden dowel rod coated with a special paint that provided a weak glow for animators to add onto during post-production.
During filming in Tunisia, the crew discovered that the lightsaber would only glow at certain angles to the camera — at other angles, viewers could clearly tell that the characters were just swinging wooden rods around. Thus, it was decided that rotoscoping would be used to create the energy blade of the lightsabers in post-production.
Here’s a clip of Luke receiving the
flash handle lightsaber from Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope.
How to Buy a Star Wars Lightsaber
Obtaining an authentic original lightsaber is no easy feat — you will need to jump on an auction when one is put up for sale and also have very, very deep pockets.
One of the lightsabers used by Mark Hamill (the actor who played Luke) in the early films sold at auction for $240,000 back in 2008. Another was put up for auction in 2018 with an estimated price of $200,000, but it was quickly pulled after fans and even Hamill raised concerns about the authenticity.
Christian himself responded to confirm that the prop was legitimate (after the listing was taken down).
For Star Wars fans looking to own their own (much cheaper) replica lightsaber, a search on eBay returns plenty of people selling these flash units as “lightsabers”, though the identical 3-cell flash handle from the exact camera as the originals still go for hundreds of dollars.