№28

Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

(USA / George Lucas, 1977)

Star Wars has such resonance because so many of its key characters are archetypes from fairytales and classic adventure stories. Leia (Carrie Fisher) is the beautiful princess who needs to be rescued by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill), who is the brave young knight on a noble quest. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) is the wise old wizard. And Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is both the Wild West gunslinger and the roguish pirate. Star Wars is so exciting because it combines these elements from old-fashioned adventure yarns with the futuristic trappings of science fiction. And nothing combines them as completely as Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.

Luke’s lightsaber is a mythical weapon: it once belonged to his father and was the emblem of the now-extinct order of knights for which he fought. It is kept by Luke’s mysterious guardian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who presents it to him when destiny ordains. The first time Luke takes his father’s lightsaber into his hands, he begins his journey towards becoming the defender of all that is good in the galaxy. As such, his lightsaber recalls Excalibur in Arthurian legend. More simply, it is a sword used to fight off villainous enemies and so makes Luke the successor to the swashbuckling swordsmen played in movies by Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. And because its blade is made not from metal but from a laser beam, it also ensures that Luke instantly joins the great ray gun-toting heroes of twentieth-century sci-fi, such as Flash Gordon and Captain Kirk.

Luke’s lightsaber extends a tradition established by two classic pieces of pop culture iconography: the white hats and black hats worn in Westerns by good guys and bad guys respectively. Luke’s lightsaber is light blue, which marks it as the righteous weapon of a good-hearted Jedi and makes it distinct from the red lightsaber used by the dastardly Darth Vader. In Star Wars the colour scheme is as clear as the moral scheme, in which there is only ever good and evil, a dark side and a light side, and nothing in between.

Illustration by Dave McMillan
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