Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Why a Lightsaber Is Central to the Story

There's always been significance to lightsabers in the Star Wars universe. It looks like The Force Awakens will be no exception...

One of the first rumors to surface regarding The Force Awakens centered around the idea that the opening shot of the film would subvert the traditional awe-inspiring, scale-setting, over-the-top-of-the-camera-fly-by intro and instead feature the lightsaber Luke was given by Obi-Wan (and lost at Bespin) floating through space. It’s a concept that has never really been shaken off, and certainly not definitively refuted. If true, it would say much about how the focus of The Force Awakens seems to have been to bring Star Wars back to representing grand scale concepts and conflicts through very personal journeys. But, anyway I digress – you’ll get used to that.

Of course, if you want to make the kind of “rhyming” references that strike fear into fans born before 1990, it’s easy to see how the weapon (or, maybe, the former owner of the hand that once wielded it) could easily become this movie’s MacGuffin in the way R2 was in A New Hope.

It would certainly seem to be a catalyst for the events that transpire. We’ve seen it changing hands – apparently from Lupita Nyong’o’s Mas Kanata to Leia – in a trailer, as part of Finn’s costume in concept art, and wielded by the same character in posters and in what appears to be a showdown with both a stormtrooper and Kylo Ren during various trailers. Just as recently as yesterday, a new leaked action figure revealed that Rey may have that lightsaber by the end of the film. 

There are many rumors that put the lightsaber at the center of the film’s early events: Stormtroopers in a dropship, torching a village, Poe Dameron’s presence on Jakku, BB-8’s involvement, Finn’s defection from the First Order, Rey and Finn meeting Maz (as in the early leaked concept art showing characters huddled around a lit lightsaber). There’s little doubt we’re going to see a lot of this weapon from a more civilized age, but will it become Finn’s full-time? Rey’s, perhaps? Could it yet be returned to Luke? Does he need it? Does he want it?

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Clouded, the future is…

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Star Wars without lightsabers is pretty unthinkable, and they’ve featured heavily in all the material released over the last year.

Three books: The Heir to the JediThe Weapon of a Jedi, and A New Dawn – the first two featuring Luke, and the latter a character central to Star Wars Rebels, Kanan Jarrus – have touched upon the relationship between Jedi and their lightsabers. Heir’s early chapters use its unusual first-person perspective to deal with Luke’s wish to learn more about how the devices technically work (he breaks a lightsaber he comes across on his travels while tinkering with it) and how he quickly realizes that the ability to build and repair one is essential to his learning about the Force.

Weapon, on the other hand, deals with the first time he wields his father’s lightsaber against a living opponent (Sarco Plank).

The Rebels-related novel, as the series itself does, focuses more on Kanan’s difficulty in dealing with his status as a Jedi – or, at least, ex-Padawan. Therein, his refusal to use the weapon is both a necessity that prevents exposing him in a hostile pre-A New Hope climate, and a symbol of his choice to walk away from a path he questions the validity of.

That’s an interesting theme also raised in the Rebels series by Ezra’s constant questioning of whether he wants – or is able – to control his powers, whether he’s disciplined enough to be a good Padawan and whether Kanan’s self-doubt regarding his ability to be a Master will eventually lead to both their downfalls. These concepts make me wonder whether the return of this iconic weapon to Luke himself during his apparently short screen time in The Force Awakens could become symbolic of his return to the fray and a reassertion his identity?

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Of course, the most prevalent lightsaber imagery of this past year has been the already iconic three-bladed version used by Kylo Ren. A source of heated debate between its fans (chief among them, Stephen Colbert, who produced an impressively sharp and probable analysis of its operation) and naysayers (we’re looking at you, Greg). Heir to the Jedi also may offer some sort of explanation regarding its controversial design. Remember that broken lightsaber we mentioned earlier? It, like all weapons of its ilk in the Star Wars universe, works by harnessing the power inherent in Kyber crystals – featured repeatedly in Rebels and intermittently in Clone Wars.

In Heir, the lightsaber that Luke breaks features three such crystals in its make up – with the story implying that they are so delicately balanced and placed that they would require admirable Force mastery to manipulate satisfactorily, a level of skill Luke does not yet possess at the time the novel is set.

This idea could perhaps be extrapolated to a couple of ends. Firstly to amplify Darth Vader’s admiration of Luke’s new weapon in Return of the Jedi (it is, after all, much sleeker stylistically than the one taken by Obi-Wan), and secondly, to imply that the apparently unstable nature of Kylo Ren’s weapon (it certainly seems to have a more dynamic “blade” than we’re used to seeing) means that, while he can use the Force, he is unable to focus his control to the extent he would like.

Could, for example, the crossguard design be a pragmatic way to get around his failings as much as it is a defensive feature?

In the new integrated universe of The Force Awakens, though, where canonical novels like A New Dawn and Aftermath, and the recent trailers, have worked to establish that the Jedi are considered a legend or tall tale rather than definitive fact (and that misinformation about what Luke and the Rebellion achieved is rife), the use of lightsabers as powerful weapons of choice will almost certainly serve as some kind of callback to this bygone age, both within the story and outside of it. Their users will, once again, be exceptional – certainly set against their almost workaday nature in the Prequels and The Clone Wars.

Kylo Ren, as Vader was, may also be considered as having a “sad devotion” to an “ancient religion” – made even sadder by the passing of time and the piling up of propaganda. The Knights of Ren, the faction (aka ‘The Seven’ in some rumors) from which he takes his name, could be considered little more than an insane cult that the First Order uses to do its dirty work. If rumors of Finn having been trained in using a lightsaber while he was a Stormtrooper also turn out to be fact, it could be that he considers the weapon a toy – what n00bs are given to play with, and that his appreciation of its power is part of his journey through the film (though we also have form, via Rebels, for trainee troopers being tested for Force sensitivity, so it could be part of that).

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Finally, while we’re talking about Kyber crystals, we come to the new Starkiller (known on-set as the Sunsucker) weapon, which apparently becomes the focus of the resistance’s attention (based, as it appears to be on the icy planet we see hosting the almighty dogfight in the trailer, potentially in Sullust or – more likely Ilum – under the control of General Hux) in latter parts of the movie. 

Both The Clone Wars (“Crystal Crisis”/”The Big Bang”) and Rebels (“Breaking Ranks”) have established large Kyber crystals as central to the building of Separatist and Imperial weapons (one was also the basis of the Death Star’s superlaser), so could they once again be central to the power of this weapon to “destroy entire star systems?” Indeed, could Luke Skywalker’s Jedi abilities, and his power to manipulate and control crystals, be central to the stalemate that has seen him seemingly disappear from the galaxy as some early rumors suggested?

All speculation, of course, but – as is the way with Star Wars – fascinating speculation…