Well, it didn’t take long before we got our first big controversy of the new era in Disney Star Wars was the “sexist casting” of Episode VII. Ooops. That really wasn’t a controversy since the full cast wasn’t, nor has been, released. So the REAL first big controversy came along with the first teaser trailer — What do we call that adorable Ralph McQuarrie rolling robot? Beach ball droid or soccer ball droid? Burning questions, I know . . . anyway, I’m just kidding. The REAL, REAL first big controversy for The Force Awakens is the mysterious red lightsaber of the purported villain, which forevermore shall be known as “Sithcalibur” — enter Nerd Rage in full effect, so we’ll take a closer look after the break.
Star Wars may be a fantasy set in outer space, but in reality may have its heart and roots in Earth’s Arthurian lore. Recently, I released my shot-by-shot breakdown in which I briefly mentioned this connection:
And one sword to rule them all . . . Excalibur was the sword of King Arthur, knight of the round table and King of the realm Camelot. One of the oldest and greatest mythologies in human history, it speaks to ancient wars between light and dark, good and evil. The controversial new sword taps into this wealth of mythology in one fell swoop. Mark Hamill spoke of this back in ’83 so it’s easy to see the connection: “He (George Lucas) at one time asked, ‘would you consider playing an Obi-Wan-type character handing Excalibur down to the next generation?’” Hamill said, apparently mixing his Star Wars and Arthurian mythologies even more than usual (Alternatively, Luke’s lightsaber had a name and no-one ever knew). “I said, ‘When would that be?’ and at the time he said, ‘Aww, around 2011.’” This ancient artifact, one of the first lightsabers IMO, with its angry red blade, unstable like fire, vented to the sides as a sort of hilt. I cannot fathom the consternation this has already caused without knowing or understanding what it is, but everyone is entitled to their opinion and mine is that it is sufficiently E P I C !!!
While we all know that George Lucas’ Star Wars has been influenced by everything from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, to westerns, and even to the Viet Nam war, this Arthurian connection should come as no surprise as Arthurian legend is perhaps the most romantic and deeply loved mythology revolving around knighthood, chivalry, fantasy, and epic battles between good and evil the world has ever known . . . well, before Star Wars that is. And it seems that I am not the only one that has drawn the comparison to Arthurian legend as we read from USAToday.com:
There was always some Arthurian legend in the the story of Hamill’s Luke Skywalker growing from farm boy to heroic Jedi Knight, and there is one cloaked figure in the teaser with a lightsaber that is Excalibur-esque — though it shines red, the color of Darth Vader and the evil Sith.
But some of you may be asking yourselves, What is this Arthurian legend you write of? In today’s age of technological dominance the ancient classics are starting to fall away. So this is a brief review for the uninitiated. The legend of King Arthur gained a very wide popularity thanks to the writings of Sir Thomas Malory in his compilation of knightly tales called “Le Morte d’Arthur.” From this masterpiece of medieval literature we were given the John Boorman film classic — perhaps one of the greatest films no one ever talks about — Excalibur.
Excalibur was the name of King Arthur’s magical sword, the one sword to rule them all. Sound familiar? It was forged by a wizard named “Merlin” who was friend and advisor to a mighty knight named “Uther Pendragon.” In exchange for a magical spell to fool Pendragon’s enemy Merlin requested Uther’s first born son. Uther agreed and made his pact with the devil, conquered his enemy, slept with the man’s wife, and begot a son named “Arthur.” But, having forgotten the pact, Uther was enraged when Merlin came to collect the boy. Uther without the aid of Merlin was defeated, but before he died he cursed the sword and drove it into a stone. Merlin took Arthur, the once and future king, to be raised by a foster father who was a good man and brave knight — this element resembles Luke being taken to his Uncle Owen — where Arthur was raised until adulthood when he would be confronted with his destiny that would eventually include facing the realization of his once noble father fallen to the dark side. This is a woefully cursory summary of the story, but suffice it to say this is a MUST watch film for any Star Wars/fantasy fan who will no doubt draw many connections and correlations between the two beloved sagas.
One connection that people may have never been aware — and I must admit I am one of those people — is that Roger Christian won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. Christian worked on Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace as well. I definitely encourage everyone to read the link to a BBC article about this man. But recounting his work building the original lightsabers for A New Hope he reveals a telling quote:
“I knew the laser sword, as it was first known, would be the iconic image of Star Wars. It was as important as Excalibur in the legend of King Arthur.
“I searched and searched for something suitable to adapt and, as time was running out before the first day of shooting, I found a dusty box of old Graflex handles in a photographer’s shop in London and I knew I had hit the Holy Grail.”
Okay. So a Brit who knows the Arthurian legend has influenced Star Wars and creates a connection. Understandable, except that it’s a lot more than that. Aside from working on several Star Wars movies Christian also directed a short film entitled Black Angel that appeared before The Empire Strikes Back in 1980:
Black Angel is an Arthurian tale of a knight who rescues a princess while he is returning home from the Crusades.
Shot in Scotland on a shoestring budget in 1979, it was shown the following year in cinemas in the UK, Scandinavia, Japan and Australia as part of screenings of The Empire Strikes Back […] Christian’s friend, Star Wars’ creator and director George Lucas, had given him free rein to make Black Angel as the short to accompany Empire.
Black Angel disappeared and was thought lost but was re-discovered in 2012 in the Lucasfilm archives. (I hope it makes it to the fans in some fashion.) Regarding the new era of Star Wars:
Christian said: “George Lucas’s genius was that he made a space film that people got, it was gritty and dirty, and also this fantastic mythology he created around the films.
“I hope with the new film they don’t just go for the ride and forget the mythology.”
And from the first teaser trailer we’d have to conclude that not only has JJ Abrams and co. remembered the mythology, but that it will feature prominently. But this is not all that Roger Christian has to say about The Force Awakens. The father of the lightsaber had these remarks about the controversial new “laser sword”:
“Looking at the lightsaber in the trailer it has to be a found, older one as the blade is rougher, it’s flame-like, so not as smooth as the newer blades.
“The snowy environment would hint that someone has found an ancient saber so I surmised this is an older laser sword.
“For sure there is a lot of debate going to be blogged now about the little blade protection side flames. They look cool, but aren’t practical, and that was the original Star Wars mantra, everything had to look used and real. George wanted it that nothing ever stood out as designed, just a used universe that was real.
“So there has to be a reason coming for this laser sword. J J Abrams would have considered every visual in this first teaser.”
From the mouth of the father of the lightsaber who was influenced by Arthurian legend and helped instill it into Star Wars. While there are many, many materialistic similarities between the two legends, the consternation surrounding the new Excalibur-esque lightsaber is rather confounding. First, I am making no claims that this new lightsaber is some sort of magical or otherwise otherworldly weapon. However, it cannot be denied that it seems to have been influenced by medieval swords. Second, we don’t know anything about it. To me, like roger Christian, it appears to be a crude and perhaps ancient [seminal] version of lightsaber. It appears crude in that the laser blade is less refined than what we’re accustomed to. I dissagree with Christian though about the hilt’s “imrpacticality.” In this regard the “hilt” appears to be a vent for the blade. While many speculate that it is a hilt designed for protection, but poorly so because, as the argument goes, “the hilt could be sliced off by opposing saber” is really irrelevant. The lightsaber itself is a fantasy weapon so when we start arguing about the plausibility of fantasy weaponry all arguments become moot. The real point is that Sithcalibur looks freaking cool and is a very nice addition to the collection of lightsabers in our far away galaxy. However, aside from looking freaking cool, here’s an uber-Star Wars geek’s verbal smackdown to the internet “trolls” hating on the “impracticality” of the new lightsaber and you’re gonna bleed out of your ears when you realize how right he is. Enter Stephen Colbert — preach it, brotha!
BOOM! Scientifically proven! And just for the record, I happen to be a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerfherder and I have gone on record as saying I love this new lightsaber. So don’t be hating on all us nerfherders — some of us win, too, sometimes! And if Stephen Colbert didn’t win enough this laughable argument that the hilt design is “stupid” then I’ll just pile on some more EPIC WIN!
So there you have it, a little backstory behind Sithcalibur and, to the minority of fans who hate the the awesome new blade, plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t. As always we welcome your comments on this article and, to those that have them, be sure to let us know in The Cantina if this post has swayed your negative opinions at all.