Editorial: Lightsabers, Their Users and Their Uses
Lightsabers are one of the most iconic elements of Star Wars. They appear in movies and on merchandise packaging. Multiple movies and TV shows have spoofed or copied them. Enthusiasts have created groups dedicated to making replica hilts and original designs. Lightsaber dueling has even been recognized by the French Fencing Federation as an official sport. Let’s look at a few interesting facts about them, their users and their uses.
I’ll begin by setting a few parameters. First, I’m only going to discuss lightsabers as they appear in live action media. That is, the 11 feature-length films and The Mandalorian Disney Plus show. Someday I’ll write a follow up that includes animated media like The Clone Wars, Rebels, Forces of Destiny and Resistance. However, those shows contain a lot of lightsaber lore and will probably require several articles. Second, I’m not going to get into technical details about lightsaber design, kyber crystals or fighting styles. I’m going to focus on what is plainly observable onscreen.
We meet again for the first time for the last time
The reason I thought to write this article was because I recently rewatched the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, Solo and Rogue One. Sometimes when watching Star Wars I notice things I hadn’t in numerous, and I mean numerous, previous viewings. It occurred to me that the same two lightsabers almost never cross blades after one duel. In the entire prequel trilogy it only happened one time. Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn briefly dueled in the desert on Tatooine and then Qui-Gon, Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul famously fought on Naboo to John Williams’ unforgettable Duel of the Fates. This second meeting of Qui-Gon’s lightsaber and Darth Maul’s lightsaber is the only time the same two lightsabers clashed in combat twice until the sequel trilogy.
Sixty-six years later, Rey dueled Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. You could argue that Rey and Kylo’s fight in The Force Awakens doesn’t qualify as a second meeting of these sabers since it’s just a continuation of Finn and Kylo’s duel, from a certain point of view. If that’s the case, then the same two sabers don’t cross blades twice until The Rise of Skywalker when Rey and Kylo duel on Kijimi, or in the wreckage of the second Death Star. The duel on Kijimi took place remotely through the force so I don’t know if their blades actually met or only appeared to. If you count Finn, Rey and Kylo’s fight(s) in The Force Awakens as one instance, the only time the same two lightsabers are used against each other are in the first and last of 11 films.
Something borrowed, something blue
My fellow Star Wars nerds may be thinking, “Woah woah woah, hold on. Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi fought Count Dooku in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith“. That is true. But, they did so wielding different lightsabers in each movie. In Attack of the Clones some machinery on Geonosis cut Anakin’s lightsaber in half before he fought Count Dooku. And when the separatists captured Obi Wan, they confiscated his lightsaber. So Anakin and Obi Wan both fought Dooku with borrowed lightsabers. Then, by the time they fought again in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin had built the now famous blue bladed lightsaber that would end up with Luke and Rey and Obi Wan had built the saber he died holding on the Death Star.
Live to fight another day
You may also be thinking, “Two lightsabers meeting twice should be rare, isn’t the point of a duel to kill the other person?”. That’s also true. However, both parties surviving a lightsaber duel is actually very common in Star Wars. Here are the instances of it:
- Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul’s duel on Tatooine. (The Phantom Menace)
- Obi Wan and Darth Maul on Naboo. (The Phantom Menace)
- Anakin, Obi Wan and Count Dooku’s fight on Geonosis. (Attack of the Clones)
- Yoda and Count Dooku’s fight on Geonosis. (Attack of the Clones)
- Yoda and Palpatine’s duel in the senate. (Revenge of the Sith)
- Anakin and Obi Wan’s duel on Mustafar. (Revenge of the Sith)
- Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s duel on Cloud City. (The Empire Strikes Back)
- Luke and Vader’s duel on the second Death Star. (Return of the Jedi)
- Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren’s fight on Starkiller Base. (The Force Awakens)
- Rey and Kylo on Kijimi. (The Rise of Skywalker)
- Rey and Kylo at the second Death Star wreckage. (The Rise of Skywalker)
Lightsabers don’t kill people, people kill people
So the same two lightsabers meeting twice is rare. You know what else is rare? Actually being killed by a lightsaber. That is, people who wield lightsabers aren’t often killed by them. Battle Droids and nameless aliens and thugs get killed but Jedi and Sith aren’t often killed by lightsabers. Take a look at this list of Jedi and Sith who died onscreen but not from lightsabers:
- Numerous Jedi in the arena on Geonosis by battle droids and Geonosians (Attack of the Clones)
- Mace Windu was defenestrated (Revenge of the Sith)
- Numerous Jedi in the Order 66 montage were mostly shot (Revenge of the Sith)
- Yoda from old age (Return of the Jedi)
- Darth Vader from equipment failure? (Return of the Jedi)
- Palpatine fell and died, I guess? (Return of the Jedi)
- Luke Skywalker from exhaustion? (The Last Jedi)
- Princess Leia also from exhaustion, I guess? (The Rise of Skywalker)
- Rey from exhaustion? (The Rise of Skywalker)
- Ben Solo from force depletion? (The Rise of Skywalker)
- Palpatine from electrocuting himself against Rey’s saber (The Rise of Skywalker)
The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand
Exhaustion sure seems to be a serious issue for Jedi and Sith. They should really make sure to get a good night’s sleep and take their vitamins. Blue milk has also proven to boost a Jedi’s immune system. They need their strength to cut people’s limbs off. Cutting off limbs is one of the most common things Jedi and Sith do with lightsabers. Nobody is better at this than Obi Wan Kenobi. Look at this list of severed limbs:
- Zam Wessel: One arm by Obi Wan Kenobi (Attack of the Clones)
- Anakin Skywalker: One arm by Count Dooku (Attack of the Clones)
- Count Dooku: Both Hands by Anakin Skywalker (Revenge of the Sith)
- General Grievous: Two hands by Obi Wan Kenobi (Revenge of the Sith)
- Mace Windu: One arm by Anakin Skywalker (Revenge of the Sith)
- Darth Vader: One arm and both legs by Obi Wan Kenobi (Revenge of the Sith)
- Ponda Baba: One arm by Obi Wan Kenobi (A New Hope)
- The poor wampa: One arm by Luke Skywalker (The Empire Strikes Back)
- Luke Skywalker: One hand by Darth Vader (The Empire Strikes Back)
- Darth Vader: One hand by Luke Skywalker (Return of the Jedi)
- Honorable mention goes to Snoke. Kylo Ren cut Snoke in half with Rey’s lightsaber, killing him. Due to how he was sitting at the time, the blade also severed both of his hands (The Last Jedi).
Obi Wan Kenobi racked up an impressive seven amputations! Anakin/Vader comes in second with four. In Revenge of the Sith, General Grievous referred to Kenobi as “The Negotiator”. He should have called him “The Amputator”. Kenobi also cut Darth Maul in half. We know that Maul didn’t die since he appeared in Solo: A Star Wars Story, but it deserves mention.
Yours, mine and ours
Another rarity was a Jedi or Sith wielding a saber from the other team. Depending on how you define “wield”, this only happened a handful of times. The first time we saw it was when Anakin Skywalker beheaded Count Dooku. Anakin held his saber in one hand and Dooku’s in the other. Then he used them both to decapitate Dooku. Next, we saw Darth Vader ignite Luke Skywalker’s new lightsaber on Endor. He didn’t do anything with it, but at least he ignited it. After that, you have to jump to Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi. Snoke had Rey’s lightsaber resting on his armrest while he sat comfy in his chair. Ren used the force to ignite the blade and cut Snoke in half. Is this wielding? Ren didn’t even touch the saber. I’m not sure. But, Ren definitely did wield Rey’s saber in the fight against Snoke’s guards.
Taking the definition of the word “wield” a little farther, Emperor Palpatine held Luke’s second lightsaber in his hands but didn’t ignite it or do anything with it except annoy Luke into starting a fight with Darth Vader. I guess he used it as a psychological weapon? Maybe? Snoke should also get a nod for creative use of an opponent’s lightsaber. Before his unfortunate bisection, Snoke chatted with Rey while her saber sat harmlessly (heh heh) next to him on his armrest. Rey used the force to pull the saber to her but Snoke used the force to redirect it and bonked her on the noggin with it before returning it to his armrest. He didn’t touch it; he didn’t ignite it, but he did hit her with it. Did he “wield” it? I’ll leave that up to Merriam-Webster.
Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough. He murdered children with it.
A curious case of a Jedi wielding a Sith saber is Luke Skywalker’s first, blue bladed saber. Technically speaking, Luke’s first saber was also Darth Vader’s first saber. Pre black armor Vader used the blue bladed saber to do all sorts of Sithy things. For instance, he killed Jedi and younglings, killed the separatist leadership and fought Obi-Wan Kenobi with it. That was definitely a Sith lightsaber. When Luke and Vader dueled on Cloud City, both sabers were constructed by Mr. Vader. That marks the only time in all of the movies that two lightsabers built by the same person were used in combat against each other.
There’s another lightsaber that may have transitioned from Jedi to Sith, or their sequel trilogy equivalents. Ben Solo’s lightsaber in The Last Jedi appears to simply be Kylo Ren’s saber except with crossbar vents, some amateur looking wiring and a coat of black paint. I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere but the props look the same and it’s not a stretch to think he just hot-rodded his goody two shoes Jedi saber into his dark side saber.
If John Woo directed Star Wars
Another thing you don’t see much in Star Wars is someone using more than one lightsaber at a time. This only happened four times. First, Anakin tried and failed to fight Count Dooku with two borrowed sabers simultaneously in Attack of the Clones. Next, Anakin tried to kill Dooku with his own saber and Dooku’s and succeeded in Revenge of the Sith. Then, General Grievous fought Obi Wan Kenobi on Utapau wielding four lightsabers he had taken from Jedi he had killed. Finally, Rey used the heirloom Skywalker saber and Leia’s saber to deflect Palpatine’s lightning at the end of The Rise of Skywalker. Other than those, nobody is shown wielding more than one lightsaber at a time.
I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.
Grievous’ use of the lightsabers leads us into our next subject. That is, people who have no connection to the force but have wielded a lightsaber. Only three or four people have done this. First up is General Grievous. Grievous stated that Count Dooku had trained him in the use of a lightsaber. I still don’t know why any Jedi wouldn’t simply use the force to disarm or otherwise incapacitate him, but they didn’t and he killed a bunch of them. Next is Han Solo. Han used Luke’s blue bladed lightsaber to cut open a tauntaun so he could stuff Luke in it to keep him warm on the ice planet Hoth. I call this “Jedi-stuffed tauntaun”. It wasn’t a combat situation but Han still gets credit for it in my book.
More recently, Moff Gideon wielded a unique lightsaber called the Darksaber in the first season finale of The Mandalorian. The Darksaber has a black blade. This unusual saber has a history in the animated Star Wars shows but made its live action debut in The Mandalorian. Gideon isn’t known to have any connection to the force, but season 2 of the show could change that. Finally, Finn wielded Luke’s blue bladed saber against Kylo Ren on Starkiller base. Finn’s inclusion in this section is questionable. In The Rise of Skywalker there are hints that Finn has a connection to the force. However, it isn’t ever stated explicitly and we don’t conclusively see him use the force. So he may or may not fit into this category. At the time of his encounter with Kylo Ren, he didn’t seem to be aware of any connection to the force.
One and done
I’ll wrap this up with lightsabers we only saw in use one time. Four people wielded a lightsaber once before it disappeared forever. In Revenge of the Sith, Mace Windu and three more Jedi went to arrest Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. With a never-before-seen lightsaber, Palpatine killed the other three Jedi quickly but had a drawn out duel with Mace Windu. Ultimately Windu disarmed Palpatine and his lightsaber went out the window. We never saw it again. Later, Palpatine fought Yoda wielding a second lightsaber we’d never seen before. It was identical to the first but had black accents instead of gold. It too was never seen after the duel.
In his brief cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Maul (no longer a Darth) appeared via Space Skype wielding another double-bladed lightsaber, different from his original. It hasn’t been seen in live action since. As mentioned above, Moff Gideon showed up with the Darksaber at the end of The Mandalorian. The second season of the show is in production and it’s likely that the saber will appear again, but it gets into this category for now.
Decades later, at the end of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey ignited a lightsaber she constructed herself. It appeared to be made from parts of her staff and emitted a yellow blade. We may see it again someday if Disney makes some more stories about Rey, but until then it’s one and done. Also, in Rey’s vision in the wayfinder room, she encountered an evil version of herself wielding a double-bladed lightsaber. It wasn’t a real person or a real saber, but I thought I should mention it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at lightsabers. If I missed anything or you have anything to share, please share your thoughts in the comments section!
Charles Fraser is originally from Lynn, MA but currently resides in Modesto, CA with his wife and children. He works in IT by day and writes articles for MNN and SWNN by night. While not reading Curious George books and watching Frozen, again, with his children, he plays the drums, experiments with guitar and bass, sneaks a video game or two and enjoys movies and TV. He also enjoys audiobooks during his long commute.