A Brief History of Laser Swords in TV, Movies, and Video Games
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No other sword has been equated with sci-fi media as much as the lightsaber, a staple of the Star Wars universe and countless renditions of heavy dueling between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul. That said, the concept of an energy sword, plasma sword, or laser sword didn’t originate from the franchise. The true origins of the laser sword stretch back before George Lucas’ influence on sci-fi.
Here’s a brief history of laser sabers that takes you over the first mentions in fiction of swords made of some type of energy as well as notable swords that have featured everything from iconic lightsaber duels to battles in the planet of Onyx.
The Origins of Laser Swords in Media
Contrary to popular belief, laser swords are neither unique to the Sith and Jedi, nor were they invented for the Star Wars franchise. The very first mention of laser swords in media came from Russian-American sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov. A pioneer of the sci-fi genre and a peer to the likes of Dune writer Frank Herbert, Asimov introduced the idea of an energy blade in the short story The Traders.
Published in the October 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, a sci-fi literary magazine, the story followed Limmar Ponyets, a trader sent to the Askone solar system to sell nuclear technology-based products in exchange for raw materials. Naturally, this puts him in the path of a blackmarket trader who sold a “penknife with a force-field blade”.
Asimov developed this idea further in The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr where he describes characters wielding invisible sabres and knives capable of cutting through virtually anything, a characteristic that is shared by many laser swords in sci-fi since then.
The idea was quickly picked up by other sci-fi writers, including Gordon R. Dickson for his 1969 story Wolfing. In it, he describes a race of advanced space-faring humans who carry around small rods that produce a retractable energy beam, kind of like the metal hilt of a lightsaber.
This served as an inspiration for George Lucas when he conceptualized the lightsaber for the Star Wars franchise so that he could justify having a sword in space. This was because Lucas liked the Arthurian symbols behind swords, ideas that he wanted to associate with the Jedi Knights.
Notable Laser Swords in Fiction That You Can Get Online
Characters with laser swords make for cool cosplays, but that wouldn’t be possible without the swords themselves. Here are a few of the most notable laser swords in fiction and the best replicas that are available online.
1. Halo’s Energy Sword
Halo’s energy swords carry much of the same noble and spiritual connotations of Lucas’ lightsabers in Star Wars, but they are usually restricted to upper class Sangheili, a rival species to humans in Halo’s setting. Because of this, the use of energy swords is restricted to their noble class and is treated with utmost respect.
Fortunately, there’s no need to be a blue-blooded Sangheili to have a replica of an energy sword. This polyester-based replica of the Halo energy sword has blunt tips to keep users safe during play. Since it’s an officially licensed product, the replica nails all the details to a tee, even the small blue gems on the handle.
- Material: Polyester
- Length: 63 cm
2. Star Wars Lightsaber
Official Star Wars lightsabers can be rather pricey, but there are quality replicas that are battle-ready and affordable at a cheap price if you know where to look. We’ve done the looking for you with this 2-in-1 lightsaber.
Designed to connect at the center using a small twist-lock connector, this 2-in-1 set of swords can be used for a dual-sword fighting style like the one Ashoka specializes in or in a staff-like weapon similar to Darth Maul’s signature blades.
- Material: Aluminum
- Length: 119.98 cm
3. Kylo Ren’s Lightsaber
Kylo Ren’s lightsaber received a lot of flak when it was first revealed, but it has since stood out as one of the more unique lightsaber designs in Star Wars. For one, it’s the only blade of its kind made of two shards of a broken kyber crystal, hence the need for vents that produce a crossguard effect.
The way he uses the blade is also unique because there’s weight being thrown behind each swing, implying that the longsword-style lightsaber weighs similarly to a real metal blade.
This replica Kylo Ren lightsaber won’t require much strength to use as it’s made of ABS plastic that retracts and glows. The sword lights up and comes with different sound fonts to simulate the sound effects from the movies.
- Material: ABS Plastic
- Length: 30.48 cm
4. Force Fx Special Edition Rey Skywalker Lightsaber
Though Rey starts out using the Skywalker family lightsaber, she later picks up her own sword, a yellow bladed lightsaber. In Star Wars, yellow lightsabers are associated with the Jedi Sentinel, a type of Jedi that developed a wide set of skills in the use of the Force, lightsaber dueling, and practical skills like medicine and espionage. In that sense, this adaptable type of Jedi is a good fit for Ray who grew up in harsh conditions that required her to adapt quickly.
This replica of Rey’s lightsaber is a Black Series edition copy from Force Fx, one of the leading producers of Star Wars lightsabers. This adult-sized sword features advanced LED light capabilities that result in a more realistic (read: movie-like) effect compared to cheaper lightsaber replicas.
- Material: Aluminum Alloy
- Length: 101.6 cm
5. Darth Vader’s Lightsaber
Darth Vader’s lightsaber is a classic sci-fi film to the point that it requires no explanation. After Anakin left his original lightsaber when he turned to the dark side, he put together a new lightsaber with a red corrupted kyber crystal that symbolized his switch from Jedi to Sith and his own inner rage.
This replica is another Black Series copy of Darth Vader’s lightsaber. The hilt is made of aluminum alloy and durable PBS plastic to help emulate the handmade look of the original film prop. There are even decorative exposed wires to sell the realism of the sword. Like the Rey lightsaber replica, it has special sound effects and LED light features to give it a more laser-like look and feel.
- Material: Aluminum Alloy and PBS plastic
- Length: 101.6 cm
Are Laser Swords Copyrighted?
No one owns the concept of a laser sword, but the name “lightsaber” is a trademarked term owned by Lucasfilm. As for the concept of energy swords themselves, whether made of lasers, force-fields, or plasma, this is within the public domain.
Laser swords have appeared in many forms of media and under multiple different names, but no matter how they’re presented, they remain recognizable as the go-to swords of science fiction. Surprisingly enough, the laser sword has existed before Lucasfilm’s Star Wars as it’s an invention of renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov. Since then, it has made appearances in other IPs, making it a mainstay of pop culture.