Everything We Know About Lightsabers in the STAR WARS Universe

At its core, Star Wars is a fantasy story in space, a series of joyful, thrilling, and hopeful adventures. And what’s a good fantasy saga without a magical sword? They’re integral parts of these stories: Aragorn’s Andúril and Frodo’s Sting in Lord of the Rings, Jon Snow’s Longclaw in Game of Thrones, King Arthur’s Excalibur. In Star Wars, it’s the lightsabers that aid our heroes—and villains—on their journeys of war and self-discovery. They’re mythic weapons, individual to their makers, with histories rooted to the most ancient aspects of the galaxy far, far away.

We’ve seen them in all of the saga movies, starting with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. Now, with the sequel trilogy complete and several new Disney+ shows released or in the works, let’s take a deeper look at the lore behind these incredible “laser swords”: Where they come from, what they mean to our main characters, and what we could see in the future.

Jump To: Lightsaber and Purpose Explanation // Lightsaber’s Light Source // How Are Lightsabers Built // Sith Lightsaber Color Explanation // Famous Lightsabers // Kylo Ren’s Crossguard Saber Explanation // Lightwhip and How It Works // Darksaber Explanation // Lightsaber Variants // Future of Lightsaber in Star Wars Universe

What Is a Lightsaber and What Is Its Purpose?

Four Jedi hold lightsabers of different colors in Star Wars
Disney/Lucasfilm

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight,” Obi-Wan Kenobi explained in A New Hope. “Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”

Though the origin of the first-ever lightsaber is unknown, lore has shown evidence of lightsabers thousands of years before the events of the Skywalker saga. Both Jedi, light-side Force users, and Sith, dark-sided, use the weapon. They’re good for protection and defense, but also for combat. The blades can deflect blaster bolts and cut through just about any object, except for beskar, making them incredibly powerful and dangerous.

Lightsabers gained a more prominent role during the Clone Wars, when the Jedi became generals in the Grand Army of the Republic. In the films, we see the sabers used as melee-style weapons, with Light Side Jedi swords clashing with Dark Side Sith blades. After Emperor Palpatine enacted Order 66, wiping out most of the Jedi, the lightsaber became a rare relic in the galaxy.

Lightsabers made a brief reappearance when Luke Skywalker opened a new Jedi Academy. We see Ben Solo’s blue saber during a flashback in The Last Jedi, when he’s an attendee of the academy. However, Solo went bad, Snoke killed the other Jedi students, and once again Jedi faded to myth—as did their lightsabers.

What’s the Light Source of a Lightsaber? 

The Gathering takes Padawan learners to Ilum.
Disney/Lucasfilm

In the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, we learn of a ceremony called the “gathering,” where young Jedis in training—known as “younglings”—are taken by a Jedi mentor to the planet of Ilum. The sacred, icy location is where the younglings come to harvest kyber crystals. They are rare, naturally growing crystals that have a connection to the Force. These crystals are “the heart of the lightsaber” and help Jedi focus the Force, according to Yoda.

During the gathering, younglings enter a cave on Ilum where they’re given a set amount of time to find their crystal. The process is mostly intuitive; Jedi can only see the crystal meant for them in the cave, and their pull to it is based on their individual relationship with the Force. If the youngling successfully harvests the crystal in the allotted time, they pass the gathering, and move onto the assembling process.

There are other ways to get a kyber crystal than just heading over to Ilum. In Star Wars Rebels, we see Force-user Ezra acquire his when he discovers an ancient Jedi Temple on the planet of Lothal. After the Force tests him, a kyber manifests and flies into his hands. It illustrates that crystals will find their way to any deserving Force user.

How Are Lightsabers Built?

In The Clone Wars, we meet a droid named Huyang, who is basically the Star Wars version of Ollivander, the wand shop owner from Harry Potter. He helps the younglings choose the hilts  that will become the base of their sabers. (Huyang also contains a memory bank that keeps a record of every lightsaber ever made and the name of the Jedi that fashioned it.) Once the youngling choses their hilt—another intuitive process—they must “awaken” their kyber crystal with the Force, activating the lightsaber.

There are other ways to build hilts too. Not every Jedi trained at the Jedi Academy, after all. Some are forged from found materials, like Rey’s. (More on that in a bit.) Others come from repurposed older models.

Why Are Sith Lightsabers Red?

Darth Vader stands in a red washed hallway holding a sith lightsaber
Disney/Lucasfilm

The color of the lightsaber blade depends on the color of the kyber crystal. Most of the crystals on Ilum are blue, which is the most common color for a Jedi saber, but we occasionally see green, yellow, and even purple blades. The colors also represent a Jedi’s personal relationship with the Force.

Red lightsabers, for instance, are exclusively Dark Side. They are unnatural at their core, as kyber never grows red. The color comes from a process called “bleeding,” where the Sith or Dark Sider drains the kyber crystal of its light, corrupting it in the process.

Because Sith don’t have training in the ways of the Jedi, they typically steal their crystals after slaying the “rightful bearers” of them. In the Expanded Universe—which Disney de-canonized after purchasing Lucasfilm—red sabers were made from synthetic kyber crystals. In the new canon, synthetic crystals still exist, but they aren’t associated with the Sith, and are actually illegal for being too unstable.

Jump To: Lightsaber and Purpose Explanation // Lightsaber’s Light Source // How Are Lightsabers Built // Sith Lightsaber Color Explanation // Famous Lightsabers // Kylo Ren’s Crossguard Saber Explanation // Lightwhip and How It Works // Darksaber Explanation // Lightsaber Variants // Future of Lightsaber in Star Wars Universe

What Are Some Famous Lightsabers in Star Wars?

Anakin and Obi-Wan engaged in a lightsaber duel in a star wars flashback
Lucasfilm

The most famous and recognizable lightsaber in Star Wars is Anakin Skywalker’s blue legacy saber. Audiences first got a glimpse of it in A New Hope, when Obi-wan Kenobi gave it to Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker. That saber has played a major role in every Star Wars trilogy so far; we see Anakin wield it in the prequels, Luke lose it during a confrontation with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, and its reappearance in The Force Awakens, when it calls out to Rey in Maz Kanata’s castle. Though the saber is split in two during a Force fight between Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi, we see in the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker that Rey has rebuilt it—meaning it’s made it to the end of this story.

Luke’s replacement lightsaber—the green-bladed sword that appears in Return of the Jedi–is another popular one, although it only really appears in that film. (It does, however, get a brief cameo in The Last Jedi.) Darth Vader’s red saber is another big one. Same goes for Mace Windu’s unique purple-bladed sword and Darth Maul’s double-bladed Sith saber. Count Dooku’s is famous for its bent hilt, and Ahsoka’s two white sabers are special because they represent a Force user who is neither Sith nor Jedi.

What’s the Deal With Kylo Ren’s Crossguard Saber?

Adam Driver in Star Wars as Kylo Ren holding his red crossaber
Disney/Lucasfilm

Kylo Ren’s saber is perhaps the most original—and controversial—one in Star Wars canon. When it first appeared in teaser trailers for The Force Awakens, it sparked debates among fans, who questioned the practicality of its crossguard style. In canon, we learn that the base of this saber is an ancient design dating back to the Scourge of Malachor, a long-ago battle between the Jedi and Sith.

In The Last Jedi, Ben Solo has the aforementioned blue saber. It’s likely, then, that when he changed his name to Kylo Ren and joined the Dark Side, he “bled” the crystal from that saber, cracking it in the process. This is why it’s uneven and crackles. Kylo’s unhinged saber represented the character through much of the sequel trilogy: unpredictable, broken, and caught between the light and dark. So it was all the more powerful when he cast it into the sea on an Endor moon after finally coming back to the light. For the rest of the film, until his death, he uses the Skywalker legacy saber.

What Is a Lightwhip and How Does It Work?

Lightwhips are one of the coolest lightsaber variants in Star Wars. Unlike typical sabers, the crystals in whips have internal fixings that make the blades flexible. Traditional sabers can also have lightwhip modifications, allowing wielders to switch between both settings. Because whips are thinner, they’re less powerful than normal sabers. But they do have useful capabilities traditional models do not, like their ability to capture opponents.

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Lightwhips appear frequently in High Republic novels and anthologies. They’re also set to make their live-action debut in the Disney+ series The Acolyte. Vernestra Rwoh, a fan-favorite Jedi in other High Republic material, wields her own lightwhip. In fact, lightwhips were her idea in the first place. (At least in the official canon. They first appeared in Endless Vigil, a 2016 sourcebook for a Star Wars role-playing game.) We see Rwoh’s purple lightwhip in trailer for The Acolyte, and will surely learn more about their lore when the series debuts.

What About the Darksaber?

Introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Darksaber is an ancient weapon created by Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian Force user. Because of that, it’s an incredibly important weapon to Mandlorians. It’s known for its distinct black blade, which casts an eerie white halo.

The fabled saber passes through many “owners”—some of whom stole it—including Darth Maul, Bo-Katan Kryze, and Moff Gideon. It’s Bo-Katan who surrenders the saber to Gideon, who wields it in the season one finale of The Mandalorian.

In that series, the titular Mandalorian, Din Djarin, eventually bests Gideon and takes the Darksaber for himself. It next passes to Bo-Katan, who uses it in battle against Gideon in the season three finale. Gideon, equipped with new beskar armor, crushes the hilt and effectively destroys the Darksaber. Will they reconstruct it in later seasons? Time will tell—but it seems unlikely that we’re done with this important Mandalorian lightsaber.

Jump To: Lightsaber and Purpose Explanation // Lightsaber’s Light Source // How Are Lightsabers Built // Sith Lightsaber Color Explanation // Famous Lightsabers // Kylo Ren’s Crossguard Saber Explanation // Lightwhip and How It Works // Darksaber Explanation // Lightsaber Variants // Future of Lightsaber in Star Wars Universe

Are There Any Other Lightsaber Variants?

Star Wars Ahsoka wielding a curved lightsaber
Disney/Lucasfilm

In addition to the aforementioned sabers, there are a number of other variants. There’s the double-bladed lightsaber, like the one Darth Maul famously wields. The double-bladed saber also appears frequently across canon. Pong Krell has dual-hinged versions and Imperial Inquisitors wield spinning double blades. In her vision in The Rise of Skywalker, dark-side Rey also has a double-bladed red saber.

There are dual-phase lightsabers that contain one or more kyber crystals and can extend or shorten during battle. Broadsabers look like traditional swords, great lightsabers made for larger-bodied Jedi, curved-hilt sabers like the ones Count Dooku and Ahsoka Tano use, sickle-bladed lightsabers, and even lightsaber-blaster hybrids, including one made by Ezra Bridger in Star Wars Rebels.

What’s the Future of the Lightsaber in the Star Wars Universe?

Lightsabers are an integral part of Star Wars, and their legacy evolves with each new story. We’ll likely learn more about Rey’s saber in her standalone film. The Darksaber will almost definitely reappear in some capacity. And the lightwhips featured in The Acolyte seems poised to keep fans talking for the foreseeable future.

Many other variants from the canon, such as the protosaber, have yet to make their live-action debut. And so the future of lightsabers remains bright and full of possibilities. As long as there are Star Wars movies, shows, books, comics, and games, the fascination with lightsabers will endure.

Jump To: Lightsaber and Purpose Explanation // Lightsaber’s Light Source // How Are Lightsabers Built // Sith Lightsaber Color Explanation // Famous Lightsabers // Kylo Ren’s Crossguard Saber Explanation // Lightwhip and How It Works // Darksaber Explanation // Lightsaber Variants // Future of Lightsaber in Star Wars Universe

Originally published November 1, 2019.