If you’ve ever wondered how a lightsaber *actually* works you’re not alone. Obi-Wan Kenobi described the lightsaber as an “elegant weapon for a more civilized age” but never explained the weapon any more than that.
Luckily, there are many more details scattered across various forms of Star Wars media – and I’ve collected them here for you. Read on to discover the inner workings of the Jedi’s iconic weapon.
Table of Contents
What powers a lightsaber?
While many believe that lightsabers are powered by Kyber Crystals, the truth is they draw their energy from a power cell, (sometimes known as an energy core), much like blasters do. While Kyber Crystals are essential for lightsabers to function, they only focus and amplify existing energy, which must come from another source.
So what’s a power cell, then? It’s really just another name for a rechargeable battery – that’s it. While there’s much about the lightsaber that’s fantastical, the question of what powers it couldn’t be more mundane.
Of course, there’s more to the lightsaber than just its power source. As you probably already guessed, the thing that sets the lightsaber apart from other “random and clumsy” weapons of the universe is the Kyber Crystal.
Heart of the saber: the Kyber Crystal
The Kyber Crystal is what truly makes a lightsaber work by focusing and amplifying the energy from the power cell, greatly increasing the yield. It releases so much more energy than it takes in, it’s caused some to question if lightsabers can even run out of energy at all.
Exactly how the Kyber Crystals do this is shrouded in mystery, even most Jedi don’t know the answer. But it’s believed that the crystals have a special connection to the force and can even communicate with each other and with the Jedi who discover them.
As part of their training, every Jedi would travel to the caves of Ilun to seek out their own Kyber crystal in a rite of passage called The Gathering. In this ritual, the crystals would test the Jedi trainees in very personal ways, which suggests a level of intelligence beyond what any ordinary crystal is capable of.
The crystals formed naturally in Kyber veins as colorless gems, but as they became bonded with a force-sensitive individual, the crystals would take on a particular color to match the personality of their finder – typically blue or green, but occasionally other colors as well.
But it should be noted that the crystals are not naturally attuned to the dark side of the force, only the light. For a sith or other adherents of the dark side to use a kyber crystal they would first have to subjugate it to their own will using their force abilities. This causes the crystal to corrupt or “bleed” – thus resulting in the signature red blades of the sith.
Of course, there’s more to a lightsaber than the power cell and the Kyber crystal. There are many other components that make the lightsaber come to life.
For example, there’s the energy gate, which directs the power from the power cell into the kyber crystal itself, allowing the transfer of energy to begin. The focusing ring (also called focusing lens) aligns the kyber crystal with precise calibration for maximum efficiency.
And at the end of the hilt are the Blade Emitter (which includes the emitter matrix) which then converts the kyber-enhanced beam of energy into a super-heated plasma blade, and the magnetic stabilizing ring which gives that plasma blade its distinctive contained shape.
Apart from these was the hilt itself, which was customized by the user to their liking with a handgrip (either with ridges or without) and an optional belt clip. The hilt was usually made of some kind of metal (such as Haysian smelt), but some were made from gems or even wood carved from the exceptionally hard Brylark tree.
And of course, no lightsaber would be complete without an activator to turn the weapon on and off, which typically took the form of a simple rectangular button, but some more unique models (such as Count Dooku’s curved lightsaber) would have a more trigger-like appearance.
What about real-life lightsabers?
Of course, since we don’t live in a galaxy far, far away and it’s unfortunately not possible to buy a real lightsaber, we have to make do with plastic toys or replicas. There are a variety of options available depending on what you’re willing to spend and how far you’re willing to go for it.
The easiest lightsaber toys to find (as well as the cheapest) are available on Amazon or in your local store.
Ones such as these operate with AAA batteries instead of power cells, and LED lights instead of Kyber crystals, so they share more in common with flashlights than a weapon. But many will have retractable tiered plastic blades to simulate how real lightsabers extend from the hilt, and feature screen-accurate sound effects.
So while it won’t look exactly like a real lightsaber, it’s more than enough for a kid who just needs to have a lightsaber in his or her life.
If you’re willing to pay more for a lightsaber that can also take a beating in a duel, then you’ll need something like this model from KYBERS.
It has a solid aluminum hilt and a built-in PVC blade that doesn’t retract or extend but contains a super bright LED light system that reaches the full length of the blade, and can even change colors at will. It’s powered by a battery that’s rechargeable from an included USB port so you’ll never even have to change out the battery.
The drawback is that since KYBERS aren’t officially licensed, they aren’t screen accurate to the lightsabers from the Star Wars films. To get something that authentic, you’ll need to travel to a Disney Theme park…
Galaxy’s Edge Lighstabers
The Lightsabers sold at Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge theme park in California or Florida are the closest you can get to the real deal on this planet. If you want a screen-accurate saber there’s the Legacy brand, which are replicas of the lightsabers of famous force users such as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Mace Windu, Ahsoka Tano, and many others.
If you want to step into the shoes of a Jedi trainee yourself, you’ll have to seek out the hidden “Savi’s Workshop” attraction, where you’ll be guided through an experience of a force user designing their own lightsaber. It’s not a cheap experience, but at the end of it, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind custom lightsaber with parts that you chose unique to you.
Both of these types of lightsabers will light up with a (separately sold) detachable blade that will change colors to match the lightsaber hilt it’s attached to. And as an added bonus you can even switch the color of your lightsaber by buying and swapping out “kyber crystals” for sale at Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities.
But while these crystals might look like force-sensitive gems they’re actually just RFID-equipped pieces of plastic that interact with lightsabers constructed at Savi’s Workshop. Still, the level of immersion at the park and with the sabers is very impressive.
The future… a real lightsaber?
Now for the breaking news section of the article. On May 4th, 2021 Disney debuted a video of what appears to be a real, working lightsaber that retracts and extends. Rather than being a replacement for the lightsabers above, it seems this version will be a part of their “Galactic Starcruiser” hotel in Florida – although it’s unclear how exactly this works or to what extent it will be available to guests.
Of course by “real” Disney just means that it extends and retracts, not that it’s an actual laser sword that can cut through walls, but it’s still the most realistic real-world version of a lightsaber in existence. Only time will tell how this seemingly magical device has been able to be made real, we’ll just have to wait to see how it works!