Lightsabers are without a doubt one of the coolest weapons that the Star Wars universe, and science fiction in general, has given us. They hum with the power of the force, they can be used defensively to deflect blaster bolts and can cut through virtually anything from metal doors to your enemy’s body parts. There aren’t many of us out there who don’t know the joy of a flashlight lightsaber duel — or the importance of making the right sound effects!
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren introduces a new version of this classic weapon, the Crossguard Lightsaber. In doing so, he has reignited the age-old question, how can we create a real world lightsaber that actually works?
Although it is not obvious from looking at the weapon, crystals are an integral part of every lightsaber. According to the Star Wars animated series, The Clone Wars, young Jedi knights go to the planet Ilum to harvest crystals that would be used within the hilt of the lightsabers. In fact, the world’s first solid-state laser, the ruby laser, uses a synthetic ruby crystal for the creation of light.
A ‘Blade’ Made From Light Or Laser?
Given their name, it seems logical to say that lightsabers have blades made from light or at least some type of laser, right? Wrong. While laser technology is constantly improving and lasers can cut through materials, there are several reasons they wouldn’t work as the blade of a lightsaber.
Firstly, the beam would continue on endlessly unless stopped by an obstacle. You could always interrupt a beam with a mirror but not only would that reduce the lightsaber’s effectiveness in battle, you would also lose the elegance of the weapon if you had to add a structure to hold the mirror up.
From a more practical stand-point, several kilo-watts of power would be required to create the type of laser that can cut through metal doors and arms. A laser with this sort of power would require a very large unit to supply the required energy as well as a cooling system to ensure that the user’s hand doesn’t melt off during battle.
Lastly, from a showmanship perspective, a duel between two laser-based lightsabers would be quite a letdown. Instead of clashing into each other, the beams would simply pass through each other and because lasers focus light so sharply, you would only actually be able to see the blade if you were looking directly down the axis of the laser.
A ‘Blade’ Made From Plasma
Dr. Gianluca Sarri, a lecturer in the school of mathematics and physics at Queen’s University Belfast thinks that the lightsaber’s blades may be made of heated gas. When gas gets extremely hot, so hot that it is broken down into its fundamental components of electrons and nuclei, it forms the fourth state of matter called plasma. The plasma of certain gases when super-heated even give off certain colors, for example, the red and orange of the Sun is made up of hydrogen and helium plasma. If you were a Sith, you would most likely use one of these elements in your lightsaber. Whereas if you were a Jedi with a green lightsaber, you would have chlorine plasma.
While it is unlikely that they will be selling plasma lightsabers alongside the rest of the Star Wars merchandise, it is exciting to know that in theory, we could have a working lightsaber one day. Until then, we’ll just have to keep coming up with our own versions.