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The Evolution of the Lightsaber Behind the Scenes

http://slightlywarped.com/the-evolution-of-the-lightsaber-behind-the-scenes/

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During the filming of A New Hope, the blade was made of a three-sided rod covered with reflective material. The rod was then rapidly spun by a compact motor in the hilt, reflecting the lights on set and creating an in-camera glowing effect. However, these props were highly limited; they were cumbersome and fragile, often breaking during fight scenes. Also, the glowing effect was not absolute, as whenever the blade moved out of the light or pointed more directly at the camera the glow disappeared and the actual spinning rod could be seen. In order to partially compensate for this loss of the effect, the blade was rotoscoped and an animated glow was added by tracing onto a blown-up copy of the frame with pen and colored ink, one frame at a time. It was at this phase that blades were given colors, as the props were simple white blades.

During the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, it was decided creating an in-camera glowing effect was more trouble than it was worth, so the spinning rods were swapped for carbon rods. While these new blades were less cumbersome than before, they were still very fragile and frequently broke. However, they continued to be used for Return of the Jedi.

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When filming began for The Phantom Menace, the new lightsaber blades were steel and aluminum rods, which were highly durable, but frequently bent and flexed, requiring constant replacement. Despite such a drawback, these rods still saw usage during the filming of Attack of the Clones, as they had no alternative at the time. However, for the filming of Revenge of the Sith, the blades were replaced by carbon fiber rods laminated with glass and plastic. These new props were highly durable and didn’t flex, though they were extremely hard, often causing bruising and leaving scars. While lightsaber effects were still done by rotoscoping for the prequels, they were done digitally, rather than by hand.

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For The Force Awakens, the lightsaber props actually glowed, giving more of a sense of realism.

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Jason Donner

Jason Donner devoured the universe and you are all living inside him.