February 9, 2015 – Lightsabers are the most basic weapons in the Star Wars universe. In the original trilogy (1977-1983), their designs were simple: blue or green single-blade weapons for the Jedi, and red lightsabers for the Sith.
This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. A more elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
– Obi-wan Kenobi speaking to Luke Skywalker, Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
In the prequels (1999-2005), the lightsabers became flashier, blade contact in fight scenes was more pronounced, and the movies seemed to focus more on elaborate swordplay rather than character development during the confrontations. Insofar as the prequels were supposed to have occurred a couple decades before the events of the original trilogy, it’s a bit odd to see the more complex and more developed lightsabers on the big screen. Time has been turned upside-down.
The fancier lightsabers had all manner of incarnations. For example, Darth Maul showed off his unique dual-bladed red saber in Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). Mace Windu then flicked on his purple-bladed version with the gold-plated hilt in Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and again in Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). As a side note, recall that Samuel L. Jackson had asked George Lucas for a unique weapon color so his character could stand out on the crowded battlefield of Geonosis.
Another Sith villain, Count Dooku (a.k.a. Darth Tyrannus), was outfitted with a lightsaber distinguished with a pronounced curved hilt in Episodes II and III. Of course, that didn’t save him from getting his head cut off.
And who could forget the robotic, part-insect, multi-appendaged General Grievous in Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)? Grievous was equipped with four different lightsabers (probably stolen from his victims), one for each of his four arms. The lightsabers were no longer elegant in combat; in action, they looked more like a high-speed blender in flashes of green and blue.
Which now brings us to Episode VII – The Force Awakens (Dec. 2015). Just before Christmas 2014, Director J.J. Abrams released his 88-second teaser trailer. Images of a dark hooded figure in the woods brandishing a fuzzy red lightsaber with two horizontal crossguards, immediately set fans abuzz: Are the crossguards safe? They look cool, but are they actually impractical, even stupid? How do you wield a lightsaber crossguard without maiming yourself?
See the full trailer:
Lightsaber crossguard at 00:50
First off, the sword design is not new. Hollywood surely borrowed from Earth’s history and noticed that, over a thousand years ago, Earthlings had developed a crossguard above the hilt to protect the bearer’s hands from an opponent’s sword sliding down against the bearer’s sword. But the Earthlings’ version is purely defensive.
What if the Sith design is meant to be offensive? The crossguards are not static; they are live, burning mini-sabers ready to do potential damage. The offensive design would fit the combat style of the Sith. As for potential danger to the bearer, check out this video which supports the view that an expert sword-handler can avoid injury to himself from the mini-saber crossguard.
Whatever your view of the lightsaber crossguard (defense-oriented; offensive; or just plain stupid), the debate likely will not subside until the next Episode VII trailer is revealed. Expect to see a longer trailer in May to be played just before showings of Avenger: Age of Ultron.