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How Lightsabers Work 613

Posted by Zonk
from the finally-an-article-we-can-all-use dept.
SirMutex writes "How Stuff Works explains the inner workings of the Jedi weapon of choice. Complete with alternate uses and safety considerations, the article is a welcomed companion for those still learning the ways of the Force." From the article: "Chances are that you have seen a lightsaber at one time or another, whether on the evening news or down at the local cantina. Therefore you know that a lightsaber is an amazing and versatile device that is able to cut through nearly anything in a matter of milliseconds. Have you ever wondered how these remarkable weapons work? Where does the energy come from, and how are they able to contain that energy in a rod-like column of glowing power?"
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How Lightsabers Work

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  • Cut, not Slash/Slice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mfh (56) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:23PM (#12443075) Journal
    FTA: "The most common use, of course, is slicing." ~ []

    There is a big difference between slicing/slashing and CUTTING. According to Miyamoto Musashi [], perhaps the greatest swordsman to have ever lived -- it is the act of CUTTING, and not slicing/slashing that makes a great warrior. Siege your opponent -- and cut them in two. It's all in the follow through.

    With light sabers, perhaps they allow slicing/slashing to be as effective as cutting? Let's examine this premise.

    A jedi who does not perfect his craft is not a jedi.

    A jedi who does not follow the way of great sword hands, falls in battle.

    A jedi who slashes, slices, is off balance.

    A jedi who cuts, falls like leaves on his opponents.

    The jedi master will only cut.

    So, please Mr. Lucas, when you are buying How Stuff Works adverts, keep in mind that the people at Slashdot will cut, and surprisingly we won't actually slash, after all.

    Hmm... anyone?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:27PM (#12443126)
      On behalf of the rest of Slashdot:


    • by Enrico Pulatzo (536675) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:46PM (#12443413)
      Well, since seeing Extreme Martial Arts on the Discovery Channel, I feel somewhat qualified to answer your post.

      Jedi do both cut and slice, depending on your point of view. If by cut you are referring to the act of swinging a blade in order to sever (which would seem to line up with Musashi's samurai style) and by slice you refer to the act of swinging a blade in order to damage but not sever, then I would say that Jedi do both.

      However, in my opinion, a slice by a lightsaber is fairly useless in the long run as any wounds incurred are instantly cauderized, so a prolonged fight would not bleed an opponent the way a traditional blade would.
      • by Chagatai (524580) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @03:05PM (#12444258) Homepage
        Slightly OT, I know, but that XMA (eXtreme Martial Arts) show was totally crap if you hope to have a basis for martial arts. The show could be broken down into three main areas: cool special effects, pseudo-martial arts/gymnastics competition with points for sparring, and following a set of pretty boys around who look like they spend as much time waxing their bodies as they do training. The best example of this would be when the main person, a supposed expert in martial arts and a competition winner, goes to learn from a true Kung Fu master (Pui Chan) and can barely stand properly on the Mai Flower Posts only two feet off of the ground.

        The show was designed for eye candy and omits much of the history and function of forms of fighting, including the weapons (getting back on topic). Many weapons, such as the Chinese broadsword (dao) or Japanese katana, could be used for cutting (severing), slicing (think eviceration), and hacking (repeated strikes). If we take this to the Jedi, using Luke as our whining reference of choice, cutting is obvious when he loses his hand. Slicing is done when he opens the Tauntaun. Hacking is done when he gets Vader down in RoTJ on the walkway and repeatedly attacks until making his daddy a lefty again.

        I agree with the parent that the instant cauterization kind of limits the effectiveness of the weapon, but hey, who wouldn't want to pull a Black Knight routine on someone?

        • Slicing is done when he opens the Tauntaun.

          No offence, your honor, but my client never laid his lightsabre upon the poor, defenceless, and mostly dead tauntaun. I believe, if you go back and review the video evidence, it was the man known as 'Han Solo' who eviscerated the poor, defenceless creature. And if you insist on blaming my client, I am going to have to roll out the Chewbacca defence. and you call your selves nerds. *shakes head in shame*

      • a slice by a lightsaber is fairly useless in the long run as any wounds incurred are instantly cauderized

        A lightsaber is evidently some kind of precisely contained energy field. It also glows, which is to say it dissipates an extremely tiny amount of its reportedly massive energy as visible light.

        Depictions of lightsabers do not typically show them annihilating objects, melting them, or setting them on fire. No smoke appears to be produced when a lightsaber cuts through an object, and the cut produce

    • by TheLetterPsy (792255) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @03:35PM (#12444622)
      Wrong -- everybody knows that Hattori Hanzo steel is the finest in the world.

      Only problem is, he doesn't make swords anymore . . .
  • 'Cause its Yoda sized...
  • by Neil Blender (555885) <> on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:24PM (#12443093)
    Yeah, I did. When I was 10.
  • by OneBigWord (692129) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:25PM (#12443111) Homepage
    There is no mention of the little yellow sticker on the end that says: "WARNING: Point this end away from face!"
  • Uhh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by sammykrupa (828537) <> on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:26PM (#12443117) Homepage Journal
    "Have you ever wondered how these remarkable weapons work?"


    • Re:Uhh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mark_in_Brazil (537925) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @03:28PM (#12444544)

      The parent post was modded as funny (and it is), but I consider it insightful too. What was so cool about The Force in the original movies was that it was basically magic. Lightsabers too. When reading about King Arthur, I didn't have any questions about how Excalibur was forged. I don't care how the magic used by Gandalf and Saruman in LOtR works. It just does.
      That's why, to me, the biggest offense of Episode I wasn't Jar Jar or the stupid and ridiculously prolonged fish-eat-fish scene. It was less than a minute of stupid technobabble dialogue about chlamydians or whatever (OK, I know it's midi-clorians, but I get a chuckle out of this alternate name). In that brief bit of dialogue, the magic of The Force was ruined and reduced to a mere blood condition. Seriously... could a simple shot of penicillin have avoided the whole Darth Vader situation, and with it the Galactic Empire?
      I prefer The Force as it was in the original trilogy. It was magic! In Star Wars Han Solo even disparaged The Force as a "hokey religion" and lightsabers as "ancient weapons," saying that the combination was no match for a good blaster at your side. I wasn't as cynical about The Force as Han (and even Han changed his view, wishing "May the Force be with you" to Luke before leaving the Yavin IV base before the attack on the Death Star). I thought it was pretty cool. But I really never wanted to know the nuts and bolts of how it worked. Jeeze, if I wanted ridiculous technobabble "explanations" of how things work, I'd watch ST:tNG reruns and and get my fill of tetrions and subatomic bacteria and such.
      Actually hearing about midi-clorians ruined the magic of The Force for me. I don't see how Jar Jar can "ruin" people's memories of the original series, because one has nothing to do with the other. But the babble about the chlamydians did ruin The Force.
      It really surprises me people complain so much about Jar Jar and so little about the midi-clorians.
      • by MsGeek (162936) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:40PM (#12447041) Homepage Journal
        Finally, someone agrees with me on this! Reducing Force sensitivity to midichlorians in ones bloodstream was totally lame.

        I always thought that The Force was an awful lot like The Tao, and probably that's where Lucas got the idea. Try this on for size:

        The Force that can be described
        is not the eternal Force.
        The name that can be spoken
        is not the eternal Name.

        The nameless is the boundary of the Multiverse.
        The named is the mother of creation.

        Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
        By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.

        Yet mystery and reality
        emerge from the same source.
        This source is called The Void.

        A Void birthed from a Void
        The beginning of all understanding.

        -- adapted from Lao-Tzu, "The Tao Teh Ching" Chapter 1

        Tell me that doesn't sound like it could be Jedi scripture! And certainly, the Jedi Knights and the Shaolin Monks seem to share quite a few similarities.

        Another thing that pissed me off about this Jedi-in-a-blender stuff that Lucas has been doing in the prequel trilogy: a Jedi can go and have a roll in the hay, so long as s/he doesn't get "attached" to that person. OK, midichlorians are one thing, but the Jedi philosophy as the Playboy Philosophy? That dog won't hunt, bubba.

        It would certainly make more sense that the Jedi were sworn to celibacy after a point in their training...probably when they lost their Padawan braid. Celibate warrior-monks are a fixture of both Western and Eastern history. The Knights Templar, the aforementioned Shaolin Monks, the Yamabushi of Japan...all warrior monks for whom celibacy was one of the requirements. Of course, in all those cases, there were always cases where vows were broken. The sexual urge is like that...bubbling up especially when it is repressed.

        I hope that Episode 3 renews a certain amount of wonder and mythic power to Star Wars it has lost with all this damn tinkering. I've read a purported script: if it's authentic, this is the prequel Lucas should have made all along.
  • Lightsaber Depot? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sg3000 (87992) * <> on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:26PM (#12443120)
    > A lightsaber is a unique device, created by hand -- the
    > controls will be slightly different on each individual lightsaber
    > that you buy.

    This is a pretty cool/funny article. "A lightsaber can help convince an assailant that no means no."

    But I thought according to Star Wars lore, you couldn't "buy" a lightsaber. The Jedi (or Sith) had to build their own lightsaber. The story is the Jedi uses the Force to shape the lightsaber crystal and then uses the Force to put it into the cylinder. Because of the "Force" dexterity required, building a lightsaber is supposed to show that the Jedi has mastered the Force.

    That's why in Episode VI Darth Vader notices that Luke built a new lightsaber (and subtly threatens Luke with it), and says, "Indeed you are powerful" or something like that. If all the Jedi had to do is buy a lightsaber, then having a new one wouldn't be any more impressive than having good credit.

    Then again, I guess in Episode III (and the Clone Wars episodes), we learn the General Grievous collects lightsabers like baseball cards, so maybe the article was written especially for him.

    Although I can't imagine General Grievous slicing bagels with his lightsaber, Anakin, with the cavalier attitude towards using the Force he showed in Episode II, probably did.
  • Thanks to diagrams on How Stuff Works, you too can build your own Light Saber!
  • by indytx (825419) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:27PM (#12443132)
    that I started reading that and even clicked "next page." I've sunk to a new low. I really WILL read anything about Star Wars.
  • Oblig. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "And how does the light know to only come yay high?"
    "Uh the force?"
    "Man, that's your answer to everything."
  • Heck Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

    by xbradlyx (867260) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:29PM (#12443153)
    Sweet! Now if some could just post the Gummie Berry juice recipie, we will be all set.


  • This is stupid... (Score:5, Informative)

    by dhazard (860108) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:29PM (#12443155) Homepage
    Just buy one from thinkgeek... []
  • portable (Score:2, Funny)

    by sentientbeing (688713)
    Personally, I think the greatest advance in light sabre technology came with the advent of rechargable batteries.

    It was a godsend to duelling Jedis, because they no longer had to plug them in while they were fighting...
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:30PM (#12443173)
    Does it run Linux?

    After all, not only is there a geek quality to it if it does, but I'd hate to suddenly encounter the Blue Lightsaber of Death right in the middle of a fight with the Dark Side, and suddenly find myself needing to reboot.

  • Without the Force, a lightsaber is useless when I have a gun. Why couldn't they do a how stuff works for a speeder bike, I have several Type-R racing stickers that are begging me for a new home.
  • Whether you like this article for the fun of it, or hate it because of it's clear 'purchased' quality, you have to admit that the prospect of both cutting and toasting [] a bagle in one stroke is highly appealing.
  • Who's the bigger fool, the fool who writes a howstuffworks article on a fictional item, or the fool who writes a slashdot article about the howstuffworks article?
  • by SamSim (630795) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:40PM (#12443321) Homepage Journal


    *vwom vwooorm vwoosh woomv*

    *kza* *kjzt* *tzkch* *skrztle*


  • Stupid detail (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rnelsonee (98732) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:43PM (#12443364)
    From TFA:

    If you happen to find yourself hanging upside down in a cave, a lightsaber is the perfect tool to use to cut the rope.

    I just want to be the first nerd to point out that Luke wasn't hanging by a rope - his feet were stuck in the ice. It bugged me because I fail to see how one swipe of his lightsaber could (safely) melt all that ice and free him.

  • by bsdbigot (186157) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:44PM (#12443373) Journal
    Obviously, TFA is a guerilla advertising campaign for Parks Sabers []. I'm curious, though, as to how much this campaign cost. Two things are certain facts:
    1. Parks Sabers has a successful campaign, judging from the /. effect that is starting to become apparent to visitors
    2. /. was the correct demographic to drop this marketing on: mostly single young men with disposable income and an overwhelming love for Star Wars crap.

    Since the Parks site claims no affiliation with Lucas and the official Star Wars marketing outlets, I'm wondering how long before he gets slapped with a cease-and-desist.

  • I see.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by nullset (39850) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:50PM (#12443459)
    I see your schwartz is as big as mine!
  • Razor Burn (Score:5, Funny)

    by porp (24384) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:51PM (#12443466)
    On a whim, I ditched my Gillette Mach 3 razor (those fucking replacement blades are expensive!) for a lightsaber about 2 years ago. I figured, hey, with the money I'm saving on blades, and the many tasks the multi-purpose lightsaber can perfom, how can I lose? Well, let's just say this. If you thought shaving with a dull razor gave you mean razor burn, shaving with a really, long fucking hot glow stick gives you far worse.

    Needless to say, I am back to using my Mach 3. Skin grafts cost far more than replacement razors. Trust me.

  • Spoilers (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sheepdot (211478) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:54PM (#12443503) Journal
    WARNING: SPOILERS ers.html []

    For a good history on jedi and sith, there is another page on the same site: []

    The reason I mention this? There is a bit of history about lightsaber development that is pretty intriguing, including a "yellow" saber that has the ability to "actually slice through any other light saber". Good stuff if you're willing to deal with a few spoilers (mostly events between Episode 2 & 3) to learn more about the history of the Jedi and Sith.

    It gave me a new outlook on the prequels, and I'm finding that Phantom Menace really isn't as bad as I thought it was around 1999.
  • by DaHat (247651) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @01:59PM (#12443559) Homepage
    If we are going to discuss lightsabers... one must point out the film Your Lightsaber and You [] over on Atom Films. To quote it's blurb: There's more to being a Jedi than mind tricks and meditation. You also have to know the proper method of handling your light saber safely! Tune into this informative industrial film on the finer points of opening up a proverbial can of whup-ass with your light saber.
  • by writermike (57327) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @02:24PM (#12443841)
    Has no one in the SW universe ever thought about just using a plain old six-shooter.

    There's a really good chance that, Force or no, lead bullets will go right through a sword blade made of LIGHT!

    It's a perfect Indiana Jones moment.

  • by autophile (640621) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @02:49PM (#12444137)
    and how are they able to contain that energy in a rod-like column of glowing power?
    New Jedi: (nerdy voice) Hey, ladies! Check out my new light saber! I can barely contain its energy in its rod-like column of glowing power! (snort, snort)
    Ladies: Creep!


  • by mirio (225059) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @03:52PM (#12444807)
    Where does the energy come from, and how are they able to contain that energy in a rod-like column of glowing power?

  • by SomeGuyFromCA (197979) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @10:50PM (#12448148) Journal
    i always figured it was a standing finite improbability field such that light directly above it was tuned.

    at the center of the blade, light tends 100% towards the characteristics of a particle; this is the actual cutting core, all those really high energy photons bouncing around.

    at the edge, light tends 100% towards the characteristics of a wave, in fact it forms a sort of standing wave that wraps around the outside of the blade. this wave a) accounts for the colored fringe of the blade (since it has a set wavelength, it has a set color) and b) keeps all those high energy particles in.

    when the blade hits something, the outer wave is parted, allowing the core to contact said something.

    yes, i am aware i've thought this out way too much.
  • by antispam_ben (591349) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @10:54PM (#12448166) Journal
    Also, a decades-old mystery explained (quoting from TFA):

    With practice you can also use a lightsaber like a knife. For example, if you need to cut open the belly of a large domestic animal like a horse or a tauntaun, the lightsaber is the perfect tool.

    Mystery farm animal mutilations of the 1970's and 1980's explained! Were crop circles done with a sabre also?

    Nearly anything you would normally find around the home or office is easy to cut with a lightsaber, including steel pipes, reinforcing beams, mounting struts and so on.

    No warnings about exiting a building as you cut through its utilities (gas leaks leading to explosions) and support structure (building falls dowm, most likely in YOUR direction)?

    If you happen to find yourself hanging upside down in a cave, a lightsaber is the perfect tool to use to cut the rope.

    Even when hanging a 'safe' distance, less than a foot above the ground, it's too easy to lose control of the sabre when you hit the ground, and cut yourself open.

    This article plays so slipshod with safety that I'll have to rate it (Score: -1, Danger Will Robinson).
  • A few ideas. . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @11:52PM (#12448474)
    The Light Saber is not a laser device. This much is obvious.

    Here's how it might work. . .

    A light saber is a force field functioning on two vectors instead of three. Sabers do not burn or cauterize when they cut. There was blood on the floor of the cantina when Obi Wan liberated that spaceport scum of his arm. My guess is that what is happening when you see melting blast-doors is that the atoms of blast-door metal are being moved around and compressed when the saber is pushed through them, and that the metal heats up and gets red-hot and sludgy as a result of this.

    But how does a forcefield work?

    Well, think of it this way. . .

    All matter is connected to an energy body. --Like the aura around a human, even a stick of wood is directly linked to its energetic reality. Those who are sensitive to such energies can feel where a person or object is without normal sensory input, and even people who are not consciously sensitive to energy are nonetheless affected by it. When energy is dense enough, one's experience of it can easily manifest as tactile.

    So. . .

    If you used a crystal to hold the 'memory' of a physical weapon shaft and if you were able to project that energetic memory while adding power to it from an energy-cell, as well as use technology to regulate the qualities of the energetic expression of that shaft, you might get something which behaves rather like a light saber.

    I like this solution as it exists nicely along side the concept of the Force.


A motion to adjourn is always in order.