LIGHTSABERS - "IT IS THE WEAPON OF A JEDI KNIGHT."
Choosing a lightsaber to use in a choreographed lightsaber performance can be as daunting as the Jedi trials. There are many options, companies and opinions to sort through. Thankfully, we've provided a crash course on the topic here. Enjoy!
A lightsaber is made up of a number of components:
What's the deal with Neopixel?
Blades are generally made of a polycarbonate plastic, the same plastic they make airplane and bullet-proof windows out of. It is extremely strong and relatively light weight. Two sizes are found in most custom lightsabers, 7/8 in outside diameter and more commonly 1 inch outside diameter. The difference between these two comes down mostly to aesthetics. Some people believe the 7/8 is more movie-screen accurate, but one inch is more commonly made and hence easier to find and cheaper. A very high percentage of club sabers use 1 inch blades, and we recommend them.
Blades also come in two thicknesses: a standard grade or a heavier “dueling” grade. Saber makers call these by a variety of names with some variant on thin and standard or thick and heavy. While a standard grade blade should be fine for the types of “dueling” we do in CPAS, a heavy grade blade is preferred as a “just in case” safety margin. They also have the advantage of not bending as much in a performance.
DIFFUSING AND TIPS
Now if you just shine an LED up a polycarbonate tube it won’t look very much like a lightsaber. Some way of diffusing the light is needed to make it come out if the sides if the tube more than the tip. Many ways of accomplishing this are done and again much marketing speak can be done, but good blades use two ideas for this. First is a diffusion film, a clear cellophane film curled inside the tube. Second is using a translucent white tube and sanding the blade surface to rough it up and spread out the light.
You also need a tip on the blade. Most manufacturers make a round tip or a pointed tip (sometimes called a bullet tip), often with mirror tape to bounce the light back down the tube. For safety reasons the club has decided to use round tips. You can sand a bullet tip rounder which is another option.
All of the saber manufacturers I discuss later sell blades as well as sabers. There is also a company that specializes only in blades, Ripper Blades (www.ripperblades.net). They even have some blades made from acrylic in a sword style. These would be totally inappropriate for any kind of stage combat as they are fragile and would likely break, but they could be a good show piece.
WHAT'S A "DAYBLADE" ?
In addition to white or clear tubes, you can also get what are termed “day blades”. These blades use colored polycarbonate, so they are visible during the day when sunlight washes out your LEDs. They come in a variety of colors and can also be used to give some subtle color changing effects to the LEDs as well. A final type of blade is termed a Photon blade. This blade uses a light reactive dye in the polycarbonate. They look like a pale green (sometimes called acid green or Rakhul green) when unilluminated, but glow very brightly when illuminated with blue light.
The hilt contains the electronics of the saber and is typically described with 4 parts:
EMITTER / LEDs
At the top (or front) is the emitter. This is where the blade is secured with a set screw or two. These small screws are usually a 5/32 or so Allen head screw (like from Ikea) that grip the blade. Replacements can usually be found in hardware stores or home centers if you lose them. The emitter also contains the LEDs for the saber that give you the color of your saber blade. These LEDs are most commonly from two manufacturers, Cree and Luxeon. The LEDs (light emitting diodes) are mounted on a small circuit board in groups of one to three dies. A die is an individual LED unit (some folks call multiple units dice). So, if you see something called a Tri-Cree it means it has three LED units made by Cree. These LEDs come in a number of different colors, red, green, blue, white or yellow. All other colors are made by mixing these five, and most commonly by mixing red, green, and blue like on your computer monitor – look at it with a magnifying glass and you’ll see the individual colors. Single color sabers use from one to three of these LEDs to make the color, so a red blade may have from one to three red LEDs, with more LEDs making a brighter saber. A purple one would be red and blue LEDs with the exact shade depending on how bright the individual LED dies are.
POMMEL / SOUND
Many sabers have a sound card to control the saber color. A saber that has no sound card is called a stunt saber and simply wires the LEDs to the battery through a switch. Turn it on you you’ve got a lit saber. Having a sound card, however, adds a lot of fun effects to the saber. First is sound; it will hum and have swing sounds like in the movies. These are either hard-coded into the sound card and cannot be changed or can be loaded onto many sound cards in the form of audio files. A group of sounds together is called a sound font. You can find many sound fonts online at www.saberfont.com. You can also make your own with a little know-how and a computer. The sound card also controls other features of the saber, like a flash when the saber detects an impact. This is a separate color that is either built into the saber in the choice of LEDs (such as having two blue LEDs for your blade color and a red one that turns on with the flash and makes the saber flash purple). Another option is to have an RGB saber. This is a red, green, and blue LED set and allows the sound card to choose any of them at varying levels of brightness. This gives the ability to choose any color you want for both your blade color and your clash effect.
Powering all this is a battery or multiple batteries. The most common choices are AA or AAA (usually in sets of 4) or a lithium ion battery commonly of the size 18650, which looks like a fat AA battery. Sometimes the battery is removable, which is a plus as you can swap in a new charged one if your battery goes dead, but other times the battery is hard-wired and non-removable. You then charge the saber using a recharge port and cable. Sabers with recharge ports often have a “kill-key”, which cuts the power to the rest of the saber while the saber is charging or if you want to store the saber for a long time.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH NEO-PIXEL?
One of the newest innovations in the saber world is the idea of the neopixel blade. This goes by a lot of different names: Neopixel, PlecterPixel, Intelliblade, among others. No, that's not done with PhotoShop, that's what the blade actually looks like. Stunningly bright color, and even the tip is fully eliminated. How is this achieved? These blades all use a radically different idea than the “standard” lightsabers – the LEDs are embedded in the blade. Most use a flexible plastic strip of LEDs, often 144 LEDs per meter. This gives a blade that can actually look like it is extending from the hilt and retracting into the hilt. They are also RGB sabers and so can take on any color you choose. As this is relatively new technology you will also pay a bit of a premium for this option from most saber manufacturers.
As for whether these blades are combat worthy enough to be used in performance with CPAS - the jury is still out. A few members have these sabers and are using them, so as time goes on we'll get more details!
ENOUGH WITH THE DETAILS - WHERE DO I BUY ONE?
So finally, who should you buy from? There are a lot of saber makers out there, from mass producers to single people making sabers in their garage. A mass-produced saber can be had for as little as $60. Custom one-of-a-kind units can be $10,000. So what should you buy? First do some research. There are a few people doing reviews on YouTube. Two I like are RebelChumps and Darth Cephalus, but there are many, many more. Then there are the manufacturers. The biggest mass-market saber makers are Ultrasabers (www.ultrasabers.com), Vader’s Vault (www.vadersvault.com), Electrum Sabercraft (www.electrumsabers.com), Saber Forge (www.saberforge.com), and Kyberlight (kyberlight.com). There are a bunch of others as well, like KR Sabers, JK sabers, Genesis Custom Sabers, and Darth Alice. Some web searching will find you lots more. You can even build your own with parts from Custom Saber Shop (www.thecustomsabershop.com). Club members have many sabers from several of these manufacturers. Try before you buy!
I can speak to experiences with three of these companies, Ultrasabers, Electrum, and Vader’s Vault. Ultrasabers makes decent, rugged, relatively low-cost sabers. You can order stunt sabers or sabers with sound cards. They apparently use their own custom sound card, which isn’t compatible with other sound fonts. I have two of their stunt sabers – an Initiate v2 LE in triple white (they call it silver) and an Aeon v4 in blue. They have been great sabers, both costing around $100 each. They are what I call my beater sabers; I can practice new moves with them and if I drop them I’m not too worried about breaking them. My third saber is from Vader’s Vault, a Brawler Elite with a PlecterPixel blade. This is my “show” or costume saber and the one I perform with. Vader’s Vault has a great reputation in the saber community and it is as far as I can see very well earned. Their sabers really have to be seen to be believed. They are light weight, durable and quite beautiful, and all come with sound; they do not sell stunt sabers. But it was considerably more expensive than the Aeon - $650 versus $100, although $180 of that was the PlecterPixel blade. Finally, while I don’t personally own an Electrum saber, a friend does. They seem to be having some quality issues, but it remains to be seen how they deal with them. They are priced in the $300-$500 range. To be fair, an Ultrasabers with sound will cost you around $300-$500 and a Vader’s Vault can be had for as little as $300, so shop around and see what you like. I have seen some nice sabers from a company called SaberTrio located in Malaysia and a unique saber from SaberMach in Singapore. Or you can go the total custom route with sabers crafted by artists like Darth Alice. Expect to pay a high price, but you’ll be guaranteed no one will have a saber like yours.