Lightsabers, as Obi Wan Kenobi once said, are an elegant weapon for a civilized age. In Star Wars' galaxy, they're graceful and otherworldly things. In ours, as the 15-minute Birth of the Lightsaber featurette shows, they were little more than sticks onto which the movie's visual effects artists grafted glowing colors in post-production.
Birth of the Lightsaber was first seen as a special feature on the original Star Wars trilogy's DVD boxset in 2004, but this marks the first time the video has made its way onto the internet in an official capacity. It tells how Star Wars' production staff planned and choreographed the movies' increasingly complex fight sequences, and how they came to understand the capabilities and limitations of Lucas' invented weapon. There's one particularly interesting shot around two minutes into the video that shows Obi Wan Kenobi being run through by Darth Vader's lightsaber. In Lucas' cut of Episode IV, the blade passes through an ethereal Obi Wan; in the early shot, it rips through his cloak, leaving a trail of fire and the aging Jedi's upper body hanging in the air as his lower body slumps to the floor.
The featurette is also peppered with interviews: George Lucas explains how he was inspired to include hand-to-hand combat by movie swashbuckling and historical Asian swordplay, Mark Hamill details how the sabers' fictional weight changed over the course of the movies, and sound designer Ben Burtt shares how movie projectors came to influence the swords' distinctive hum.