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The classic lightsaber buyer's guide

The classic lightsaber buyer's guide

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The world is never going to want for Star Wars-related merchandise, but as I discovered earlier this year there’s only one place to go if you want the most accurate, high-end lightsaber replicas possible: the fans. The engineers, artists, and talented craftspeople that make up the online lightsaber community create replicas that are as close to the items from the films you can get — short of creating an actual laser sword, that is.

My personal lightsaber unicorn was a high-end version of Luke Skywalker’s weapon from The Empire Strikes Back, but that’s just a drop in the bucket when looking at what the community offers as a whole. To make things a little easier — and to have something to share with the friends that have emailed and DM’d me for lightsaber advice — I’ve assembled a list of some of my favorite reproductions of various sabers from the original Star Wars trilogy, who makes them, and where you can find them.

It’s important to remember that these aren’t off-the-shelf toys you get at Toys "R" Us or Walmart (though if you want a starter saber with primitive sound, there’s always Hasbro’s Black Series "Force FX" line). Instead, these are custom-crafted pieces of art that actually work, with light-up blades, sophisticated sound boards, advanced motion-tracking — and prices to match. But when the collecting fever takes hold, only the best will do.

Luke Skywalker — The Graflex

Sabersmith: Michael Murphy,

Starts at: $1,675

Michael Murphy — known online as "Yoda" — creates a lightsaber from the same vintage Graflex camera flashes used to create the real prop, complete with a custom chassis and crystal chamber that hews to the official source material. Murphy has recreated the specific variants of the saber as seen in the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Force Awakens, and some of his recent work sold on eBay for over $15,000. A basic lightsaber can be commissioned for far less, but that starting price doesn’t include the vintage Graflex flash itself. For that you’ll have to turn to eBay, where they’ve been known to sell for as high as $1,000, or pick up one of several highly accurate flash replicas that will be hitting the market in the coming months.

Other options:

Murphy sells Graflex chassis kits for those with a DIY bent, and Georgia-based company Vader’s Vault also has its "Flex" line of sabers for those who don’t need the flair of a crystal chamber. Starting at $399, they’re created from a modified replica flash and are not entirely screen-accurate, but are an excellent option for those breaking into the hobby. For those looking for a display piece (or something cheaper to modify themselves), there's also a replica from Roman Props coming later this year.

Luke Skywalker — Return of the Jedi v2

Sabersmith: Solo’s Hold

Starts at: $399.95 (unfinished hilt only)

In Return of the Jedi, Mark Hamill actually wielded two lightsaber props with differing designs and color schemes. The saber used in the bulk of the film featured a distinctive weathered black paint job, and was recently replicated in its most accurate form yet by Michigan-based Solo’s Hold. The result of a global collaboration between a number of different members of the community, including chassis designer Rick Ryo, Crucible Custom Props, and artists Obi-Shane and Brad Lewis, the Solo’s Hold v2 can be used with everything from the most basic of lighting and sound setups, all the way up to a high-end variant with a crystal chamber reveal. The hilt as sold by Solo’s Hold is just the beginning — you’ll need an installer to finish the saber and equip it with lights and sound — but the company has an approved list of partners that can get things moving.

Luke Skywalker Return of the Jedi lightsaber by Vader's Vault

Luke Skywalker — Return of the Jedi Hero

Sabersmith: Vader’s Vault

Starts at: $549

The other saber used in Jedi is the copper-necked version, known in the community as the "Hero" variant. While there have been various versions produced in the past, Vader’s Vault has released its own take, designed specifically to be used for heavy-contact dueling — an activity that usually bends or breaks "thin-necked" saber replicas. The saber comes with a number of different options, including the ability to customize the behavior of the LEDs on the control box, and while the holes on the pommel used to vent sound aren’t screen-accurate, it’s nevertheless an impressive piece of design from one of the most trusted companies in the community.

Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber by Crucible Custom Props

Obi-Wan Kenobi — A New Hope

Sabersmith: Roman Props

Starts at: $365 (empty hilt only)

While most Star Wars props were built from found parts, nothing matches the lightsaber used by Alec Guinness for sheer and utter weirdness. Frankensteined together from a sink knob, a rifle grenade, a machine gun booster, and Rolls-Royce engine parts, it’s the kind of thing that would take an eternity for a fan to build on their own — unless they had this flawless replica set. Rather than creating a single unit, Roman Props replicates each of the various found parts individually, resulting in a kit that is as close to the real deal as possible. (The company is also producing a complete Graflex flash replica, scheduled for release later this summer.)

The entry-level saber is simply a display piece, but Roman Props also offers an "FX" variant that can be tricked out with electronics, a blade, and sound. Scott Juarez of Crucible Custom Props has become one of the experts when it comes to outfitting the Kenobi saber, and while his waiting list is long, he can even fit the much-heralded crystal chamber into its narrow confines.

Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back

Darth Vader

Sabersmith: Various

You’d think that one of the most iconic villains in movie history would have plenty of people clamoring to recreate his saber, but surprisingly, there’s no go-to manufacturer when it comes to Darth Vader. Part of it is due to history of the saber itself: rather than simply using a Graflex flash like Luke Skywalker’s saber, most of the Vader props were created with flashes from a company called Micro Precision Products that are all but impossible to find. There’s also the issue of interest, and with the introduction of Rey and the return of Luke in The Force Awakens, a lot of recent attention has been put on his saber designs from the original trilogy.

But the original Star Wars bad guy is rumored to appear in the upcoming Rogue One, and things are changing accordingly. A number of different manufacturers are in the midst of creating flash replicas for both the original and Empire Strikes Back versions, as well as the stunt saber used in Return of the Jedi (you can’t say these fans haven’t done their research). Of particular interest is the upcoming run of $195 empty hilts by Randy Johnson (who also recently completed Kylo Ren and Graflex-inspired saber runs), and an upcoming release by the aforementioned Vader’s Vault — though no details on that product have been officially announced.