A real lightsaber. How is that possible?
It’s probably not, of course. But when Disney Parks chairman Josh D’Amaro ended his April 8th presentation by whipping out a never-before-seen retractable lightsaber — no video evidence, mind — Disney and Star Wars fans went wild online. Speculation ran rampant, much of it pointing to a 2018 patent for a “Sword device with retractable, internally illuminated blade.” I pored through that patent late that evening, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to show Verge readers how it works ever since. Heck, I even ordered a pair of LED slap bracelets that have yet to arrive.
But it looks like I won’t need them, because VR developer Ben Ridout has already done better, brilliantly illuminating Disney’s patented concept with a set of simple animations:
Did #Disney invent a real working #lightsaber?— Ben Ridout (@benridout) April 12, 2021
Yes they did.
It won't melt through metal blast doors, or cut off your hand, but it does feature an illuminated blade that will extend and retract at the push of a button.
This animation shows the concept behind the tech. pic.twitter.com/e7fwP06CxF
Next, widen the tapes and increase the curve, allowing them to partially wrap around each other and form a complete cylinder. Drive this system with a motor so both reels can be extended and retracted in synch at the push of a button. Now, you've got a lightsaber! pic.twitter.com/B3lLMmclDN— Ben Ridout (@benridout) April 12, 2021
Yes, that’s correct — the magic here really does boil down to a pair of fancy motorized tape measures. The patent even mentions “a metal carpenter’s tape measure” as inspiration.
According to the patent, the lightsaber’s “blade” consists of two spools of translucent material that lie flat when fully wound, like a tape measure inside its reel. When each ribbon is shot out the end, it curves into a semicircle that forms one half of the blade. They’re permanently mounted to a rounded lightsaber “tip” that also pulls along a string of flexible LEDs that’s mounted on a third motorized spool inside the lightsaber’s frame. The two halves of the blade get zipped together by a “blade form” as they exit the lightsaber, creating a single lightsaber beam.
Will such a lightsaber be rigid enough for a practice duel? Only Disney’s Imagineers can say for sure — but either way, this could be a gamechanger for the lightsaber community. We went on a hunt for the ultimate Star Wars lightsabers in 2016, and while modern lightsaber props have incredible light, sound and detailing, the basics haven’t changed in years: you generally choose between a glorified flashlight with a toy telescoping blade that can actually fit inside a handle, or more commonly now, a rigid LED-filled tube you’ll have to remove and store whenever you want to display your saber on a belt.
Now, Disney may have created the full-size, evenly lit, disappearing lightsaber blade of our dreams. Minus the whole “slice objects in half with a beam of energy” part, of course. I’m just wondering whether it’ll be a prop for Disneyland actors, or the latest incredible toy I can’t quite afford.