It’s time to talk about my new hobby and the project I’ll be starting soon. Below you’ll see some photos of something that is hard not to recognize. Those are the pieces of a kit to build a lightsaber from Star Wars. Specifically, the saber Luke uses in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and the one Rey finds in The Force Awakens. I was born a few months after A New Hope (just “Star Wars” back then) premiered, and have been a fan since seeing it when I was around 5. I remember going to a big-top circus with my grandparents and flipping out when a vendor was walking around the stands with a box full of lightsabers (cheap flashlights with colored plastic tubes glued on), I made my grandma run with me to the other side of the tent to get one.
The original movie prop was made from a Graflex flash gun. You can still find original Graflex flashes around, but they are no longer made so each one that’s sold fetches a hefty price. They’re still sought after as flashes, as well as people hoping to make them into replica lightsabers. This particular kit is a replica of the Graflex, but specifically machined for building a lightsaber. It’s being offered by a user on the fx-sabers.com forums named Korbanth. As of today, there are only a couple (if any) kits left for sale. It comes with all the parts necessary to make a version of the sabers used in A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, or The Force Awakens. Each movie has slightly different variations on the design.
Putting together the kit is only a part of the whole process. The hilt is hollow, which allows for the installation of electronics to make the saber light up and play sounds. There are a number of components to choose from to make this happen, each with their own set of features and associated costs. There will be a separate post for components in the future, but at their most basic, they are:
- Soundboard – The “brain” of the saber, controls light and sound and has an accelerometer that detects motion and hits. Some support things like multiple color and sound combinations and programmable button actions (like making blaster deflections sounds).
- LEDs – Sends light through the detachable blade, usually a set of three on a round board. Can be any color combination, usually 2x of one color, 1x of white. Red-Green-Blue can also be used for custom color mixing.
- Speaker – Plays lightsaber sounds. Tshww. Vrowww vrowwww. Ksssshhhhh.
- Battery – Lithium Ion. Rechargeable. Lets the above components do their thing.
- Chassis – Holds all the previous components in place inside the hilt and keeps them from contacting the metal enclosure. Can be as simple as a flexible plastic tube or as complicated as a custom-made fancypants design with things like internal lighting and a crystal reveal chamber.
All of these components have to wired together and placed within the chassis. There are people who do that by commission, as well as people who machine custom saber parts and build (sometimes very expensive) lightsabers for sale. I’ll be doing the wiring and installation myself.
Below, I’ve linked a video that kind of illustrates the process of putting these components together. A word of warning: Turn down your speakers unless you want “Duel of the Fates” to rupture your eardrums.
I’ve been collecting the pieces I’ll need to do this kind of work, and will be learning a whole slew of new skills around electronics. I’ve used a soldering iron exactly once before, and that was at last year’s MakerFest in Denver. That’s part of what’s generating my excitement, the learning of entirely new skills. Add to that building something that I’ve been a fan of for decades and I’m ecstatic.
I’ll also be documenting the process of learning how to do these tasks and the process of building the saber, so I’ve set up a webcam to capture everything. I’ll be posting videos as appropriate, along with the usual photos.
In the next post, I’ll go over my workbench setup!