The lights are on
This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster – an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
It all started on May 25, 1977, when the box-office release of Star Wars sent adolescent star dreamers across the globe into a frenzy of science-fiction imaginings. Straight from the mind of filmmaker George Lucas, Star Wars gifted the world with an overwhelming degree of inexpressible awesomeness – space battles, aliens, bounty hunters, the Force, Jedi, and, of course, Darth Vader. But even among the most inspired concepts introduced in Lucas’ epic space opera, there is one that starkly marks Star Wars as an iconic and internationally recognizable phenomenon: the lightsaber.
George Lucas wasn’t the first writer to use light swords in a story, but he did so in a way that made them legendary. Our on-screen introduction to lightsaber combat – a duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader aboard the Death Star – would probably seem lackluster to a Star Wars newcomer in 2013. Two largely unknown characters waving primitively animated blades around for two minutes doesn’t exactly hold up to modern standards of entertainment. The idea of the lightsaber, though, and its evolution throughout future Star Wars films, would eventually make for some of the most spectacular combat scenes in cinema.
From Big Screen to Console
Seeing Luke or Yoda brandish laser swords on screen is superb, no doubt, but wielding your own – that’s the dream. Unfortunately, modern science has been slow on getting us to that point.
Taking matters into its own hands, Parker Brothers gave the world a virtual means of using lightsabers in 1983 with Star Wars: Jedi Arena. Released for the Atari 2600, played using an Atari paddle, Jedi Arena pits two lightsaber-wielding players directly against one another – one red, one blue. The goal of the game is to deflect laser bolts toward your opponent by moving left and right. As you can see in the screenshot below, the premise is little more than a glorified Pong.
In the early ‘90s, advancing video game technology allowed developers to be more ambitious with their lightsaber implementation. Star Wars, a 1991 NES platformer based on the original Star Wars film, casts players as Luke Skywalker as he hacks through enemies using his father’s lightsaber, which as we know, was given to him by Obi-Wan Kenobi. How he was skilled enough with the Force to effectively wield a lightsaber at that point in the timeline is beyond me, but one didn’t question the opportunity to use a lightsaber in 1991.
The next couple of years saw an increasingly steady stream of official Star Wars games featuring lightsabers, many of them based on the side-scrolling formula of the 1991 NES game. The Empire Strikes Back was released for NES in 1992, and all three Star Wars films had been made into SNES games by 1994. The titles in these series, though perhaps nondescript to the modern eye, were worlds above Jedi Arena in terms of recreating Lucas’s cinematic Star Wars experience. Not only were Force powers introduced, but players were given the chance to face-off with other lightsaber-wielding opponents who were at least somewhat reminiscent of their movie counterparts.
On page two: Lightsabers in 3D.