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Lightsabers are the single most iconic item from the Star Wars movies, although Darth Vader’s helmet comes in a close second.

Ever since filmgoers first saw this striking blade of light in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, there has been demand for a real one. Unfortunately, science suggests lightsabers are never going to be real.

So, if you have long held a desire to own a real lightsaber, here are the reasons why that’s never going to happen… and believe us, we’re as disappointed as anyone. The problem is we cannot argue against science!

Fantasy from Reality

To give an elaborate disclaimer: Yes, Star Wars is just as much fantasy as it is science fiction, as this infographic comparing it to Star Trek shows; and if one were to begin counting the impossible or highly-improbable technologies in the series, the list would go on for quite some time.

According to George Lucas himself, the concept that became the lightsaber had its roots in the same swashbuckling adventure films and novels that informed most of the writing and art design. The peacekeepers of the galaxy needed something more noble and memorable than the blasters wielded by rougher characters like Han Solo. From that came the “elegant weapon for a more civilized age”.

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A lightsaber is a fantastical object; but, as with lots of things from classic science-fiction and fantasy films, many fans want to own one of their own, and Star Wars fans can be very obsessive. Unfortunately, there are a number of scientific problems with the lightsaber that make it physically impossible, at least in the form we recognize.

Reason #1: The Science of Light

Let’s begin with the lightsaber as it is seen and described in the Star Wars films themselves. It appears to be a beam of light, generally around four feet in length.

We first see a lightsaber when Obi-Wan Kenobi hands one to Luke Skywalker, who proceeds to rather recklessly activate it and swing it around. They can be wielded in the same manner as our Earthly swords, and have the ability to slice through anything and deflect blaster bolts.

The first problem with such a blade is that light has no mass. There is no way for light to have the properties such a sword would require. Light isn’t hard enough to repel even another light, let alone long-range projectiles.

Researchers from MIT and Harvard found a way to bond photons together in a way that allowed them to behave as though they had mass. They said comparing this new discovery to lightsabers was “not an in-apt analogy.”

Don’t let their puckish language fool you. The newly-bound photons do interact with each other in a way that has never been seen, but they aren’t doing the noisy clash that lightsabers do when they are slammed together.

The second problem with having a blade of light: There is no way to stop a shaft of light at a particular length without some kind of a cap. Even if we were to assume that the light in a lightsaber is harmful, the saber would be robbed of stabbing capacity if it had a cap.

Reason #2: Impossible Combat

Lightsabers in Star Wars are treated as the be-all and end-all of weapons, capable of slicing through just about anything and deflecting blaster bolts. In this scenario the only effective defense against a lightsaber is another lightsaber.

We’re used to seeing “hard light” in video games such as Portal, but there’s really no basis in reality for that. So in the real world, a blade of light could easily be deflected by any reflective surface you had to hand. A lightsaber’s heat might be the source of its ability to slice through almost anything, but heat would not explain how it can be used to fence.

Lightsabers are wielded as if they have the same weight as Earthly swords. In the Original Trilogy, they are held with two hands and treated as if they weigh about the same as a longsword. In the Prequel Trilogy, we see them held one-handed and the experienced Jedi obviously have sophisticated fencing forms. Here’s a handy timeline Quick Guide to the Star Wars Timeline Quick Guide to the Star Wars Timeline Read More if you’re having trouble keeping all of these trilogies straight.

But having a blade made of light would be to have a “blade” with no mass. There is no reason for the Jedi to wield the blades as someone would a real sword.

Reason #3: Plasma Is Hot

The films are a bit scant on information about how the lightsabers work, but the non-canonical “Expanded Universe” 6 Ways You Can Read Star Wars Fan Fiction Online 6 Ways You Can Read Star Wars Fan Fiction Online There are Star Wars fans out there that are so into George Lucas' magnum opus that they're happy to spend hours writing stories based in the Star Wars universe. Read More has quite a bit to say on the subject. According to several novels and comics, lightsabers are supposed to be plasma, refracted through special crystals.

LightsaberFight

The main ingredient in the construction of a lightsaber, coming as a surprise to no one, is The Force. Lightsabers are powered by plasma units, which cause the plasma “light” to be bent through the crystal, which is supposedly how the blades can be different lengths and colors. The Force is supposed to be what makes all of this work.

Leaving aside the space magic, there’s a big problem with that: Plasma is hot. Even “cold” plasma is too hot for the human hand to hold.

I guess we’re meant to assume that’s why the lightsaber is able to cut through just about anything, though it doesn’t explain why it has the ability to deflect blaster bolts. But unless something in a galaxy far, far away has given humanoids the ability to withstand temperatures that hit four digits Fahrenheit, it would not be physically possible to wield a plasma sword.

Reason #4: Inadequate Power

No matter what material the blade is actually made from, it would have to have a power source. This would add a lot more bulk to the sleek blade than you might think.

Let us assume that the lightsaber is somehow a functioning blade of plasma or “hard light” and is hot enough to cut through almost any substance. Powering something like that is not the work of standard batteries or gunpowder. You would probably need a separate sustained power source, which you would have to carry about your person. Something tells me that would cut down on your maneuverability.

There was a military weapon in development a few years ago that was called a “real-life lightsaber.” It was a Metal Vapor Torch, a small metal tube which released a plume of super-heated plasma that lasted for all of a few seconds and didn’t behave in any way like the elegant rapier of the films.

The reason it burned out so fast was because the amount of chemical fuel contained in the handle was only enough to power it for so long. A lightsaber would need to have an astronomical amount of power in order for it to have a stable blade for any length of time.

By the way, the only way for a lightsaber to make the signature “WWWWVV” sound would be for the power source itself to make noise. There is no reason for a beam of light or plasma to emit such a sound. But if you want to get your Windows computer to make that sound, check out our guide here Spice Up Your Windows Sound Effects With Amazing Resources Spice Up Your Windows Sound Effects With Amazing Resources Default Windows sounds can get boring. If you want to mix things up a bit, change your computer's sound scheme! We will briefly walk about through the process and point out great resources. Read More .

Tell Us What You Think!

No one could be more disappointed about the impossibility of lightsabers than us geeks here at MakeUseOf 10 Geeky Ways to Celebrate Star Wars Day 10 Geeky Ways to Celebrate Star Wars Day With Star Wars back in business, we felt now would be a good time to think of the wackiest ways geeks can celebrate Star Wars Day. May the 4th be with you! Read More . But it’s our duty to pass on the news that they’re never going to be a thing, at least not in our lifetimes.

Do you know of any similar technology that actually is possible? Do you know some way that lightsabers might be proven plausible in the future? Please let us know in the comments section below! Or just use the opportunity to talk to your fellow nerds about Star Wars.

Image Credits: lightsaber via Shutterstock

  1. ben
    December 23, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    But if we find a way to compress hot plasma ions to form a solid state, a kind of a hot plasma solid rod contained in a kind of a magnetic filed, a solid hot plasma blade could be possible ... a similar situation could be with photons interacting with each other as molecules and compresses so to a kind of a light solid state ...

  2. fcd76218
    September 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    "The wider point is, of course, that some of the elements that make up a lightsaber are physically impossible."
    That should read "CURRENTLY impossible"

  3. Jon Green
    September 18, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Where to start?

    First: "Even “cold” plasma is too hot for the human hand to hold." OK. Wrap your hand around the middle of a powered-on fluorescent light tube. How did you possibly handle the pain? Oh. Granted, that's irrelevant to light sabres, but it shows the groundwork in science hasn't been done in this article.

    Second: the light sabre is _obviously_ not just light. To get those effects, you need highly-energetic matter, so we're probably looking at plasma - specifically regular-matter plasma (as opposed to, for instance, quark-gluon plasma). Now, the issue with plasma is always containment. With sufficient energy, though (and a light sabre clearly has a lot of that), generating a spiral magnetic field strong enough to contain the "beam" might well be do-able. Such a field may dissipate after a certain distance, leaving the end of the light sabre open, whereat the plasma condenses to ionised gass. And this is in a universe with science far in advance of ours, so maybe even a localised gravitational field could be used. Oh, and - covering a previous point in the article - plasma _does_ have mass. A localised gravitational field, by the way, would certainly deflect both light (laser guns) and matter (plasma guns).

    Third: about sound. A contained plasma stream could well make a sound when swished, either from modulation in the containment field, or from the plasma itself, or from the interaction between the two when the containment field unevenly contacts the plasma (due to the plasma's inertia) as it's moved. Also, there's no reason why the plasma, if continuously generated, couldn't be produced in pulses, so waves ripple from source point to dissipation point. Hot plasma heats air. If the plasma's oscillating, the air it heats will, too. The humming sound effect would be analoguous to the dotted-line effect you get from persistence of vision when waving a high-frequency strobing LED.

    Finally: power supply. We've gone from carbon-zinc batteries to super-capacitors and lithium technologies in decades. We went from coal-fired power stations to nuclear in a decade. We anticipated fusion generators would be the size of a large nuclear reactor; now Lockheed-Martin's making one in a single 40ft shipping container. Remember the Star Trek communicators and tricorders? Check your pocket; look at your smartphone. Just forty years. The Human Genome Project started to sequence one human's DNA in 1990, and completed in 2003. In 2015, we have a USB unit the size of a phone charger (MinION) that can sequence DNA at your desktop in hours. And that's using the science we already know. To presume that nothing will have changed, that we couldn't in the future have a handheld power supply or generator that could outstrip anything a whole building's needed for right now is to have an absolute failure of vision.

  4. Kelsey Tidwell
    September 18, 2015 at 1:43 am

    Baaaaaaaahahahahahahahaha!!! The angst over this issue!!! Man, this MADE MY DAY!
    I'd hang out and chat but my freighter's leaving for Rigel in ten.

    Seriously, not really leaving on a freighter for Rigel. Nobody spill your Jedi Juice down the front of your footie pajamas, please. I was just kidding around.

    Really...just kidding.

  5. michael_dowling
    September 17, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Let me begin by saying I DETEST Star Wars.Childish video game antics.I love Star TREK by the way,which speaks to grown up problems in the real world.Light sabers are and will be impossible in real life simply because the physics of storing sufficient energy in a hand held device is not even theoretically known,let alone technically possible.
    For that matter,phasers are also impossible for the same reason. Finally,the concept of the Transporter is probably the furthest from becoming reality.
    Death rays are a different matter,if you allow for a power source mounted in a truck or aircraft,and could potentially generate laser energy in the megawatt range.

    • fcd76218
      September 18, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      "phasers are also impossible"
      What is a "phaser" other than a laser pointer with a few improvements.

      You, Sir, might like Star Trek but to you it is nothing more than Barsoom or Alice's Wonderland.

      • michael_dowling
        September 18, 2015 at 9:38 pm

        Phasers are frequently depicted vaporizing people/objects in a second or two,which would require insane amounts of energy. Check out the photos of people's shadows at Hiroshima on concrete that required a 20 kiloton atomic weapon near ground zero to do the job. To me Star Trek obliquely comments on controversial subjects that are difficult to discuss directly,such as the Vietnam war,minority rights,etc.

  6. prittman
    September 16, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    I'll never own my own lightsaber? You mean all those years I spent standing on my head meditating, have gone to waste? That little rodent Yoda has misled me....

    • Dark
      September 17, 2015 at 9:31 am

      Don't worry - the little rodent Yoda spoke the truth - you'll probably just have to wait "a bit" though :)

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 17, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Misled you, Lucas has.

  7. fcd76218
    September 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    One of the silliest articles I have ever read. And on a techie forum. If there is one thing that science has taught us is that nothing is impossible (sooner or later). Had you written this article 200 years ago, you would have said that radio, TV, Internet, IOW any of today's technology, is fantasy. I agree that today's science cannot begin to conceive of a usable lightsaber. However, who knows in a few years? You only need to look at the predictions of Jules Verne.

    FYI - 2,000 years ago, Archimedes equipped his city-state's army with a very effective death ray.

    As Arthur C. Clarke said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (or fantasy)

    • Dark
      September 17, 2015 at 9:28 am

      @fcd76218 - I wholeheartedly agree! :D
      Though, from my memory, Archimedes "death ray" wasn't EXACTLY a death ray - it was more of a ship sinker :P - it used multiple mirrors to focus sunlight in the same spot, thus creating alot of heat and lighting enemy ships on fire - closest current time weapon of that sort would probably be the microwave gun developed a few years ago by the americans (though I can't reamember the specific articles I read at that time - sorry :( ) - and from what I rember it only worked on slow moving object (ships, artillery, structures, etc) - because it needed a bit of time before the wood caught fire (a soldier could just move out of the way of the ocncentrated light - he'd be uncomfortable, but alive :) )

      @Rachel Kaser
      It makes me a bit angry when people who can't see past today make assuptions on wether something is impossible or not. for example if you were to tell someone in the 1960's that you could build a computer that you could carry around in your pocket you'd have ended up in an asylum for the mentally unstable. Let's go further - 15 year before america landed a man on the moon - if you were to make the claim that you could get to the mood you'd end up in the same asylum. Let's go to the dawn of time - who would of thought that you could get fire by bashing 2 rocks together and who would've though meat was better when cooked? to name just a few of the current "impossible" reasearches going on: genetic engineering , nano-technology, pepetual eneryg, cryo-freeze, etc... Just because "you" think it's impossible it does not make it the truth.
      Now reg. the article - first of all A for effort.
      From what I rember, the main ingredient to a lightsaber wasn't "the force" - it was those damn crystals which could focus the blade (and by the way - those crystals were quite hard to come by - a jedi's padawan's final and hardest test was actually getting one of those crystals of their own - the movie don't show this part - but the movies are not the only lore for the series).
      There were weapons that could handle a lightsaber battle - they were just regular swords in appearance, called vibroblades (or something like that) which could whitstand the heat and energy from a lightsaber attack (If I remember correctly the explanation was in a forcefield that the blade generated around itself which did not allow for the blade to be in direct contact with the lightsaber) - please do your research before drawing conclusions.
      As for the lack of power - I agree - currently we don't have that kind of technology but considering past battery technologie - it wasn't so long ago when we though zinc batteries couldn't get any better - then the lithium batteries came out - now they're working on graphite batteries and in time they'll probably get to a point where small batteries can actually generate enough power to power up a city... indefinetly (pepetual energy).
      I don't really know what to say about the article title (a bit of humily would probably have been nice) - but using NEVER and SCIENCE in the same sentece? REALLY? - though I agree that some thing may not be possible (at least not with the materials we find "here") - it does not signify that a time won't come where those things will be common day occurences/practices/etc...
      I leave you with this:

      “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
      “To believe a thing impossible is to make it so.” – French Proverb
      “Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” – G. M. Trevelyan
      “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” – Christopher Reeve
      “To the timid and hesitating everything is impossible because it seems so.” – Sir Walter Scott
      “We have more power than will; and it is often by way of excuse to ourselves that we fancy things are impossible.” – Francois Duc De la Rochefoucauld
      “Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.” – Robert A. Heinlein
      “The word impossible is not in my dictionary.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
      “Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.” – Marcus Aurelius
      “There is nothing impossible to him who will try.” – Alexander the Great
      “Every noble work is at first impossible.” – Thomas Carlyle
      “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney

    • Dave Parrack
      September 17, 2015 at 9:35 am

      The "You" in the title apples to everyone reading this, so even if they're 12 years old and go onto live until they're 100, for this article to be inaccurate lightsabers would need to be invented in the next 88 years. That isn't going to happen.

      The wider point is, of course, that some of the elements that make up a lightsaber are physically impossible.

      • Dark
        September 17, 2015 at 10:09 am

        As I mentioned - with the current level of technology at our disposal - unfortunately (or fortunately - depending on the point of view) - ALOT can happen in 88 years - we could possibly develop space ships in 88 years and get different resources from other planets (that do not exist on earth) - I'm not saying that the lightsaber will be identical to the one in the movies/games (unfortunatly we don't have the magical energy known as "the force") - but, in my opinion, it is extremely possible for a "lightsaber" variant to show up soner or later. As for the elements - Da Vincis designs werent's created exactly the same way as he imagined them - but they fulfilled the same purpose - same goes for Jules Verne and so it goes for alot of the people throughout human history ("I don't know what I'll do... or what I'll become... Only what I am" - Arthur from the movie Merlin in 1998) - just because "we" can't "see" something it does not mean that smarter people than "us" can't "see" them (I include myself in that "us" btw :) )

  8. Howard Blair
    September 16, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    The "...because [one word]" trope needs to DIE. NOW.

    • Dark
      September 17, 2015 at 9:29 am

      I kinda like it :) - it amuses me :D

    • Dave Parrack
      September 17, 2015 at 9:31 am

      I like it. And languages are always evolving.

      If you feel the need then change the title in your head to "4 Reasons You Will Never Own a Real Lightsaber". Better?

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 17, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Because no.

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