Disney’s ‘real’ lightsaber isn’t quite as cool as it looks

You’ve got to hand it to Disney. Despite a relative dearth of Star Wars content launched on May 4, which apparently we’re still not tired of calling Star Wars Day, the company still managed to dominate the nerd news cycle with a single 13-second video. 

The video in question is Disney Parks’ tease of the Star Wars hotel opening in Disney World in 2022, the Galactic Starcruiser. We’ve written extensively about the Starcruiser experience, which over three nights will immerse you in a story about a ship being boarded by First Order troops and saved by the Resistance. Estimated cost: $1,400 per person. 

Which on the one hand sounds like a lot of scratch, but on the other hand…this. 

Yes, that’s a Disney cast member dressed as Rey, demonstrating what appears to be a “real” lightsaber — by which we mean fully extendable. If you’ve ever seen a fan-built model, or constructed a $200 lightsaber at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll know that they’re really plastic tubes with LED lights inside. Fun, but not exactly the Star Wars dream of pressing a button and having a beam of light go psshhhhhewwww. This is much closer. 

So what’s the deal? Is Disney getting into the superpowered laser business? Will cast members have to take out extra insurance against accidental severance (lightsabers are all fun and games until someone loses a hand)? And most importantly, will they shut up and take our money so we can play too? The answers are no, no, and probably not. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Lightsabers aren’t real. Yet. 

Every so often we’re treated to an overblown story about an inventor who claims to have built the world’s first “real” lightsaber. In 2020 we got this version fueled by propane, as well as this engineer igniting hydroxy gas to produce an extremely unsafe jet of flame that looked a little like Kylo Ren’s spitting red saber. Neither is going to let you face off against a Sith Lord — not unless it’s hooked up to an R2-D2-sized fuel tank, which might impede your cool duel choreography somewhat.

At MIT in 2013, scientists managed to create a “photonic molecule” — light particles that bind to each other, creating mass without weight. But given that they could only create photonic molecules inside a vacuum chamber that was cooled to near absolute zero, headlines that dubbed the experiment a “real lightsaber” were more than a little misleading. 

We’re not there yet. Given that physics doesn’t work in our universe the way it works in space fantasy, we may never be. Heck, even George Lucas (who always said he “wanted to ignore science and have fun” with the movies) had to invent the Kyber crystal just to hand-wave away the key question of how these improbable laser swords drew their power. 

2. Disney’s ‘lightsaber’ works like a tape measure. 

We first got wind of the Starcruiser lightsaber on April 8, when Disney Parks chairman Josh D’Amaro demonstrated it during an unrelated press event for Disneyland’s Avengers Campus. The reporters present were very excited by D’Amaro’s demo — “not a ‘I’m carrying around this long stick’ lightsaber,” one tweeted, “a FUCKING LIGHTSABER LIGHTSABER” — but no images were available. 

The internet, undefeated, got to work and discovered a patent Disney Enterprises filed in 2018: “Sword device with retractable, internally illuminated blade.” The apparatus it described contained spools and a motor that rolled and unrolled two “plastic blade body members…acting much like a metal carpenter’s tape measure.” 

That’s right: If you ever extended a steel tape measure as a kid, and ran around a workshop making lightsaber noises, you were ahead of the game. And if you’d only patented the idea, Disney might have been paying you a ton of money right about now. 

There’s more to it, of course. The patent describes two semicircular translucent tape measures, basically, that are “zipped” together when they exit the lightsaber base, and studded with LED lights. VR developer Ben Ridout went into detail in this viral Twitter thread, complete with animations. Still, as with all magic, once you know how the trick is done it doesn’t quite look as cool as all that. 

3. You’ll handle them. But we don’t know if you can buy them.

Starcruiser concept art shows a guest using a lightsaber to face off against a remote — but crucially, not against another lightsaber user.

Starcruiser concept art shows a guest using a lightsaber to face off against a remote — but crucially, not against another lightsaber user.

“You’ll have the opportunity to train in the ancient ways of the lightsaber,” according to the May 4 Disney Parks blog post teasing the latest details of the Galactic Starcruiser. The company also released concept art showing a Starcruiser guest wielding a lightsaber against what appears to be a wall-mounted remote. 

That’s as much as we know, officially. Also notable was what the Parks blog didn’t say. While the patent offers a tantalizing possibility of offering the lightsaber as a “collectible,” Disney’s official unveiling makes no mention of being able to purchase the cool new lightsaber — or of any actual lightsaber-on-lightsaber action aboard the Starcruiser. 

Which leaves us wondering: How sturdy is this patented retractable sword device anyway? If you ran around the workshop with a tape measure, you probably experienced that Freudian moment where your lightsaber…suddenly went floppy. Because if it’s retractable, and winds around a spool, then it is by definition bendable, and unlikely to maintain its shape when hitting a similar object. 

Which in turn suggests that this new lightsaber might not be the best toy for a choreographed duel — not unless what you’re trying to replicate is the schwartz-on-schwartz battle from Spaceballs. The sturdier plastic housing for the Galaxy’s Edge lightsaber does allow for such rough handling, so don’t expect that to go away any time soon. 

Our guess would be that the Starcruiser lightsaber will only be used by guests under very limited, controlled conditions — one at a time, with no possibility for unmoderated dueling. Still, its very existence is likely to convince thousands of nerds to part with $1,400 for the Star Wars adventure of a lifetime. And that’s how you turn a patent for a bendy lightsaber into a net positive for the company. 

Evil genius, Disney. Evil genius.    


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