Swords have been an irrelevant weapon for around 200 years. Yet swords continue to flash into pop culture all over the place. The Princess Bride and Lord of the Rings have some of the best of Bob Anderson’s work before he passed away. But sci-fi games like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear have characters with swords, too. Even giant robots like the Gundams and Voltron have ginormous swords. What is it about swords that fascinates us?
In the sci-fi universe of Star Wars, blasters seem to have unlimited ammo and there are no short supply of them. Why would any group of people arm themselves with what is, for all intents and purposes, a sword with an on/off switch?
BECAUSE. Lightsabers are the coolest weapons, ever. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
So why aren’t Jedi and Sith dropping like strung-up meat bags all over the place? The bad guy with a blaster doesn’t even have to hit them the first time. He can just keep firing until he gets it right. Blasters don’t appear to need to recharge or cool down between shots, and they have lots and lots of shots. Also, lets not forget that, as a rule, Jedis/Sithies are outnumbered. Well, son, the Jedi and Sith are just that good. They can dodge and deflect all that blaster fire and still save/enslave the day. Which adds to the coolness of the lightsaber as a weapon, but this still doesn’t answer the question. Why do we seem to love the sword so much?
Now, full disclosure – I have been studying and practicing medieval sword fighting since 2002. I can buckle some swashes, and I got into it as a martial art primarily because of everything I had seen on the big screen. I’ve handled quite a few other bladed weapons other than the sword, and have also practiced with a staff. Historically, the sword was not used as much as other weapons. This is primarily because other weapons were easier and cheaper to make. A good sword, one that won’t break on the battlefield, requires an experienced craftsman and some quality steel, neither of which was easy to come by back in the day. This is one of the reasons why the sword in particular was the weapon of nobles and the elite.
So swords are a little cooler than other weapons for the technology and craftsmanship that goes into them. And maybe because they were more expensive than other weapons. Fine. But the casual audience member doesn’t know anything about this. They just like seeing swords clash. So we still haven’t cracked this nut. What else could it be?
It takes skill and athletic dexterity to effectively wield a sword. Its more fun to see someone flourish a sword than to simply pull a trigger. However, it takes skill and dexterity to wield any old weapon. Come to think of it, it takes skill to hit a target with a gun, too. So is the sword special because it flashes and gleams as it moves around? An axe or a polearm can cleave flesh. A spear can skewer someone like a sword. An axe can block blows like a sword can. Is it that a sword is more versatile; that it can do all the things that all these different weapons can, and looks cooler?
Personally, I believe that a lot of the mystique and passion for swords in pop culture comes from history. Swords have been wielded by knights and samurai, kings and pharaohs, even angels. Cherubim with a flaming sword were placed in the Garden of Eden to keep Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of life. Persons from history with means, discipline, honor, and a mission that we long for in our lives are associated with this weapon. In other words, although there is a lot of cool stuff about swords that you learn after you study them, most people like them because of what they associate swords with in their minds. Nobility. Honor. Warriors. Skill.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
So, going back to my premise, lightsabers amp up this juice. The guys that wield these weapons are interstellar knights, and space wizards! Plus, these guys can tap into a higher power called the Force, that gives them super powers. Plus, the weapons can still be relevant in an age of blasters because they can deflect blaster bolts, which they do with skill and the aid of the Force. And on top of all this, these weapons glow and flash, hum and clash, and can cut through pretty much ANYTHING.
And you can turn them off and they’ll fit in your pocket. Sorry, Jane. Vera is cool, but she will never be lightsaber cool.
RESOURCES: If you’re all fired up about lightsabers right now, maybe now is the time to begin your training. There are lots of great online resources such as Terra Prime Lightsaber Academy, or if you want some really great tips and drills, get some DVDs from Novastar and Caine at Sabercombat.
If you want more about modern-day swordsmanship, watch the EXCELLENT “Reclaiming the Blade” documentary (and see more great featurettes on their Youtube channel at this link).
If you really want to go crazy, go to Italy and join up with the Ludosport Academy there. These guys take it to the next level.
If you want a lightsaber, you can spend a few hundred and get something that looks great and will actually withstand lots of heavy dueling. There are lots of resources out there but the best by reputation are SaberForge and Genesis Custom Sabers.
But don’t let lack of funds stop you. You can get a wooden dowel at any Home Depot for a few bucks and start anytime.
Why not today?
The galaxy needs you. 😉