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Disney's new 'working' lightsaber prop looks pretty damn real

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Disney has unveiled a replica lightsaber that automatically extends and lights up from its core. To answer the question likely to be asked first: You can't buy it right now. It isn't clear whether or not the prop will ever be for sale. But you can see what it looks like in the video above, which is more or less like a working lightsaber, or as close to one as I've ever seen.

Maybe the video has been worked on to make the prop look extra good, but even so, it automatically extends and lights up brightly: two of the main things lightsabers do, along with cutting off hands and deflecting blaster fire. As Polygon (opens in new tab) (which spotted the teaser yesterday) points out, Star Wars fans have so far had to settle for retractable lightsabers that are lit from the bottom, or fully-lit sabers that look more like they do in the movies but don't retract. This new model appears to have it all.

About the lightsaber, Disney says (opens in new tab), "Yes, that's a new type of lightsaber Rey is holding in her hand, created by Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development," but that's about it. The prop will be used by actors at the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser (opens in new tab) experience at Walt Disney World in Florida, a two-night simulated spaceship stay opening in 2022. ("This isn’t storytelling—it’s storyliving.")

How the lightsaber works isn't known outside of Disney, but a 2018 patent provides the most likely explanation. The Disney patent describes a model lightsaber that operates by the same principle that allows a measuring tape to become rigid after unrolling.

The Verge explained (opens in new tab) the patent's engineering last month, and the gif below (opens in new tab) from Disney and Star Wars fan Ben Ridout illustrates the idea well. (The model won't literally use two measuring tapes, of course. The point is just that plastic strips can both be rolled up and become rigid by forming half-circles.)

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If the prop really looks as good as Disney's video indicates, people are going to want it, so I suspect there'll be a way to buy one—although maybe Disney will keep its patented lightsaber tech to itself for a few years to hype up the Florida experience.

The other question that remains is how sturdy the things will be. If all it does is nail the lightsaber look, that'd be really cool for fans and cosplayers, but it'd be far better if you could actually swing it around without the blade flopping over. Perhaps it isn't promising that the actor in the teaser video stands completely still while holding the lightsaber, but it may not mean anything.

Tyler Wilde
Tyler Wilde

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.