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Lightsaber buying guide for beginners

Post new topic   Reply to topic    Rebel Legion Forum Index -> Costume and Prop Making -> Jedi -> Lightsabers
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jasnoksieznik (Michal)
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 1:00 pm    Post subject: Lightsaber buying guide for beginners Reply with quote

One of the generic questions in this forum section is – where can I get a saber? Which vendor is right?

I'll try to compile information I gathered through my own research and found in this forum.
This is a practical, introductory costuming topic. There is no Star Wars lore and almost no movie trivia here.

Rebel Legion, forum administration and myself are not affiliated with any sabersmith/vendor. These opinions are subjective, based on singular personal experiences. There are very few people that have multiple sabers of multiple brands, I am not. This topic represents my subjective observations. If you disagree or you are personally a sabersmith, direct your fury to me, not to forum administration or RL.
Sabers from certain vendors do not automatically guarantee approval in RL, especially for face characters. Use common sense, e.g. if I write that "DIY Tri-Cree stunt saber" is sufficient for approval, you won't get away with it, when you install flat lava blade, Edo period tsuba and an external battery pack. At least, not without a reference. If in doubt, ask the forums or a costume judge.

Importance of saber
Choosing a saber depends mostly on budget, personal beliefs and costume standards. My feeling is, that even if the saber is necessary for approval, it is not the only feature of the costume. If your costume (fabrics, fitting, other accessories) would suffer, e.g. due to budget, in favor of a better saber, I recommend more focus on soft parts, rather than hardware. If you get a raise/bonus/lottery prize, a new saber is purchased within hours. Sewing is fun, but longer process that is not repeated as easily as buying a saber. For a generic Jedi, a DYI prop assembled in several hours could be approvable.

Face character saber is generally acceptable for a generic Jedi. Remember to review the costume standards, to avoid pink/red saber or similar no-go.

Just take my money!
If you had access to real movie props, you wouldn't be reading this.
If you want off-the-shelf licensed gear, this comes from Hasbro. The "Force FX", "Signature series" (discontinued) and "Black Series" are the most accurate ones, known for being accepted by RL, unless in direct conflict with RL standards. They come with blade, light and sound effects.
Lower/cheaper Hasbro products may have issues with approval, as they are visibly plastic toys. The "Ultimate FX" sabers is, where Rebel Legion draws the line - those are NOT approvable.
Another official source of a lightsaber is a Disney park, with "Savi's Workshop" and "Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities". The first is a "build your own saber out of given parts" experience, the latter sells exclusive collectibles, including sabers.
There is some doubt in forum on Savi's plastic sabers being approvable, but I've found people with Savi's saber approved. Dok-Ondar's stuff looks real and has face character sabers. Confirmation is needed, if those are 100% approvable, but I expect so.
Savi's and Dok-Ondar's sabers come with blade, light and sound. Savi's blade color is chosen during the assembly, but may be reconfigured by a simple hack (RFID chip recoding).

Last edited by jasnoksieznik (Michal) on Sun Jun 28, 2020 6:41 pm; edited 3 times in total
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jasnoksieznik (Michal)
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Joined: 17 Jan 2020
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 1:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saber features
I've mentioned some features already, but what are the key options to look for?
- most basic is a "hilt only" - a static prop. Most of the vendors offer them, you can use them for submission and trooping – unless you want to fight or wave it around and be really cool. Those are a great base for electronics DIY, if you want to skip metal working. Well crafted, detailed and painted plastic prop will do as well - this is confirmed from many sources.
- "Stunt saber" comes next. It is equipped with a blade and electronics to light it up. Common variants have single color, while others allow to cycle through different colors/tones.
- "Sound" or varius "FX" sabers are stunt sabers with additional electronics and a speaker, for sounds. The range of sounds may vary, every vendor prizes his boards as the best or at least best-in-class. It may be enable/disable/hum or with gesture recognition. Some vendors sell single "fonts" (sound styles) separately, some offer multiple. Configuration via PC may be necessary. Advanced boards may also recognize "clash" and play a corresponding sound, possibly "flash on clash" the blade as well. The variety and continuous changes are too big to compare them here.

Blade and Light
"So, I have a lightsaber, can I cut things with it? Slice bread and toast it in the process?"
No. Blades are, in general, hard plastic tubes. They may hurt, but they can't cut. They may be passive, filled with dispersive film and lit by LEDs in hilt or active, with LEDs in the blade, powered from the hilt. Both systems are capable of delivering a great experience, with their own trade-offs - passive blade is more durable and is 3-4 times cheaper to replace than an active one, but premium active blades may have extra light effects/animations, unreachable for passive blade.
Current hot names for blades are "Tri-Cree" or even "Quad-Cree" for LED(s) in hilt and "NeoPixel" for LED stripe in the blade. In both cases, various colors are achieved by a mix of RGB LEDs. Better models may feature color change by a press of a button. Some vendors offer filter "discs" for passive blades, that allow the customer to manipulate the color, e.g. putting a red disk on top of blue LEDs should create slightly darker, purple blade.
If you want to fight with your lightsaber, consider that active LED stripe blades are the more fragile, passive blades are okay and some vendors offer upgrade to an extra thick passive blade. None of those will break on soft contact or if you accidentally drop your saber while waving it around, but if you intend to challenge local kendo club, equip accordingly.

You can watch YouTube videos, but they will hardly ever show true brightness or color of a specific setup, as there are too many disturbances in the fo...rm of presentation – most webcams/cameras dynamically manipulate brightness in the focus spot, video editing and compression is involved and your screen is probably not calibrated.
Also note, that no lighting system of a lightsaber can match daylight. For daylight trooping, fixed-color blades (long popsicles?) can be used.

Hilts are mostly about design. It should suit you and your character. For face characters, you need to stick to the reference, others have a lot to choose from. This may be a simple tube with a battery pack in it or an elaborate etched design with accurate wiring, components, crystal or even a display. Choose what you like most, but consider following:
- Size does matter. Similar model may differ in size and weight considerably. If you want it big or impersonate a wookie, go for a big one. Jawa-sized Jedi should look for something less bulky. Use common sense or both hands.
- If you want to fight with your saber, good grip is necessary. Some grips may be ridiculously uncomfortable or not fit your hand, even if they are very screen accurate. I haven't seen any built-in options to configure the weight distribution of a saber – you may need to experiment with thick blade or different pommels on your own
- Not every saber style is RL approvable. Glowing katana is a glowing katana, not a lightsaber. If in doubt, find a reference or ask a judge. This may apply not only for style not matching Star Wars. A "very evil looking" saber (claws/spikes/blades, black/red design) may also not get approved for a Jedi.
- A Jedi does not brag with his saber. Lightsaber hilt is a metal baton, 20-60cm long. This may be considered dangerous object or a weapon on public events, especially if it has an intimidating design. Keep this in mind in public spaces and while travelling.

Last edited by jasnoksieznik (Michal) on Sun Jun 14, 2020 8:26 pm; edited 3 times in total
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jasnoksieznik (Michal)
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 1:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sabersmiths seem to be small companies, with 10-50 employees, crafting/assembling the sabers on demand and shipping worldwide. Some are even smaller and sell via Etsy only. If you need anything beyond their well-polished website, your experience will vary. I did not find any information on ISO quality standards or FCC/RED certification for the sabersmiths I've checked. Do not expect a manual with "harmful if swallowed" warning in it. If you're lucky and contact a premium sabersmith on his good day, this may work out pretty well. I personally experienced the opposite, with doubled delivery time, missing saber features, not answered mails, ignored phone calls and deleted complaints on the sabersmith's forum.
Speaking of delivery times, your custom order will not be completed immediately. Depending on vendor and the setup you choose, he'll need 2-6 weeks to complete the order. This may be doubled/tripled due to events like Christmas/May the Fourth/new movie or unforeseen events like a pandemy. Vader's Vault states, that some limited edition sabers need 6-9 months to be assembled.
As for the exact models, vendors tend to copy canonical designs as far as possible, without risking legal issues with Disney. Thus, you'll not find "Screen accurate, Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker Lightsaber". It will be something slippery like "OB4" for Obi Wan, "Mace" for Samuel L. Jackson or "The Fallen" for the recent video game.
For the quality of the sabers themselves, you need to do your own research and define your own expectations and price limits. Remember, that it is extremely rare to get more than you pay for. It is like cars - different makes have good and bad models, with premium brands usually delivering higher standard, while the cheapest bargains will be unsatisfactory, but just good enough to prevent you from filing a complaint. Cheap saber will look hand crafted, with finish rougher than Maglite or H-D tank cap.
The competition is fierce, so take descriptions with a grain of salt. For example, if you see "aircraft grade aluminium hilt", it is because 6061 aluminium alloy is one of the most common aluminium alloys on the market. This is nothing wrong with it, but it only sounds special. It is almost as deceiving as "lactose free butter", which should be good, right? Fact is, that every butter is virtually lactose free.

Sabersmith list and ranking
You want a full list of vendors? Sorry, I do not have one. However, was a great help for me. This site makes money with affiliate links, so it may be biased or omit some vendors, but at least it says so.

It is hard to say I have an opinion on other vendors than one I chose so far. Those are the ones I found in the forum or during my own research. Lets call my categories an "educated guess":

Official licensed – for discontinued products, check other sources like eBay or amazon:
Hasbro and Disney parks

Popular and affordable (mixed opinions):

Replicas and expensive stuff. You may need to sell your kidney to afford some of those:
Vader’s Vault
Master replicas

Other, but noteworthy:
Korbanth (replicas)
Parks Sabers (replicas)
Electrum Sabers
KR Sabers

Random micro-smiths in Europe:

DIY- from sink tubes, over blades, up to full electronics kits:
The Custom Saber Shop

How much?
This depends a lot. My first saber costed around 20EUR, its a static prop made out of kitchen sink pipe, some plumbing adapters, rubber sealing, broken flashlight and a generic red button. 3D print will cost you "ink" plus labour, if you have a printer. Unpainted 3D prints on Etsy cost 35-60$.
There are some offers for metal stunt sabers below 100$. If you want to have some choice, you'll spend 100-250$ on a stunt saber, while sound saber will most probably start at 200$. You can spend up to 700$ at a cheap sabersmith, if you choose the best options. More exclusive vendors have higher quality and more refined or more screen accurate models, for 300-1300$. During my research, the highest price tag I've seen, was 2600$.

If you want to compare prices from different vendors, compare similar setups. Saberforge may seem cheap, but basic price is for a hilt. Ultrasabers lists the price for a stunt saber and basic price is reduced if you take hilt only. Kyberlight sells expensive packs, but they all come with light & sound and some customization parts, which would cost much more if bought separately from other vendor. Hasbro may seem expensive for off-the-shelf fan sabers, but a custom saber with same features will probably cost much more.
Consider shipping and taxes, as most sabersmiths are located in US, some in far east. I was lucky, I only had to pay 50$ shipping costs (US->EU) and ca. 25% tax/customs.

Last edited by jasnoksieznik (Michal) on Sun Jun 14, 2020 8:35 pm; edited 3 times in total
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jasnoksieznik (Michal)
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 1:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You may consider building your own saber. This involves design, 3D construction/prints, metalworking, painting, lighting, electronics, programming. If you are not fit in all of those, there are many vendors that can provide you with components (hilt and blade, standardized chassis components, LED modules with matching fitting, electronic components for light and magic, ready-to-use software setups). However, if you aim for a saber that is more than a static prop, this will quickly escalate and probably cost more, than a ready-to-use saber, even if you buy only the right parts, already have tools and do not count labor. You will have a nice DIY project and a one-of-a-kind saber if you succeed, but you will not save money by buying single components.

Other thoughts
Double-bladed sabers (staves) are typically built by coupling two single bladed sabers. You can sometimes even buy the coupler separately and combine two different models from the same vendor. This works both ways – if you want to have two sabers, it may be more cost efficient to buy a staff and two extra pommels.
Most sabers are powered by batteries, AAA or Li-Ion battery. Consider that for international shipping – Li-Ion batteries are dangerous goods, a sabersmith may refuse to send those.
When choosing your blade length, consider screen accuracy for your character, your body proportions and the purpose of your saber. Default is 32-37 inch.
My setup is quite typical with its 46inch (blade+hilt). It is too big carry it on the belt without detaching the blade. Detaching blade is uncool, takes time and a tool, it leaves you with a plastic stick in the hand to carry. No problem at a barbecue with fellow Rebels, but on a big convention where I wander around, I'd prefer a mini blade or no blade at all.
When looking at sabers, you'll probably see "Graflex" models. This is because in original trilogy, some sabers were build out of photo flash adapter made by the Graflex company. Those were iconic even before prequel trilogy. Google it, if you want to know more.
What is this Covertec thing? It is the way a lightsaber is attached to the belt. "Covertec" is a brand, that was used in the prequel trilogy - there is a dock attached firmly to the belt and a small wheel attached to the lightsaber hilt, that locks into the dock. The original trilogy used a hook on a belt and a D-ring on the hilt.
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