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Fencing with lightsabers

I must admit, I am a fan of the original Star Wars movies (IV-VI) for several reasons, one of which is the fencing is much more realistic – if they were fencing with real swords. I must also admit, however, that the nouveau trilogy (I-III) probably has a more realistic approach to fencing with un-real swords, i.e., lightsabers.

Lightsaber duel
from Google images

Fencing technique is determined by two things: 1) the goal of the contest and 2) the physical properties of the weapons. Modern sport fencing is played the way it is because the goal of the contest is to touch the other person before they touch you. That isn’t to say that some considerable skill isn’t required for this, but the skills used in modern sport fencing are not the skills required in classical and historical fencing. Classical fencing is not electronically scored so the technique and scoring of the fencer must be such that it can be seen by four blind men and a thief, as the saying goes.

Modern sport fencing swords are of light weight (the heaviest of the weapons, the epee, can weigh as little as 5.3 oz) but not the weight of a real Italian rapier or Polish saber. This means that techniques can be performed with the sporting weapons that cannot be performed with heavier and more rigid, historical blades. Such techniques include flicks and whips that are impractical to impossible, depending on the type of weapon being used.

If we examined the weapon, itself, and goals of fencing with a lightsaber, we may get a picture of what the techniques may look like.

We can suppose that the goal of fighting with a sword that can cut through any known substance is to do just that to your opponent, i.e., slap chop him into 1000 tiny pieces in about as much time as it takes to read this sentence. Although the Jedi seem to have non-lethal techniques, such as that little spinning disarm – literally, dis-arm – maneuver that cost everyone from Anakin Skywalker to Count Dooku to Luke Skywalker an appendage (you’d think they would develop a counter for that), when you take a laser into a knife fight, you probably mean to hurt somebody.

A lightsaber blade is made of, well, light, so for all practical purposes, it has no weight. The only part of the weapon that has weight is the grip. The blade can move as fast as the hand can point the grip. Try this sometime with a laser pointer and see how fast you can move that little beam of light around the room. This is obviously different from using an historical blade, which may weight 2-3 pounds because the heavy steel blade must be moved. Because the blade is weightless and can move almost instantaneously, techniques for parrying the blade must also be instantaneous.

This is why I think the new movies are a bit more accurate on technique than the older movies. All that waving and spinning of lightsabers, which would be impractical with weighted weapons, may be closer to realistic technique for weapons with no weighted blades. It wouldn’t be totally realistic – they’d have to use laser pointers and animate it for it to be more accurate – but closer than the old flicks that depicted fencing with techniques designed for use with weapons with weighted blades.

See you on the piste. En garde!