A Saber Story
By Scott Saunders
One fine summer day in the year 1993 I was looking through the
comics and other fanzines in my local comic book shop when I
found myself drawn to a current issue of Toy Shop magazine. I was
merely a Star Wars toy collector, "reborn" after
actually renouncing my "starwarsness" (as many did at
or around the age of 13) when I saw a picture of a Luke
Skywalker's Lightsaber hilt. Wait a minute....a saber hilt!?,
how, what?! Needless to say I bought the magazine and raced home
to call the dealer. After over an hour on the phone with the
gentleman, I came to realize the very thing that I'll be sharing
with all of you from here on out. Most of the weapons from Star
Wars were made from real, existing items that can still be found
relatively easily today!
The Lightsaber that Ben Kenobi gave Luke in Star Wars was nothing more than a camera piece from the 1930's and 40's. This piece, often referred to by discreet collectors, is called a Graflex. This piece was the "flash unit" that was mounted onto the side of the Speed Graphic camera. It came in many varieties, 3 cell, 4 cell and with different attachments and buttons. The version that was chosen for the film however was the 3 cell Graflex flash gun, with the patent #2310165 stamped into the bottom of the unit. This is how I would describe it when calling your local used photography equipment retailers, which is exactly where to look. I have also had luck (if not good referrals) in contacting independent photographers. These people have usually been in the business a long time and know a contact or two. Another good place to find these is at a camera swap meet. These shows are held in most large cities. This piece is NOT a collector's item to these camera people so, if it costs more than $20-$30, the camera guy KNOWS why you want it. (if he doesn't, don't tell him)
Now, if your lucky enough to find a Graflex, you're not finished just yet. There are a couple extra pieces needed to "complete" your saber hilt.
The band in the middle of the Graflex, which also acts as the
units mounting bracket, has an area on it where a clear, thin
bubble-like piece is "slid into" the mounting bracket.
(see the cardboard stand up of Luke Skywalker) This bubble piece
was found in the hand-held calculators of the 1970's. The
"bubble piece" was inside the calculator, and it's
purpose was to magnify the small LED numbers. Now, most of the
calculators you'll find from the 70's, like the common "Lil'
Professor" owl shaped calculator, have a series of 9 bubbles
across the 2 inch long span. Although this piece will come out of
the calculator, and in most cases slide right on in the Graflex's
clamp with little or no modification, the 9 bubble piece is not
the version used in the film. The 8 bubble piece is the version
used in the film and to this date, and as far as I know, only one
collector has found this piece, Jeff Parks. You can call him at:
When Jeff found these few pieces they were at a junk surplus store and the bubbles had already been stripped from their calculators so, you guessed it, the mystery of "where they came from" still remains. Not to be completely discouraged, I and a few others mold our 8 bubbles from clear resin and provide copies to those prop gurus. The 7 bubble piece was also used in some scenes of the same Luke saber prop as well as Obi Wans saber (see Chronicals prop book) but it is clear to me ,that after talking to many calculator manufacturers, a seven bubble piece was NEVER made. If the photos from the Chronicals book are examined, the 8th bubble was shaved off to create this piece, thus leaving about 1/4 inch of space instead of 7 bubbles covering the entire span of 2 inches.
The grips in "A New Hope's" version of Luke's saber
were rubber and were made from windshield wipers from a British
vehicle. Many wipers could have been used, many say it was a
British jeep, or an Austin Mini. Either way, if you were to find
such wipers they would most likely be corroded and worthless to
you. The best grip in my opinion is made by Jeff Parks. Jeff has
perfected the grip by not only making it look like the wiper
blade, but the grip is "pre-rounded" to fit the contour
of the Graflex unit making it easy to attach the grips with a 3M
VHB clear double sided tape. In my opinion , the choice to use
wiper blades by Lucasfilm prop makers was a mistake therefore
forcing them use a resin grip in the "Empire Strikes
Back" version of the saber. As any Graflex owner will tell
you, the biggest problem with the grips is that when you wear the
saber on your belt, the grips fall off. In "Empire"
each grip was epoxied on the flash and a pop-rivet was snapped
onto each grip. The "Empire" version of the saber also
had the clear lens removed from the top portion of the hilt, and
it was replaced with an additional red button. The red button was
found on all the Graflex flash units of this type. The clear
calculator bubble piece was replaced in the "Empire"
saber with a 2 inch long, 3/8 inch wide section from a 1970's
computer circuit board . This portion of the board was the
"edge connecting" piece and was green in color, and had
13 gold lines covering the length of 2 inches.
Using the channel as a guild you drill two holes the right
size for the pop-rivet. Best to pull the battery spring out for
this drilling. Drop the ring into the cut-outs made for it, aline
the channel up to the holes and pop-rivet the U-channel into the
Graflex while making sure the D-ring is in position first and
Well now that wasn't so tough now was it? An exact replica
prop from Star Wars at a pretty LOW co$t. Well Clone fans that's
all for this issue.
Join me next time when we will discuss Jawas, grenade launchers, and Model pistons!! May the force be with you.........always!!