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: 512-285-3556.

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.

Last but not least, the belt clip assembly!! This was simply a pre-fabricated piece of inch aluminum U-channel that you cut at 1 and 1/4 inches long. The U-channel had two holes drilled into it so it could be pop-riveted to the saber (for a good look at this, see the scene in "Empire" when Luke is trying to retrieve his saber from the snow bank) in between the holes, on the underside of the U-channel, two sections are removed so a D-ring can sit INTO the removed areas. The pop-rivet holes will be positioned in a way that one is on each side (lengthwise) of the D-ring.

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 Wala~!!!

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!!

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