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Christian Recalls Making Star Wars Lightsaber With Graflex Flashgun Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 May 2014

In an Esquire magazine interview, set decorator Roger Christian describes how he made a Star Wars lightsaber. Much of the set design was made from airplane scrap but when it came to something as big as Excaliber to King Arthur, only photography scrap would do.

Future Lightsaber. Always point it up.

The Graflex flash synchronizer contained two or three battery cells and mounted to the right side of a Graflex press camera. A slide switch on the back of the case let you turn on a focusing spotlight for focusing. "Since it produces some drain on the battery, do not leave it on any longer than is necessary," the manual warned.

It may not be news by now but it's nice to hear Christian tell the story in his own words:

ESQ: And you also did the first light saber, or "laser sword" as it was called, right?

RC: Yes. The laser sword was one of the most challenging props to find. Several attempts at mock-ups made by John Steers' SFX department had been rejected. I knew the laser sword or light saber had the potential to become the symbol of Star Wars, like Excalibur was to King Arthur, so it had to look the part. And the Prop Master Frank Bruton, who had to get everything on trucks for Tunisia for the start of filming, was hounding me, and nothing I had found to adapt was feeling right. One day at the camera shop we rented equipment from, I asked the owner if he had any spare parts somewhere. And he pointed to some boxes buried deep under the shelves and there in the box were several Graflex flashgun handles. They were perfect, heavy, and had a red button for firing the flash. I could not believe my luck. I used rubber T-strip as a base, which I had also used for the Stormtroopers' Stirling sub machine guns, and I pulled out my superglue and stuck strips along the base to form a handle grip. Then I had found some interesting bubble strip from an old calculator LED strip and they fit perfectly into the grip where the Graflex attached to the camera. I placed some chrome tape over the Graflex name and voila.

ESQ: What did George say?

RC: I called him over to my office to show him, and he held it and smiled and that was George's seal of approval. He asked me to attach a D-ring on the end, as he wanted to attach it to Luke's belt for some scenes in Tunisia. With this attached I mocked up a second one to go to Tunisia and gave a third one to John Steers to adapt for the laser light effect. The one I made is the one that Obi Wan Kenobi brings out of his trunk and gives to Luke in his cave.

Our illustration, incidentally, is from the manual but we laundered a JPEG screen capture in Photoshop CC using the Camera Raw Filter to improve the tone curve and then used a Smart Blur to get descreen the image. Which, come to think of it, is a lot like using airplane scrap to build the Millennium Falcon.

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