Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school, and the first Halloween after it did, the costumes were everywhere. But these were the dark ages, as far as merchandising goes, and there weren’t thousands of choices for costumes and props. So, like a lot of families, my folks improvised for my Obi Wan Kenobi costume. My dad made me a lightsaber out of a flashlight and a semi-opaque white plastic golf club tube. It was, at the time, the state of the art, and I got really good at making the “voom-voom” sound when I waved it around.
Fast forward to now. Not only has merchandising caught up with us, but so have fan-culture and the maker spirit. To the point that we now have companies like Ultrasabers offering just about the best functional lightsaber replicas possible, short of actually being able to project a coherent beam of colored plasma.
These things are first of all high-quality. The hilts and accessories are machined metal, giving you the feel of holding the weapon of a more civilized era. The designers have done at amazing job of creating models (and there are quite a few) that look beautiful and feel amazing in your hand as you wave them around. They feel balanced and durable, like you’ve picked up an old tool or piece of high-end camera equipment that you know will last forever.
But what’s even better is how the technology has caught up with the design to deliver the kind of experience we dreamed of when we made our own DIY sabers back in the ’70s. The high-power LEDs really light up the acrylic blade so that it looks, even in daylight, like it’s a glowing blade of light. Then you add the sounds – motion-activated of course – and the experience is magical. If you’ve played with the ones you can build at Disneyland, this is like that, but turned up to 11.
And, just like the mix-and-match models you find at Disneyland, the possibilities to customize are huge. Ultrasabers has a large array of designs for the hilts, pommels, emitters (the piece that holds the blade to the hilt), as well as lights and sounds. Want a double-bladed saber like Darth Maul? You can get it. Want an elegant saber like Count Dooku used? They have it. Want your blade to be purple, like only the coolest Jedi have? It’s available.
There’s two steps further, though (and this is where the DIY spirit comes in). The Ultrasaber folks have developed their own control boards for these replicas, and if you include their Emerald controller and the Obsidian sound board, you can customize the output of your saber to your heart’s content.
For example, the saber they sent me has both these features. I unscrewed the pommel, and pulled the hardware partly out of the hilt (this is how you take the rechargeable batteries out, too) to get access to the two USB connections built in. Plug in the first one and fire up their special controller software, and you can load “sound fonts.” Effectively you can assign sound files to each of the primary capabilities of the saber – boot up, shut down, idle, and clash. The sabers come with the basic Star Wars sounds, but the vibrant user community has developed so many more, including episode-specific sounds for different Jedi and Sith sabers, and other fun sounds. Right now, I actually have Doctor Who sounds coming from my saber. Depending upon the size of the sound files, you can store up to 5 or six different sets of sounds in your saber, and switch between them. And for the intrepid DIY-ers, you can develop your own.
Once you’ve got the sounds squared away, you can turn to colors, by connecting to the Emerald controller. Using the same software, you can adjust the color your saber glows all over the visible spectrum, and change how it flashes when you clash. My saber shipped with the aforementioned awesome purple color (as you see above), but since Halloween is coming up, I decided to change it to orange, which looks amazing too.
Because these are designed by some pretty technical geeks, when you go to order an Ultrasaber, the process is rather detailed. If you want to start with the basics, a nice simple saber with one color and no sound, you can get out the door with the express options for as low as $75. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to customize every aspect of YOUR saber, you can go through the detailed process, and att special pieces and parts – especially the custom lighting and sound boards, and eventually get over $400 for the most detailed, multi-blade configurations. Yes, they’re expensive, but when you hold your own lightsaber in your hands the first time, push the initiator button, and it lights up with those classic sounds, the grin on your face will be worth it.
So, if there’s a Jedi or Sith in your life who would needs to be properly equipped with their own custom lightsaber this holiday season, check out Ultrasabers. And note that they’re holding a Halloween sale right now, where you can save 15% off all sabers with sound just by using the coupon code 15sound.