Lightsabers are cinematic icons, having appeared in every Star Wars movie since 1977’s A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker first fired up the blue blade entrusted to him by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. The blue color wasn’t arbitrary. There’s a story behind all the lightsaber hues, from the red blades wielded by Darth Vader and the Imperial Inquisitors hunting Obi-Wan to the black and white ones ignited in The Mandalorian.
During the production of each movie in George Lucas’ saga, the lightsabers’ blades were actually white. Effects wizards later gave them color using a technique called rotoscoping. And it was concept artist Ralph McQuarrie who decided to associate a blade’s color with a character’s moral standing. So for this May the 4th, let’s take a look at what the characters’ color choices say about them, and the history of some of their weapons.
“I tried to make the laser beam as bright as possible, and I changed the colors for the various swords — a color for the good guys and a color for the bad guys,” he said.
In the decades since, we’ve seen a whole rainbow of colors — though many have been consigned to the noncanon Legends continuity of novels, comic books, video games, spinoff movies and TV series that came out before April 2014, when Disney took over.
In-universe, the color of a lightsaber’s blade is determined by the kyber crystal used in its construction. The Gathering, an episode from the fifth season of animated series The Clone Wars, revealed that the quest to acquire these force-attuned crystals is a Jedi rite of passage — the crystals presenting themselves to worthy owners.
We’ll look at all the different shades of lightsaber, and the characters who wield them. Be warned that great big Star Wars SPOILERS for the movies and shows follow.
Blue is the color of the very first lightsaber we see, and it’s by far the most common hue. Since Luke wields it, one might easily assume that blue corresponds with younger Jedi. However, Obi-Wan used a blue blade throughout his career (it’ll appear in his Disney Plus show later this month) and Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber, which passed between the central characters of the saga (from Anakin to Luke to Rey, via Finn), was blue.
“I knew this lightsaber was the Excalibur of this film,” set decorator Roger Christian told Daniel Wallace for Star Wars: The Lightsaber Collection. “I knew it would be the iconic image.”
This weapon’s kyber crystal can be seen as Rey examines the split hilt at the end of The Last Jedi. She repaired it between that movie and The Rise of Skywalker, when she used it and General Leia Organa’s blue-bladed saber to destroy Emperor Palpatine once and for all. Then she retired the two lightsabers in the sands of Tatooine.
Other blue users we’ve seen in canon also include Ben Solo, Kanan Jarrus, Ezra Bridger, Cal Kestis, Shaak Ti, Agen Kolar, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Barriss Offee, Jocasta Nu, Aayla Secura, Plo Koon, Kai Justiss, Sora Bulq and Ferren Barr.
We first saw a green lightsaber in Return of the Jedi, when Luke ignited his new blade on Jabba the Hutt’s sail barge.
This blade was blue in the initial edit (and early posters), but it was changed to green so it would stand out against Tatooine’s blue sky in the final cut. The Star Wars YouTube channel’s description for the movie’s teaser trailer, in which the blue blade can be seen, confirms this.
Luke can also be seen finishing off the construction of his new lightsaber in a deleted scene from the movie. This lightsaber’s fate is unknown — we see Luke using it in flashbacks during The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, but it likely remains hidden in his hut on Ahch-To.
The notion of green as the choice of more-experienced Jedi was reinforced by the prequels, in which green blades were used by Qui-Gon Jinn (Obi-Wan’s master) and Yoda (the order’s grand master).
On the other hand, Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s Padawan, swung a green lightsaber at the beginning of her career — adding a second, shorter green blade as she became more experienced during the Clone Wars.
Wielders in canon also include Quinlan Vos, Depa Billaba, Bultar Swan, Stass Allie, Luminara Unduli, Kit Fisto, Eeth Koth and Kirak Infil’a.
Only one person in canon wields a purple blade: the Jedi Council’s Mace Windu.
He uses it to decapitate the deadly bounty hunter Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones and to deflect Darth Sidious’ Force Lightning with it — disfiguring his face — in Revenge of the Sith. It later falls to the streets of Coruscant after Windu is betrayed by Anakin.
In reality, actor Samuel L. Jackson asked Lucas if his character could have a purple blade so he’d stand out during the climactic arena battle in Attack of the Clones. Since Windu is “the second baddest Jedi in the universe next to Yoda,” his wish was granted, Jackson revealed in an interview.
The color of evil. Those who go down the dark path, mostly notably the Sith, can’t form the same relationship with kyber crystals as Jedi, so they must steal them or take them from slain followers of the light.
After obtaining a crystal, dark side Force users must make it “bleed” by channeling their pain and anger into it.
Vader’s quest to obtain his crystal and the subsequent bleeding of fallen Jedi Master Kirak Infil’a’s green one, during which he experiences haunting visions, can be seen in Marvel’s 2017 Darth Vader series by Charles Soule.
Kylo Ren’s lightsaber is a little different because it uses a cracked kyber crystal, which he may’ve either broken or had to steal due to his wavering dedication to the dark side. Its origin remains unclear.
The cross-guard design is necessary because the cracked crystal produces excess heat, resulting in the red blade’s serrated appearance and unique sound, according to The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary.
Villains we’ve seen using red lightsabers include Vader, Sidious, Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Savage Opress, Asajj Ventress, the Imperial Inquisitors and Rey in a vision seen during The Rise of Skywalker.
The only black blade we’ve seen is that of the Darksaber, an ancient weapon constructed by Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian to join the Jedi Order. After his death, it became a symbol of conflict and ultimately leadership among the clans of Mandalore.
We first saw the Darksaber in the possession of Pre Vizsla in The Clone Wars season 2 episode The Mandalore Plot, but it later falls into Maul’s hands when he seizes control of the planet in season 5, in the years between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
In the third season of Rebels, which takes place between Solo and A New Hope, Sabine Wren obtains the Darksaber and proves herself worthy of wielding it through combat. She ultimately gives the blade to Bo-Katan Kryze, a former lieutenant of Pre Vizsla, who uses it to unite the Mandalorians against the Empire.
The Darksaber resurfaces around five years after Return of the Jedi, in The Mandalorian’s season 1 finale, when Moff Gideon uses it to escape his crashed TIE fighter.
Gideon was an Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) officer during this event, in which the Empire seemingly slaughtered Mandalorians and scattered the survivors across the galaxy, so he could’ve taken the Darksaber as a prize to assert dominance over a conquered culture.
In The Mandalorian’s season 2 finale, Mando defeats Gideon and takes the blade — making him the leader of his people. That created some friction with his allies in The Book of Boba Fett, so we’ll see how that plays out in season 3.
Unusually, most of those we’ve seen wielding the blade (Pre Vizsla, Sabine, Bo-Katan, Gideon and Mando) aren’t Force users.
When Ahsoka makes her triumphant return in Rebels, she uses a pair of lightsabers with white blades. We also saw them in live action for the first time in season 2 of The Mandalorian.
In the Ahsoka novel, we learn she obtained her crystals when she defeated the Sixth Brother, an Imperial Inquisitor, and healed them of the bleeding effect. This purification is likely the reason for the blades’ white hue.
The Jedi Temple Guards seen in The Clone Wars wield lightsaber pikes with twin yellow blades. These anonymous masked Jedi Knights protected the temple on Coruscant, but we know at least one of their number fell to the Dark Side and became the Grand Inquisitor.
In the final moments of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey ignites her new lightsaber and reveals its yellow blade. We don’t know where she got that kyber crystal, but her color choice lines up with her being the new guardian of the Jedi traditions.
The lost colors of Legends
The Legends continuity might not be canon anymore, but we should acknowledge some of the lightsaber colors it gave us.
The majority of the Legends colors are just shades of the canon ones, but there are some exceptions.
Mara Jade was one of the most popular Legends characters, having started out as the Emperor’s Hand, tasked with killing Luke and going on to marry her former target. As an Imperial, she used a magenta blade and would ultimately inherit Anakin’s blue lightsaber after becoming Luke’s ally.
Kyle Katarn wields an orange lightsaber in the game Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight, as do the Mandalorian Knights in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: War comic book miniseries.
Lowbacca, Chewbacca’s nephew who joined Luke’s academy, uses a lightsaber with a bronze blade.
If you want to go further down this rabbit hole, here’s a list of 174 characters’ personal lightsabers across canon and Legends.
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