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Disney's real-life lightsaber looks incredible. Here's how it could work

The realistic Star Wars weapon will be part of Disney's new Galactic Starcruiser hotel at Disney World opening in 2022.

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Bridget Carey is an award-winning reporter who helps you level-up your life -- while having a good time geeking out. Her exclusive CNET videos get you behind the scenes as she covers new trends, experiences and quirky gadgets. Her weekly video show, "One More Thing," explores what's new in the world of Apple and what's to come. She started as a reporter at The Miami Herald with syndicated newspaper columns for product reviews and social media advice. Now she's a mom who also stays on top of toy industry trends and robots. (Kids love robots.)
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3 min read
Rey lightsaber Disney

Disney is working on "real" lightsabers. 

Disney

In a not-so-long time from now, in a theme park not so far away, you'll get the chance to see a realistic lightsaber instantly extend out of a hilt, glowing before your very eyes. Disney has built working lightsabers that mimic the look and sound of the laser sword from the Star Wars movies, announcing Tuesday that the prop will be part of its new Star Wars-themed hotel at Walt Disney World after teasing it to a small group of reporters in a streamed video presentation last month. 

The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel will open in 2022, featuring a two-day, two-night "storyliving" adventure where guests are transported aboard the Halcyon starcruiser. Guests will be immersed in lightsaber training, learn the navigation and defense systems of the spaceship, enjoy fine dining and be escorted on a field trip to the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge area of Disney World.

The windows of the hotel will show always-changing views of the galaxy, and character interactions will include heroes of the Resistance. Guests will be able to choose alliances within the storyline, and meet with the ship's captain and mechanic. Also included in the resort stay package is one dinner with a live performance from a Twi'lek dancer in the Crown of Corellia Dining Room. The dining room will offer breakfast and lunch daily, and a multi-course dinner menu.

Rey lightsaber Disney 2

Rey will wield a realistic lightsaber aboard Disney's Galactic Starcruiser.

Disney

But one of the focal points of your stay at the new Star Wars resort? Interacting with Rey, who will wield Disney's new realistic lightsaber. A video of the lightsaber in action shows the shaft of light extend out of the hilt, making the same humming sounds you hear in the Star Wars onscreen universe.

The lightsaber was first announced by Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro. At the end of a video presentation in April, he picked up a hilt-like box from which a light blade shot out in one second as he said, "It's real." No video evidence of it was previously shared online, with reporters asked not to record the presentation. All we had to go on were stories from those who witnessed the spectacle.

Cue the shock from reporters blowing up Twitter who were taken by surprise by what they saw. (I, alas, was not one of those reporters. During the presentation I was busy covering another part of my childhood coming to life: a Transformer that transforms on its own.) 

Shortly afterward, one of Disney's top creative executives, Scott Trowbridge, tweeted that yes, it is really real.

Disney has now confirmed the lightsaber was designed by Disney Imagineering Research and Development. 

So how did Disney pull off this feat of engineering? There are some clues in a patent Disney filed for a working lightsaber back in 2017. (No, it doesn't chop off limbs, but it does have a retractable, internally illuminated blade.) In it, we see that inspiration for the design comes from a very basic tool: a tape measure. But with multiple spools of materials that need to extend and retract in an instant, the build itself is far from basic.

In the video embedded above, I show off Disney's new footage of the lightsaber and break down the materials Disney may be using to create the effect as described in its patent -- including an LED light strip. And by trying to make my own sample, I hopefully demonstrate how complicated it really is to make everything work perfectly when you don't have the Force on your side.

screen-shot-2021-05-03-at-2-29-37-pm.png

An illustration from Disney's patent for a retractable light sword.

Disney

You can bet an effect like this would be perfect for live entertainment at the Galaxy's Edge themed land at Disney's theme parks, along with the Galactic Starcruiser. 

lightsabertraining

Concept art for lightsaber training aboard the Galactic Starcruiser experience at Walt Disney World.

Disney

Thanks to reporter Carlye Wisel, host of the podcast Very Amusing with Carlye Wisel, for joining in to explain what she saw in the presentation. And if you're feeling inspired to mess around with making your own lightsaber, you can find a strip of color-changing LEDs for $20 (and you can cut it to the length you want).

And, uh, be sure to have a lot of tape.

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