Lightsabers have been cinematic icons and appeared in every Star Wars movie since 1977, when Luke Skywalker ignites the blue blade handed to him by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. But the different colors aren't just arbitrary -- there's a reason behind Darth Vader's red blade (). The variation led me to wonder about the different hues and what each character's color choice says about them.
It's notable that during production of each movie in George Lucas' saga, the lightsabers' blades are white. They're later given color using a technique called rotoscoping.
It was concept artist Ralph McQuarrie who decided to associate the colors of the blades with characters' moral standing.
"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 41 years since, we've seen a whole rainbow of colors -- though many have been consigned to theLegends 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.
In The Gathering, an episode from the fifth season of animated series, the quest to acquire these force-attuned crystals is revealed as 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.
The very first color lightsaber we see, and by far the most common, it would be easy to assume blue corresponds with younger Jedi. However, Obi-Wan used a blue blade throughout his career and Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, which passed between the central characters of the saga (from Anakin to Luke to Rey, via Finn), was blue.
Essentially, that lightsaber was the Excalibur of Star Wars, so don't put blue down. This weapon's kyber crystal can be seen as Rey examines the split hilt at the end of, and it seems like she's repaired it for .
Users we've seen in canon also include Kanan Jarrus, Ezra Bridger, 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 when Luke ignited his new blade on Jabba the Hutt's sail barge in Return of the Jedi.
This blade was blue in the initial edit (and early posters), but it was changed to green so that 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.
The notion of green as the choice of more experienced Jedi was reinforced by the prequels, in which Qui-Gon Jinn (Obi-Wan's master) and Yoda (the order's grand master) used them.
To contrast this idea, 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 deflects Darth Sidious' Force Lightning with it -- disfiguring his face -- in Revenge of the Sith, before it falls to the streets of Coruscant after he's 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 have either broken or had to steal due to his wavering dedication to the dark side. Its origin remains unclear.
The crossguard 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, it seems. We'll find out what the deal with that is when the movie comes out Dec. 20.
When Ahsoka makes her triumphant return in Rebels, she uses a pair of lightsabers with white blades.
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.
The only black blade we've seen is that of the Darksaber, an ancient weapon constructed by Tarre Vizsla, the firstto 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 third season of Rebels, 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.
Unusually, most of those we've seen wielding the blade (Pre Vizsla, Sabine and Bo-Katan) aren't Force users.
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.
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.
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.
Originally published June 26, 2018.
Update, Aug. 30. 2019: Adds information about "Dark Rey" in The Rise of Skywalker.