The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Master bladesmith: New lightsaber design is a terrible idea

This lightsaber is a terrible idea. (Disney)

The first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens dropped this morning. And almost immediately, people began commenting on the design of a Sith lightsaber with what appears to be mini-blades shooting out of the hilt as a sort of crossguard.

So we asked a certified master bladesmith who specializes in swords: Is there any point to having a crossguard on your lightsaber?

"The idea behind a crossguard on any blade is to protect the swordsman's hand from another person's blade," explains Kevin Cashen from his home in Michigan. So it might not seem so crazy for lightsabers to have cross guards, especially given the tendency for hand amputations in Star Wars film series.

But Cashen says the lightsaber design would likely leave the wielder's hands in even greater peril.

"That would be very bad to have around your hand," said Cashen. Even with more traditional hilts, larger crossguards can often snag the users more than it can do something against the opponent, he said.

And a weaponized crossguard with plasma-like blades could be a disaster for a user, especially if they engaged in the more acrobatic style of combat deployed in the prequel trilogy.  "That hilt would just take you apart if you started to do a lot of complex spinning," said Cashen.

There is a side function of crossguards where the mini-blades might be helpful, though. Sometimes crossguards could be used to bash opponents at close range, said Cashen.

But that's basically the only use he could see for the lightsaber-bladed crossguard. And that specific function doesn't make up for the dubious nature of the design. "The problem is the other 80 percent of the time you'd be in grave danger of searing yourself," he said.

Lightsabers have seen little variation since being introduced in the first Star Wars Film in 1977, with the exception of the dual-ended lightsaber wielded by Darth Maul in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace.

But they continue to be an iconic symbol of the franchise -- and an object of fascination for sword enthusiasts. "The lightsaber thing comes up a lot in my field." said Cashen.  "It's the ultimate extreme of what swords can't do."

(Related: Lightsaber critics say the one in the Star Wars teaser could never work. They’re wrong.)