The Science of Lightsabers

“An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” -Obi-Wan Kenobi

Lightsabers, as we know them, consist of a plasma blade powered by a kyber crystal. The blade is emitted from a hilt, usually metal, although there are examples of wooden lightsaber hilts.  While it is not necessary to be force sensitive to use a lightsaber (Sabine Wren’s training with and use of the Dark Saber is proof of this) they are perhaps most useful when used in combination with the force, and are considered practically synonymous with the Jedi or their counterparts, the Sith.  Kyber crystals lack the distinctive color of lightsabers, only adopting color once they were chosen by a Jedi and force bonded with them; the crystal color and subsequently the saber color shifted to match the nature of the force-bonded owner. Kyber crystals themselves are fascinating- they are force attuned crystals, which focus energy by resonating with it through the force.

This article could be a dissertation on what we know about the in-universe science of lightsabers and kyber crystals- as a PhD student myself I like to think Galen Erso also spent a stupid amount of time holed up in a library somewhere writing about his theories and worrying what his thesis committee would think of them. However, given that Dr. Erso has already covered this (and you can find it on Wookieepedia) lets dive into some potential ways lightsabers could become a reality in our own universe.

OK so let’s start with the concept of a ~plasma~ blade. Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter and is made up of a gas of ions and free electrons, which becomes so highly electrically conductive that long-range electric and magnetic fields dominate its behavior. Lightning (looking at you Palpatine you lightning crazed bastard) and neon lights are common generators of plasma.  TL;DR plasma is high-energy ionized gas. Unfortunately, in our universe plasma, much like gas, liquid, or cats, will expand to fill the space it is in (or undergo plasma recombination and become a gas again). This makes it rather useless as a sword.

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Now instead of thinking about plasma lets think about light. Photons have long been thought to be massless particles that don’t interact with each other, and for the most part that’s what they are, unless they are under a very specific set of conditions.  When in these specific conditions, the photons interact so strongly that they start to act as though they have mass and bind together to form molecules.  The physics of how these molecules interact isn’t too far off from what we see in the Star Wars universe. How did researchers convince the photons to behave in this way?  First, they pumped rubidium atoms into a vacuum, and then they used lasers to cool the atoms to just a few degrees above absolute zero.  They then shot a photon through the chamber.  As the photon moves through the cloud of super cold atoms, it passes some of its energy to them, slowing itself down dramatically.  When the photon exits the cloud of rubidium atoms, its identity is preserved, similar to the refraction of light through water.

What’s really interesting is what happened when two photons were fired into the cloud- they exited together, as if they were a single molecule. Why? The Rydberg blockade! The Rydberg Blockade states that when an atom is excited, the atoms around it cannot be excited to the same degree.  Practically, this means that the two photons push and pull each other through the cloud, which makes the two photons behave like a single molecule. As research on this phenomenon of light has progressed, researchers have demonstrated the ability to realize and control strongly interacting quantum states of light, and that such strong interactions can be engineered in specially prepared quantum optical systems.  Recent work has opened a route to study strongly interacting dissipative systems and quantum matter composed of light such as a crystal of individual photons- a complex three-dimensional structure made entirely out of light.

Perhaps as the technological applications of this new understanding of light become clear, we will be able to develop more elegant weapons, for a more civilized age.



REVIEW: Star Wars: The Old Republic – Onslaught

Star Wars: The Old Republic recently launched a new expansion which is called Onslaught. As the seventh expansion of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Onslaught has included new updates to the story, endgame and introduced two new playable areas and a new species. 

Star Wars: The Old Republic first launched in 2011 and in the 8 years since it has had a lot of growing pains. When the game first launched, in the pre-Disney era of Star Wars, it had over 1.7 million players. SWTOR wanted to focus on BioWare’s unique brand of storytelling. It launched with over 1600 hours of storytelling and cut scenes and they’ve always tried to continue that brand even in less successful times.

SWTOR’s two previous expansions focused exclusively on story at the neglect of continuing MMORPG elements that are needed to keep an MMO player base playing past the conclusion of the story content. There was also criticism about the story because it did not focus on the struggle between The Sith Empire and The Galactic Republic like the original game focused on, but the biggest issue was the end game content which is needed to keep an MMO thriving.

In 2017, SWTOR went in a new direction when the last Lead Producer left the game to work on Anthem, which was also made by BioWare. The new producer wanted to focus on making SWTOR more of an MMORPG again. He has been doing that with small patches of gameplay improvements and new types of storytelling which focuses more on bringing back the galaxy spanning conflict of the Sith Empire vs Republic.

The Onslaught expansion launched on October 22nd of this year. Onslaught features new story, a new gearing system, a new level cap, a new playable race in the Nautolan, two new planets, a flashpoint and a new raid.

The new story starts on the planet of Onderon. Yes, the same Onderon that featured in The Clone Wars that Saw and Steela Gerrera were from. This story involves a new cold war brewing between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic. Throughout this story, you travel to a new mining colony on an asteroid and return to the planet of Corellia. There are class flavor dialogue that brings back a somewhat semblance of it being tailored to your class like the original SWTOR did so well. The story will take you a few hours to complete and during this story one should hit the new level cap and after that the process of getting new gear begins. 

This new gearing system is setup in a way where you gain access to the next level tier of armor by increasing your character’s power level. This sounds complicated but it is far from a fairly simple gearing system once you get hands on with the game. For instance, if all your armor is level 10, you can’t get level 20 armor until you get armor between level 10 and 20. The armor upgrades are far easier to come by than in previous expansions and can drop in anything from story missions through PvP combat. The system overall allows a player to gear based on their pace, be that PvP, flashpoint runs or doing small solo daily missions.

BioWare also did many ‘Quality of Life’ improvements throughout the game, lowering some of the Free to Play restrictions, improving graphics and performance in some areas and greatly improved the inventory and crafting systems available in game. BioWare also recently removed most of the RNG based micro-transactions in favor of purchasing new outfits and other accessories outright. They also made it so community is more important to a user and that is essential to help an MMORPG grow. Guilds are more important than ever in exploring the new raids and quickly gearing in flashpoints. 

Overall, Onslaught was probably the best expansion that the SWTOR team has done to date and puts the game in a great position moving forward. If BioWare continues in this direction, the game could be revitalized like it has not been since release – almost 8 years ago.

The force is calling you, will you answer and return?