These Star Wars fans are trying to make better lightsabers than Disney

It’s been over 40 years since Star Wars first introduced the world to its iconic weapon: the lightsaber. The trademark weapon of the Jedi, it’s a searing hot sword that glows with a neon-like light that has captivated millions of fans across the globe. Ever since then, people haven’t stopped chasing down the perfect lightsaber for personal use — even if it means forking over lots of cold, hard cash.

Toy lightsabers aren’t hard to come by, but in 2019, Disney debuted a premium experience for Star Wars fans visiting Galaxy’s Edge. In it, parkgoers can make their own custom-made saber, part by part. They can pick a hilt, the color of the beam, and customize the weapon according to their taste. They can even recreate lightsabers held by Star Wars characters piece by piece now, which gives the experience an air of authenticity.

From a collector’s standpoint, these swords are worth the $200 price tag. Many of the other lightsabers for sale at stores are mass manufactured and made with cheaper plastic. Disney stocks quality components that feel heavy and make the saber look nice enough to display in your home. But even so, there are still fan efforts to build sabers that are more impressive than what Disney can offer.

Nowhere is this more evident than on TikTok, where Star Wars fans show off their own versions of the saber. The hashtag “#lightsaber” on TikTok started trending in early March, and while lightsaber culture isn’t anything new, there’s a resurgence of interest in 2021. On TikTok alone, the hashtag currently has a massive 1.9 billion views. The creations themselves are just as staggering as the number of views.

Former engineer and YouTuber James Hobson, for example, shared an extraordinary video where he showed off what he calls, “the first real working lightsaber.” According to his video, the saber runs off of compressed liquid propane gas and essentially looks and works like a real lightsaber would, at least in theory. The realistic lightsaber, in this case, can emit and retract a blade of light, while also being powerful enough to cut through titanium. Watching this in action is reminiscent of the way Qui-Gon Jinn cuts through metal doors in The Phantom Menace. Sure, this saber needs to be plugged in at all times, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Hobson’s lightsaber belongs to him — you can’t buy it. But if you’re a hobbyist with a keen eye and cash to spare, there are plenty of lightsaber options out there. Accounts that review and show off custom-made sabers often offer side-by-side comparisons to what Disney offers.

Many fan-made hilts use a light from a company called Neopixel. These lightsabers glow brighter, with a more saturated color, than Disney’s $200 lightsabers. They also flicker like the lightsabers shown in the movies. Disney’s will light up in little sections, whereas the light from the Neopixel looks like it just flows out from the hilt. Neopixel models will respond more quickly with sounds, whereas the Disney one lags a bit.

Of course, these details come with a price tag. A Neopixel lightsaber modeled after Kylo Ren’s weapon sells for $465.97 on Padawan Outpost, more than twice as much as what Disney World charges.

Third party sellers can also go further than Disney does when it comes to personalized sabers. Even though Disney offers fans multiple ways to mix and match parts, you’re still working from the same predetermined materials. Statistically speaking, given the sheer number of people that make lightsabers at Disney World, there’s likely someone walking around with a weapon with similarities to yours.

Starfall Sabers offer hand-crafted lightsabers to make a completely unique hilt. The maker takes commissions to replicas, however many of the sabers demonstrate their craftsmanship and create a one-of-a-kind hilt to order, like this one. Starfall Sabers uses synthetic materials to mimic the tooth of the fictional Krayt dragon from Tatooine, as an example. Tiny details like textured leather, distressed etching on the metal parts, and a browning tooth, all create a distressed exterior that fit the overall dragon theme. You can’t get this sort of painstaking detail at Disney World.

A lightsaber like this will set you back a hefty $695 dollars just for a base hilt, not including the actual blade of the weapon.

While TikTok is flush with premium lightsabers that will break the bank, the good news is that the hashtag isn’t solely devoted to realistic replicas. You can still get tips on how to make something special and personalized if you’re willing to DIY a lightsaber. Sure, it’s not going to have high-end features, but if the best lightsabers are the ones you have a connection with, there’s nothing more intimate than making one by hand.