Tag Archives: star wars

Q&A: Lightsaber Physics

Regarding lightsaber physics, I believe the official version is that they basically have artificial inertia, because the blade is in constant motion (and as such does have an edge), and this is mainly used to justify really lengthy wind ups for attacks (like what Kylo Ren does). On the other hand, we see plenty of Jedi fighting like the things weigh nothing, so I think it’s a case by case basis to justify fighting styles, rather than fighting styles being derived from it

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The specific logic is that lightsaber physics changed over time, during the development of the films. When Lucas was working on A New Hope, he approached it with the idea that the actual blades were quite heavy. As in the actual projection of light/plasma/whatever had substantial mass. Though from here on out, I’ll be talking about the actual props.

The stunt choreographers patterned, their fights off a mixture of 1940s Hollywood swashbuckler duels, modern fencing, and kendo. There were also other factors, including that the stunt blades themselves were quite fragile. (I want to say they were made of fiberglass, but I’m not completely positive.) I’ve also read that David Prowse had a bad habit of breaking his lightsaber blade on set. This is part of why the style in ANH is so tentative. The actors are trying not to break their props. Also, fun trivia, you can see them knocking dust off their blades when they come into contact in ANH.

Some of this logic carried over into Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I’m not sure exactly how much, but you can look at all three as a coherent unit. One of the few big changes was much more durable lightsaber props.

In going back to do Phantom Menace, the stunt choreographers came to Lucas and said, something to the effect of, “look what we can do, if we one hand these things.” The result is much faster and flashier combat, which you can see in the prequels. As I recall, the specific justification from Lucas was that the Jedi were at the height of their martial training before the purge, so you’re seeing the best lightsaber practitioners in history.

To be fair, I don’t know what the thought process is for the lightsaber use in Awakenings.

The important takeaway is, that how lightsabers function has changed to fit the capabilities of the film production staff. So, trying to extrapolate something coherent out of that is going to be kinda tricky. Still, kudos to the EU writers who made a genuine attempt, and kept at it as the entire approach was reworked as the prequels released.

-Starke

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Incidentally, TIL there’s a quick post keybind that I hit with my pinky when I went to hit backspace. I still don’t know what that keybind is, but at least I know it exists now.

I’ve been watching the Clone Wars on Netflix. In it, the character Ahsoka uses two lightsabers which she holds in reverse grip, that is to say so that they point backwards parallel to her forearms instead of in front of her at her enemies. I know that this is a technique sometimes used in knife fighting, but, as someone with fencing experience, I can’t help but find it incredibly awkward and inefficient with a full-length sword. Is it based on a real technique, or is it just rule of cool?

There’s no real application for it. There are reasons to
reverse grip a knife, not so much with a full length blade.

The in universe justification is that Ahsoka and Starkiller
both use a controversial, or ancient, (pick whichever feels more appropriate in
the moment) version of the Shien style (or Form V, if you prefer). Shien is a
style focused on dealing with multiple opponents simultaneously, and had a
focus on quick retaliations after a defensive parry, as well as heavy strikes.
In theory, Ahsoka’s using the same lightsaber form as Luke and Anakin, just
with a different resting position for their blade. Supposedly, the reverse grip
allows the user to generate wider arcs that strike across multiple targets more
easily. I say supposedly, because that honestly sounds like an after the fact
justification to me. Though, it’s possible there’s some consideration to how lightsabers handle
momentum that isn’t occurring to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with the forms, the old Star Wars expanded universe broke
lightsaber combat down into seven distinct forms, (and then kept adding more.) Each one is numbered,
and alternately has multiple names. In large part, these exist to
justify the various actors having different approaches to the lightsabers
across the franchise. And there are a lot of after-the-fact justifications for
why Luke’s use of a lightsaber looks different from Obi-Wan’s, and why Obi-Wan’s
changes between the prequels and the original trilogy. Beyond that, most Jedi
are assumed to be proficient in roughly three styles of their choosing.

There is some interesting concepts buried in there,
especially when you get past the official seven forms. For example, Trakata,
where the blade is disabled and reignited mid-strike to bypass blocks and
generally mess with the opponent. So, what Ahsoka is doing probably isn’t
completely without merit. I know with Starkiller the justification was that it
kept the blade out of his way while performing acrobatic maneuvering. It’s
another explanation that sounds dubious, though slightly more plausible.

So, basically, no, it’s there to make her more visually
distinct. This is a large factor in most of the unique lightsaber variants
across the franchise. There’s in universe justifications, but those follow the goal
of making a character stand out. That is
a legitimate goal. Particularly when you’re dealing with a setting that juggles
hundreds of major characters.

The subversive way to phrase it would probably be some
variation of, “when everyone’s special, no one is,” but when you’re talking
about Star Wars, as a whole, particularly the old Extended Universe, it does
sell the idea of a diverse universe with a ton of distinct characters bouncing
around in it. Also, the more characters you add, even when their stories are
individually distinct, the harder it becomes to separate them out. I’m going to
offend some people here, including myself, but, when you take two characters
like Corran Horn and Kyle Katarn, and stick them next to each other, it can be
kinda tricky to explain what makes them distinct, to someone unfamiliar with
the setting.

The trade off is, taking large steps to try to differentiate
a character can result in serious pushback. For whatever the reason, the
community just does not accept and mocks that character mercilessly. Which was
the case with Starkiller. I honestly could not tell you why Ahsoka never
generated the same reaction. At least, not conclusively.

-Starke

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would you say the sith academy from the star wars universe fits for an abusive training situation?

Yes.

However, I want to point out that when you’re talking about scenarios where the teachers are sadists that’s:

1) Not what makes their training good, but is rather the method that secures the students’ loyalty.

2) Useless if the students don’t receive an education.

The problem is that in order for the setup to succeed the students still need to be taught. Which… means you still do all the “boring” and “mundane” stuff. Contrary to popular fictional conception, cruelty doesn’t make you learn faster. More than that, in poor hands, cruelty will trap you in a shock and awe setup where you’re continually having to escalate your measures in order to keep the students on their toes and the audience engaged. This is what we’ll call “not good, Bob” when dealing with a training setup because the author inevitably focuses on playing up the instructor’s sadism and not on the students education. When this happens, we get nothing but a dysfunctional methodology that creates broken dolls who aren’t particularly good at fighting.

What cruelty will provide (when not overplayed) is motivation. Cruelty can be an excellent motivational tool, but only if you give your student the tools to succeed.

When writing “sadistic training” it is important to keep your eye on the prize and the goals of the trainer in mind. Unless we’re talking an elite force (like a Sith or the Imperial Guard) where you don’t actually need many of them and they aren’t your main force, then a meat grinder scenario is not a good one. You can still have a sadistic training scenario but there’ll be a lot less death. (One can be sadistic and successful without killing a single trainee or letting them die.) 

They want to create a student who is either an exceptional warrior or just a good one and a student who is loyal to them or their organization. They may be a creation of this system, and genuinely believe in it. You can have a trainer who engages in sadistic training methods because that’s how they were trained, not because they enjoy being sadists. These guys are even more dangerous than the other types, as none of the flaws usually found in sadistic teachers apply to True Believers. They’re not in it for the power trip, or because they like being a bully but because they believe in the system. If you’ve got a sadistic training methodology, disseminated and practiced by multiple individuals in an organization then you’ll be dealing with True Believers. If so, then may God have mercy on your poor characters’ souls.

A trainer who was raised on the system they’re teaching knows all the tricks a student can pull. They’ve seen it before and seen it from within the student’s barracks. So, good luck putting anything past them, especially in any modern or futuristic world where they’ve no problem hiding cameras everywhere.

The Sith Academies of the EU run the gamut between sophisticated mind fuckery and hatchet level meat grinders. When they’re meat grinders, all they do is pointlessly waste resources. And, yes, there’s been more than one Sith Academy and the concept probably predates whichever one you’re thinking of. Korriban, for example, originates in Tales of the Jedi. Anything that predates Lucas’ “Rule of Two” will have the suggestion of an academy, and the Rule of Two came into established canon with the prequels. (Whether anyone remembers Brakiss, Zekk, and the one from Young Jedi Knights is another question entirely.)

So, here’s some training don’ts:

1) When your trainer kills, have them kill with purpose.

The way a teacher kills one of their trainees may seem random to their students, but if this is a methodology then there is a firm reason behind the why and the who. Trust they’ve picked their target before they ever walked into the room. They may change their mind in a snap decision once they’re dealing with the students, but a plan is always at play. Remember, a successful sadistic instructor plans and executes training their students like any other operation.

2) The first brutal murder will never achieve the same affect on its subjects again, so use it wisely.

Shock and awe works… once. If you want shock to keep working, then you’ve got to change tactics and attack where the subject feels safe rather than trying the same technique over and over again.

The problem with most sadistic training setups is they’ll take the ideas, but keep attempting to use the same tactics in repetition. No. To keep your skin in this game, you better be switching up.

3) Sadistic training is the torture methodology, if you don’t understand how A leads to C then you won’t grasp its lasting effects or why it works.

I’m going to keep pointing out that sadistic training is a mind game and not a physical game. Competent torture is about controlling the subject’s state of mind and reconditioning them to give you what you want. This is why it’s a far more effective as a form of control than information gathering.

Sadistic training is the same way. The goal is not to kill off what matters to the subject. The goal is to get the subject to kill off what matters to them for you. Whether this is their parents, their old life, their pet Skippy, a girlfriend/boyfriend, a friendship they’ve formed during their training, it doesn’t matter. They’ll kill whatever symbolic part of themselves they were holding onto, the piece which makes them who they are. A trainer creates a pressure gate to lead the student where they want them to go, so the student and their peers will kill in themselves what the trainer can’t.

“The Corps is mother, the Corps is father,” as PsiCorps says on Babylon 5.

When dealing with someone competent, this is insidious. Remember, the trainer controls the student’s whole world, who they interact with, whether they’re allowed contact with the outside world, and what happens to them.

It’s like dealing with your parents, if your parents were perfectly willing to blow your brains out. With no outlets, no friends except the ones you’re allowed and can’t trust, no other authority figures to turn to, no internet, no connection to the outside world, and armed guards to catch you when you run.

4) There is always a carrot to go with the stick.

Abusive tactics aren’t successful if there’s no carrot. This is an enhancement of regular training, not the sole form of training. Abuse by itself doesn’t make someone a better martial combatant (or good at fighting at all).

The problem with a lot of “sadistic training setups” is the author goes overboard. They want to make it obvious that the teacher is bad, and give the story no room to breathe. Give the characters no time to sort themselves out. The teacher’s abuse is there to make a point and specific intervals, and it won’t happen on the regular. If it’s regular, you adapt to it. The uncertainty and the lack of comfort is what keeps it scary.

A trainer won’t just abuse, they’ll also offer a sympathetic ear, be encouraging, and act as a mentor to their students. When their students have earned their wisdom then they share. This gives students a feeling superiority over others, reminds them that they’re special, and they want to work harder for their teacher or toward their goal.

As a reward, their trainer may give their students the opportunity to watch the more advanced students or the warriors they admire in practice or sparring so they have a goal to work towards.

5) The goals are always clear, and can be accomplished. It’s the goalposts that shift.

The trainer is very good at telling their students what they want, on giving them a venue to develop skill before upending them again. Like I said, abusive training is an utterly pointless practice if the process of learning is skipped.

If you want to write an abusive setup then you need to learn how normal training is supposed to work first because the abuse is just another added layer. This is why there’s a tendency to assume this training is just “more hardcore”. 

6) Punishment is not the point, what punishment gets you is the point.

Reward them when they’re good, punish them when they’re bad. Write punishment with purpose. The trainer wants their student to think, consider, and come to an understanding. Punishment is supposed to make one side too uncomfortable so one starts looking at good behavior as acceptable. Unless there’s a reason to be ambiguous, the student must know why they’re being punished.

7) When you’re looking at a situation with plans to axe a few of your trainees, the troublemakers and the problem children will be first on the slate to die.

This is one of those favored misconceptions with some authors, where the belief that a student’s “special talents” and “status” override everything else. Here’s the honest truth: a trainer working under a sadistic methodology wants loyalty over skill. No amount of ‘natural talent’ or ‘skill’ will save these troublemakers because they’re challenging the trainer’s control over the rest of the class.

Now, there are ways to manipulate any problem child into good behavior without obvious punishment whether its by convincing them they’re special, flattering them, separating them out from the others, and making them feel important or like they’re “winning” the power struggle.

If they can’t be convinced to play along, though, then it’s ‘too bad, so sad’ and will be offed. At this point, it’s attrition. Better to risk losing one, even a promising one, than it is losing the whole group. A student with less potential but loyal is better than one with high potential but unwilling to cooperate. After all, natural skill is just potential. A metric for the greatness one might achieve. If the talented student isn’t going to put effort into honing that potential, then it’s just a waste. Better to have the student who works hard, strives for success, is clever, and wants to please their teacher.

Now, back to Star Wars.

On the whole, when looking at the Sith, you’re going to find a lot of the good, the bad, the mediocre, and everything in between. With the current EU, we’re usually dealing with the meat grinder. In this case, the meat grinder rears its head anytime there’s a lack of respect for the rarity of Force Sensitives. Even in a galaxy full of trillions, the pool of candidates who are Force Sensitive is extraordinarily small. The number with the ability to actually become Jedi or Sith is a tiny fraction of that pool. They’re so rare, in fact, that it’s easier for a Sith Lord to risk themselves targeting adult Jedi or Jedi trainees for conversion than it is to go through the trouble of finding new candidates.

Think about that.

It’s not a Sith Academy if they don’t raid the Jedi Temple for recruits at least once. Given the Sith’s training methods, there should always be fewer Sith than Jedi by order of attrition. The Jedi may send their students away if they don’t make the cut, but they don’t kill them during training. The Sith blow through their candidates faster, thus needing more raw bodies while churning out fewer Sith as a result.

A good Sith Academy is one where the students are terrorizing the local population of whatever planet they’re inhabiting rather than each other. Where their methods are harsh, but the vast majority of their students don’t die in training. If you want more Sith out there than Jedi, then their period of training is ultimately shorter and they’re released to terrorize the universe more quickly. If a Sith can be trained in, say, four years compared to a Jedi’s fourteen to twenty then there will obviously be more of them.

However, the Sith will ultimately need more recruits and bodies than the Jedi because the Sith die faster. Which creates a shortage when your talent pool is already limited.

In The Old Republic, when a Sith player leads the Attack on Tython they’re given a lightside/darkside option at the end. The lightside option is to release the prisoners. The darkside option is to kill the prisoners. Here’s the problem: these prisoners are Jedi padawans.

When you have a limited talent pool, are at war, and are constantly losing your highly skilled warriors to the enemy, what do you do?

The answer is abide by the classic Sith tactic of stealing the apprentices for yourself. Killing them is a waste. Releasing them is stupid. Taking them to replace your losses is the smart choice. After all, the Jedi would do the same to you. (They do. They do it all the time. In Star Wars, the Sith and Jedi are playing ping pong with the individual members of both orders as the balls. There are numerous Sith rehabilitated into Jedi and Jedi who’ve become Sith. Light to Dark, Dark to Light, then back again.)

I bring this up because this is how you know when characters with this attitude are written in accordance to their setting. They can’t be written in generalities, the author needs to take into account the context and setting specifics which will be at play when it comes to making a decision.

When evil overrules necessity or common sense, you’ve got a problem. Well, you do if it’s not your intention for the character to be engaging in “stupid evil”. All approaches are legit, so long as you meant to do it and serves the story.

The question when either playing with or reading about a Sith Academy is, “do you understand the purpose and philosophy behind what’s happening?”

The lightside and the darkside are a clumsy attempt at Taoist philosophy. The Jedi and Sith are meant to present incompatible ways of life, and more than just an easily digestible code. There’s a lot of play in the “Survival of the Fittest” and “I’ve got Mine” mentalities, but a true Sith believes the struggle itself is what makes us strong.

Let’s look at the sequence between Luke and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi:

-The Emperor has Vader bring Luke aboard the Death Star, everything from that point on including the trap he lays for the Rebellion is part of getting under Luke’s skin.

-While Vader is in active conflict with Luke, he’s also the centerpiece of the power struggle between Luke and the Emperor.

-Both Vader and the Emperor are pressuring Luke in multiple ways to find what makes him angry. They show him how powerless he is by attacking the Rebels in front of him, forcing him to fight, threatening Leia, etc.

-They want him angry. Why? It’s because the Emperor’s goal is ultimately for Luke to destroy what he came to save whether that’s the Rebels or his father. The underlying belief is this crushing failure will expose the futility of Luke’s beliefs, lead him to abandon them, and join the darkside.

-This fight is also a test for Vader, though the Emperor is certain of his control over him.

-The Emperor wants a younger model and new apprentice to replace the old one, but if Luke can’t be swayed then he has no issue having Vader murder what he wanted i.e. his last link to his previous life.

-The Emperor fails because he underestimates Vader, rather than Luke. This happens when Vader’s desire to save his son trumps his loyalty to the Emperor, and leads him to make the ultimate sacrifice.

If you want to understand the difference between Jedi versus Sith, and the power of sadistic training then the final struggle of Return of the Jedi is important to understand. The Emperor had so much control over Vader that Vader valued his personal power over what used to be the most important aspect of his life: protecting his family.

For Vader, we see the struggle is real. When we see him in Empire Strikes Back, he has no problem hacking Luke’s hand off. We find out he’s known Luke is his son for some time, but the boy’s still just a pawn necessary to help him replace the Emperor. The offer Vader makes to Luke at the end of Empire is not one of love, but power. “Together, we’ll rule the galaxy as father and son.” It’s manipulative, designed to appeal to Luke’s desires for family, for his father, and disrupt Luke’s beliefs. Vader means to wrong foot him, make him desperate, and utilize these emotions to take power over Luke. When Luke falls, Vader doesn’t jump after him. Vader doesn’t consider Luke’s life important enough to jeopardize himself over.

The choice Vader makes at the end of Jedi is one of love. He’s hurt when he grabs the Emperor, having lost a hand. The Emperor is shooting electricity everywhere, and Vader’s systems are especially susceptible. Vader understands the sacrifice he’s making when he grabs the Emperor. This is his transition, in his final moments. This is what makes him a Jedi again.

As a haphazard circle, selfish love transformed Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader while sacrificial love brought him back. Selfish love led to fear of loss, fear of loss led him to the hating those who “stole” his loved ones, and then he needed to control everything in order to make sure he never lost or felt these emotions again. Control led him to needing more and more power, until power itself was all that mattered.

When you’re looking for abusive environments or training methods, take an honest look at the Vader from the Original Trilogy. In a simple sense, that’s what the results look like.

-Michi

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In Rogue One, Cassian Andor states that he’s been fighting for the rebels since he was 6 years old. Assuming he meant literal combating, would his personality be similar to that of a child raised for combat? Would there be any differences?

This is sort of a yes and no, as all children involved in violent conflicts from an early age are affected by it. However, the children who take part in rebellions aren’t in the same category of the child soldiers discussed on this blog before, though they absolutely share similarities.

Kids involved in rebellions are rarely used as frontline combatants. They’re far too valuable for that. Instead, they function as informants, carriers, and, occasionally, saboteurs. They’re not the one who picks up the gun to shoot down enemy soldiers in a safe zone. They’re the ones who move the gun past the security perimeter or receive it from the old man or woman who did and plant it. They’re the ones hanging around befriending enemy soldiers in bars or cantinas so they can tip their friends off about where the troops are moving to next. Children, women, the elderly, those generally viewed as non-combatants, the ones that society overlooks or views as “safe” are often the backbone of any resistance movement.

They get the goods, they move the packages, they carry the messages between resistance cells, they sometimes take care of the equipment, and they do most of the footwork that allows a resistance to engage the enemy. When they do fight, it’s generally in the form of sabotage like finding and slipping poison into the enemy troop’s stew, planting bombs, or because survival necessitates it when their cover is blown.

As a child, Cassian Andor would have a background common with other children in rebellions depicted in media like ‘Phan Duc To’ from Good Morning, Vietnam! (1987) and the children involved in The Battle of Algiers (1966).

If you’ve never seen Good Morning, Vietnam! I just spoiled the movie.

The Battle of Algiers is a great movie if you’re looking for an honest overview of how rebellions function on both sides of the conflict or just a treatment on the French colonization of Algeria. Fair warning, it is not an english language film. Kiera Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is another decent character to look at when wanting to model a background for a resistance fighter who joined as a child. G’kar from Babylon 5 and the entire Narn/Centauri conflict is also an excellent example of the enduring hatreds and issues brought by colonization.

One of the qualities you see in these children and then again as adults is pure, unadulterated hatred for their oppressors. More so than the other kinds, they hate. Often to the point of becoming a new version of the enemy their resistance was attempting to drive off.

Cassian would’ve spent a lot of time hanging around rebel fighters, doing odd jobs for them until the day came when they were short a man or needed a message run by someone who wouldn’t attract attention.

If this has started to sound like spycraft, well, you’re not far off. Resistances don’t have the luxury of major battle offensives like an army, and even guerilla warfare is actually a step up from what happens on the ground, and there is a common word you’ll find familiar for what they do: terrorism.

The actions of a resistance fighter and the actions of a terrorist are one and the same, the only difference is in who is telling the story. If you want to investigate real resistances without the judgements, study up on World War II, the French Resistance, and the Maquis.

Yes, that Maquis not the one from Star Trek.

On the ground resistances are rough and ready, they’re often split apart into distinct cells comprised of only a few agents, and almost no one knows who is higher up the food chain. This is important because it protects the other operating cells and resistance leadership in case an operative is captured by the enemy.

For the most part, whether you’re writing historical fiction or a foray into science fiction, the philosophy, goals, and strategy of a resistance will remain the same. What changes is how they go about operating within their setting because, like spies, a resistance requires the author have a solid grasp on how the enemy functions, the details in how they hold power, the technology they have access to, and how their army works.

On a literal and literary level, the Resistance is about disruption. Whether they’re sabotaging train tracks, blowing up food transports, or bombing nightclubs, their goal is to disrupt everyday life and make it as unpleasant as possible. They’re ghosts in the system, you’ll never know where or when they’ll strike, and they’re out to destroy enemy moral every way they can. A resistance drives the enemy from their homeland by making the cost of holding it no longer worthwhile. Though, historically, this is often impossible unless the majority of the population joins the cause and/or the tide of public sentiment back home within the enemy’s homeworld or nation turns against the invaders. A resistance occurring against the powerful within their own homeland is much, much more destructive.

What marks a character like Cassian, who grew up in a resistance movement, more than other children engaged in violence is first and foremost betrayal. Betrayal from without, betrayal from within, the people he’s lied to and betrayed, seeing many friends vanish overnight or die, and never quite knowing who he can trust. He probably has very few friends left alive from his early days with the Rebellion, and more than likely experienced the Imperials wiping out his cell(s) on multiple occasions. He worked his way up the ranks until he became an operative working closely within the Rebellion’s inner circle.

Star Wars is functionally much more clear cut than the real resistances that occur throughout the world.

Happy writing!

-Michi

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On the topic of cauterizing wounds with a flaming sword, wouldn’t that translate to lightsabers as well?

The last time someone bled from a lightsaber wound was in the original film cut of The Empire Strikes Back when Luke took an arm off the Wampa, it never happened again. The blood has since been cleaned off in every re-release of the original series except A New Hope.

Watch this. From The Empire Strikes Back on, all wounds with lightsabers are cauterized and there’s no blood. The lightsaber is a blade made of plasma, so it’s naturally going to be very hot.

In the old EU, it used to be that being Force Sensitive was a prerequisite for wielding a lightsaber because they were often just as dangerous to the wielder as they were to the enemy. No one without some level of precognition or Jedi/Sith training could use them in combat. It was the explanation behind why they were so useful and dangerous but also so rare, carried only by Force users trained in the Jedi or Sith arts.

The three groups in Star Wars that use lightsabers are:

A) Fully Trained Jedi/Sith Force Users

B) Nascent or Partially Trained Force Users, Padawans, Ex-Padawans, etc.

C) Droids with proper programming.

In a setting context, the lightsaber is a main reason why your average
Sith or Jedi can suddenly transform into a one man wrecking crew if not
army.

It fulfills both ends of the combat spectrum. It is exceedingly useful and efficient in the right hands and it is intimidating if not downright scary by reputation.

For most of the galaxy, the Force is difficult to quantify and understand. A plasma blade that can slice you and dice you into six different pieces while simultaneously blocking incoming blaster fire is much easier to get behind.

And while, yes, the cauterizing of the wounds means that someone who suffers a lightsaber blow is more likely to survive, it doesn’t mean the experience is pleasant.

Many writers have a mistaken view that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person and end up having heroic characters commit horrific atrocities as a result, doing more damage in the long run than they might’ve if they’d just killed the other character.

The lightsaber is the three section staff of the Star Wars world, really awesome if you know what you’re doing and liable to give yourself a concussion if you don’t. (Or, in this case, lose a limb…or several.)

There’s no getting around burning yourself with the nunchaku lightsaber though, that one is just dumb.

It’s a standard issue part of the setting and most of the wounds received from similar types of energy weapons like blasters are also bloodless. This acts as a backhanded setting justification for how the series can be so violent while sneaking itself past the sensors.

-Michi

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I’m not sure if you will be able to answer this, but I’m working on a Star Wars fic and I’m wondering about blaster injuries and how you think they would translate from actual gunshot wounds. Also, what about shots to the heart? How long would it take to die from one? And are they ever survivable?

They don’t really translate from conventional firearms at all. Blasters in Star Wars are effectively plasma weapons. They fire ionized gas into the victim. In theory this should result in localized burns on the victim, destroying pretty much anything organic they hit, and melt most inorganic material on impact.

In the films, blasters are pretty inconsistent. They’ll sometimes burn through hull plating and kill in a single shot. Other times they’ll fail to damage delicate cybernetics beyond burning off the prosthetic skin or simply injure someone.

Here’s the thing, this isn’t a world building consideration, it’s a writing problem with the films. Like the guns in many works of fiction, Star Wars’ Blasters run on the power of plot.

It’s also part of why Imperial Stormtroopers can go from being incredible marksmen off screen, to sort of spraying in the general direction when the cameras are actually rolling. At least, without having to assume Obi-Wan is just being incurably sarcastic. (To be fair, Obi-Wan is always incurably sarcastic.)

Generally speaking, as a writer, you want coherent rules driving your setting. This helps you nail your setting together, and present a consistent world for your audience.

While it might seem like writing out the rules for your world is restrictive, it actually offers a lot more leeway to you. When characters in a setting with poorly articulated, or inconsistent, rules exploits an idiosyncrasy it’s a plot hole. The most infamous example is probably the increasing “technobabble” in later Star Trek series. When characters in a setting with concise rules the reader understands exploit an idiosyncrasy, it’s being clever.

One of the unique challenges for fan fiction writers is you’re forced to extrapolate the rules for the setting from the available material. Star Wars is an easier example, because the setting has been very heavily detailed over the years, and you’re left with more of a question over which parts of the canon you’re willing to include and work with.

This is less of a problem when you’re writing official tie-in work. In cases like that you should be provided with a style guide and a setting bible. Ideally, these will tell you how the material should be presented, and what the rules for the setting you’re working on are “supposed” to be. In practice, this doesn’t always happen, and the results when the writer is kept in the dark can range from amusing, to fan rage inducing.

In theory, blasters should have a specific way they work, but in practice (from a writing perspective) they’re a clumsy and random element of Star Wars.

They should cause severe burns on impact, burning through the victim. It wouldn’t be necessarily lethal, this could potentially only incapacitate, but it would kill more often than not.

Blaster bolts should burn through most inorganic matter on impact. It makes sense that hand weapons wouldn’t be able to burn through hull plating rated for reentry. So, carbon scoring isn’t that strange, in context. Though it does create a bit of weirdness with astromechs. These are actually expected to be exposed to reentry friction, so it makes sense that they’d be able to survive a direct shot from a blaster, or they wouldn’t be able to survive reentry in any fighter with an exposed astomech socket.

Imperial E11 Blaster Rifles have a stun setting… because that makes sense somehow. Star Wars does have stun weapons (several, actually, including Neural Inhibitors and sonic weapons), but they’re distinct from Blasters, and by necessity would need an entirely separate firing mechanism, so it’s a little strange that this is bolted on there for one scene and then never used again, except because the power of plot compels them.

Incidentally, the E11s in A New Hope were actually firing blank 9mm rounds. The props were functional Sterling Mk IV submachine guns with random bits bolted on to make them look more impressive. I can’t remember if the shell casings were digitally removed for the Special Edition remastering, but they were visible in the pre-90s versions of the film.

In theory, magnetic shielding makes sense. One way to keep plasma where you want it is through the use of magnetic shields, so it would follow that the blaster bolts themselves are carried by a magnetic envelope of some sort. This might also explain why capital ships are dependent on turbolasers, because any magnetic shielding would, by necessity, make it impossible to use blasters offensively. This might be part of why personal shielding is such an oddity in Star Wars. But, this is another case where the terminology is a little strange.

It’s also worth remembering that there are other varieties of firearms in Star Wars. Off hand, there are disruptors (beam weapons that disintegrate the victim at a molecular level), and slugthrowers which are conventional ballistic firearms. There are also exotic variants like the Wookie Bowcasters, or Concussion Rifles.

If you’ve never read them, I strongly recommend reading the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zhan. Zhan did a lot of work knitting the original films together into a coherent setting, and laid groundwork for the larger Star Wars setting that’s still filtering into the new films. Some of the material has been ejected, both by the prequels and by the new Disney, but if you’re wanting to work with Star Wars, this still is the place to start. It also features, probably, the single best villain from Star Wars as a whole. The books aren’t perfect, but they are seriously, worth reading.

-Starke

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What kind of blades are best for slicing through different types of metal?

Fantasy/sci-fi ones, like Warhammer 40k’s Power weapons or a lightsaber.

Using a blade on metal is usually a bad idea. The reason is fairly simple, you’re going to damage the weapon. It doesn’t matter how sharp the blade is; in fact, sharper blades will actually suffer more damage. The edge itself will chip and deform.

Actually using a sword or dagger against someone in plate armor isn’t about cutting through the armor itself, it’s about finding the points of articulation, where plates meet, and stabbing through that gap.

The only time you’d want to be striking the plate directly is with a weapon designed to pierce armor, or just confer massive amounts of force through the armor. That’s maces, flails, war hammers (the actual weapon, not the game), mauls, and some polearms. Basically anything that’s either a glorified beatin’ people stick, or a beatin’ people stick with a spike or two on it.

I say “some polearms” because, there is a lot of variety in polearm styles, each with a different role in mind. Some were designed to pierce armor, while others are knives tied to the end of a really long stick. In a few cases, like the halberd, it’s a combination of both.

Now, if your character has an enchanted weapon that’s resistant to damage, or it’s some kind of very high tech weapon, again, like a 40k Power Sword or a lightsaber, then any conventional armor isn’t going to be much of a threat to your weapon, or even much of an obstacle.

If you’re wondering, the worst kind would probably be historical katanas. They were just not designed for contact with metal, and trying to use one against someone wearing plate or chain would quickly slag the blade.

-Starke

Hi, what can you tell me about double edged weapons? Is it true that it requires a tremendous amount of skill, or is it just impractical all around? If it does require skill, how long would you say it would take for one to master a double edged weapon?

I’ll be honest, I don’t think those really have much of a history. There’s probably some obscure case I’m simply not aware of, but the only thing I can think of is Darth Maul. My recollection is; Ray Park was just using a staff form.

I’ve got a double knife around here, somewhere. I picked it up as a show piece item about a decade ago. But, I’ve never even seen a double knife presented as a practical weapon.

Okay, on the ability to actually use them? Maul’s lightsaber works because they’re effectively frictionless, and the individual blades can be turned off. If you take away either of those, I’d really worry about being able to control weapon, when actually connecting with another combatant or their weapon.

With staff combat, the closer your hands are, the faster you can move, but the less control you have over the weapon, which in turn means you have to slow down (yes, by staff standards, Maul was moving slowly). I don’t think this is really even a skill issue, simply controlling a double bladed sword would always be finicky.

I would believe that double weapons were used as exhibition pieces, but as combat weapons, without more information, I’m pretty suspicious.

Double knives are slightly more plausible. I’m not aware of any history, and, my own experience left me with a nasty self inflicted cut on my off hand, but there are enough uses for a reverse grip blade that having one there all the time wouldn’t be a complete liability. But, carrying one could be. Mine uses a lockblade mechanism, but in a setting without collapsible knives, I’m not sure how you’d keep yourself safe from your own blades.

-Starke

Little Boys Learn A Lot From Watching ‘Star Wars,’ And It Isn’t All Good

Little Boys Learn A Lot From Watching ‘Star Wars,’ And It Isn’t All Good

Do you have any tips on writing scenes with swords involved?

If you’ve got a local renaissance fair, your best bet would be to actually find the people using swords and seeing what they’d be willing to teach you. Most of the renfair participants I’ve known, have been more than happy to explain what they know.

There’s that old cliche about writing what you know, but if you can get hands on experience, it’ll go a lot further than anything I can offer you.

Beyond that, I’d recommend spending a little time familiarizing yourself with German school fencing.

The general idea with German School fencing is to maximize the efficiency of blade movement. Most guards are kept across the body, to aid with parrying. Most hews (strikes) focus on very narrow blade arcs.

For an experienced fighter, their blade will feel like a natural extension of the arm. I know it sounds corny, but it’s also true. They’ll know exactly where the blade is at all times. The weight and balance of the weapon will have been completely internalized, to the point where they’re probably not even actively aware of them anymore. If they’ve trained on multiple blades (which is very likely), then they should be able to acclimate to a new sword fairly quickly (which is usually what those test swings you’ll see in fiction are for).

Obviously, there’s a bit more difference if you’re moving from a shortsword to a longsword or from a saber to a claymore, but so long as your character is using a sword that’s similar to the one they’re familiar with, acclimation should be fairly easy.

Also, it’s worth pointing out, German School fencing is specifically intended for European longswords, you can use an arming sword, Viking sword or bastard sword, but it won’t be a perfect fit. Additionally if your character is using something like a scimitar or a greatsword, those all encompass different styles.

Ironically, the original Star Wars trilogy isn’t a bad visual reference for German school fencing. There’s more blade on blade combat then you’d like in a real combat scenario, but a lot of the techniques and stances are there.

Michi would be irked if I didn’t recommend the Errol Flynn films as visual references. Just keep in mind that the actors are fighting very conservatively, because they’d been given live blades, and, for the most part, are trained in Italian School fencing, which evolved to use lighter blades.

If you’re talking about using swords in mass combat, as opposed to dueling, then I’d be tempted to suggest Aragorn and Boromir from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. I’m not as familiar with mass combat forms, but what they’re doing looks close to what I’d expect.

I keep saying this, but look at Robert E. Howard’s Conan. One of the necessary parts of being a writer is finding someone else who went before you and seeing what they did. When it comes to sword combat, and accessibility, Robert E. Howard is probably the best source I can suggest. There’s a fairly cheap three volume paperback set that’s in print, and, because it’s public domain, most of it is available through Project Gutenberg.

-Starke