Even people who aren’t into Star Wars recognize the lightsaber as one of the coolest fictional “devices” from all walks of entertainment. Come on, who wouldn’t want their own magical laser sword?
Unsurprisingly, kid-friendly lightsaber replicas are popular toys, with today’s versions featuring all sorts of battery-boosted lights and sounds. People my age had to make do with a lot less, but if you ask me, we did just fine:
From Kenner, “The Force” Lightsaber arrived in 1980 and was an immediate hit. It wasn’t the first lightsaber toy ever, but I’d call it the first one that really counted. At well over three feet long, these things were taller than many of the kids who played with them!
The toys debuted during The Empire Strikes Back era, but their popularity continued straight through Return of the Jedi. (Thanks in no small part to the killer store displays that practically begged kids to turn Toys “R” Us into their own personal Jedi training arenas. The rare display photos shown above are used with permission from eBay seller moishe74.)
At first, “The Force” Lightsaber came only in red and yellow colors. (The yellow version was clearly meant to represent Luke’s lightsaber, and while the color wasn’t exactly movie-accurate, it did match up with Luke’s blade on the earlier Kenner action figures!)
When Return of the Jedi came out, a third color was added, this time perfectly mimicking Luke’s new green lightsaber… or possibly a Kong-scaled lime Fla-Vor-Ice.
Holding the green lightsaber now, I’m shot straight back to 1984. I’ll never forget that afternoon I spent chasing our dog around the house with it, before ultimately running headfirst into the side of our kitchen table. Yes, I completely deserved it. I don’t know if dogs can experience schadenfreude, but on that day, I wouldn’t doubt that ours did.
These were simplistic toys at heart, but Kenner came up with a great gimmick. A lightsaber isn’t a lightsaber without the hum, and a series of well-placed holes let the toys “whistle” as you sliced the air. I tried to capture this in a Vine video:
Listen close, and you’ll hear “The Force” Lightsaber making capuchin monkey noises. So awesome!
Most modern lightsaber toys make electronic battle sounds when you swing them, but I still prefer this old school gimmick. It made you feel like you were “creating” the magic. (And well, you were, even if that “magic” was just air whirring through hollow plastic.)
It’s worth noting that this was neither the first nor last “play scale” lightsaber toy from the original trilogy years.
Kenner’s first crack, from the late ‘70s, represented the lightsaber’s “blade” as a sort of inflatable balloon. Then, in 1985, a wholly different lightsaber toy was produced, this time falling under the Droids banner. While that one had a battery-operated light, the blade was absurdly small.
For my money, “The Force” Lightsaber was the best attempt from the original trilogy era. So big, so bright, and so utterly usable.
If you’d like to reclaim a part of your childhood by buying one of these babies, you’ll need a bit of that patented Jedi patience. You can easily find them for $100 or so, but they do occasionally slip by on eBay for less than half of that. (In used condition, at least. If you want one in new condition complete with the cardboard “box” over the hilt, you’ll need to pony up a whole lot more!)