Patrick Schneider and Chris Reiff of Hasbro talk to StarWars.com about bringing the Force-wielder’s weapon to life.
Lightsaber toys have been part of the Star Wars story since the original trilogy. I have memories of running around my backyard in Brooklyn (yes, a tree grows in Brooklyn) in the early ‘80s, dueling friends with Kenner’s Jedi weapons. I can still hear the distinct wurr they made -- just utilizing the wind, no electronics -- by waving them back and forth. In those moments, I was a Jedi.
Well, at-home lightsabers have come a long way since then. Hasbro has continually advanced what’s possible in a roleplay lightsaber, from sounds to colors, and the recently released Darth Revan Force FX Elite Lightsaber reflects this. Inspired by the lightsaber of the hugely popular character from the Star Wars: The Old Republic video game, the collectible features an LED-powered blade that can shine as purple or red (depending on your preferred Jedi/Sith affiliation), has a fun blaster-deflect effect, in which random parts of the blade flash, and even turns into a rainbow color for some wall-cutting action. That’s not to mention the removable kyber crystal. Hasbro sent StarWars.com the Darth Revan Force FX Elite Lightsaber, and all these years on from being that kid in Brooklyn playing Star Wars, it’s refreshing to say that a toy lightsaber can still make you feel like a Jedi.
StarWars.com caught up with Hasbro’s Patrick Schneider, senior manager, global brand development and marketing for Star Wars, and Chris Reiff, product designer, to talk about metal hilts, why Star Wars inspires so many, and pushing our galaxy's lightsaber tech forward.
StarWars.com: I have not handled a high-end lightsaber in years. Taking the Revan lightsaber out of the box, I was just surprised at the build quality and how heavy it was. What can you say about the materials and the design process for where you’re at now with the Force FX Elite Lightsabers?
Chris Reiff: It’s something we’ve been always wanting to do with all this stuff -- super high-end materials, like aluminum when it’s aluminum. Nice weight in your hand, all that sort of stuff. Even ones that are painted, like parts of Darth Vader's lightsaber, if we were going to do that, we’d want it to be metal to up that quality, working to get the textures and detail and feel of them, so that the experience of holding it is as much as the visual of it.
StarWars.com: Usually with my collections, I take pretty good care of everything I have. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. But with this, I was like, “Alright. We are going to take this outside and test it out.”
Patrick Schneider: You have to! [Laughs]
StarWars.com: Yeah! It was so much fun. And it’s a little dinged up now, but that’s okay.
Chris Reiff: It’s more in-universe now! [Laughs]
StarWars.com: Exactly! But just people passing by -- the reactions of strangers, lighting up when they would see the lightsaber, was awesome.
Patrick Schneider: You reminded me, we revealed -- on one of the Fan First Friday livestreams, we revealed the Emperor Palpatine Force FX Elite Lightsaber, so I had that at my house. My son is all of 19 months, like a year and a half, and was in the room when I lit it up, and he said one of the only words he knows how to say, which is, “More! More!” [Laughs] From ages one and a half to 99, everyone is just so inspired by Star Wars.
StarWars.com: There’s a magic, for sure. I wanted to ask about making a Darth Revan lightsaber, period. The character means a lot to the hardcore fans, but he’s lesser known to casual fans. At the end of the day Hasbro is a business like any other and I’m sure with something like this you have to give consideration to, “Does it make business sense to make this lightsaber?”
Patrick Schneider: It’s interesting. We’ve talked in the past about hardcore and casual fans. More recently we’ve talked about, “Do those terms make sense? Are they blending?” And Darth Revan is an excellent example [of that]. Revan won our Black Series 6-inch scale Fan’s Choice poll a few years ago. Out of all of the characters in movie entertainment and in Legends, they chose Darth Revan. We’ve seen, talking with fans, in data, and in research [that] Star Wars video games are a huge part of the Star Wars world.
There’s a designer on our team, Eric Franer, who has really dived deep into that and opened my eyes and opened a lot of our eyes. Doing this lightsaber was the natural extension of that. I think Darth Revan is as beloved by fans as a lot of the other lightsabers that we’ve done.
Chris Reiff: Revan’s one of those characters that bridges a lot of different media. There’s comics, games, and books. I think Revan’s drawn on a large audience, too, for a character who’s not in a movie. The character’s got so much of a fan following and diaspora of fans from all that. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Revan’s got a cool-looking saber that changes colors. [Laughs]
StarWars.com: What reaction have you gotten from fans with the saber?
Chris Reiff: Everything I’ve heard has been fun. Patrick, you’re probably more in the trenches on that stuff, though.
Patrick Schneider: Yeah, it’s been a fantastic response, which we hoped for and anticipated but it’s always good to see. The response from fans in terms of sales has been great, and also just -- unfortunately, we haven’t been to a convention since it’s launched, and we really miss that aspect of being able to talk with fans. We revealed it at New York Toy Fair, and that was our last in-person event where we got to talk with fans and fan sites and people coming through the booth, and there was a great response.
One of the things I think they love most -- there are a lot of things -- but this ties into your last question, is the technology of the Force FX Elite line. For the first time, we can do color-changing blades. That was also a great reason to do Revan, is that the character does have those multiple blade colors. I know that when we did this in fan research a couple years ago, that was just a really awesome aspect. Now for the first time it’s like getting two sabers in one. That partly led us to it, and that’s part of the positive response that we’ve seen.
Chris Reiff: And the crystal chamber in there, too. It’s another great bonus, because so much of Revan and the crystal and the stories are about the evolution of his character, and how Revan’s changing, and the crystal is changing to reflect that. The ability to put that in there and reflect that part of the story is a super fun [addition] that we were able to do.
Patrick Schneider: That’s a great point. This is something I think Chris and the team have done an amazing job of, that our Force FX Elite Lightsabers have always been fantastic, but they kind of have the same set of features. Chris and the team were like, “Let’s try to make sure that each one of these Force FX Elite Lightsabers have a different hook and something new that we’re bringing to fans.” Obviously with Revan it’s the color-changing blade; Palpatine, they innovated that Force lightning effect -- I’m trying to remember exactly what we’ve revealed so I don’t misspeak. [Laughs]
We revealed Ahsoka Tano at PulseCon. That brings color changing to three different blade colors, so I think Chris and his team have been great about pushing the boundaries with that innovation. The kyber crystals you mentioned are another great example of that.
StarWars.com: On the note of technology, with Revan there’s the blaster deflecting effects, there’s the color change, there’s the wall cutting effect. How have you approached technology within your lightsabers, knowing what might be possible, what might not be possible, and how far you think you can push it?
Chris Reiff: Technology changes fast and as new technologies become more accessible, we definitely want to integrate newness where we can. Keeping features evolving and improving is core to what we strive for with every new product.
To Patrick’s point, it’s ways to continue to make each saber special. Whether that’s innovation through how you interact with it or what it does, or whether it’s a technology piece, that’s all stuff that we want to continue to do, to add and expand on. With these, the ability to change the blade colors and have addressable LEDs in there so we can actually do that and give those very specific effects like the blaster deflect and the wall cutting, and even on the Palpatine one, the lightning effects. That’s all stuff that, because of the initial jump we made to the addressable LEDs, opens up a whole new ballgame for ways we can interact with those. It gives us a baseline to then innovate idea-wise and story-wise and play-wise on top of that.
Patrick Schneider: A lot of those features are now standard for the Force FX Elite line. Addressable LEDs, the blaster deflection, the molten lava cutting-through-wall effects, that’s something that’s on all of them, from Kylo Ren last year through all of the ones we have planned. It’s interesting. Chris touched on technology and innovation; Hasbro as a company talks a lot about product innovation and then insights. We try to ensure that we’re always led by what the consumer, or in this case the fan, wants.
A few years ago now we did a lot of research on this. Both talking with fans at conventions and seeing comments online, but also some focus groups and some more quantitative research, and looked at all the features we could add. Basically, [we] let the fans tell us what they cared about most and then prioritized those for the innovation. I think the result is a great product.
StarWars.com: I wanted to ask about the design. If you’re doing a Sidious or Luke Skywalker, you have movie reference, you have an actual physical prop that somebody built that you can look at, photography. Here, as far as I know, there’s no officially built Darth Revan lightsaber. You’re dealing with video game assets and a game that’s 20 years old at this point. How did you go about bringing that to life?
Chris Reiff: The game was definitely one of the primary reference assets there. There was a real lightsaber design for that. It’s one of the great things about the partnership with Lucasfilm and the product development guys. [Chris] Gollaher and [Chris] Dern, they’re into it as much as any of us. They want this thing to reflect all the nerdy fandom that’s in there the same as we do. They’re happy to go dig and pull more assets, find all the little nuggets that might not have ever been published anywhere but stuff that helps us define that.
We’re sitting going through comics, looking for features in the comics, and all the publishing stuff. “Oh, there’s a cool feature that’s interpreted differently across them! Which version of that do we want to integrate?” And working toward defining a definitive version of it with them. Ones like this are super fun to work on because it’s such a conversation and following that path, figuring out where you want to be with it.
The replica ones, they’re a different challenge and a different sort of fun. You’re trying to be as faithful and accurate on those to what the reference shows. But with these, like the Revan one here, it’s a different challenge but as a designer it’s a fun challenge. You get to make some of those calls that you can’t make on a replica. Whether this corner is a little more curved, or whether this fork out in the front is this shape versus this shape.
StarWars.com: You have to be a Star Wars prop designer to a degree. That’s pretty awesome.
Chris Reiff: Exactly.
StarWars.com: I'd imagine that most fans who love Star Wars have dreamed about having a lightsaber that's close to the real thing. What does it mean to you to be making those dreams come true for people?
Patrick Schneider: I think it’s the main reason that we, or I at least, do the job. Obviously, it’s fun and it’s sexy to be doing Star Wars and there’s a personal enjoyment, but I know for myself and my career I’ve always wanted to do jobs where people are passionate about what we’re doing.
We are making people happy and bringing joy. Those are lofty things, but I know when I read comments online and I talk to fans, they’re like, “I love this! It’s so meaningful to me.” And there’s lots of stories about Star Wars not just being fun but really having deep meaning in people’s lives. Again, just being able to be a part of that is deeply moving. I’m very grateful for it.
Chris Reiff: The same here. All of us here are fans as much as anybody is. We love working on this stuff and being able to share what we work on with other people who are also fans, that connection is really where it shines for me.
Just going to conventions, that’s going home and hanging out with friends that I don’t get to see other than at some conventions. When I get to share an experience like working on this or working on other stuff with a fan who I don’t know, we have a common language all of a sudden. I think that’s a super important thing, a way to connect with people and have that common touch point.
I enjoy it because it’s fun for me personally. Who doesn’t love designing Star Wars stuff? As a designer, I don’t know a designer who doesn’t want to design Star Wars stuff. Whether that’s working on publishing stuff or working on product stuff like this, it’s a super special experience.
There are days where you leave meetings and your cheeks hurt from smiling so much. It’s powerful all-around. Seeing other people’s reactions to what you’ve done amps that up another level.
The Darth Revan Force FX Elite Lightsaber is available now.