The story of how one fan recreated the ancient Mandalorian weapon brick by brick.
Most Impressive Fans is a feature highlighting the amazing creativity of Star Wars devotees, from cosplay to props. If there’s a fearless and inventive fan out there, we’ll highlight them here.
The first time Taylor Walker brandished his Darksaber -- forged from LEGO bricks to emulate the ancient weapon created by the first Mandalorian to join the Jedi Order -- the ominous black blade wobbled in its hilt.
Then it broke.
The weight had full-on snapped one of the plastic pieces holding it together, quite a feat considering the industrial-strength playthings can usually withstand a trampling. And although his creation didn’t completely fall apart, “it was bending a lot,” Taylor says, which sent him scrambling back to the drawing board. “I want to be able to pick it up, swing it around.”
With a few tweaks and some extra pieces, Taylor strengthened his 3-foot, 6-inch saber with some modifications to the hilt that make it a formidable piece ready for a dramatic flourish or some light combat with Darth Maul.
Next week he’ll debut his creation at the Emerald City Comicon, March 2-5, near his Seattle-area home, when he joins other local LEGO hobbyists from SeaLUG (Seattle LEGO Users Group) to showcase their recent builds.
First, he sat down with StarWars.com to discuss the challenges of bringing the darksaber to life, brick by brick.
The 21-year-old creative builder has well over a decade of LEGO building under his belt, after a childhood spent sifting through plastic bricks to build one-of-a-kind spaceships with his twin brother, Brandon, and piecing together play sets that tied in with the prequel trilogy. “LEGO helped to fuel my Star Wars fandom,” he says.
When he turned 18, Taylor started rethinking how the popular children’s toy could be used for more polished model making. First he tackled a redesign of one of those Star Wars-inspired spaceships he’d designed in his youth.
He quickly branched out into larger-scale projects, using the LEGO Digital Designer software program to virtually flesh out his ideas in a digital diagram. He and his brother crafted life-size LEGO replicas, like Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer, to showcase at LEGO conventions.
“One of my goals as a LEGO builder is to build something from every one of my favorite movies,” Taylor says. “I have something from Marvel. I have to do a Star Wars thing.”
Picking a project proved to be as difficult as completing one. He tried to build a LEGO lightsaber, but it didn’t quite have the right look. Part of the problem was that Taylor was looking to make something unique. “But Star Wars is so universally big, everything else has been done. Even really minor things like the First Order AT-AT. It’s not as fun to build something that’s been done really well. My skills are good, but how do I top that?”
At least one other fan crafted a DIY LEGO Darksaber based on the design in The Clone Wars, as it was wielded by Mandalorian warrior Pre Vizsla, Taylor found in his research.
But when the ancient weapon resurfaced on Star Wars Rebels last year in “Voices and Visions,” with a sleek redesign to fit the animation style, like Tarre Vizsla before him, Taylor knew he had found his challenge. He had to build his own.
Waiting on a friend
Taylor eyeballed the measurements using Sabine’s hand for comparison to his own and ended up with a slightly oversized rendition. He tried to keep the most minute details, but ultimately left out some of the thinner white lines that were impossible to translate given LEGO’s constraints, and altered other fine details, like some gold on the hilt. “It still looks pretty close.,” he says. “The shape of the blade made it a little easier to translate into LEGO. My goal was to make it as detailed as possible,” using a mix of LEGO Technic pieces, for a strong core integrated like a skeleton, and traditional bricks.
But the software couldn’t predict how the 4-inch wide blade would behave in reality, contending with gravity. On his first attempt, it was much too heavy compared to the thin hilt. “Parts were separating and falling off. It wasn’t good.”
The saber lilted in its shaft, and although it didn’t completely fall apart, one of the pieces snapped in half. “They’re incredibly durable, so if you get to the point where things are breaking...it’s a little too brittle,” he says.
Turning to glue to fortify his design felt wrong. “It’s kind of cheating as far as LEGO building goes,” Taylor says. “Some people do it, but LEGO is meant to be reusable. It’s more impressive that you can build something that’s really strong without having glued it together.”
So he went back to his computer, tweaking the design of the hilt to encompass a slightly wider section of the blade itself for added stability. His first design may have been good enough to sit on a stand as a showpiece, but Taylor wanted something that could be played with and swung around.
All told, Taylor spent about $100 for the 1,000-brick sword. Within days of posting images of the Darksaber to his Flikr account, it generated some excitement from sites like Comicbook.com and CBR.com.
And if you see him at Emerald City Comicon, he might even let you try to unify the Mandalorians by wielding the blade yourself. “It’s probably strong enough that I can pass it around without worrying,” Taylor says.
Taylor says his brother’s Thor hammer is strong enough to be handled, so they often let other fans take a swing. Adults still tend to treat the piece like a fragile artifact, handling it with care, he says.
But hand it to a child? They’re likely to take off shouting “I’m Thor!” Taylor says.
He expects a similar reaction from young Rebels fans who yearn to be as cool as Sabine.
And he hopes there will be more Star Wars fans afoot than at a dedicated LEGO gathering. “A lot of the reaction has been, ‘Oh, cool sword! What’s that from?’ And then I have to explain the show,” he says. “At Comicon, people will know what it is.”
The Most Impressive Fans Q&A
Who is your favorite Star Wars character?
Darth Revan, from the Knights of the Old Republic video game.
Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?
The Empire Strikes Back is my all-time favorite.
What’s your first Star Wars memory?
I don’t really remember my very first Star Wars memory, but I remember seeing the end of The Empire Strikes Back when I was younger, and really wanting to have a robotic hand.
Do you have a favorite scene?
The Vader scene near the end of Rogue One. I was on the edge of my seat!
If you had to choose: join the rebels, or live the Imperial life?
I’ve got to side with the rebels, even though the Empire gets to have cool things like Death Stars and AT-ATs.
Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBaver.