The classic legend of Excalibur sheds light on the significance of the lightsaber and its wielders.
Studying Skywalkers is an exclusive column that investigates the characters, themes, and lessons of Star Wars from an educational, literary perspective. In part one of this installment, StarWars.com looks at the similarities between Excalibur and Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.
As Star Wars consumers, when we hear the word lightsaber, our senses are instantly enraptured by the poignant memories the famous weapon brings to the foreground of our minds and hearts. It is perhaps one of the most captivating things about the mythology of Star Wars, and for so many good reasons. The energy hum of the lightsaber, masterfully created by Ben Burtt (with a buzz from a picture tube in his television, among other things), the artistry of the Force wielders when using the weapon, and the beautiful colors of the “laser sword” all blend together to form this staple of the Star Wars franchise.
From a mythological perspective, however, the lightsaber is a cultural capstone that recalls another famous blade, Excalibur. King Arthur’s legendary sword was maybe the most famous blade in mythology before Obi-Wan Kenobi presented Luke’s father’s lightsaber to him in Star Wars: A New Hope. The two weapons have many similarities, and a further comparison of the two helps bring to light why the lightsaber has taken on a mythical quality that has entranced nearly four generations of moviegoers. They are as important to their respective stories as the wielders of the blades themselves.
The Sword in the Stone
Excalibur is typically attributed to be the sword of Arthurian legend that a young Arthur pulled from the stone. Sir Thomas Mallory wrote in Le Morte d’Arthur, “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of all England." In other words, because Arthur was the only person able to pull the Sword from the Stone, he is destined to be the king of England. Arthur is the only person worthy of the sword, and his possession of the blade means he is invaluable to the culture he inhabits.
Luke Skywalker’s blue lightsaber also has a fascinating history, which indicates the importance of the wielder, and well as the significance of the individual in possession of the weapon. Much like the Sword in the Stone, it also appears to symbolize worthiness. In the climactic battle in The Force Awakens, when Kylo Ren has just defeated Finn, and seeks to Force pull Luke’s lightsaber, it majestically hurtles past Kylo Ren, and into Rey’s hand. The symbolism here speaks volumes about good verses evil, as well as Rey’s quality of character.
This was explored in a previous Studying Skywalkers, too; while the lightsaber is not a sentient being, it does seem to indicate that Rey is worthy of the legacy of Luke’s lightsaber. Luke used the lightsaber to help defeat the Empire 30 years before The Force Awakens, and resisted the pull of the dark side. Rey does not give in to her anger, but seeks to fight for freedom, and to circumvent the evil of the First Order. It did not actually choose her per se, but it did call to her -- and she was able to call Luke’s lightsaber away from Kylo Ren, indicating her place in the galaxy as a worthy recipient of the legendary blade. Much like Arthur, who was able to pull the Sword from the Stone, Rey is someone special to her respective universe.
However, Mallory’s account of the Arthurian legend (and there are countless versions) clearly indicates that the Sword in the Stone is actually not the famed Excalibur. The sword generally known as Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake after he was king for some time and, as long as he had the scabbard Excalibur belonged to, he could not die. This gave Arthur an even greater mythical air, and was a symbol of his sovereignty, as well as a staple of his kingship and knighthood.
It could be argued that Obi-Wan Kenobi takes on a similar role for Luke in his hut on Tatooine. While the desert planet is the opposite of the watery residence of the Lady of the Lake, both characters have a mysterious background, and both present a sacred talisman to the next knight of the known world, whether it is England or the galaxy. When Arthur receives Excalibur, it loudly proclaims that he is to lead his people to peace and prosperity. Arthur is worth of the legacy, and is trusted by the Lady of the Lake, who is compassionate, prudent, and appropriately discerning of who should lead.
Obi-Wan is no stranger to making wise choices either. He famously fought side by side with Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker, in the Clone Wars, and retrieved Anakin’s lightsaber from the fiery landscape of Mustafar, only to transport it to another warm geographic location. The juxtaposition continues here, as the location of the sacred blade goes from a female’s residence in a watery locale to a male’s residence in a desert destination. In essence, while the environment and gender are the opposite, the implication is the same: the recipient of the sacred talisman will be the next great knight to lead a revolution of righteousness and prosperity for his or her people.
Excalibur and the Skywalker lightsaber are both the stuff of legend: elegant weapons from a more civilized age that designate the next recipient as worthy, full of integrity, and a powerful combatant who fights for the oppressed. Whether it be King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, or Rey, whosoever pulls the sacred weapon from the natural world is the next brave knight that will seek to eradicate evil, and wisely lead the populace into a better tomorrow. Both mythologies feature powerful symbolic moments that emphasize the importance of the owner of the blade, as well as what the specific character represents for the stories in which they are featured.
Source: Sir Thomas Malory, William Caxton "Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table". p. 28. J.B. Lippincott and Company, 1868
Dan Zehr is a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning, and runs Coffee With Kenobi (with co-host Cory Clubb), a Star Wars podcast that analyzes the saga through critical thinking, analysis, interviews, and discussion. He is also a member of the Rogues (as Blue Leader), a network of teachers that incorporate Star Wars in the Classroom.