Disney Buys Lucasfilm Ltd.

If you are a fan of this blog, you might have already heard the news from places like this.  If not, you should be aware that Disney bought Lucasfilm Ltd, giving them control of the Star Wars franchise.  I thought this might just be rights to the movies, current and future, with Lucas retaining ownership of merchandise and his support companies like ILM and Skywalker Sound, but according to this press release from Disney, they are getting everything.  Lucas will be retained as a creative consultant with his second in command elevated to president of Lucasfilm and reporting to Disney upper management.

People are wondering what the motivations are.  To me, it is simple.  Lucas was offered a lot of money (~$4 billion of which ~$2 billion will be cash) and it relieved him of the headaches of his franchises.  He basically has been able to do no right since Empire in the eyes of the world and now he is completely free of that burden.  He got to do what he wanted and now it is someone else’s problem.  This is obvious to me because he didn’t just sell SW.  He sold Lucasfilm outright.  This includes Indiana Jones which, the article I linked to above points out, Disney doesn’t care about at all.  Besides the nice simplicity, why give it all away unless you don’t want the responsibility anymore?

None of this is completely surprising news but it is interesting to think about what might happen now.  The future of SW could go two ways in my book:

Option #1
Disney says, “There is so much backstory and, whew, are we lucky to have people whose job it is to keep all this stuff straight.  People who are experts in the minutia of the products, the universe, and all things Star Wars.  We’ll do new stories in this existing universe.  Maybe occasionally we’ll have to tweak the movie cannon and almost certainly there will be movement in the expanded universe, but the core stuff will remain the same and mostly we will just have glancing references in our new stuff.  We have a huge interesting universe that still inspires people to this day.  Let’s go see other parts of it and meet new characters!”

How cool would it be to have a TV miniseries show us what it is like to be selected as a padawan and then take us through to Jedi knighthood?  What about live-action movies based on the Republic Commando novels?  Maybe we focus on the empire vs. rebel struggle from the perspective of a group of pro-empire people and why they think the empire is so great and how it will improve humanity.

Option #2
Disney says, “What a nightmare of backstory!  There is so much infrastructure just to keep track of it all – entire departments, wikis, forums, etc.  Not all of the fans mutinied when they streamlined and altered some key elements in the Star Trek reboot.  It made a lot of money and received favorable reviews.  Let’s wipe the slate clean and try that here.  Now we can get rid of Luke’s incestuous thoughts and anything else we deem problematic.”

While I’m all in favor of a nice cohesive story, major changes to the SW universe will really screw it up.  While you can get away with this in Star Trek, I don’t think it will work well in SW.  Trek is a very character driven show, but in SW the setting is probably its strongest attribute.  As an example, the Han didn’t shoot first change really bothered me but it didn’t fundamentally alter things the way midi-chlorians did.  Disney option #2 has the opportunity to change things much more drastically than how the Force works and that is probably a very bad thing.

My hope is that they leave the existing SW stories alone and that they also realize they have two avenues to approach new SW stories.  The kid-oriented cartoons can be simple straightforward stories of heroism and pure evil.  The movies and live-action TV shows can appeal to teens and adults.  New characters can be more ambiguous.  Storylines can be more complex.  They can run the gamut of Smallville-esque young hero soap operas to Avengers-style popcorn chompers all the way to Saving Private Ryan-ish war movies.  The SW universe is huge and stories can be tailored to all age groups and tastes without being paradoxical or wiping the slate clean first.  If SW is big enough for custom cookie cutters, then it is big enough for multiple sagas.

Also, don’t let that announcement of a new SW movie in 2015 slip by.  Just when it seems things are at an end, there is another.

Cookie Quest Part II

A long time ago in a post this far away, I discussed the joy of finding and using Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters.  I also reviewed three sugar cookie recipes.  Well, you wrote to me letting me know that there were better recipe options available.  I think you can see where we are headed – another cookie test and me feeling a little guilty about eating dozens of cookies.

Once again the cutters performed flawlessly.  They are not up for debate so let’s move on to the dough.

Up first, we have an emailed recipe.  Once you have started studying these things, you see that most sugar cookie recipes are nearly identical.  This one is radically different in that it uses sour cream and nutmeg.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup soft butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg; set aside

2.  In a large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter, sugar, and egg until light and fluffy

3.  At low speed beat in sour cream and vanilla until smooth

4.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well combined

5.  Form dough into balls and wrap in waxed paper or foil.  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

6.  On a lightly floured surface roll out dough about 1/4″ inch thick and cut into shapes.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

Next up is an oldie that was stuffed in our recipe drawer.  Why didn’t I look here before?  It too was unusual in that it used vegetable oil.  That doesn’t sound appetizing, but the total fat count for this one is roughly double the other recipes.  Maybe that will save the flavor.

Very Best Sugar Cookies

1 cup vegetable oil
2 sticks butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 beaten eggs
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, cream together oil, butter and both sugars.

Mix in vanilla and eggs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda.

Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture blending well.

Divide dough into two balls.

Flatten dough balls into ½” thickness, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

On floured surface roll dough to ¼” thickness (dough may need to warm for 5 minutes first).

Cut dough into shapes, place on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Once I’d made a ½ recipe of each of these and the official Williams-Sonoma recipe, I tried each of the doughs.  Of course all of the usual warnings apply about eating raw eggs.  I cannot suggest that you try that step at home.  The W-S dough was tough but tasty.  The old-fashioned dough was extremely smooth because of the sour creme and quite tasty but the nutmeg made them seem like something other than sugar cookies.  It reminded me of the America’s Test Kitchen recipe from our first go at this – a very tasty dough that really wasn’t a sugar cookie flavor.  The very best dough was extremely light, greasy and delicious.

Forming and baking the cookies revealed variations too.  W-S performed flawlessly again.  It was the easiest to work with and maintained crisp shapes when cooked.  The old-fashioned was a little more sticky and puffed up into more of a biscuit than the W-S but details were still easily readable.  Very best was a challenge.  Clearly this recipe is designed for round cookies only.  The dough was extremely sticky and lightweight which allowed it to tear if a liberal amount of flour and a spatula wasn’t used.  Cooked cookies turned into puffy blobs.  Not good.

Boba = Williams-Sonoma Recipe. Vader = Old-Fashioned Recipe.

Stormtroopers = Very Best Recipe.

Finally, it was on to taste.  Our panel of three judges was in agreement.  W-S came to the plate with a dense and sweet cookie.  It had a very good standard sugar cookie flavor.  Old-fashioned had the best texture of any straddling the line between standard cookie and thin biscuit.  Strangely the nutmeg flavor was gone and, with a lower sugar content, these were the blandest of the bunch.  Finally, very best was still slightly greasy (like a chocolate chip cookie) but had the best flavor.  Sweet and delicious.  Even better than our taste-winner from round one.

As stated in the other article, there must be a balance between shape-holding ability and taste.  Unlike other cookies, no one makes sugar cookies for the taste alone.  They make them to cut into interesting shapes.  So based on this, here is my officially-endorsed ranked list:

1  Williams-Sonoma Sugar Cookies – included with SW cutters
2  Very Best Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty
3  America’s Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty but not a sugar cookie flavor
4  Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – best texture but bland
5  Best Rolled Sugar Cookies – almost no flavor

I also tried the frosting recipe included with the cutters.  It is just a standard royal icing that obscures all of the details below it.  It would probably be much easier and better to use some sort of pour on glaze that was thin enough to let the details show through.

W-S Frosting Recipe Obscures All Details

A Review of The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J. W. Rinzler

I recently finished the second book in new The Making of series.  If you read my review of The Making of Star Wars, then you have most of my opinions of this book.  It has many pictures you almost certainly haven’t seen elsewhere (which doesn’t seem possible), it has the feel of a Lucasfilm employee scrapbook and it details the process of making the movie – not the art or the special effects but the actual day to day issues.  If you have any interest in how big budget movies are made or just want to know everything about the best of the SW movies, you should read this book.  It is big and expensive, so you might consider checking it out from your local library to test drive it first.

Surprisingly, there were two moments in the book where I truly laughed out loud and I must share them with you.

The first involves one of the first wireless microphone recordings on a movie set in history.  Irvin Kershner (the director) is mic’ed up for a day and the transcription gives us insight into the day-to-day grueling shoot of this movie.  As with any creative endeavor that has to make money, situations are constantly changing and there is pressure to get things done.

Let me set the scene, the actors are trying to work out the carbon freezing of Han.  Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams and Irvin Kershner are having communication problems.  Kershner has told Williams that the scene will be recorded in two shots (meaning he will stop his dialog and freeze midway through the scene).  He also tells some of the actors that they will run through the entire scene.  The hilarity builds as this contradiction plays out take after take.  Here is the meltdown at the end.

Kershner: Right. [to the assembled crew] Okay, here we go. Alright, this is a rehearsal. We do everything, minus the steam. Alright-action! [Steam is released.] Minus the steam! No steam, no CO2 [Scene proceeds briefly.] Cut, cut, please cut!

Tomblin: Hold it. It doesn’t seem to be working properly.

Kershner: Not again. [Tomblin directs the crew to their places.]

Tomblin: Alright, ready, here we go! Action! [Scene is played out as Tomblin directs the troopers and little people.]

Kershner: Cut’ Okay. Kel, how did it work?

Kelvin Pike: Pretty good.

Kershner: Yeah, it looked alright for me. [to Williams] As Boba Fett walks away, he starts the dialogue.

Williams: Do you want me to continue with the dialogue?

Kershner: Yes, I want to do the dialogue.

Williams: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Kershner: We’re going to do the dialogue, yeah. I thought you understood. Williams: I thought you wanted to wait until the cut.

Kershner: No, no, no. I want to do the dialogue right there. Yes, Harrison, he misunderstood that. [whispers to Williams] Okay, we do the dialogue in a long shot and then we’ll overlap it.

Williams: You didn’t tell me.

Kershner: Okay, I’m a fool. [laughs; he then turns to Tomblin] Okay, now, precisely when Vader is about here, that claw should be coming up. (“My feeling is that when you’re shooting, the first thing you do is put up the camera on a wide shot and get the entire scene,” says Lucas. “You block it and shoot it in one big, wide master. You can do it very quickly-and what it does is, it makes the DF light the entire set and the cast go through the entire scene, so everybody knows what’s going on. What Kersh would do is he would shoot a piece of someone coming in and sitting down or he would shoot the fight and then have him go out the door. Those are two different masters, so the cast and crew sometimes wouldn’t see the whole thing played through in one piece-so they often never understood how it all went together.”)

Ford: Are we continuing?

Kershner: Which?

Williams: Dialogue. That’s what I asked you.

Kershner: We’re doing the dialogue, yes, you’re doing the dialogue.

Ford: [irritated tone] We never got past, “What’s going on, pal?” Do you want to go past that, or not?

Kershner: No.

Ford: Okay.

Williams: So one last time, we’re not going to go into …

Kershner: Yeah, you’re going to do your dialogue. Then . Williams: He’s going to ask me …

Kershner: Yeah, “What are we doing here?”

Ford: That’s what I just asked you, Kershner. I say to him, “What’s going on, pal?” We’ve never gone any further in rehearsal than that.

Kershner: I thought you did it. It looked like you did it.

Ford: Billy didn’t know, Billy never answered.

Kershner: Oh, okay, yeah, we do that.

Williams: Oh, we do that, okay.

Tomblin: Do you want to break for lunch?

Kershner: No, I want to do the shot now. I want to just do it because it’s a long shot. It’s only for an overlap, you see what I mean?

Ford: [sounding stressed] Nobody noticed anything. This is the third time I’ve come up to Billy and said the line and Billy hasn’t turned around and said a word to me. Now, that’s because Billy didn’t know that we’re supposed to do the dialogue.

Kershner: Okay, I’ll tell you what, while you’re standing here, let’s see how you do the dialogue.

Ford: Can we have somebody stand in for Carrie?

Kershner: Yeah, absolutely. [to a crew member] Where’s Carrie?

Crew member: On the stair.

Kershner: Carrie! Could you stand here please? [The actors go over their lines.]

Ford: Are we going to have to raise our volume here to be heard above the steam?

Kershner: You’re talking just to yourselves. This is a little scene between just the four of you.

Tomblin: Everyone in position.

Diamond: This is the easy bit, Kershner [laughs].

Kershner: No, this isn’t; this is the hard one. I need to know just where to cut in. Whew! It’s a monster.

The second is a sound bite from one of the ILM guys commenting on the original Wampa costume made by the English crew.

“There was a lot of stuff goin’ on,” says Ralston. “We were shooting inserts and weird stuff would happen. We saw the rough cut of the Abominable Snowman scene-and whatever they built in England was so crappy and so bad looking that Jon, Phil, Dennis, and me, we were like, ‘I don’t want this in the movie I’m working on.’ Now we’re getting really arrogant, because we know everything. [laughs] What they had looked like a big owl, kind of nice and cuddly, but not scary-and we weren’t about to let something that dumb get into the film. So Phil built a miniature head and we just went into a vacant lot and shot up at a cloudy sky. Luckily, George used it.”

Overall this book is great and I highly recommend it.  It’s even better than The Making of Star Wars.  If you own a suit of plate mail you should probably wear your breastplate while reading.  In hardcover, this book is heavy and will put a dent in your chest in short order.

Williams-Sonoma Star Wars Cookie Cutters

A few weekends ago I picked up these cool Star Wars cookie cutters since my brother’s kids are getting into Star Wars now.  I thought with the holidays coming up, we could have some fun making and decorating some SW cooks.  I want to do my part as a good uncle and, besides, they need to know about the Dark Side before the cool kids at school start telling them that everyone shoots lightning from their fingertips.

Even the box is Nice

This past weekend I had a test run to see how well they’d work and what recipe would be best.  I always remember sugar cookies as basically being little rice cakes with icing.  There had to be a decent recipe out there.  I opted to try three different recipes and mix any left over dough for a semi-fourth.  Since there are four cookie cutters, this worked out perfectly.  One shape per type of dough.

I first checked out my favorite recipe testing ground – America’s Test Kitchen.  It yielded this recipe.  Like me, they agreed that sugar cookies really are not very good most of the time.  Their recipe really jumpstarts the flavor by browning the butter (giving it a butterscotch flavor), using brown sugar, and a ton of vanilla.  It turns out they are right.  Melanie and I agreed that this was easily the tastiest cookie.  The problem is that they cheated to do it.  Everyone knows that sugar cookies are only made to cut into special shapes (and usually frost).  These cookies only work if made into a standard cookie disk.  What’s the point?  If you wanted regular-shaped cookies, you would have made chocolate chip.  As you can see below, “Blobba” Fett lost his shape almost completely.  No good.

Apparently There will be Disintegrations After All

Next up I searched online and came up with this recipe.  It was the highest rated by the most people.  It must be good right?  Wrong.  These were the worst cooks of the group. Almost zero flavor.

It turns out the best recipe was the one that came in the box with the cutters.  Two points for Williams-Sonoma.  The cooks were relatively sweet (even if it was not a complex flavor), they kept their shape great and the dough was pretty easy to work with.

Don't be a Vader Hater. He Tasted Good and Kept his Shape.

The mixed batch was not good.  The different doughs cooked at different rates so we got marbled cooks that were soft and bland and tooth-shattering and semi-burnt all in one mouthful.  I chose to eat the roughly dozen of these to spare anyone else from the dental distress.

My name is Yoda. I'm a souja. I'll mold you and fold you. I thought I tode you.

The cutters themselves performed flawlessly.  They cut the dough easily and imparted distinct and detailed accents to each cookie.  They cleaned up relatively easily.  I recommend pushing the plunger all the way down and scrubbing the edges of the face with one of those dish toothbrush thingies to prevent dough from hardening up there.

Freshly Pressed Yoda Cook

So there you have it.  Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters and the included sugar cookie recipe is the way to go.  Let me know if you try them out.  Let me know if you make sugar cookies in any other cool shapes (Yes, I will delete R+ rated responses).

Badguyschtom Toopahs without Shootguns

Aren't You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?

Some of my relations are discovering the joy of the original Star Wars trilogy and, naturally, they wanted to be Star Wars for Halloween.  May I present to you two of the toughest Badguyschtom Toopahs without Shootguns that you are ever likely to meet.

Should you be trying to whip together you own Stormtrooper costume right before All Saints’ Day Eve, here are a few links that might help with quick n’ cheap construction.

Milk Jug Trooper Helmet

Foamcore Trooper Body Armor

Great 501st Reference Pictures (and movie-accurate construction info elsewhere on the site)

TotW: My Saber

I know what you’re thinking – another post about lightsabers?  Well, this will be the last one, for a while at least.  Consider it a bookend to this post.

 

My Saber. Design and Image Copyright Jason Patz. All Rights Reserved.

 

In this week’s TotW you get to see what my lightsaber looks like.  I can’t remember exactly when I built it but it was around the same time as the trainer saber.  Just as before, I thought through exactly what features I’d want and where I’d want them placed.  After all, a lightsaber is a personal thing – not in the sense that it is secret but that it is intended for one person’s use.

 

My Saber. Design and Image by Jason Patz. All Rights Reserved.

 

I won’t go through all the details as they have been explained in the other saber posts.  I will mention that this one does have a functional button that turns the custom blue-green LED on.  It is powered by a super-compact battery pack out of some random broken electronics that is stored in the base of the hilt.

 

Super-compact Battery Pack is Stored in Hilt Base

 

Unlike the trainer saber, I never finished this one completely.  You’ll notice a hole around the power button and a blank bump in the left side of the hilt.  The power button hole was to have a custom black rubber piece to seal it and then be covered by another piece of chromed tube.  This would have sealed up the hole nicely, given the saber a waterproof look and added a cool black line in some type of pattern around the power button.  I was thinking of something like the pin striping on a custom painted hot rod or motorcycle – something with a dynamic shape.  The bump was to have a pop-up twist knob for blade length adjustment drilled into it.  My thinking was that adjusting the length of the blade easily based on the fighting environment would be a handy feature.  How cool would it be to have a claymore-length lightsaber to berserker with in a big open field?

The same limitations from the trainer saber popped up here.  I didn’t have access to a lot of tools so I had to use a lot of existing parts.  I managed to get the overall shape almost exactly like I wanted it, but not with the level of detail.  If I had been able to use a metal lathe to make these parts I could have increased the thickness of the parts allowing for a more exaggerated profile that would have been much more interesting.  For example, the emitter shroud is the same diameter plumbing tube as the body of the hilt.  I think it would look much nicer if the emitter could be a larger diameter.

I’ve been sketching saber designs on and off for years and, besides Obi-Wan’s Ep. IV saber, this is my favorite one.  I’m happy with the way it turned out.  Maybe one day I’ll remake it when better resources are available to me.

Quick Reviews of Two Books: 61 Hours by Lee Child and The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler

61 Hours by Lee Child is the 14th book in the Jack Reacher series (recommended in my recommended books section in the right sidebar).  Just like all of the others in the series this one makes a great companion as an audio book while traveling.  The action is almost non-stop, the characters are easily identifiable and the plot has some nice twists and turns.  Melanie and I both agree that this is our favorite one in the series or favorite one in a long time.  It isn’t preachy or overly focused on a love interest, but you do figure out the ending before it arrives.  A recommended fun read.

The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler is not exactly what you’d expect.  I decided to burn through this book because of my recent lightsaber purchases and because a fellow SW aficionado said it had stuff in it that he didn’t already know.  I thought that this subject had been bled dry a couple of decades ago.

The title implies yet another book focusing on design and special effects tricks when it actually tells the tale of how the movie came to be.  It deals with the persons and personalities that made it all happen.  You learn about the contractual details between Fox and Lucas, the working conditions, etc.  There are lots of pictures that I hadn’t seen before that focus on the people.  It is a little like looking at a scrapbook from an ILM or Lucasfilm employee.  Perhaps the most interesting things are the quotes from the various people taken from interviews immediately before and after the movie’s release.

It is an expensive book and a must have for any SW completest.  For the rest of us, I recommend checking it out from the local library.

Alert! First No-Prize Awarded!!

An exciting thing happened this morning!  We had our first contest winner!!  Known only to JP.C readers as “John,” this sharp-eyed individual correctly identified the CAD drawing of the lighsaber hilt mentioned in this article-lette!!!  Master Mundi would surely be proud!!!!  Bask in the accolades and back slaps you so richly deserve “John” and know that sometimes no-prize is the best prize of all!!!!!  NOTE:  It is a-ok for “John” to print, laminate and cut-out one copy of the no-prize to wear proudly as a medallion or use as a desk-cessory!!!!!!  DOUBLE NOTE:  Please seek an adult’s help whenever you plan to use scissors!!!!!!!

Now don’t be big babies and sore losers.  Jump into the comments section and congratulate “John.”

Review: Hasbro Force FX Lightsabers with Removable Blades

If you don’t like to read and came here for a review, here is my two word opinion of Hasbro’s Force FX Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsabers:  Buy themUpdate: Since it is a FAQ of article skimmers, I think the removable blades are worth it.  Choose them over the fix blades.

I am not an impulse purchaser and I get a knot in my stomach anytime I’m going to spend any amount money on something fun.  My most recent purchase made me downright queezy but I love it.

Since Star Wars premiered, I’ve had a fascination with lightsabers.  Heck, I’ve been discussing them in various posts for a couple of weeks now.  Growing up, good replicas were either non-existent, too expensive or non-functional.  Very recently this has changed.

For a while a company called Masters Replicas made very high quality, highly accurate copies of the hero movie props.  They were very expensive, very heavy and didn’t really do anything.  They also offered functional versions of these props which were slightly less accurate (to accommodate 20th century sound and light technology) still very heavy and still very expensive.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, the license to make these props was shifted from MR to Hasbro.  Yes, the same company that sells Sorry! and Twister.  I happened upon this information while doing research for my own articles.  As I looked around online, the reviews were positive and really intrigued me.  Would I actually be able to get something that had been on my wish list for years?

The price was painful but doable.  The reviews were positive.  They had just been redesigned to be even more functional (now with a removable blade).  My two favorite styles were now available.  Amazon had reduced their prices to match the online toy stores.  I pulled the trigger.

Just a few days after clicking the purchase button, a giant box was found leaning against my front door.  Not nearly large enough to fill the smoking crater of my fun money account that had taken me two years to save, but still very exciting.  I was worried that with all of the extra space in the box that these things would look like they had been dragged around behind the truck.  Aside from one corner getting bashed a little, the boxes were fine and the contents were unharmed.

Even the Boxes are Nice – Notice Small Dent from Shipping

Star Wars FX Lightsaber with Removable Blade – Obi-Wan

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.  Not as clumsy or random as a blaster.  An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”

- Obi-Wan Kenobi

My very favorite lightsaber design of all time is the original Obi-Wan.  It is one of the hardest sabers to make functional because of its narrow silhouette.  There just isn’t room to stuff components in the top 1/3 of it.  I think this is part of the appeal.  Your mind perceives this detail and says “Too narrow to hold a stick.  It must really generate an energy blade.”  Sadly, this also means it requires the most modification to stuff electronics inside.  You can compare the image of the Hasbro hilt to the actual prop and quickly see that one is merely a suggestion of the other.  The great news is that this is my only beef with this prop.  There are so many ways in which it could be executed terribly and it just isn’t.  It even exceeded my expectations in thoughtful design more than once.  It is products like this that made me want to be an industrial designer in the first place.

Appearance:  Fairly accurate. Much more chunky than the original prop but still easily identifiable.  “Copper” and “brass” parts are painted and the hand grenade/cooling fins are injection modeled plastic as you would expect.  The body is metal.  The emitter and pommel are both made of machined aluminum billet.  A nice surprise.

Construction: Solid. The hilt has a nice weight to it without being overly heavy.  This balance helps it seem “real” and hang from a belt without pulling your pants down or bruising your leg when you walk.  Because the parts you screw on and off are machined aluminum, they should hold up better than plastic.  However, it would be easy to cross thread these parts since the metal is soft and the threads are not completely cleanly cut.  I solved this with a little lithium grease on the threads.  Smooth as silk now.

Blade:  A very accurate color match. Bright enough. Well, the color of all the sabers seems to shift a little from movie to movie and from scene to scene, but this blue is what you would expect.  It is made from very durable (basically shatterproof) polycarbonate.  The LED’s give a very nice step up and step down ignition and shut down sequence.  The glow is almost completely uniform.  There are certain angles where you can see slightly darker areas but you have to really examine the blade to see them at all.  Because it is removable, it is also potentially replaceable if something goes wrong.  On new batteries it is as bright as you would expect.  A very reasonable approximation of how bright they look in the movies.  You can see the color in daylight and it gives off a fair amount of light in the dark.  I do not know how it compares to other blade technology but I think someone would be hard pressed to be disappointed with this light output.

Obi Saber in Reflected Natural Light – Stronger Blue Color is Apparent in Person

Sound:  Very accurate, varied and loud. I was impressed with the fidelity of the sound from such a small speaker in the bottom of the hilt.  It sounds like a lightsaber not a toy.  It hums while at rest, has a variety hums when swung and a variety of crackles when it strikes an object.  The ignition and shutdown sounds are unique and accurate.  It is amazingly loud.  I would say on the verge of being too loud, believe it or not.  My only gripe here is that the motion sensor is not very good.  It only recognizes swings accurately about ½ the time.  Strikes are picked up pretty well if you make contact with something that stops the blade abruptly (your hand instead of a pillow).

Details: There are some really neat extras with this prop.  It comes with a display stand that houses the extra parts.  A positive-locking belt clip is provided (Works like a mobile phone clip).  The hilt and blade can be displayed assembled or separate.  Extra parts are included to complete the hilt when the blade is removed (no gaping blade hole).  The hilt makes locking noise when the blade is seated properly during assembly.  The hilt makes an electrical short noise (there are actually about three different sounds) when you try and turn it on if the blade is detached.

Obi Saber with Blanking Plate Installed

Recommended Changes: I would include a way to vertically wall mount the saber.  It takes up a lot of space sitting horizontal on a shelf and, no doubt, the blade will sag over time in this position.  The on/off switch could have a better feel with more of a positive lock in the on and off positions.  Adjust the supports on the base so that the saber sits perfectly horizontal.  Remove the silly stickers.  The cautionary sticker almost certainly must be in place and affixed with difficult-to-remove adhesive but the on/off and battery stickers don’t need to be on there at all.  It isn’t a big deal to peel them off and wipe the area clean with a little WD-40, but it is unfortunate that you have to do this at all.

Star Wars FX Lightsaber with Removable Blade – Darth Vader

“Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!”

- Emperor Palpatine

This is the perfect compliment to the Obi saber.  Instead of being a stacked parts design, it is a flash attachment with stuff stuck on the outside.  This way I have one of each of the basic styles of the early saber designs.  They have very different silhouettes which is nice.  Of course the blade is red which makes them distinctly different and I have one good guy and one bad guy saber to fight with now.

Appearance:  Very good. Because of it more basic and bulky shape it requires fewer mods to be functional.  I’ve never seen it side by side with an original prop but others have said it is a little larger in diameter.  It is still comfortable to hold and I think it would take very close scrutiny to tell it apart from the real thing.  The detailing is good enough that it really looks like a flash tube (fake electrical contacts are still exposed) with windshield wipers glued on to the bottom.  The emitter shroud is plastic but has a very nice textured finish that adds a lot of visual weight to it.  I imagine it is visually indistinguishable from the original.  The calculator lenses used on the side of the saber are faithfully replicated.  You would have to get within a foot or two of it to notice that two of the knobs are plastic.  Only the very pickiest collector would need something more accurate than this.

Construction:  Solid.  Apparently the original prop had problems with the windshield wipers peeling off during normal use.  The replica doesn’t have this issue as it appears that they are mechanically attached from the inside.  It is an almost all metal construction and should be very durable.  Like the Obi saber, it has a good weight – heavy enough to feel real without being unwieldy.  I greased the screw threads on this saber too and they work much better now.

Blade:  Very accurate color match.  Bright enough. If you have ever done any saber effects in Photoshop, you know that because red is at the dark end of the spectrum, it is really hard to get the color right and make it bright looking.  The tendency is for the blade to turn pink.  Sometimes with real-world props the red blades look orange.  My guess is that this is a way to compensate for the pink hue.  Fear not!  This blade is a beautiful red just as you remember it from the films and it is bright too.  I don’t have any other props to compare it to but, like the Obi, it is visible in daylight and lights up a dark room about as much as you would expect.  I don’t think most customers will be disappointed.  Ignition, shut down, construction, uniformity of light all match the Obi saber in quality.

Lit Blade Shows up in Reflected Natural Light – Saber is Darker Red in Person

Sound:  Accurate, varied and loud enough. The Obi saber is a newer design than the Vader.  It seems to me that the sound was one of the things improved.  Vader’s saber is quieter (not too quiet) and the quality of the sound doesn’t seem quite as good.  Soundboard?  Speaker quality?  I don’t know.  It has all of the same kinds of sounds with the same number of variations that the Obi saber has.  The individual sounds are different from Obi’s though.  The hums and swings are pitched lower.  I think the ignition and shut down sounds are a little nicer for Vader’s.  Overall, it sounds just a little more toy-like than the Obi saber, but I’m really splitting hairs here.  I think any fan will be very happy with the sound quality.

Details: These comments are basically the same as Obi’s.  The display stand is identical.  The biggest difference is that you get a Ep IV style belt hook and D-ring instead of Obi’s mobile phone attachment.

End of Vader Saber with Blanking Plate Inserted

Recommended Changes: Same as Obi’s.  Consider upgrading the sound to match Obi’s in quality and volume.

I do not know how long a set of batteries will last in these items, but I’m sure they are power hungry.  It will also depend on what you consider to be useful life.  Is it when the batteries go dead?  When the light output is 50% max?

If you have a Books-A-Million in your area, you can get the earlier version of them (non-removable blade) for about half price.  The BAM’s around here have very limited selections (mostly Dooku and Yoda).  In the end I felt it was worth the extra money to be able to use the bladeless sabers as a costume prop and replace the blade in the event of damage.