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Where do we first see/read about a lightsaber in the Star Wars universe (EU and Legends count)?

I mean this from an in-universe chronological perspective, not publication/release order.

It’s a simple question, but I've searched some existing question and answers on here and a few other sites online (yes, including wookieepedia...) but have not found anything useful yet.

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In the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG, there's some story surrounding the creation of the first lightsaber in the story line quests of the Jedi Consular class (and perhaps the Jedi Knight class as well, I'm not sure). If I could find a write-up of it (or remembered more of it), I'd make it an answer. Hopefully, someone can provide more details for a well-written answer. – Ellesedil Jan 14 at 19:51
    
@Ellesedil - That would be cool! Unfortunately I never got around to playing that one... – DangerZone Jan 14 at 19:52
up vote 16 down vote accepted

In the Legends continuity, we first see a "Forcesaber" in the Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi series, which takes place about 26,000 years before the Battle of Yavin.

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We see our first true lightsaber in Star Wars: The Old Republic, appropriately titled the "First Blade." However, it was much older than the Republic.

enter image description here

In regular canon, the first lightsaber we see is Qui-Gon Jin's (by a spit-second) in The Phantom Menace.

enter image description here

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and this is why it was a good move to get rid of Legends overall and consolidate everything under the Lucasfilm Story Group. – NKCampbell Jan 14 at 19:53
    
the cover image notwithstanding - are there actually lightsabers in this series? The publisher's summary says: "Here begins the tale of the dawn of the Jedi, the Star Wars of 25,000 years ago—before lightsabers,..etc". I think these are called "Forcesabers" - which may be different technically (I've not read this series is why I ask) – NKCampbell Jan 14 at 19:59
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@NKCampbell Updated. – Rogue Jedi Jan 14 at 20:59
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Weren't there some more crude lightsabers before that, where the powerpack was not small enough to be contained in the handle, and it was in a backpack, connected to the lightsaber by cables? I no longer remember where did i read about it... – vsz Jan 14 at 22:56
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Forcesabers are not lightsabers. The lightsaber was first invented by the Jedi, and is of the wired belt pouch version. It is the Sith who brought forth almost all of the remaining technological advancements towards the modern lightsaber, such as the wireless closed feedback loop. – thegreatjedi Jan 15 at 1:11

Legends

According to Wookieepedia - 15,500 BBY if considering just the technical aspects if not total practicality

By the time of the Duinuogwuin Contention around 15,500 BBY, Jedi studies and researches with "frozen blaster" technology yielded success; they developed a method to generate a focused beam of energy that arced in a circumferential path back to its source, creating a controlled energy circuit and leading to the first portable high-energy blades. However, these preliminary lightsabers were highly unstable and inefficiently guzzled energy from a belt-mounted power supply; they could only be used for a brief duration before overheating. As a consequence of these flaws, the first lightsabers were little more than ceremonial objects, seldom worn, and much less utilized.

Source: The New Essential Chronology (2005)

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Hmm... I must've been on another page... Interesting excerpt. I feel like the movies would be much less interesting with these primitive weapons. – DangerZone Jan 14 at 19:49

As Legends canon is accepted, the date goes back a very, very long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away).

Protosabers, mentioned in Nathan's answer, were certainly an early (circa 15,500 BBY, as he stated) design of lightsaber -- but they were based on an even earlier design. Protosaber

The Rakata Empire created the Forcesabers, lightsabers essentially fueled by Dark Side Force energy. Their non-Rakata Force users ("Force Hounds") would construct their own Forcesabers and attune special focus gems to their own Force signatures, like the Jedi in later millenia. The Rakata themselves used forcesabers in a force pike configuration. However, the Forcesabers were created thousands of years before The Tho Yor Arrival (circa 36,453 BBY), which itself marked the beginning of the proliferation of Force usage.

Forcesaber

The Jed'aii descendents of those taught in the Tho Yor pyramid ships would attempt to use Forcesabers only at great risk -- the Dark Side influence of the sabers made them highly corruptive.

This, in turn, spurred the development of the aforementioned Protosabers which, being powered by a power pack rather than Dark Side Force energy, did not corrupt the user.

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Considering only EU novels and stories, if you look at the book timeline page, the first novel has no lightsabers, but the second one, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories, says on page 3 "The half smirk was a memento from a Jedi Lightsaber swipe years earlier...". so this book, which is just a collection of short stories, is the first chronological reference to lightsabers. The stories in this collection take place between 5000 BBY and 2975 BBY.

The next reference after these short stories is in the novel The Old Republic: Revan.

As for canon material, Phantom Menace is the first instance at the year of 32 BBY.

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See other responses for Legends canon. For Abrams's canon, this may be explained in the upcoming movies

since Luke was in search of the first Jedi Temple.

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Ah! Good point! I hadn't thought about that honestly... – DangerZone Jan 14 at 21:23
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This doesn't answer the question. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 14 at 23:42
    
Abram's canon doesn't have an answer to this yet... or for lots of other things, for that matter. – liljoshu Jan 15 at 1:00

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