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In Star Wars Episode VI, why doesn't Luke's lightsaber cut through the guardrail when he's fighting Darth Vader?

Invincible guard rail?

But here, shortly thereafter, when Luke cuts off Vader's hand, the rail gets cut:

cut rail

(Around 1hr 53m)

Does the Jedi convey some intent when striking with a lightsaber such that it only cuts through certain things at will?

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2  
Great question. I always wondered that but never bothered to ask. +1 –  bitmask Feb 24 at 16:00
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If the rail is cut it would make it harder to fall over it? tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RailingKill –  SammyB Feb 24 at 16:05

4 Answers 4

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Because Luke is going in for a strike strong enough to cut off Vader's hand

Luke about to cut off Vader's hand

OK, so I've gone back to this scene a couple times. Things to note:

  1. Previous to this part, Vader destroys a bit of a catwalk Luke has jumped on. Considering this is Vader we are talking about, it is probably safe to assume he is using the power of the Force to give the strike the extra damage needed to bring down the catwalk.
  2. The rail is not hit once, but actually three times. Luke is advancing, Vader is stepping back and Luke's swings are aggressive. It doesn't seem like Luke is intentionally pulling any punches or that the lightsaber strikes are "glancing". They hit the rail, sparks fly, Luke keeps swinging. This shows the railing is sturdy stuff.
  3. For his last strike though, you can see Luke is really giving it his all. His arms are all the way back and his eyes are focused ... on Vader's hand. Vader's right hand.

It is difficult to tell how much Luke knows about Vader's armor, but is is probably good to note here that the hand itself is nearly indestructible:

The Glove of Darth Vader was a Mandalorian Crushgaunt fitted around one of Lord Skere Kaan's indestructible Sith amulets. The gauntlet was worn by Lord Vader upon his right hand. Although both gloves for Darth Vader's armor contained micronized Mandalorian armor as a means to deflect direct hits from blaster bolts (a feature made redundant due to his Force abilities)

At the very least, Luke probably assumes that cutting off his dad's hand is not going to be as easy as making a one armed Ponda Baba - so he is really going for the kill on this strike, hence giving it the extra inertia/intent to cut through both Vader's armor and rail itself.

As for the question as to why the saber doesn't slice through the rail easily - there are various metals in the Star Wars universe (Mandalarion Iron is a good example) which are resistant. While that might seem convenient ... if any room on the Death Star had some saber-proofing, it was probably this one.

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Total side comment - if you look closely, I'm pretty certain the railing is actually already cut in preparation for this shot. –  joshbirk Feb 24 at 19:19

Luke had become a much more proficient lightsaber combatant by that point, and was laser-focused on his enemy. He likely didn't cleave clear through the railing (which he easily could have) because he was already reversing the momentum to bring his lightsaber back into line for another attack or to defend.

Even in a rage, a decent swordsman will keep enough wits with him to have his weapon between himself and his enemy, not far outside and cutting through something pointless.

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This was closer to my own thinking, but I couldn't explain the incredible sparks caused by a relatively gentle blow to the rail. –  Matt Feb 24 at 19:27

I always felt that it was the power behind the strike. If you look at the top photo, Vader is drawing back to strike, so Luke will have to pull his attack to defend so there wouldn't be enough power to cut the railing.

Not a great answer though, sorry. :)

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Lightsabres typically cut through metal like a hot knive through butter. Doesn't matter how hard you hit it. –  bitmask Feb 24 at 17:20
    
Not necessarily true. Think of the scene in the beginning of Phantom Menace when Qui Gon and Obi Wan had to cut their way out of the conference room. It took a lot of force and work for them to cut through the doors. –  eidylon Mar 6 at 4:18
  1. It's a movie. It isn't going to be perfect and consistent.
  2. It was filmed at a time when the Expanded Universe had not established what exactly a lightsaber is and what its boundaries/abilities were.

In short, you're trying to justify something using SW universe info that didn't exist until after the film in question was produced.

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3  
You can't tell that to a bunch of Star Wars geeks! –  Matt Feb 25 at 0:10
    
Maybe no books were around that expanded on the capabilities of a lightsaber, but we'd already seen more than enough examples of their use to know that they should cut through a thin metal railing very easily. –  Jules Feb 25 at 4:12
    
Especially not true in this case; during filming the production crew spent quite some time discussing what a lightsaber would and would not cut through. There were errors, but the railings were likely a deliberate choice. –  Tynam Feb 25 at 18:40
    
@Matt What, being Star Wars geeks makes them blind to the fact that it's a MOVIE, and that it doesn't need to be consistent (especially in its physics, like what's up with explosions sounding in a vacuum, or what's the nifty little geek workaround to this)? –  Weltschmerz Feb 25 at 20:27
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I'm not sure why by Episode VI we don't have an understanding of what a lightsaber is supposed to be able to do ... it's a reasonable question based on earlier depictions of the weapon in IV and V. –  joshbirk Feb 26 at 5:34

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