Why were the colours of lasers inverted in Star Wars? (Out-of-universe!)


In A New Hope (ANH) and The Empire Strikes Back (ESB)

We know why the colours of lightsabers were chosen as blue for the Jedi (Luke and Ben), aka "the good guys", and red for Darth Vader, aka the bad guy. In ANH and ESB these were chosen mainly for political reasons:

Out of universe, the Blue / Red distinction was made during post-production when the lightsaber blades were being rotoscoped, as the original blades were simply white. The color choice might have bean influenced by the political climax, the red color being traditionally associated with Soviets and blue with Americans, but also note than the colors reversed for blasters and spaceships.

Source: DavRob60's excellent answer to the above linked question. Emphasis added!

In Return of the Jedi (RotJ)

He goes on to explain the reason for Luke's green lightsaber in RotJ, which was made for technical, not political reasons:

Luke's green lightsaber was added late in post-production of the Return of the Jedi in order to better stand out against the blue sky of Tatooine in outdoor scenes. So all those signification / explanation are all retcon.

Same Source.

Laser Colour (In-universe!)

The second link in the first quote gives an in-universe answer as to why the colours of the lasers used by ship's and hand-carried lasers are reversed. I.e., imperial lasers are blue-ish/green-ish while rebel lasers are red:

If I recall, the color of a blaster bolt (character-scale or starship scale) is determined by the quality of the gas used in it - higher quality gives you green, lower quality gives you red. The Rebellion didn't have access to the highest quality gas, and had to make do with the lower quality ammunition.

Source: Jeff's answer to the previously lined question. Emphasis added!

Laser Colour (Behind the scenes reason)

Now, given that background information, there must be a good reason for the directors to have decided to reverse these colours and I cannot help but wonder what significance that has. The reason that is provided as an In-Universe explanation is very obviously a retcon for the choice that was made when post-producing ANH.
I'm asking for the original reason and the allegorical interpretation of the symbolism of these colours.

  • Could visibility relative to frequency of appearance be an out-of-universe factor? (Might blue/green beams be easier to handle with the special effects techniques of the time? If so, greater frequency of Imperial shots might justify color selection.) Just wildly speculating.
    – user11683
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 22:00
  • 2
    In WWII, specifically in the Africa Campaign, British troops would watch as the tank/AT Gun round flashed by, taking note of the color. If it the flame spark was red, it was British/ally and friendly fire. If the color was green, it was German.
    – user24817
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 16:23
  • 1
  • @amflare This is not a duplicate. Please carefully read both questions. They ask entirely different things, and the linked question's answers do NOT answer this question. This questions explicitly asks for the out-of-universe explanation (the meaning of the colours) while the linked questions asks for the in-universe retcon (quality of gas).
    – bitmask
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 22:26

2 Answers 2


US and NATO (1st world nations) tracer rounds are standardized as red in color, whereas the second world countries associated with the USSR used green (in particular, Communist China used green pretty exclusively according to the sources I've found). This means that Americans who fought in Vietnam or Korea would associate green rounds with the enemy and red rounds with friendlies. There are exceptions to this rule but it generally held. This is consistent with the blaster rounds in star wars.

Its worth noting that the German army used a number of different tracer round colors depending on the situation, so this is specifically related to the cold war and not to WW2 or before.

I have seen this explanation for the colors used in Star Wars in the past and did not come up with it independently, but I haven't been able to find the source.

Example of American red tracers: enter image description here
Source: environmentalgraffiti.com, The Deadly Beauty of the Tracer Bullet

Quote from American Marine diary about tracers during vietnam:

0200 hours - Heavier fire coming in. Never had seen green tracers used against us. In a way, kind of pretty to look at, red tracers going out and green coming in; deadly green.

Site selling green tracer rounds in soviet bloc sizes. produced in finland.

A history.se question so far has indicated that in general, this colors were the most common on each side.

  • 1
    This is really interesting and actually makes sense. However, it would be great if you could further substantiate your answer (maybe you can try again in finding the source) or add some references regarding tracer rounds. Personally, I'm not able to judge if these colours are that significant as I have no clue about weapons. At any rate, thanks for the answer.
    – bitmask
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 21:09
  • @bitmask I will continue working of finding sources. I especially want to find the previous places ive seen this as the explanation for the star wars blasters.
    – Lawton
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 21:19
  • history.stackexchange.com/questions/10166/… Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 10:58
  • @DVK thanks, although the forum thread and vendors are both things I was while researching it. Hopefully someone on history will be able to answer. I really wish we could just find someone who could answer firsthand.
    – Lawton
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 14:17

The actual answer is that they mirror the uniforms worn by the belligerents of the American War of Independence.

Red = British Empire

Blue = American Rebels

war of independence

  • 7
    Why would using the colors of tracers require more patriotism than using the colors of uniforms? Very confused.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 23:19
  • 4
    Two follow-up questions to your answer; Firstly, given the association of red=british-empire imply that the Galactic Empire (Star Wars) would use red lasers and the rebels blue? That's the whole point of the question? Second, I applaud your asking for sources in other answers. Can you provide any indication as to why your answer is correct? Any interview showing Lucas (or anybody else involved with ANH) showing a fascination for the American rebellion?
    – bitmask
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 23:21
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    Please be less belligerent in your posts. If there's an issue with another answer, point out the issues in a comment on that answer.
    – user1027
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 14:44
  • 2
    @BenVoigt British = Red with uniforms, American = Red with tracers. George Lucas is american
    – Starkers
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:15

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