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While reading the Tràkata article on Wookieepedia, it said that that method of combat involves switching a lightsaber on and off to surprise an opponent. Yet it seems it takes a few seconds for a lightsaber to fully retract and then return. Is it an instantaneous opening or what?

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    I'd say in the original Star Wars it took about one second. These "new" films do it a bit faster, IIRC. Due to the extensive CGI, they're using them all the time, so they probably needed them to work faster.
    – bitmask
    Mar 16, 2013 at 22:50
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    From what I have seen in the Starwars movies, the Jedi or Sith know just before danger approaches and are able to flip on their Jedi switch just in time so the actual particulars of the time don't matter as its pre-cog or like Spidy-sense that is the significant part if you will. I don't dare give this as an answer as I'll be downvoted to hell if I don't memorize Starwars Universe lore and name my dog Chewbacka. Oh wait, I did name my dog Chewbacka, just not the other part. Mar 17, 2013 at 0:10
  • @zipstory.com: Of course the actual activation/retraction time is driven by plot-o-magic sometimes, but there should be a canon answer.
    – bitmask
    Mar 17, 2013 at 15:40
  • I'm curious about what you read on Wookipedia, but I can't find it in that article. What method of combat are you talking about?
    – Matt
    Feb 7, 2014 at 16:20
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    It depends on how much the Jedi has had to drink, how long since he last used his lightsaber... Feb 7, 2014 at 20:53

3 Answers 3

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I did a quick frame-by-frame and in ANH, when Luke first gazes on his new lightsaber (Anakin Skywalker's old weapon) in Ben's hut, the lightsaber pops up instantaneously. In one frame it's off, in the next it's fully extended. See the screenshots:

Luke just before activating his lightsaber in Ben's hut

Luke just after activating his lightsabre in Ben's hut

If you look closely you will notice that the characters jump slightly, so either some frames have been dropped or two different takes were joined in post-production. Whatever the reason for this, the end result is that the blade pops up instantaneously the very first time we are shown how it looks like and how it extends. At the very least it is faster than 33 milliseconds (the video I took the shots off had 30 fps).

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    Great answer! <33 milliseconds
    – Donmax
    Mar 17, 2013 at 20:27
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    Excellent answer but lacking in depth. You need to analyse all 6 films and each sabre opening to confirm your hypothesis. Get to work...
    – Valorum
    Feb 5, 2014 at 22:06
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    @Richard: Sorry, as far as I'm concerned there are three Star Wars films. In ESB every single instance where Luke activates his blade the blade is off-screen, so there's that. Maybe I'll check out RotJ some time.
    – bitmask
    Feb 5, 2014 at 23:25
  • I've done the analysis in my answer. I'll leave rotj to you since yours is seeming to be the preferred answer.
    – Valorum
    Feb 6, 2014 at 8:40
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    IMO the jump in this scene is best explained by taking a moment to swap props for one with some kind of blade for the actors to work with. That being the case, I think other examples (CGI or Ben's fight with Vader where it started out end-on to the camera, allowing use of the wire-blade prop for the full scene) are a better guide to how things "really" work. Jun 14, 2016 at 22:34
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In the film "The Phantom Menace", lightsabers take two frames to open;

Qui-Gon lightsaber Duel

In "Attack of the Clones", some sabers take as many as three frames to open fully;

Attack of the Clones lightsaber Duel

In "Revenge of the Sith", the blades are back to fully opening in two frames.

Revenge of the Sith lightsaber Duel

Factoring in Bitmask's answer about ANH (and the relative frame-rate that the films were shot in), we can assume that lightsabers can take anywhere between .05 to 0.1 seconds to open fully.

It's worth noting that despite the fact that Luke's lightsaber appears instantly, when Obi Wan fights Darth, his saber takes considerably longer (almost a second) to unfold fully:

ANH Lightsaber

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    Excellent answer. But I don't see much contradiction between these 2 sets of data - it's similar order of magnitude and can probably be retconned as differences in individual device manufacturing. Feb 7, 2014 at 16:21
  • True, but Obi Wan's lightsaber in ANH takes over a second to unfold.
    – Valorum
    Feb 7, 2014 at 18:35
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    Here again, the obligatory note regarding Ben's Sword. (Sorry for the redundancy)
    – bitmask
    Feb 7, 2014 at 20:14
  • @bitmask - There's no "perspective" error in the first 6 frames.
    – Valorum
    Feb 7, 2014 at 22:01
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From what I know about how Lightsabers are made:

They are mechanical handles with a switch, inside there is a Power Crystal (Like a battery, it is what decides the colour)

So it would atleast take the time for a person to press the switch, then the speed would depend on how well it is made and how much 'power' is left in the power crystal. Imagine the Crystal to be like the lightbulb, and the handle to be the rest of a flashlight.

When it is a lightsaber Staff, it has two buttons, which need to be individually pressed to extend the light part, which would make it take longer to activate them both (Purely due to having to flick two switches). They still work of only one crystal.

This would indicate that crappy lightsabers are slower then good lightsabers. And as Jedi are meant to make their own lightsabers traditionally, it is an indication of their skill with precise crafting.

Of course in the movies it differs from each scene to match the best speed for dramatic effect.

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  • You're assuming that slower opening blades are "crappier". What are you basing that on? They might be stronger or hotter or the batteries might last longer, for example...
    – Valorum
    Feb 7, 2014 at 17:50

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