Since my early childhood I've been wondering about the answer to one question about Star Wars:

Why, when fighting with lightsabers, do they use them to parry attacks rather than turning the lightsaber off momentarily?

It seems like they would be able to use this to unbalance their opponent (who is expecting to make contact) then re-activate their lightsaber when their opponent's head is above the handle.

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    One simple reason. In the movies they swing madly around you, so you don't have to actually parry and you can even turn the saber off. In reality, they would aim at you and switching off the saber would be a suicide. Also, if the fighter is any good, missing opponents weapon shouldn't unbalance him at all. They don't expect to hit the weapon, they expect to hit their opponent. – Sulthan Nov 22 '13 at 14:35
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    Well... consider the opposite then. Let's say you attack and your opponent throws his hand with the lightsaber forward hoping to block your attack. And rather then actually hitting his lightsaber you turn it off passing the block and turn it on again. There you have it - dead opponent. – jayarjo Nov 22 '13 at 15:12
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    It just occurred to me that a switched off lightsaber that you have moved past your opponent's defenses and then switch on to cut him is effectively... drumroll... wait for it... a blaster pistol! – Michael Borgwardt Nov 22 '13 at 15:45
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    It would make much more sense to turn your opponent's saber off. Or telekinetically pull down his pants and give his little kintamas a yank. But that would look too silly and who needs more silly when we have Jar-Jar Binks? – Kyle Jones Nov 23 '13 at 4:03
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    OK, you've turned your lightsaber off. What happens now is that your opponent strikes you since their weapon is now inside your block. – Greenstone Walker Nov 26 '13 at 0:24

Actually, in the extended universe this technique has seen some use, see Tràkata. Regarding the movies there is also some variation how long it takes for the lightsaber to fully ignite. Sometimes it took quite some time and one might imagine that this delay would be a serious drawback since it gives the opponent quite some time to react.

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    Another example in the extended universe is Vader Vs. Maul where Darth Vader impales himself (pressing his lightsaber to his chest and turning it on) to kill a clone of Darth Maul who got the upper hand on him. Vader's suit allows him to survive since he's not fully biological. It's not the same technique as the Jayarjo was asking about, but it's similar usage of the lightsaber. – Will F Nov 22 '13 at 14:33
  • That's the great answer actually. Maybe you should put some quotes in your response from that wiki article. – jayarjo Nov 22 '13 at 15:23
  • Per my answer here; scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/33081/… turning off your lightsaber for almost a second would just be insanely stupid... – Valorum Feb 24 '14 at 20:11

I am a medieval sword fighting instructor and have won a couple of tournaments so have a different insight than people who probably know the films better but in case you are interested:

Sword (or lightsaber) fights rarely feature aiming at your opponent's sword. If someone aims a shot at your sword you just attack with your sword, their sword flies harmlessly through the air where your sword was as your sword hits them. It is like if you have your fists up and I swing a punch at your fists, just by punching me back you have made me miss whilst I get whacked on the nose.

However, when you are fighting cinematically there are various ways you can fake the fight and one of them is to aim at your opponents weapon because it looks a little more spectacular and you get energetic (and reasonably safe) clashes as the camera can swing back forth tracking you both (I have trained people for stage fighting and you can see many of my group in Gladiator at the beginning).

In the battle scenes it might look like turning off the sabre and letting the opponent miss is a valid tactic but this is only the effect of the cinematic show to make it look better. It is rather like asking why someone does not just move faster when everyone is in slow motion :-)

If they were fighting 'for real' the tactic you describe would probably be quite effective.

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    If he aims at your head then he does have a chance as you have to block or avoid it or he will kill you. Dying on the off chance of taking your opponent with you is not a good tactic :-). Assuming you were able to throw a shot at me without dying in the process I can still avoid it. In tournaments this is my preferred technique, I avoid my opponents weapon whilst throwing counter shots. The only time I block is when I have nowhere to move to. – Stefan Nov 22 '13 at 16:48
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    Welcome to the art of Fencing - which is actually derived from "Defense" It doesn't do anyone any good to kill anyone if they get killed while doing so. Real sword fights are about attacking only when you can do so while also keeping yourself safe. A expert Lightsaber duel in "real life" would look a lot more boring. An amateur Lightsaber battle in "real life" would likely end in a single swing - with a good chance of both people being killed or critically wounded. – EtherDragon Nov 22 '13 at 17:00
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    I have actually taught someone to fight with a lightsabre once. A guy who makes them to sell at conventions turned up wanting to learn to fight with them. The main difference is that lightsabres do not have quillions which means the hands are quite exposed and they do not need much power so you can fight from the wrist rather than using a lot of body mechanics. IT is a fun style. – Stefan Nov 22 '13 at 17:13
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    Damaging or breaking a sword on another sword is highly unlikely. Apart from the fact I have had the same sword for several years and it is still going, have a look at sword fighting manuals from talhoffer, fiore or I33 - they all feature sword to sword contact. – Stefan Nov 26 '13 at 1:18
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    As if light sabers are not that heavy as a real sword, I would try to parry always and hitting an enemy in the same swing. (Like you target your enemy, not his weapon.) So if he'd turn off his blade, it would be a double-kill. So it seems to be a useful technique, but also very risky. – Trollwut May 20 '15 at 10:46

Because you'd then at the same time get hit by your opponent's blade that you just let past your defenses?

Besides, you can clearly see that it takes a little time to turn on a light saber - not much, but definitely too much to turn it off and on again within a single swing.

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    From the movies and other sources (like games) it looks like the speed of turning on the blade hugely depends on owners will. Sometimes it is slow (kinda dramatic), and sometimes lightning fast. – jayarjo Nov 22 '13 at 15:16
  • @jayarjo In games like jedi knight, you could choose between different styles, favoring faster attacks for less likelihood to be blocked but for less damage also, or slower grander movements to put your opponent off guard when struck. Admittedly, it's a game and thus non-canon, but I'd like to think the jedis studied multiple styles and switched based on who they were fighting against. – Neil Nov 22 '18 at 11:36

This is actually a recognised saber technique, described in The Jedi Path : A Manual for Students of the Force) as 'Trakata' or 'Passing the Blade'

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As to why it's not used more commonly, the answer is that it's a risky (and highly advanced) technique that seems prone to failure.

The Star Wars Wookieepedia page on Trakàta describes a number of occasions on which it has been used. Note that all examples are from non-canon sources such as the EU novels and comics:

Members of the New Jedi Order known to employ this technique include Jedi Master Mara Jade Skywalker. Jedi Master Corran Horn used a variant of this technique during the Yuuzhan Vong War, one notable occurrence being while he was battling Shedao Shai on Ithor. During the battle, Horn and Shai were locked in combat, and Horn deactivated his lightsaber, then reignited it into Shedao Shai, killing the temporary Supreme Commander.

During her duel with Ben Skywalker, Sith apprentice Tahiri Veila used this technique to great effect. Skywalker forced her lightsaber aside, so Tahiri switched her lightsaber off and on so fast Skywalker barely had time to react, allowing her to extend the blade to where his throat had been just moments before

  • Point unlit saber at enemy. Turn saber on. Fight over. – Wad Cheber Apr 27 '15 at 2:35
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    @WadCheber - Watch idiot try the old "Point unlit saber at enemy" trick that Yoda taught me on day one of Jedi School, step back, chop head off... – Valorum Apr 27 '15 at 5:36

Don't forget that it clearly says (in Phantom Menace if I remember rightly) that the Jedi reflexes come from being able to predict their opponent and react ahead of time. If you tried a trick like this against another Jedi then they would know in advance that it is coming and be able to use it to either still parry/dodge or to kill you while you were yourself unable to block.

  • You can also easily predict in a real sword fight where your enemy is going. Unless as he is a pro, where he looks to your lower left foot and strikes you to the neck. And if the argument is "mind reading", then this one can be surely countered as well. – Trollwut May 20 '15 at 10:49
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    If this were a legit tactic, then blocking with the lightsaber wouldn't be a thing. You'd attempt to dodge the blow as if each and every swipe were unblockable. So the fact that they do try to block it is either an indicator that they can't predict that particular move or this discussion shows far more insight than the choreographers ever considered. – Neil Nov 22 '18 at 11:32

There are some very good answers here, but none of them address the fact that such a tactic would fall under the category of deception, which is a weapon of the Sith, not the Jedi. Resorting to such tactics in battle is thus frowned upon by the order.

This however does not stop Jedi from using this or a similar technique when pressed. My favourite example of a move along these lines is from the cinematic movies from SWTOR . In a fight a Jedi is against two sith. The Jedi wields single bladed light saber in one hand and a double in his other hand. He starts with having both blades on the double-bladed saber active in addition to the single blade in his other hand, but later switches one of the two blades off on the double saber. Then while an opponent was behind him he pointed the deactivated end at his enemy and activated it, which impaled the sith.

Also remember lightsabers have no weight in the blade, so unlike a heavy sword, swinging the blade and expecting contact but only hitting air might not have the effect you describe.

  • Great attention to detail. You're right - does appear as if he switches one half of a double-sided lightsaber for tactical purpose! – Alex Johnson Jun 5 '17 at 20:03

If you lock sabers with your opponent and then switch yours off, where do you think your opponent's blade is going to go?

The answer is "into you".

You can dodge, parry, or be struck.

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    This could be a decent answer with a little more fleshing out and detail added to elaborate. :) – RedCaio May 4 '16 at 23:46

Lightsabers have considerable gyroscopic effect, this makes them hard to handle and requires considerable force experience. Switching them on and off would exacerbate the gyroscopic twist and make it extremely difficult to handle.

  • This part has been proven to be wrong as now almost any idiot in Star Wars can switch on the lightsaber. – jayarjo Nov 25 '18 at 9:19

Reference : https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Tr%C3%A0kata

Philosophically, Tràkata involved practical combat and deception, rather than single minded determination or endless patience. It was rarely used by the Sith, since the power of the Sith came from passion rather than practicality, and neither was it commonly used by the Jedi, because of their unwillingness to rely on deception. The latter may, however, have utilized this technique on occasion, their purpose usually being to exert greater influence over the Force.

Sith don't use this because it breaks the momentum, since most of their power/strength comes from anger.

Jedi dislike this because it is deemed dishonorable.

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    Jedi dislike this because it is deemed dishonorable - No plaintiff, no judge. – Trollwut May 20 '15 at 10:50
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    I thought Jedi were pragmatic not bound by honor. If they held onto antiquated traditions such as fighting honorably, then they'd certainly wouldn't double team an opponent gaining an unfair advantage...oh wait a minute, I think Darth Maul would beg to differ. – zer00ne Aug 22 '15 at 8:58
  • Y'all are right, this was a fanon. – Nitram Sep 12 '17 at 0:04

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