From the Star Wars movies it appears that whether a lightsaber "ignites" is dependent on the circumstance but is there an explanation for how they turn on (i.e. a simple switch on the side or through the Force)?

  • Force shouldn't be involved because General Grievous used to use it..
    – user931
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 16:08
  • 1
    With a snap-hiss.
    – Jeff
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


It varies, and is completely up to the character who designs/builds the lightsaber.

The majority of lightsabers have some sort of external switch for activation, with said switch being a "dead-man's switch". As long as the switch is depressed, the blade remains activated. The switch itself - called an activation stud - could be anything from a lever or button to a plate.

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Of course, if needed this switch can also be activated using the Force... in which case, the lightsaber would activate but then immediately de-activate after the switch is toggled. This technique was famously used by Mara Jade to kill Dequc, the brief leader of Black Nebula. Since she could not physically reach Dequc, she instead hid her lightsaber inside a statue and activated it from across the room while Dequc examined it:

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However, there have also been examples of designs in Legends canon where the switch was internal, thereby requiring the Force to activate. These designs were rare, since although an internal switch is more secure, it requires constant focus in order to maintain the blade activation.

In addition, at least one lightsaber - that of Lord Hethrir - was built with NO activation switch at all, instead requiring the wielder to complete the circuit themselves through the Force:

The whining hum of Lord Hethrir's lightsaber filled the room, and the silver-gray light of the blade cast shadows on Tigris's empty hands. Tigris raised his head, to gaze in wonder as he always did at the radiance of Lord Hethrir's saber.

The blade vanished.

"Try once more," Lord Hethrir said, and gave the handle of the lightsaber to Tigris. The handle of the saber felt warm in Tigris's grip. The lightsaber was too large for Tigris's hands, but he clasped it as best he could.

He knew what Lord Hethrir wanted him to do.

The blade of Lord Hethrir's lightsaber could only be activated by the use of the Force. Hethrir would not accept anyone into his inner circles who could not complete the circuit and generate the blade.

Tigris tried, how he tried, to make a connection to the Force, to extend himself, to create the blade.

  • The only problem with the dead man's switch concept is the example of Darth Vader throwing his light saber at Luke during the empire strike back fight scene. I suppose one could also include a locked-on position, but that kind of defeats the purpose.
    – Escoce
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 16:17
  • 1
    @Escoce I agree, but we can probably just assume that Vader used the Force to keep the switch pressed during those few seconds. Or maybe the de-activation process takes a few seconds to turn off the blade. Take your pick.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 16:26
  • @Escoce No, one simply uses the force to keep the saber active.
    – Virusboy
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 23:34
  • @Escoce: there are examples of sabers using lockable activation switches, particular when being thrown around. And also, during the heat of combat, a force user might not want to focus attention on having to keep the switch pressed, or maybe his/her hand slides around the hilt or even lets go, re-grips, etc, so having to always hold the switch could get tedious/distracting. Omegacron's idea that a dead-man deactivation might have a delay also has merit, as we've seen film/TV shots where slain/falling force users let go of their sabers and they do not deactivate immediately. Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 6:05

It is activated by a switch.

Directly from the script for A New Hope

Ben hands Luke the saber.

LUKE What is it?

BEN Your fathers lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster.

Luke pushes a button on the handle. A long beam shoots out about four feet and flickers there. The light plays across the ceiling.

It can be noted that this is immediately before Luke has even ever heard of The Force, so it is highly unlikely that The Force is required in any way to activate the lightsaber. Additionally, General Grievous is able to wield four lightsabers simultaneously, and is not at all Force-Sensitive.

From the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back

The Wampa Ice Creature spread its black, hooked claws and lumbered toward the hanging youth . Suddenly the lightsaber, as if by magic, sprang to Luke’s hand. Instantly, he depressed a colored button on the weapon, releasing a bladelike beam that quickly severed his icy bonds.

  • Yet, How does the lightsaber automatically turn off when Jedi are killed or when characters loose their lightsabers?
    – Ghost Koi
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 23:36
  • @GhostKoi scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/6094/… Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 23:37
  • See here for the answer for that exact question.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 23:37
  • Is there a Canon / Legends explanation?
    – Ghost Koi
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 23:48
  • @GhostKoi Not to my knowledge. If you'd like to try to get better answers on the other question, you can offer a bounty once you have some more rep.
    – phantom42
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 1:20

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