WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Marvel’s Darth Vader #1, on sale now.
Everyone knows Darth Vader wields a red lightsaber, but the reason the Star Wars villain’s weapon glowed a sinister, crimson hue remained a mystery for decades.
Well, now you can consider that puzzle (mostly) solved, as Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli explain in the debut issue of Marvel Comics’ Darth Vader why the Sith Lord’s iconic lightsaber differs from most of the others, even if the “how” remains somewhat less clear.
However, before diving into that revelation, it’s important to understand how the Jedi weapon works. Essentially, a lightsaber uses a crystal, or a combination of several crystals, that have been imbued with the Force in order to generate its laser-like blade. Different combinations can result in different colors, help enhance the user’s inherent ability to manipulate the Force, or generate beams of a different size or shape. Some, though not all, lightsabers utilize kyber crystals, aka living crystals, to generate their blades. Kyber crystals are naturally attuned to the Force, thus young Jedi would find themselves sent on missions to mine their own, the first step in the process of crafting custom lightsabers attuned to themselves and their specific connections to the Force. (For a more in-depth explanation, Wookieepedia has you covered.)
In Darth Vader #1, Soule and Camuncoli reveal the reason why Vader and Lord Palpatine’s lightsabers are red is because they make the kyber crystal contained within them, well, bleed.
Their story is set at a point before Vader has his familiar weapon (“one second after the end of Revenge of the Sith,” according to Soule), at a time when the villain still contained some vestige of humanity. The issue opens with Vader wearing his armor for the first time, remembering when he was still Anakin Skywalker and experienced the death of Padmé Amidala, the love of his life and mother to Luke and Leia. Palpatine, as is his way, twists Padmé’s death to his own benefit, using it to turn the newly minted Darth Vader further down the path to the Dark Side. As part of his recruitment speech, he explains what’s involved in the creation of the Sith’s red lightsabers, and informs Vader what he must do to gain his own.
It’s not enough to claim a random lightsaber found locked away in a hidden compartment; nor can a Sith twist one that has been freely given to him or her. In order to wield a red lightsaber, a Sith has to forcibly take one from its Jedi master and transform it.
On the surface, that all seems pretty straightforward. But when you stop to consider what’s really being said, it’s a pretty sadistic piece of Star Wars lore being revealed by Soule and Camuncoli. As pointed out earlier, a Jedi crafts a lightsaber as part of his or her training, imbuing its kyber crystal with the Force in such a way that it’s attuned specifically to its creator. Thus, it’s safe to assume the way a Sith makes his weapon’s kyber crystal bleed is by causing it physical trauma — they’re “living” crystals, after all. Essentially, every time a red lightsaber is fired up, the Sith wielding it is torturing a living thing as opposed to a Jedi, who’s in tune with his or her kyber crystal/lightsaber.
While we don’t yet know whose lightsaber Vader will eventually make his own, and it will be interesting to see whether he takes it from an established Star Wars character. The bigger question is whether this explanation will be repeated elsewhere. Marvel’s Star Wars comics are part of the larger canon, after all, but there’s nothing ensuring that story details revealed in the comics must be referenced in the films, novels, animated series, etc.
That said, that it is in canon means we can at least hope to some day see this revelation writ large on the big screen. As tragic as fans expect Luke Skywalker’s story will be when it’s finally revealed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, audiences have been kept firmly in the dark as to what happened when he and Kylo Ren had their falling out. We know it eventually led to a battle that left Luke’s Jedi temple a pile of burning rubble, but the details regarding how Kylo got to that point remain fuzzy. Now that we know how a Sith gets his weapon, it’s difficult not to want to see it play into in Luke and his nephew’s shared backstory; after all, what better way to show just how hard and far Kylo Ren fell than to see him not only destroy everything his uncle had built, but to also take Luke’s lightsaber and attempt to turn it to the Dark Side?
The story of the red lightsaber’s origin continues in Darth Vader #2, by Charles Soule, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and David Curiel. The issue is scheduled to arrive in stores June 21 from Marvel Comics.