Forty-one years ago, Star Wars exploded onto movie screens across the country and into the hearts and minds of millions. One of the most enduring elements of the original trilogy has been the futuristic but also old-and-busted looking technology. From the piece of junk spaceship capable of faster than light travel, the Millennium Falcon, to laser guns made out of bits and bobs of World War 2 guns, Star Wars tech has fascinated viewers for decades. More than anything else, there's one bit of tech that has embedded itself deeper than anything else in the public consciousness: the lightsaber.
Described by Obi-Wan Kenobi as "an elegant weapon, from a more civilized age," the lightsaber has a sleek, shiny form, a far cry from the matte and boxy ships and blasters we see in the rest of the galaxy. The lightsaber's eye-catching glowing blade and iconic buzz and hum sound effects made it one of the most iconic weapons in fiction. The concept of an ancient order of knights wielding swords in a futuristic space sci-fi setting gave Star Wars a special element of mysticism and fantasy. While lightsabers started out pretty cool, George Lucas blew the doors off in The Phantom Menace with the creation of Darth Maul and his double-bladed lightsaber. Suddenly lightsabers could be more than just a sword. They could be spears, canes, all sorts of clever applications and unique designs. As the series progressed, more and more lightsabers were introduced, each one like a fingerprint to the Force user using them, totally unique and intimately associated with them.
20 WORSE: THE GRAND INQUISITOR
In Star Wars Rebels, we are introduced to the Imperial Inquisitors. The Inquisitors are an order of dark side Force users tasked with hunting down other Force users, including former Jedi who escaped the Purge and untrained Force sensitives. To aid them in their task, they wield special double-bladed lightsabers, shaped like a ring.
Setting them apart from Darth Maul's, the ring lightsabers spin, adding an element of intimidation to the weapon. However, this leaves a huge gap in their defenses, as demonstrated by Kanan Jarrus in his duel with the Grand Inquisitor. They are also equipped with repulsorlifts, which allows the Inquisitors limited flight, and it frankly just looks ridiculous.
19 BETTER: JOCASTA NU
Jocasta Nu is the Jedi Order's librarian in the Old Republic. She appears in Attack of the Clone, getting snippy with Obi-Wan Kenobi about his implication that the Jedi Archives are incomplete. She gets a few moments in the spotlight in The Clone Wars cartoon, and in the Darth Vader comics, holding her own against the Dark Lord for a brief time.
Her lightsaber is briefly seen in Attack of the Clones, and frankly it's pretty darn beautiful. As the aging librarian of the Jedi Order, her lightsaber is mostly ceremonial, although she demonstrates in The Clone Wars that she knows how to use it with a good degree of skill.
18 WORSE: THE JEDI TEMPLE GUARD
The Jedi Temple Guard are essentially background characters in The Clone Wars, serving as the Jedi's internal police. They get a brief moment in the spotlight during the Temple Bombing arc, working to bring in Barriss Offee when she is revealed as the bomber. The Grand Inquisitor is also a former Temple Guard.
Like Maul and the Inquisitors, the Temple Guard wield double-bladed lightsabers. In contrast to the formers' red blades, theirs are yellow, a fairly unique color within the Jedi Order. Unfortunately, either the hilts are too long or the blades are too short, because although they were clearly going for more of a spear look, they just end up looking a bit silly.
17 BETTER: DARTH NIHL
Darth Nihl appears in the Legends comic series Star Wars Legacy. Legacy offers a look into the future of Star Wars, a decade before The Force Awakens would do the same. Set 100 years after Return of the Jedi, Legacy features a rebuilt Jedi Order, and reborn Empire, and a new Sith.
Darth Nihl is one of the higher-ranking new Sith, and he carries a highly unique lightsaber. Rather than a standard-length hilt or a double-bladed saber, Nihl's lightsaber is more akin to a spear, with a long, staff-like hilt and a single blade extending from the top. The hilt itself also has a more organic design.
16 WORSE: OBI-WAN KENOBI
No, not his New Hope lightsaber. In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan is still a Jedi Padawan, and he carries a lightsaber far different from the one that would eventually face Darth Vader on the Death Star. He would carry this lightsaber through his battle with Darth Maul, and craft another just like it for Attack of the Clones.
It has a lot more matte material than his final lightsaber, and it's got that weird spiky orb at the bottom. The bright red button also makes it look a bit more like a toy. It also looks like a knockoff of Qui-Gon Jinn's, rather than the more unique design he would eventually use.
15 BETTER: IMPERIAL KNIGHTS
Again from Legacy, the Imperial Knights are a new order of Force users, this time serving the new Empire and the Emperor, himself an Imperial Knight. Although they largely serve the light side of the Force, they are considerably more pragmatic and less altruistic than the Jedi.
Rather than the robes of the Jedi and Sith, the Imperial Knights wear some pretty slick red armor. Their lightsabers also take a different path. While the hilts themselves are a standardized design, an Imperial Knight's saber blade is a striking white, rather than the red of the Sith or the blue and green of the Jedi.
14 WORSE: YODA
Yoda is one of the greatest Jedi Masters to ever live, if not the greatest. Hugely powerful in the Force, with wisdom and skill earned from 900 years of living, Yoda trained more Jedi than any other. His greatest victory came from training Luke Skywalker, who went on to defeat the Empire and destroy the Sith once and for all.
At first glance, there's nothing that bad about Yoda's lightsaber, except maybe being comically small. However, it's not the looks that make Yoda's lightsaber bad, but rather the concept itself. Part of what made Yoda unique in the original trilogy was that he didn't need a lightsaber. He emphasized that a Jedi only needed the Force, not crude weapons or tools. While Yoda pulling out a lightsaber in Attack of the Clones was pretty hype, it flew in the face of everything that made Yoda interesting.
13 BETTER: DARTH SIDIOUS
Darth Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith, is the first Sith in thousands of years to succeed in wiping out the Jedi and taking control of the galaxy. Like Yoda, his skill and power in the Force is nearly unmatched. His power was so great that he even managed to cloud the Jedi's visions of the future.
Again like Yoda, Sidious doesn't really need a lightsaber. He demonstrated just how powerful he is in Return of the Jedi, hurling lightning from his fingertips and disabling Luke Skywalker in an instant. Unlike Yoda, Darth Sidious' lightsaber just looks really cool. Made of a pearly white material with electrum accents, his lightsaber shows off his decadence. He uses a lightsaber only to demonstrate his contempt for an opponent's dueling skills, easily overpowering them.
12 WORSE: THE DARKSABER
First appearing in The Clone Wars, the Darksaber is an ancient lightsaber, one of the very first. Long since lost to the Jedi, it has become a symbol of authority on the planet Mandalore, symbolizing a Mandalorian's right to rule the clans. First wielded in the timeline of the movies by Pre Viszla, it then passed (violently) to a reborn Darth Maul, and then to Sabine.
If there's one thing lightsabers are supposed to be, it's blades of light. The Darksaber defeats the purpose of a lightsaber by having a black blade, inherently opposite to the brilliant blades of light that define lightsabers.
11 BETTER: COUNT DOOKU
Count Dooku is a former Jedi Master, before falling to the dark side as Darth Sidious' second apprentice. As a Jedi, he was known as the pre-eminent lightsaber duelist in the order, demonstrating incredible skill. He trained Qui-Gon Jinn as a Padawan, and was the personal Padawan of Yoda.
When he appears in Attack of the Clones, he's traded out a Jedi lightsaber for a Sith red, but his hilt is really what stands out. Rather than the typically straight hilt of most lightsabers, Dooku's features a curved hilt, allowing him to more easily wield it with a single hand, similarly to a fencing saber. This is even more apparent in The Clone Wars, where his dueling style is highly unique compared to the other lightsaber wielders in the series.
10 WORSE: QUI-GON JINN
The Phantom Menace introduced Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn. A Jedi who often clashed with the strict Jedi Code and the stodginess of the Jedi Council, Qui-Gon pushed hard for Anakin Skywalker to be trained as a Jedi. So basically, everything is his fault.
Jinn's lightsaber is fairly basic. Like Obi-Wan's original lightsaber, it has a lot of matte material, and a big red button that makes it look like a toy. It's also a simple cylindrical design, without the more interesting details that set other lightsabers apart. It did have a green blade, setting it apart slightly from other lightsabers, but it was soon revealed that green was a fairly common color before the Purge.
9 BETTER: MAUL
Wait, Darth Maul's lightsaber is better than Darth Maul's lightsaber? Darth Maul's original lightsaber was destroyed in his fateful duel on Naboo, along with the lower half of his body. In The Clone Wars, Maul was revealed to have miraculously survived. With a fancy new pair of robot legs, Maul picked up a simpler single-bladed lightsaber.
In Rebels, Maul would return once again, with yet another new lightsaber. This time, it was built from the remains of an Inquisitor's lightsaber, again double-bladed, and concealed as a cane. This lightsaber would make a brief live-action appearance in Solo, alongside Maul himself.
8 WORSE: LUKE SKYWALKER
Luke Skywalker is the true Chosen One, destined to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force. But he had to get a new lightsaber before he got there. After losing his father's original lightsaber on Bespin, Luke constructed a new, green lightsaber reminiscent of Obi-Wan's.
We'll be honest, we love Luke's green lightsaber. We're still kind of mad he didn't use it in his final confronation with Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi. Regardless of our personal feelings on it, it's just not a great lightsaber. It's got a big blocky activator halfway up the hilt, which makes holding it really awkward and it looks kind of silly besides.
7 BETTER: ASAJJ VENTRESS
Asajj Ventress was first introduced in the Republic comics, published between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. She would go on to appear in the traditionally animated Clone Wars series. She's notably one of the few characters from the original Expanded Universe to make the jump to Disney's rebooted canon.
Her lightsabers are a class of their own. Like Dooku, her hilts are curved. Since she has two of them, her fighting style is incredibly unique. What really makes Asajj's lightsabers truly awesome is their ability to combine into a double-bladed lightsaber. The curved hilts make for a bit of a goofy grip, but they're still so cool.
6 WORSE: EZRA BRIDGER
Ezra Bridger is the protagonist of Star Wars Rebels. A Force sensitive, he is trained in the ways of the Jedi by Kanan Jarrus. Before he was found by Kanan, he lived as a scavenger, and put those skills to use when he built his lightsaber.
On the surface, the concept of a lightsaber made of scrap metal to disguise its true form is pretty cool. But then Ezra had to throw in a stun blaster on top of it. We don't necessarily have a problem with Jedi using blasters, but turning a lightsaber into a blaster kind of defeats the purpose.
5 BETTER: MASTER ZAO
Master Zao is one of the more obscure Legends Jedi Masters. Appearing for only a few issues in the Republic comic, Master Zao is more of a hermit, deliberately separating himself from the Jedi Order and the larger turmoil of the galaxy.
Although he largely keeps to himself, and does not engage in the Clone Wars, he still carries his lightsaber. Like Darth Maul's, it is disguised as a cane. The illusion is furthered by Zao's blindness, although he uses his abilities with the Force to "see." He rarely uses the lightsaber in battle, but it's still a really cool design.
4 WORSE: DARTH VADER
The Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader was a major player in the fall of the Republic. Originally the Jedi Anakin Skywalker, he fell to the dark side out of fear of losing his wife during childbirth. After becoming Darth Vader and losing his lightsaber in his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi on Mustafar, he found himself in need of a new one.
The result was a recreation of his original lightsaber, with added matte black highlights. In the pre-Disney Expanded Universe novel Dark Lord: Rise of Darth Vader, he laments that the saber is a crude facsimile of his old one, much like his life in the cyborg suit has become.
3 BETTER: KYLO REN
Disney bought Star Wars in 2012. In 2015, it released its own entry into the franchise, The Force Awakens. Reactions to it and its sequel The Last Jedi have been contentious, to say the least. We're not going to get into it here, though.
One of the main aspects of the sequel trilogy was restoring the "used future" aspect of the original trilogy's technology. Nowhere is that more apparent than with Kylo Ren's lightsaber. Featuring a unique crossguard design, later revealed to be from the very beginnings of the Republic, it had a angry, sparking blade. This along made it unique, and Kylo's brutal, heavy swings further separated him from other lightsaber wielders of the past.
2 WORSE: LIGHTSABER RIFLE
Not technically a lightsaber, but we just had to bring it up because it's so gosh darn stupid. In the Marvel Darth Vader comic, Darth Vader is on the hunt for Jedi who escaped the Jedi Purge. Among them is Jocasta Nu, who you'll remember from further up the list is the librarian of the Jedi.
Unable to face Vader in a stand up fight, Jocasta Nu resorts to ancient Jedi artifacts hidden within the archives, including the lightsaber rifle. The lightsaber rifle uses lightsabers as ammunition to fire incredibly powerful blasts. It could only produce five blasts before destroying the lightsaber, though. All in all, a stupid weapon that runs directly counter to the very idea of a lightsaber, and exceedingly wasteful to boot.
1 BETTER: ANAKIN SKYWALKER
Well, duh. The OG. The very first lightsaber to be seen in Star Wars. THE elegant weapon of a more civilized age. Everything about Anakin's lightsaber is a triumph of design. Whereas the technology we see on Tatooine is boxy and dull, Anakin's lightsaber is sleek and shiny. It recalls the halcyon days of the Old Republic, and it would go on to inspire the entire aesthetic of the prequel trilogy.
The brilliant pale blue blade, the hum of activation, it immediately captures the imagination. Star Wars has been through a lot over the past 40 years, but one thing will always be true: you'll always get that little thrill up your spine when you hear a lightsaber activate.