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Ultimate Lightsaber

Star Wars
by Artemis

There's plenty of valid arguments on both sides of the eternal Star Trek vs Star Wars debate, but I think I can safely say that Wars has the handheld weapons category sewn up. I don't care how nifty phasers and bat'leth's are, nothing trumps a lightsaber. (Nothing from Star Trek, that is - bring in a sonic screwdriver and all bets are off.)

The Clone Wars are raging across the galaxy. Join the fight and wield the chosen weapon of the Jedi and the Sith: the lightsaber. Complete your training by constructing this mystical weapon and reveal which side of the Force you choose in this epic struggle.

I'll take Maris Brood, thanks - so long as I don't have to use her outfit as well as the saber. The leather pants I could manage, but the sports bra isn't my style. Though on the subject of Maris, it's worth noting that this is - so far as I know - the first time a toy lightsaber has been sold based on one used by a female Jedi. There was a Mara Jade saber once, but that was one of those fancy and expensive replica models. This, though - despite the packaging billing it as the "Ultimate Lightsaber" - is pure toy, designed mainly for children to beat their siblings over the head with, without breaking either the saber or the sibling.

There's plenty of low-cost toy sabers about, but what sets this one apart is that it's modular - like the box text says, you can put it together however you like, within the limits of the basic design. The core of the weapon is a stripped-down hilt 9¼" long, 1½" in diameter at the grip, with a few sculpted and painted details, but for the most part intended to be augmented by the add-ons (a sleeve ring - the top of the hilt - is necessary at the very least, to hold the blade on). The hilt contains all the electronics, powered by three AA batteries (not included) behind a screw-on panel; a second clasp panel opens to reveal the crystal bay, more on that later. The top of the hilt contains a ring of nine lights, set inside a reflective bowl.

These shine directly up into the blade when it's attached. The blade is the kind we're used to seeing on toy sabers: rigid but rugged clear plastic, four segments that can be collapsed down one inside the other, or extended with a flick of the saber. At full stretch the blade is just a touch over 28" long, and while hilt and blade together make for a fairly chunky weapon, compared to the film lightsabers, by the standards of toy sabers they're quite respectable, and despite the electronics the whole thing is reasonably light and easy to wield. One disadvantage - compared to the better toy sabers - is that the blade can't retract into the hilt, so unless you go to the trouble of partially disassembling the saber and putting it back together sans blade, you can't "switch it off" properly.

So far it's pretty much every other toy lightsaber, but this is where the add-ons kick in. There are four sets of components to customize your saber: end caps, sleeve rings, hilt sleeves, and Kyber crystals. Both the top and bottom of the core hilt are screw-tipped, allowing the end caps and sleeve rings to screw on securely - once they're in place tightly, nothing you can reasonably do with the lightsaber will dislodge them during play, so there's no need to worry about the blade flying off mid-swing.

The hilt sleeves fit over the hilt core, sliding on from the rear and aligning to two channels running the length of the hilt, and are held in place first by a pair of spring-backed pegs, and secondly by the end cap keeping them from sliding back off again. Here you can have a bit of a stability issue, as the spring pegs aren't very strong - if you only use one hilt sleeve, or two of the shorter ones, and try to wave the saber around while holding them, they'll slide back and forth, which is rather disconcerting.

There are five end caps: a simple flat one (Yoda), short and long versions of one with a control stud and a tiered pommel (the short one is for Windu, I don't know if the other corresponds to anyone in particular), an angled cap (Dooku), and a tonfa grip for Maris Brood. The handle is quite sturdy, and can take the weight of the whole saber if you swing it around in a loose grip, but it's worth noting that both the packaging graphics and the instruction booklet show it backwards. It can be attached either way, but the handle's protective lip is meant to be pointing to the short end of the weapon, so that it faces forward when you hold the tonfa with its long end back against your forearm.

The four hilt sleeves are a short one with rounded recesses (Maris), a long sleeve with angled grips (Dooku), a black one with squared-off controls (Yoda), and one with four black rectangular grip panels (used for both Yoda and Windu). The sleeve rings are a plain grey one (Maris), which can have a blade guard fitted to it for Dooku's saber, a black one with a partial guard (Yoda), and a gold ring (Windu). None of the "replica modes" is spot-on - Dooku's is too straight, Yoda's too long, Maris's too thick, and so on, plus the instruction pamphlet and packaging photos disagree on some of them anyway - but none of them could be considered a complete failure, and the versatility of the toy makes it easy to overlook specific shortcomings in the likenesses. Combined with the crystals, the packaging claims over 1000 possible combinations - no doubt that includes plenty of near-identical configurations, but there's no denying that if you gave a bunch of kids one set each, they'd have no trouble in each coming up with a unique saber, prior to getting started on the beatings.

The "crystals" are in fact three pieces of coloured plastic - red, green, and blue - that fit into slots inside the hilt, as mentioned above. Each slot triggers a switch in the electronics, telling it which crystals are being used, and changing the blade colour and sound accordingly - the nine lights shining into the blade are three sets of three colours, for seven options total. Each crystal, inserted on its own, will produce a blade its own colour; combined they behave like you'd expect, blue and green for aqua, red and green for orange, red and blue for purple (a la Mace Windu). The instructions list the combinations in ones and twos, but by using all three crystals at once you can also get a white blade. With no crystals, the saber will cycle through the colours, switching every time you turn it off and on again. The base of the hilt core has a little compartment for storage of the crystals not being used, though with nothing to secure them in there, they'll rattle about if you swing the weapon while they're in there.

With the blade being clear and uncoloured, none of the colours comes through as strongly or as "solidly" as a purpose-coloured toy saber does, but the hilt lights are pretty darned bright, and even under strong overhead light you can plainly see the colour, and in shadows the blades glow very brightly. Naturally, of course, the ends of the blade segments catch the light most strongly - there's no way for the light to be as consistent as it is in a single-piece blade.

While the saber is active, it makes the usual sounds as well - the flash of ignition, the hum while it's on, and the "fwish" (or however you want to spell it) of switching off. There are varieties of these as well, tied to the blade colours, though some colours share sound sets, rather than there being seven distinct sounds. I've counted at least three in-use sounds, with different levels of pulsing and reverb beneath the basic hum, and at least two each of the activation and deactivation sounds. Since this isn't one of those ultra-fancy replicas there's no motion sensing involved, so the hum won't change if you wave the blade around, or hit things with it. Both light and sound will switch off automatically after about twenty seconds, which is a bit annoying if you're just getting into the swing of lightsaber drills.

If it's a display lightsaber you want, there's no denying you'd probably be better off saving up the extra money and getting one of the fancy solid-blade ones - though from my own point of view, the option to make Maris's saber is a plus that, thus far, the expensive replicas haven't matched (not so far as I'm aware, anyway). As a toy, it's got its little foibles - arranging the hilt sleeves so they don't slide under your grip takes a bit of experimentation - but the novelty of being able to customize the saber plays really nicely into the whole build-your-own ethos of the Jedi and their weapons, so while it's not as cheap as a single-mode toy saber, I'd say it's worth it.


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