The lightsaber is arguably the coolest fictional weapon to date. It not only sets the Star Wars universe apart from others – it embodies the very thing that catapulted the first three movies to “epic” status.
Our question is why not how. For the in universe explanation for “how” lightsabers work the answer is crystals. Synthetic or Khyber crystals are what power lightsabers. From a literary explanation of “why” lightsabers work here goes: retro future.
When George Lucas made the first film in the franchise, his story looked different, and was different, from others of the same time period. Most sci-fi films prior to Star Wars presented “clean” universes; they were clean to the point of being antiseptic. Everything was new, shiny, and you rarely saw animals unless they were a big part of the story. Not so Star Wars.
Star Wars is a Medieval knight’s tale thrown into a futuristic setting (yeah nerds I know technically it is “a long time ago”). I am not the first to point this out; watch all the films, especially the first three, and see if this description fits. There are knights, an emperor, a princess, and even a rogue.
Where we see Luke is where we see ourselves and human history. Man has been to the moon but in some places of the world animals are still used for labor. During the Dark Ages, men did look at structures from bygone times and wondered how they were built as the knowledge to do so was lost. A ditched-perfect aesthetic drives the larger story and feels more real.
We, like Obi Wan, perceive the past to be more noble and dignified. The lightsaber embodies this perception: “Your father’s lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon… for a more civilized age.” We so readily see things through the eyes of the characters because we are coming from the same perspective.
Furthermore . . . major furthermore . . . George Lucas jumped eye-ball deep into the phallic-father nature of swords. The dark knight is your dad and you have to confront him with his own
penissword lightsaber. He is a better fighter than you just like everyone and everything from the past was better. There is a reason the full title includes the words, “A New Hope”.
In a nuts & bolts kind of a way, the reason characters can use lightsabers and not get killed is magic a.k.a The Force. A Jedi can defend, and even attack, with his phallic instrument but only at a limited range; in a world with firesticks a firesword is primarily a defensive weapon. It’s different, requires skill to the point of magic, and makes a sweet sound when you move it around: The Guild of Guys was definitely consulted during the screenwriting process. In summation, LIGHTSABERS ARE COOL!