Recently I was invited to, and attended, a lightsaber fight in a park. The organizer supplied the entire battle with lightsabers from her own collection. I took the opportunity to ask her opinion on the best online saber sources.
Ann Schapira, battle organizer and aspiring Jedi, has been collecting sabers since 2002. I asked her how many sabers she had, and got this reply: "I don't count them, because then it might qualify as an addiction." She has twelve nice ones on a rack in her house, but has gotten rid of other racks in a recent move. Her collection, she estimates, is somewhere between thirty and fifty sabers. She doesn't have any personal or financial stake in any saber-selling website. What she learned, she learned from "surfing around on the internet and loving lightsabers."
And if she learned one thing, it was this: don't buy blind off eBay.
"That's how I ended up with 30+ sabers and only forty percent of them are super cool."
There are a ton of different sabers available. There are ones that are basic whacking sticks with inventively carved blades. There are older ones with electroluminescent wires, wrapped in a sheet that diffuses the light. These are relatively fragile, because they're set into the handle with what amounts to a large 'audio jack' and the wires can be shaken loose. There are more recent sabers, which use LED lights, and are a bit more durable. There are sabers which make a sound when you spin them or hit them against other sabers. There are even sabers which have gone, metaphorically, green. The handles contain rechargeable batteries, and have a port that allows them to plug into rechargers.
The reason for this diversity is the reason why I am carefully using the word 'sabers' as much as possible. Not all of these are official. And a good portion of them aren't any good. Any shopper knows that some vendors sell shoddy products, inflict months-long shipping delays, don't deliver the product that was asked for, and just generally make life miserable around the holidays.
To avoid this, you could just go official. Right now EFX and Hasbro both have the license to create lightsabers, and have saber products on offer. They're unlikely to run out, and their models are replicas of the lightsabers used in the movies.
But what if the person you're shopping for already has the movie sabers? Or what if, what's more, they follow the Jedi practice of each warrior designing their own saber? (I was not aware that this was a Jedi practice. Ann assured me it was. "That's actually one of the downfalls of the new movies. Each of the Jedi didn't have their own saber. Fail, George Lucas. Fail.")
One of the best places to go is The Custom Saber Shop. This site lets you literally design your own saber online. Their Modular Hilt System Saber Builder builds an online rendering by letting you pick out different parts, attach them to each other, and then move all the parts of your digitally-built saber to your shopping cart. They also sell parts that work well with commonly used hardware store tubing, helping you build your saber in real life.
Those who want to connect to saber history can head over to Parksabers. In the original movies, the sabers were made out of Graflex Flash Guns. In old-timey cameras, the flash wasn't mounted on the camera itself. The camera was held in one hand, and a thing, looking like a half-sphere on a stick, was held in the other. The stick was filled with batteries, the half-sphere held light bulbs that would flash.
"Luke's father's saber," Ann tells me, "is a sculpted Graflex 3 Cell Flash Gun." Parksabers are still made out of the Graflex Flash Guns. They're a bit of history.
Those looking for something that would never, ever show up in the movie can head over to Advanced Light Weaponry. This company departs from the straight metal hilts seen in most sabers. Many of their hilts are twisted to fit hands, turned sinuous to resemble the branches of trees, or even curled to look like the horns of animals. The paint jobs on even the more conventional-looking sabers are extravagant, and so they're not for traditionalists. However, if the fan in your life is looking for something that seems a little more organic than the average saber, this is the place to go.
Finally, there is Ultrasabers. "These guys are like Amazon. They have a bajillion of these." Ultra Sabers is a big operation with a lot of stock, so they're reliable. They make their sabers primarily from aluminum or from plastic PVC pipe. Although plastic handles aren't what a lot of collectors are looking for, small Jedi - younglings, if you will - will find them lighter and easier to handle than massive, detailed collectors items.
When it doubt, go to the fans. One site recommended unreservedly by Ann was the SABER GUILD. These fans collect sabers regularly, and hunt down the best sites, while shunning the worst. The link above is to a list of recommended sites. The guild is housed on the forum page of fx-sabers, and maintains a list of good saber and saber part sites online. A little lurking can yield a lot of valuable information.
Collect carefully, give generously, good luck, and happy holidays. Below, please enjoy my dorky stand off with a fellow saber battler.
Don't worry. She died swiftly and without pain.
Many thanks to Ann Schapira for her guidance and opinions. Thanks also to Jim Flood for the photograph of the sabers on the ground, and to Alex Zepeda for the other battle photos.