Friday, March 03, 2006

How to be a Hardware Store Jedi

No, this is not a place to learn how to sell hardware better. This is not a place for Tim Allen fans or for people who like to putter around the house fixing things. No, this is a how-to about building a non-functional but very cool prop lightsabre (yes, I know that Lucasfilm spells it differently and the different spelling is intended!) with goodies from the hardware store.

This is actually the way that the propmakers for the original three movies made lightsabres. They raided the junk bins and cobbled everything together from spare parts. They just happened to have a whole shipload of old press camera flash handles, and with a little bit of tweaking, those were transformed into the Light Sabers (registered trademark of Lucasfilm) used in Star Wars, aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Now, you can pay about a Benjamin for a Graflite flash tube on eBay. The folks who restore Speed Graphic press cameras are fighting the Star Wars geeks over the last of them. There are people who get raw metal tubing and cut it and solder on pieces to basically turn it into a replica 3-cell flash tube. However, you don't have to go on eBay and join the fray. A fine foundation for an impressive looking lightsabre is just as far away as your neighborhood hardware store.

Basically what you want is a bathroom sink drain pipe. It's about a foot long, just like a Graflex 3-cell flash tube. It's usually chromed up prettily and made of thin brass piping. At Orchard Supply Hardware, (only the Sith go to Home Depot...) this item goes for about $4.50. Let me repeat. You can pay $50-$100 for an actual flash tube. Or you can spend less than $5 for something that will serve you just as well.

Anyway, I built one lightsabre based on a bathroom sink drain pipe, and I will be building another one and documenting the build right here on this blog. I was inspired to do this by a workshop I attended at Anime Los Angeles 2 in January 2006. Yes, when I'm finished, I will have two lightsabres hanging from my belt. This is in honor of a misspent youth playing Traveller, a Science Fiction pencil-and-paper Fantasy Role Playing Game.

The Traveller games I played with a group of geeky friends featured a tweak on the canonical Traveller universe. The Imperium, which really wasn't meant to resemble in any way, shape, or form the Empire in the original Star Wars trilogy, was ruled by Emperor Palpatine instead of Emperor Strephon. His trusted right-hand man was Lord Darth Vader. And the Traveller stand-in for Rebel Alliance-held Known Space was the Solomani Rim. Now, of course, in the actual Traveller universe, the Imperium is not an evil empire. The Solomani actually resemble an evil empire more than the Imperium does. But the first official Star Wars FRP wouldn't be released until 1987. And Traveller, with its Jump Drives and Psionics and Free Traders and so on, was easily adapted to the world of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

We had lots and lots of fun. We threw in a bunch of non-canon races, and also had Traveller races like the Aslani and Vargr (Very Wookiee-like!) living in what was basically the Star Wars universe. One race that really shouldn't have belonged in Traveller was the Elves. No, not the LOTR Elves. No, not the D&D Elves. But the Elfquest variety. Four-fingered barbarians who figured out how to get back to the space they crash-landed from. Barbarians with psionically-steered spacecraft whose only reason why they don't have pwn4g3 over the entire cosmos is because they want absolutely no part of a human-dominated universe. And because of their psionic talent, they seem to have more Force-sensitives than the average race. In Prequel terms, they sure do attract the Midichlorians. (Barf.)

Anyway, Thareen Penumbra, aka Thareen Ninefingers, was a genetic accident. An Elvish woman and a Human explorer fall in love. She gets pregnant. She dies in birth. The child survives: a girl with four fingers on her right hand and five on her left, big eyes, and pointy ears. Half-Human, Half-Elf. The Human explorer is put to death by her tribe because of it, and the baby girl is left to perish in the elements. Good thing she winds up found by a member of the Jedi underground, who takes her in and begins her training. However, the training is never completed, and Thareen must find a way to complete her training before the Empire finds her first.

Thareen joins the scout corps, since this is not only good cover and allows her a fair amount of freedom to quest, but this is one of the occupations that suit Elves best. Long-lived, patient, solitary when in human-dominated society, the rare Elf that doesn't live back on the World of Two Moons is usually in the scout corps. This also allows her to get her own scout craft on mustering out. While discreetly looking for others in the Jedi underground, she gets involved with activities in those rough edges of the universe where the Empire's grip is weak.

Remember, this was just after "Return Of The Jedi" and the next couple of years after that. All the conventions brought in with the Prequels kind of didn't exist. (In my opinion to mess things up. I'm part of the "George Lucas ruined my childhood memories" faction.) No "you have to begin your training as a toddler" stuff. No Midichlorians. I have to say that again: no Midichlorians. And none of the "Jedi Playboy Philosophy" nonsense. If you were a Jedi, and a true Light Jedi with no Grey stuff clouding your aura and certainly not a "Fallen Jedi," you were CELIBATE. Warrior Monks. Paladins. One of the surest ways to wind up a Grey Jedi (at least, if not completely dark) was to get busy. Or do any number of other things that could trip you up. However, only Grey Jedi and Dark Jedi would show up as Player Characters in our Traveller universe, for the same reason why in the AD&D days people didn't play non-Fallen Paladins. BORING!

Anyway, I am sure this reminiscence about gaming is getting boring too. I'll cut to the chase. Thareen fought with two lightsabres. I was thinking about Miyamoto Musashi and Wu Shu swordplay when I pushed for that characteristic of her training. It took lots of argument with the gamemaster and a roll of Percentile Dice, but when I got a natural 99 on my roll the gamemaster relented and allowed me in with the two lightsabres. Two attacks, two defenses. Way cool. This was way before Count Dooku and Anakin Skywalker doing the two-fisted Light Saber (R) action.

I also have a background in Martial Arts, and one of my favorite weapons styles is Filipino Arnis. There was something impressive in that famous scene where Bruce Lee's nunchaku gets busted by an enemy, and he fights them Escrima style instead. I don't remember which of his movies contains that scene -- Enter The Dragon comes to mind but I could be wrong, it's been years since I've seen any -- but it's hot. It's also nice to know I can defend myself with a stick or two in a pinch. ^_^ So that's why the two lightsabres. I don't remember all of my exercises (it's been 20 years) but I remember the basics.

Anyway, let's wrap this up. I will be building a second lightsabre, and documenting it right here. I will point you to where to get stuff. And I will point you to resources on the web should you want to get a bit more ambitious with yours. Note also that the way I have figured out how to do this, one needn't do any drilling or anything dangerous. Kids can do this, with sufficient parental supervision. You will be using some heavy-duty adhesives which shouldn't be eaten or inhaled or used in an area that doesn't have perfect ventilation. In short, do this project outdoors. It might be a perfect project for kids home for the Summer.

Although this also must be stressed: this is not a toy, this is a prop replica. And this is not a usable prop replica either. I won't be showing you how to mount either a light-up rod or a wood or PVC rod for sparring with. I can point you to places where the mod is detailed, but I will not teach you how to do that. You can hang this from a lightsabre belt. Or you can put it in a case and show it off. Junior, put that thing down and don't threaten Missy with it! Or you're getting a time out!

Also: this is not going to be anything like the professionally-done replicas. It will be more fragile than those. I'm going to be wearing mine on Star Wars Day at San Diego Comic-Con. But I will be babying them. If you want something durable, buy yours from a commercial manufacturer, or follow the directions which require shop tools and metalworking experience.

In any event, have fun with it. That's what this is all about. Good, clean, geeky fun. I'm going to keep the language rated "G" on here, unlike other places I blog. Again, if you want to do this with your kids, watch them and help them with adhesives. But other than that, it's fun for the entire family, from the younglings to the elder masters. More to come.