We love when nerdy things collide here at Pop Photo, and that is precisely what happened with the creation of perhaps the most iconic movie prop of all time. As the video below from DigitalRev In-Focus explains, George Lucas wanted the props in the Star Wars films to look used in order to suggest a sense of history. He didn’t want shiny new objects in his films. They also had a very limited budget when filming those initial movies. The low budget required they get scrappy—literally—in how they created props.
As a result, set decorator Roger Christian would browse antique and junk stores for items to use as props. He was in a tiny camera store in London’s West End and asked if they had anything that he might find interesting. The owner took out a dusty box of antique camera goods, which included a 1940s Graflex camera with a three-cell flash gun. A lightbulb went off for Christian. The flash handle became the base for Luke’s lightsaber.
It took only a few modifications to create the legendary weapon. The actual “blade” portion of the weapon involved painting a tube with blue projector material and adding a light, which made it glow. Luke’s was one of two lightsabers that Christian designed. The entire thing took only $15 to build, though it sold in 2012 for $250,000. That makes it one of the most expensive movie weapon props ever sold. It even beats out Ghostbusters props. And that number is likely even higher now since it was featured so prominently in Episode 7.
Of course, there is a downside to cameras becoming pieces of sci-fi legend. Camera collectors have had difficulty getting their hands on Graflex flash handles since so many were bought by Star Wars prop collectors and cut up to become lightsabers. A genuine original Graflex can cost thousands of dollars at this point. And camera collectors say that valuable antiques are getting destroyed in the process. Whether you agree that history is being destroyed or are all about your genuine lightsaber props, we think this clash of photography and pop culture history is a fun one.