With all the talk of Crew Skills (Bioware's answer to crafting in Star Wars: The Old Republic, for those of you not keeping track) lately , there hasn't been much said on the assembly of one's lightsaber. In fact, Bioware's recent update on Crew Skills is pretty cryptic on how lightsaber assembly and/or acquisition will work, only hinting that we'll find out more later.
Why is this a big deal? Well, for starters, I'd point you to the quote in this column's headline: "This weapon is your life." These words of wisdom were spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi to Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones after Anakin carelessly misplaces his lightsaber in pursuit of Padmé Amidala's would-be assassin.
A Jedi's or Sith's lightsaber is an incredibly personal thing, and this is represented throughout the various films, books, and especially the Star Wars videogames up to and including Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic series which The Old Republic is based on.
In the films, we're originally introduced to the "weapon of a more civilized age" in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, and aside from being an exotic weapon, the lightsaber was instantly personal to Luke, after all, it was his father's. Luke eventually lost that very lightsaber in a fight with his father, Darth Vader, and re-emerged in Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi with a new lightsaber featuring a vibrant green hue.
For those of you who have only seen the films and are still wondering about half the unexplained changes that seemingly occurred between the end of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, you might want to check out the Shadows of the Empire novel, which does a great job of bridging the gap between the two films, including how Luke came to wield that awesome green lightsaber.
To make a long story short, Luke returned to Tatooine following the events of Empire Strikes Back and assembled his own lightsaber at Obi-Wan Kenobi's hut according to specifications Kenobi left behind. Most of the basic materials were fairly common place, but the final component, the lightsaber crystal, proved to be a challenge (lightsaber quality crystals were banned by the Emperor at this time) and so Luke ended up creating a synthetic crystal to create his blade (pro-tip: the red crystals featured in Sith or Dark Jedi lightsabers are also synthetically created).
Simply watching the films will give you an idea of how personal lightsabers are simply by looking at all the various designs and colors. All the lightsaber wielding characters have distinct lightsabers, from Darth Maul's crimson-bladed saberstaff to Count Dooku's curved hilt, and I'm sure many of you reading this could probably identify many of the films' characters simply by viewing images of the various hilts. As far as the video games are concerned, we can go as far back as Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight for the dragged out process that eventually leads to Kyle Katarn's acquisition of a lightsaber to understand the weight of such a moment. Obsidian's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II sends players on a scavenger hunt to acquire their lightsaber components and spices things up with the inclusion of a personal crystal (acquired in the Crystal Cave on Dantooine) that reflects the player's choices, ultimately making the final assembly a character defining moment. Raven Software's Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy offered players many options to personalize their lightsabers through a variety of available hilts and colors.
So, what of Star Wars: The Old Republic? It's been revealed that a player's companions will do all of the game's crafting, however, Bioware's Damion Schubert clarified that companions will not be creating lightsabers for you (if they did, there would probably be some serious backlash). If companions are doing all the crafting, but they aren't crafting lightsabers, how is the process going to work in Star Wars: the Old Republic?
So far, there are clips on YouTube of a short cinematic featuring a Miraluka Jedi character assembling her lightsaber, but that's really all we've seen or heard on the matter. The cinematic carries the weight one would expect for such an event, but the journey leading up to that moment, and the system for designing or acquiring lightsabers following it are still a mystery.
Since we don't know much yet, I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about how I'd like to see it all play out in Star Wars: The Old Republic. From the perspective of an up and coming Jedi Knight or Consular, there are a few things to consider based on the timeline of the game. For one, lightsaber crystals are not banned at this time, they are in fact quite plentiful, and the basic components are also easily acquired (especially given the fact that the Jedi Order churning out Jedi at an amazing clip), so a quest based on the scarcity of the components is out, but that doesn't leave out opportunities to tell a good story.
Ultimately, I'd like to see the story center on the acquisition of the saber crystal, even if they are plentiful. Star Wars: The Old Republic features the planet Ilum, known in part for its Crystal Caves, so this seems like an obvious choice to send the player to. From there, I'd like to see Bioware borrow heavily from KOTOR II (even though they didn't create it) and incorporate the player's personality into their first crystal. Perhaps this would be a great way to leverage one's alignment up to this point in the game. Made some dubious choices on your path so far? Perhaps your first crystal focuses on aggressive properties and deals more damage. Have you been benevolent and loved by all? Your first crystal would reflect this by offering defensive properties.
The acquisition of a Sith's first lightsaber should be equally personal, but perhaps in a different way. Instead of assembling the lightsaber, I'd love to acquire my first lightsaber by killing a Jedi, perhaps a fresh Padawan or something even more challenging. The lightsaber would still be personal, but in a way that is more in line with the predatory and vengeful nature of the Sith who wield them. Of course, this would also mean that a Sith's first lightsaber would likely not be of the distinct crimson color we all know and love, but that would open an opportunity for the Sith character to create their own lightsaber later on, perhaps forging his synthetic red crystal himself, or replacing the acquired saber's crystal with one of his own.. Like Jedi, Sith also have the potential to go against the grain and make moral choices, so there is also an opportunity to reflect these choices in a Sith's first created lightsaber as well. Since synthetic crystals are notoriously unstable, perhaps a Sith character with a Dark Side leaning would create a fairly unstable crystal that results in a blade that does more damage but is less accurate, while a Sith who hasn't been so accepting of the typical Sith culture may initially end up with something a bit more accurate, but not quite as hard hitting.
All of the above can be done using quest design and not necessitate an actual lightsaber crafting skill being put in the game, but I am still concerned about later acquired lightsabers. Without the aforementioned lightsaber crafting skill, how would we acquire them? Lightsabers acquired as drops from enemies makes a bit more sense for a Sith looking to collect trophies, but both Jedi and Sith players are going to want to put their personal touch on their lightsabers and I'm boggled as to how we'll do that without actually being able to "craft" ourselves.
This isn't to say I want to change out lightsabers like I'm changing armor sets or blasters on any of the game's other classes. Bioware really needs to separate lightsabers this way, by focusing on the lightsaber as a vessel, with the upgrades consisting primarily of new components such as beefier crystals and better parts that confer better stats. There is and there isn't precedent for this in the KOTOR series. While the KOTOR games largely focused on the vessel based approach, players did loot lightsabers off of enemies, however, they were all identical in stats depending on their type (single, double-bladed, short). There were a few exceptions to this rule, such as Darth Bandon's Lightsaber in KOTOR I or Freedon Nadd's Short Lightsaber in KOTOR II.
One solution I can think of that offers the best of both worlds (without a distinct crafting system) is to have dropped or quest acquired lightsabers simply differ in visual style (different hilt design) and perhaps come pre-loaded with components that can easily be removed and placed into the lightsaber players (hopefully) designed earlier in the game. This would allow players who prefer the highly personal approach to keep their (theoretically personalized initial lightsaber) as a viable weapon, while offering alternatives for those who get tired of it or simply don't care and just see new lightsabers as phat lewt to be hoarded like everything else.
Got an idea for how things will work or how you'd like to see them work? Share your thoughts in the comments below!