Star Wars may not have invented the laser sword, but Lucas took the idea and owned it. Now it's the generic term the entire globe uses to describe an energy blade of any type. Like Coke is all cola and Kleenex is all tissue, lightsabers are all melee beam weapons. They're perfect video game weapons too, combining the romantic notion of an adventuring swordsman with the badass appeal of slicing through people like butter, cauterizing wounds instantly.
A study of lightsabers doubles as a study of games themselves; they came into being extremely close to each other, so as game tech evolved, the virtual representation of Star Wars' iconic weapon grew along with it. Join us as we explore their shared history, plus several knockoff fauxsabers that popped up in your favorite games.
Jedi Arena (Atari 2600/1983)
The first game that let you control a lightsaber wasn't even developed by LucasArts. As you can tell from the gripping image above, it sucked. A lot. Move the saber left and right to deflect blasts from the seeker in the middle. The goal is to whittle their defense wall away and zap 'em with a wayward bolt. Exciting!
Star Wars (NES/1991)
Luke shouldn't even fight with a lightsaber in a game based on Episode IV, but the temptation was apparently too strong. Gotta please the kiddies.
The Empire Strikes Back (NES/1992)
The following year brought Empire and its lightsaber-appropriate side-scrolling. Released during the NES' waning years, most people passed it up in favor of the vastly "superior"Super Star Wars (opens in new tab) on SNES, and with good reason; what kind of game gives Luke a red saber and Vader a blue one? Sacrilege!
The NES version of Empire seems to be the only one that includes a fight with the fake Vader on Dagobah, complete with awesomely graphic 8-bit decapitation!
Blarg! Peter Pan totally kicked Vader's head's ass.
Super Empire Strikes Back (SNES/1993)
Thousands more colors meant a true-blue saber for Luke in SSW and SESB. The latter offered Force Powers, including a saber toss and saber deflection.
Super Return of the Jedi (SNES/1994)
Another year, another SNES Star Wars. Saber control was the same, but for the first time on a console you could play with a green saber - not surprising, as this was also the first console game based on Return of the Jedi. The best part of all three Super Star Wars games wasn't the gameplay, it was the sound effects, especially the saber's hums as Luke wildly swung and flipped around. Just looking at those sprites fills us with nostalgic glee - but not enough to actually play it again.