How Disney's "real" lightsaber works: Like 2x tape measures

Today Disney released a video of a mechanical real-world lightsaber that'll appear in their Galactic Starcruiser experience. That's the two-night vacation event at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida that'll be opening in the year 2022. The lightsaber is real – real as far as your eyes are concerned, and real as you'll see it in person at said resort experience. Let's talk about how it works.

This lightsaber we're looking at is still a prop. It's not meant to be bashed against anything, and you wouldn't want to attempt to use it to cut holes in any blast doors. It's not that kind of laser sword. Instead, it's an advanced trick of the eye.

Based on patents for this blade as filed by Disney Enterprises back in 2017, we can glean the truth. This "sword device with retractable, internally illuminated blade" is almost certainly the embodiment of the years of work Disney's invested in making a lightsaber as real as necessary, perfect for this sort of up-close experience.

You'll notice that the video above is very simple. The actress in Rey garb doesn't whip the blade back and forth after its extended – this is only meant to be a first peek, of sorts.

The hilt of the device contains a flexible strip of lights that, together, form an unbroken "blade" of light. The strip of lights is extended from the hilt of the lightsaber along a pair of plastic semi-cylinders. These semi-cylinders are made of a thin plastic that can be rolled up in the hilt of the lightsaber.

At the head of the lightsaber is a cap. The cap keeps the two sides of the blade together with the strip of light in the center. Drivetrains in the hilt turn the rolled strips, pushing the cap outward. As the rolled strips move past the head of the hilt, they're curved into either side of the circle that forms the blade.

The assembly is sort of like an extendable tape measure. The strip is rolled inside the tape measure body in a flat roll, but as it extends out of the body, it returns to its natural state – flat and long and tense, to a point. The lightsaber is like having two tape measures with their ends connected by a cap, with a light strip in the middle.

This sort of hardware isn't likely inexpensive – but it might some day be produced in large enough numbers that we'll be able to purchase one for a reasonable price. For now, the first place we'll see these sorts of "real" lightsabers in the real world is at the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser – it's going to be neat!