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Star Wars novel offers a crystal clear explanation for the wild new lightsaber

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A brief passage in a new Star Wars novel called Heir to the Jedi may explain the technology behind a controversial new lightsaber.

There was much to talk about when the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived late last year, but nothing inspired more chatting than the unconventional lightsaber below.

force awakens lightsaber gif

The weapon's design includes something analogous to a cross guard, the horizontal part of a real sword that helps prevent the wielder's hands from being chopped off. From a certain point of view, that was a neat twist on a laser sword formula whose only differences since 1977 have been in color and handle shape. Others see it as dumb and impractical and more likely to hurt its wielder than an opponent.

Supporters and detractors took to the Internet to explain the technology behind the weapon. The Force Awakens director and writer J.J. Abrams said last month that he's seen the debates and admits that the design was a hotly debated topic during production.

Enter Heir to the Jedi, a new Star Wars novel by Kevin Hearne published last week. Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the novel contains a scene in which Luke Skywalker examines a lightsaber. His studies may contain the technical explanation fans have been looking for.

Here's how lightsabers are possible, according to Star Wars fiction: In the hilt, energy from a power cell passes through a crystal, which also gives the elegant weapon for a more civilized time its color. That energy shoots out and arcs back into the hilt, forming a blade of plasma energy.

When he shows up in Return of the Jedi, Luke has a new green lightsaber. A deleted scene from Jedi released a few years ago showed a brief glimpse of him creating his new weapon.

In the book's scene, which takes place before Jedi, Skywalker is dismantling a lightsaber. At that point in the Star Wars timeline, our hero is still a nascent Force user trying to uncover the mysteries that surround him. And one of those mysteries is lightsaber construction.

Here are the two relevant paragraphs:

Above that was a platform for the primary focusing crystal that gave the lightsaber its color. Two additional crystals floated above it, balanced so precariously on mounting ridges that could easily be disturbed — and they had been. They lay askew, and I feared I must have done that in the process of disassembling it. … And aligning those crystals by hand would be impossible — I sensed that it had to be done with the Force, and only through the Force would I know whether it was aligned properly or not. They were wafer–thin slices of crystal, too, a beautiful clear amethyst, and might scratch or cloud with handling. Moving them precisely with the Force would ensure that they remained pristine.

The lightsaber's construction confirmed for me what I already suspected: Far from being merely a feeling of interconnectedness that could guide your actions or a method of tricking the weak-willed, the Force could be used to manipulate solid objects. However, the skill required to construct a lightsaber — or even put this one back together — was a parsec or five beyond my current abilities.

And that might just be the answer Star Wars fans were looking for: The weird new lightsaber from The Force Awakens could be a three-crystal concoction — one for the blade and each side of the cross guard — whose foundations Heir to the Jedi just laid.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is scheduled for a Dec. 18, 2015 release. You can watch the trailer below.