I didn’t expect buying a custom lightsaber at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland’s new “Star Wars land,” to feel so much like a drug deal. Then again, at the current cost ($199.99 plus tax), there’s something inherently illicit about this purchase.
Long before the park opened, I’d read about Savi’s Workshop, a pricey interactive performance in which a small group of guests choose the parts of their own lightsaber, assemble them, insert a kyber crystal, and light the torch in a triumphant, almost religious moment. But as I wandered the park during a press day shortly before the official opening, I couldn’t actually spot a big custom lightsaber store, let alone any signs.
With my map buried in my backpack, I asked cast members — playing the locals of the planet Batuu — for the fastest route to Savi’s. They gave me odd looks. Why would I want to go there? Eventually I found myself outside of a discrete scrap shop, marked by little more than a dirty blue banner.
One of its employees walked not to me, but beside me and asked if I knew what sort of business they operated. “Lightsabers!” I yelped, like a real rube. She glared at me. “Scrap. We deal in scrap. Perhaps we have the sort of scrap you’re looking for.”
I nodded. And then tried to wink, but instead I just closed both eyes. “Yes,” I said, “I would like the scrap”
She guided me over to what looked like a large tool box, and pulled out fours chambers, one by one. She hovered over the kit, as if to conceal the product. Each chamber contained its own collection of deconstructed lightsaber parts.
I knew these parts from Disney Park’s slow drip of info ahead of Galaxy’s Edge opening.
- Peace and Justice: Utilize salvaged scraps of fallen Jedi temples and crashed starships in Republic-era lightsaber designs that honor the galaxy’s former guardians.
- Power and Control: Originally forged by warriors from the dark side, objects used in this lightsaber style are rumored remnants from the Sith home world and abandoned temples.
- Elemental Nature: Craft a lightsaber from special components born from the Force, such as Brylark trees, Cartusion whale bones or Rancor teeth.
- Protection and Defense: Incorporate hilt materials bearing mysterious motifs and inscriptions that reconnect a lightsaber’s wielder with the ancient wellspring of the Force.
I’d planned to take the Protection and Defense route, or maybe the Elemental Nature options, but when my dealer opened the compartment containing what looked like the remains of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, I went with my gut: Peace and Justice.
“Excellent choice,” she said. Then she directed me to the cashier. If there’s one point in which the magic of Galaxy’s Edge dissolves, it’s when the cast reminds you that in Jedis we trust, but all others must pay cash. I handed over my credit card and felt something in my stomach twitch as $225 left my checking account forever.
As if to comfort me, the cashier handed me a ticket and pin, telling me to affix it on my shirt, right above my heart. This would let the lead Gatherer know my preference in scrap materials. And like that, we were back in the performance.
Along with 13 other folks who just dropped a quarter grand, I waited in a little corral alongside the workshop. After a few minutes, a young wiry man in an artsy smock peeked from behind the door and signaled us.
The Gatherers, a group of scrap collectors who recover lost parts of lightsabers so they might be repurposed for other Jedi, have a style that blends the beige, muted tones of 2000s Gap with the loose fit layers and fingerless gloves of the 1980s. They projected a vibe that fluctuates between self-serious and beatific.
Our group quietly shuffled into the small workshop, taking spots at a circular work table that filled the entire room. A reporter and videographer from the Los Angeles Times recorded the entire experience.
The lead Gatherer held services from the center of the workshop, explaining the Gatherers, the history of the lightsaber and some of its most famous wielders, and why we have been brought here to assemble our own sword. At one point, an iconic character made an experience, but I won’t spoil that. (If you want to know, watch the video.)
Though the presentation skewed towards the spiritual, the claustrophobic windowless room suggested something more nefarious, like a band of co-conspirators adjoining to hatch a plan. Or you know, a drug deal. Trust me when I say that metaphor works pretty consistently throughout this journey.
After the short monologue, it was time to build.
The kyber crystal is the heart of the saber, and this ceremony. Gatherers walked the perimeter of the work table with large containers holding a couple dozen glowing crystals, offered in the film’s four most common saber colors: blue, green, red, and purple. Feverish Star Wars fans will know the significance not just of kyber crystals, but of the color of a Jedi’s saber. For folks unfamiliar with this lore, our sibling site Vox.com wrote a helpful explainer.
This was the most precarious moment in the experience. The lead Gatherer asked used to close our eyes and picture a kyber crystal. The crystal would choose us. From a cynical perspective, this is a deeply silly, if not deliriously serious way to guzzy up an expensive retail exchange. So when one of the guests laughed, I got where they were coming from. At the same time, as a kid, I fantasized about this sort of experience for dozens, maybe hundreds of hours. So when I heard the person alongside me fight back a joyful sniffle, I could relate to that, too.
I closed my eyes, mostly out of courtesy. I’d already pre-decided on a purple crystal out of love for Samuel L. Jackson’s performance of Mace Windu. But as the Gatherer walked our group through this surreal guided meditation, an image filled from my childhood filled my brain.
My best friend Alex and I in his family basement, bludgeoning each other with cheap green toy lightsabers we’d gotten for Christmas. Alex hitting me in the neck so hard I promised I’d break his legs. Me hitting Alex so hard, he promised to end my life forever. I was sitting in a dark room with thirteen strangers thinking about how I really wanted to call my childhood friend, and that I had to go with the green crystal.
I’d say that this was a coincidence. That something in my brain snapped after a long day without much food or water. But I also wouldn’t put it past Disney’s imagineers to devise a script for Savi’s workshop that speaks to the code to unleash the nostalgia bubbling in thirty-something nerds who are bad at budgets.
After the selection of kyber crystals, the Gatherers walked from station to station, placing in front of each builder a tray of parts based on the style they’d selected. Each tray included:
- One hilt
- Four sleeves
- Two emitters
- Two pommel caps
- Two sets of activation plates and switches
I chose a hilt, two sleeves, an emitter, a set of activation plates, and a pommel cap. It took a bit for our group to construct the lightsabers, which are heavier and a bit more complicated than I assumed they’d be (which is a compliment). The process felt like the construction of a weapon rather than the screwing together of a toy.
Once we finished the assembly process, the lights dimmed. The Gatherers took another lap around the work tables, this time screwing the completed hilts into chambers separating each guest’s construction station. After a breath, the lead Gatherer invited us to ignite the lightsabers. The chambers opened, revealing the completed saber, a lit 31-inch blade protruding from our constructions. The glow filled the room with color.
In unison, we lifted the blades, like the knights of the roundtable. Everybody was very cautious — these things cost a small fortune — so the lead Gatherer encouraged us to have fun and wiggle the weapons around.
To gird our investments, a Gatherer distributed carrying bags filled with protective foam. She reminded us to be careful not to drop them. The Force can do many things, but repair a $200 lightsaber isn’t one of them.
As I walked through the park, I kept getting ask the same questions from guest after guest.
“Can I hold the lightsaber?”
“Can you fight with it?”
For sure. I’ve read they’re battle-ready. But I don’t think we should fight in the park.
“Was it worth it?”
At this question, I sort of smiled and sheepishly shrugged. I’m hesitant to encourage anybody to spend this much money on, well, anything.
The experience at Savi’s Workshop costs significantly more than a peak-time ticket to Disneyland, and nearly double the price of some great (but not custom) lightsabers at the park’s other fancy shop, Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. In general, I don’t buy much merch, let alone merch of this price. When I buy merch, I often realize in the moment right after I make the purchase, that what I really wanted to buy was the memory the merch symbolizes. I don’t want a Star Tours t-shirt. I want to be 10 years old again, riding Star Tours for the first time.
But Savi’s felt a little different. The show, for all it’s retail weirdness, took an extra step at unpacking why I’d spend a couple hundred on a lightsaber. When I left the park, I texted a photo to Alex. I never did break his legs, and he never did kill me, though he was in my wedding party.
What started out like a drug deal, ended as retail therapy.