This past week, my son and his neighbor-slash-best-friend were at our house when I got home, and they begged me to come outside for a lightsaber battle in the dark. In spite of my wife warning it was too cold, we ran outside and slashed at each other; me in Sith red and my son and his friend in Jedi blue and green.
I was quick to jump out the door because of the exhilaration of a good lightsaber battle, and because my son’s toys are friggin’ awesome. When I was a kid and Star Wars was in the theaters, the toys were great, but limited, and there were tons of knock-offs back then in the early 80s. I remember the nearest thing we got to a toy lightsaber was a colored hollow tube, with a super-thick handle. As best I can recall, the thing resembled thin 2-inch pvc piping, and was just as difficult to wield for my tiny hands. My brother and I pleaded with our parents to buy them, and were lucky enough to wear them down one Christmas. Although I loved the thing, I imagined one that could be so much better, with lights, sounds and power. I’d ask myself why couldn’t toy engineers work a little harder. My brother and I played with the lightsabers in the house when we weren’t supposed to and cracked them against things not meant to be hit with a lightsaber. Soon the tubes bent under the weight of our battles, rendering the damn things useless.
Flash forward 30 years and my son and I were in Target shopping the Star Wars aisle a few months ago. We saw the lightsabers, and I nearly fell down. This one lightsaber looked exactly like Darth Vader’s; it powered up, illuminating the blade from the bottom up with a progressive “whoosh”, and responded to our movements with the whirring sounds only a real lightsaber can make. When it came into contact with something, there was a resulting crackling sound. Awesome. This was the lightsaber of my childhood dreams. It did everything my 7-year-old brain had imagined a toy lightsaber should do. In spite of my giddy anticipation, I slowed my role. My son and I talked about saving up for the thing, but were there the next weekend to purchase it.
On the car ride home, I impressed upon my son how lucky he is to live in an age in which toymakers could construct the perfect lightsaber toy. I recounted the lameness of my original toy, and hyped up every feature of his new one. Over the subsequent months, many more lightsabers were purchased. Let’s just say the umbrella bin at our front door is filled with lightsabers, as though we run some Jedi saloon.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m quick to value the importance of imagination in play. In fact, aside from legos, art supplies, and stuffed animals, there aren’t a lot of toys around our house. I think a good stick can be a sword and a treehouse can be an Imperial fortress. But, there’s no denying the value of a kick-ass lightsaber. It was a great tool for connecting the joys of my own childhood with my son’s.