This documentary short appeared as a special feature on the fourth disc of the Star Wars Trilogy boxed set released in 2004. The entire disc disappeared when the box was re-released a year later and probably won't be seen again, as Lucasfilm has the tendency to include brand new features every time the films are brought out of the vault. Some persistent fans stubbornly keep on hoping for that boxed set to end all boxed sets that included every Star Wars documentary ever made - it's not gonna happen. It starts with a nice montage of various light-saber scene in the original trilogy. Excepting the time Han Solo used Anakin's old weapon to dissect a Taun Taun, I think all of them are in this 16 minute piece. Better yet, they are accompanied by behind the scenes footage featuring the original, less impressive saber effects (reflecting gaffer tape on a rotating pole made the swords shine like UV light). It's like a glimpse of the Star Wars that could have been, if they didn't have enough money to upgrade the light-sabers with optical, nor the money to hire James Earl Jones to dub David Prowse (in this rare footage you can actually hear Dave 's muffled country accent behind the mask).
George Lucas explains how he got the idea of using 'laser-swords' as the weapon of the Jedi Knights, Mark Hamill comments on the various techniques they used (accompanied by more great behind the scenes stuff) and Ben Burtt again recounts how he combined his tape recorder hum with the buzz from his TV set to create the sound we all know, love and try to copy with our mouths when pretending to swing a light-saber. One reason George Lucas never repeats the same documentary on any of his releases twice (appart from the 'buy this set, it's got new stuff' reason) is his well known tendency to contradict himself. For instance, it has been documented elsewhere that Lucas got really upset with Irvin Kirshner when he found out David Prowse was swinging his light-saber with one hand on the Empire set. George always saw the weapons as heavy samurai swords. In this documentary he repeats this sentiment, then acknowledge that in the second film, they tried it another way. Of course it's only natural that the man does not mention any on set anger he may have had 28 years ago, but it does bother me a little bit that he totally neglects to mention Irvin Kirshner in this one (and nobody seemed to mention poor Richard Marquand at all on any of the 2004 set's bonus material). Also noteworthy is that 'Darth Farmer' David Prowse was one of the few people not invited to participate.
Finally, George 'The Maker' does what he likes to do on all the Star Wars audio commentaries: explaining the characters state of mind and place in the grand picture of things during the scenes we are watching (in this case the light-saber battles of Episode IV-VI). The documentary ends with some brief snippets of the duels from the first two installments of the prequel trilogy (not surprisingly, the high points of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones) and some on set footage from Revenge of the Sith. The last thirty seconds are basically a tiny promo for Episode III, still in production when this box was released. And there you have another, final reason why 'The Birth of the Lightsaber' won't be reissued on any other DVD, Blue Ray, or whatever format comes next in this post Revenge of the Sith world. So hold on to those original discs, folks!
7 out of 10