The Jedi tool of the Manhattan Project

The useful, inspiring Graflex camera

May 1, 2022

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The original lightsaber hilt Ripley's Believe It Or Not!

Did you know that the original lightsaber (a weapon of choice among Jedi and Sith factions in the “Star Wars” film series, for those of you living in a galaxy far, far away) was constructed out of the flash handle from a Graflex camera, the same type of camera prolifically used during the Manhattan Project?

Project Y photography

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Graflex camera in the Bradbury’s collections

As Project Y progressed in Los Alamos, photography became a necessity for diagnostic testing for weapon prototypes. Q-Site, a small, wood-frame building, served as the dark room for developing photos. High-speed photography became an essential tool for capturing data about implosions. The instrumentation group developed novel forms of camera technology, including rotating-prism camera photography and flash X-ray photography, but the commonplace Graflex camera was still used for multiple projects.

The perfect prop

Fast forward a few decades to the 1970, when a set designer named Roger Christian scavenged around London for prop materials for the film “Star Wars” (later retitled as “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”). Once again, the ordinary Graflex proved useful. Christian made the inspired decision to use the flash handle from a found Graflex camera as the hilt, or handle, of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.

The original movie prop later sold at auction for approximately $450,000. The Graflex logo remained visible on the Skywalker hilt. Several of the Project Y Graflexes are in the Bradbury Science Museum’s collections. What remains of Q-Site stands at Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Check out cameras and other items from the Bradbury’s collections.