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
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.