Movie Inspired Lightsabers by Korbanth: An Interview with Founder Randy Johnson
Is it true that a Korbanth Graflex 2.0 lightsaber hilt appears on screen in Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Many observant lightsaber enthusiasts think so. Custom saber company Korbanth specializes in movie inspired lightsaber hilt kits and installed sound sabers. The company also offers some saber parts (including the new Proffieboard), costumes, helmets and even ship models.
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SaberSourcing interviewed Korbanth Sabers founder Randy Johnson about his custom saber company and yes, we do learn the story behind the widely discussed fan claim that his Korbanth Graflex 2.0 lightsaber appears in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Can you describe the first lightsaber you designed and built?
Back in 2005, I worked with a local prop maker to sculpt a saber used by the Emperor from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I had obtained some production photos from a friend who worked on the set of the movie, and up to that time, no one had ever seen this cool small saber. So we made resin/metal copies and actually installed some electronics and a light-up blade in a limited quantity of 20 Sidious sabers. They sold out in about 1 day.
How did you decide to start Korbanth Sabers?
Korbanth was just my user name on many of the forums (way before Facebook started). I used to play the video game Knights of the Old Republic and loved that the Sith homeworld was called Korbanthia. I was looking for a cool name, and started using it.
Back in the early days, I worked with Park Sabers. He designed the handles, and either made them himself for me to distribute or he had them made over in China for me to sell. Many just started calling them ‘Korbanth’ sabers, but I was mainly just a distributor and these sabers became more of a household name. For example, “Hey, I am looking for a Korbanth Quigon Saber, is anyone selling one?” LOL. I started the korbanth.com website to help customers find me easier.
I’ve been told that the Graflex 2.0 hilt, that I have been distributing since 2015, was seen in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I was never told by any Disney employees that it would be.
I was contacted in 2016 and asked if I could provide 10 fully assembled units, as seen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The person buying the units worked for the film industry in California. I offered to drive them from Arizona over to California and delivered them in person.
When I asked the person why he wanted the 10 built units, he just said he worked for some Disney Affiliates and was going to give them as gifts to employees. We thanked each other and left.
People said they could tell by the distinctive shape and some unique tell-signs on the Graflex 2.0 that [the hilt] was used in the film. Either I sold the hilts unknowingly to Disney through this [film industry] customer or they acquired one openly. I guess I will never truly know, but if they did, that is AWESOME. Maybe we’ll never know for sure.
How did you react to actually seeing one of your own Korbanth lightsabers on screen in a Star Wars movie?
I was stunned and still today can’t believe it’s true, but when you think about it, its much easier to obtain fan made replicas than to go spend $500-$1000 on vintage Graflex camera flash handles, especially if you see how they destroyed it for the movie. Better to do it with a replica than a real one. Most movie fans would not be able to tell the difference, but obviously some EXPERTS caught it.
Can you describe the process of releasing a new Korbanth hilt design from concept to completion?
A saber gets designed in programs like CAD (computer added drafting) software to show how all the parts fit together, trying to stay accurate for fans, plus installability for the other fans. It’s hard to get both to make both sides happy. Once the files are complete, a machine shop runs the parts, and assembles them, boxes them, and I fill the pre-orders of customers who’ve paid, like a “go-fund-me”.
Without all the fans pre-ordering a hilt, I would not have the needed financial portion to make the saber handle runs go from conception to where I am putting them into their hands. It’s more fun to see this design process, and the smiles on all saber fans once they get them. We continue to think of more hilt designs that were inspired by ones seen in the films.
Out of all of the lightsabers, which was the most difficult to design and why?
The curved hilt we call DUKE, and the Crossguard because to keep costs down, we had to use a process called precision castings, or also known as investment casting. These were metal casted saber handles and since that time we’ve gotten much more effective in the process, now doing chrome plating and other things saber fans want. Having our runs made overseas in countries like China and Korea, help us keep costs down so more people can own the fantasy.
What’s the most challenging and rewarding part about running Korbanth Sabers?
Seeing saber fans post photos of their new prizes, once these come in. I send out hundreds of saber boxes to the very patient saber buyers. We are always trying to improve our process to cut down on long wait times, and now, we won’t accept saber payments from customers until we have a prototype in hand to show. Everyone seems to like that better than just using faith that the final product will look like the computer renders of the product. Also, since I am a huge fan, I have a giant 35 saber collection of my own, so each new one I get one for my personal collection too.
Any plans to add blade plugs or other lightsaber accessories to Korbanth in the future?
It’s possible. I am already carrying install parts on the korbanth.com website, such as heat sinks, blade plugs, and the new circuit board called Proffie which is the latest and smallest circuit board for adding light up blades/sound to saber hilts.
We also are now carrying fully installed light up sabers with sound, and hoping to have by the end of the year, fully installed neopixel technology which is more expensive than current, but looks more realistic. I plan to eventually upgrade my whole collection of lightsabers to the new neopixel technology.
What’s your favorite lightsaber from Star Wars Canon or Legends and why?
Probably the Return of the Jedi Luke saber and of course the Graflex. Both are true Star Wars and just love the Hero [Return of the Jedi Luke saber]. The Crossguard 2.0 and Sid 2.0 saber hilts are quickly becoming fast contenders.
What’s next for you?
Hoping to do 4-5 more hilt models that never seem to get as much love from the Prequel movies and a new Starkiller unit from a popular video game The Force Unleashed.
What I like about the Starkiller saber is I’ve seen so many versions of it, that it’s now almost a contest on who can design the coolest version and so far, I don’t think anyone’s made them exactly alike.
I truly believe that sabers made by the fans for the fans is the best way to go, and I do it purely for the love of the movies and I’ve been told to keep it up, it helps keep fans interested in this movie franchise and that has to be good for all involved.
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