One-Shot Custom Lightsabers: An Interview with Advanced Light Weaponry
Bob Iannaccone, founder of Advanced Light Weaponry (ALW), designs and builds one-of-a-kind lightsabers from scratch. Iannaccone, who has a background in painting, sculpting and filmmaking, approaches each lightsaber build with an artist’s eye: no two lightsaber designs are alike. Iannaccone sells ready-to-ship lightsabers in his Advanced Light Weaponry eBay store [AFFILIATE LINK] and accepts custom lightsaber orders and commissions through his website.
SaberSourcing interviewed Advanced Light Weaponry’s creator, Bob Iannaccone, about his custom saber company.
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How did you become interested in designing and building lightsabers?
When I first started my art business, I was trying to think of a way to make art that people would enjoy and use. I had one of my undergrad degrees in ceramic sculpture and I got into grad school as a painter/sculptor but ended up getting my degree in filmmaking (where I made my own props as part of making low budget movies).
Being a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, I thought I might be able to combine all of my art skills into my art business, and while doing research online in 2001, I found Parks Sabers. I was blown away that someone could make and sell light-up sabers. He was the only one doing this, at that time. But his designs were very close to the sabers used in the films, but I wanted to make something unique.
So, I decided I wanted to create totally new designs for light-bladed weapons. I wanted to make something that was different, and more akin to real world swords but somewhat in the Star Wars vein. I created a variety of sabers, tested polycarbonate types, and settled on what would be the most durable materials possible. I introduced the 1” polycarbonate blade, instead of using the standard 3/4” blades used back then. I settled on steel instead of aluminum, which made for a perfectly balanced weapon that could handle martial arts level dueling.
I came up with my own style of sabers, added curved grips, made sculpted organic looking sabers, and used various body plates. And I added all sorts of paint jobs to my sabers, breaking away from the traditional black and silver designs. Being a student of history in armor and weaponry, I wanted to add etchings, scroll work painting, and such, to add artistic beauty to my weapons. And I decided that each saber had to be unique, rather than mass produced, because this would both fit into Japanese sword history and the concepts laid out in Star Wars lore.
Can you describe your creative process when developing a new lightsaber design, from concept to completion?
I don’t normally work from drawings when creating new designs. At this point, I’ve been making sabers for so long that shapes and such are ingrained in my mind’s eye. So, often I’ll start with a concept and then flesh it out by sculpting. A three dimensional object doesn’t always fully translate from a two dimensional drawing. While I do make sabers based off customer’s drawings, the end product is not exactly the same, because there are a lot of considerations when making the saber: functionality, holding the electronics, properly holding a blade, durability in hard use, and being properly balanced so it can be used correctly when dueling.
For my own creations (not ones based on a customer’s ideas) I imagine who would have made this saber, what kind of battles it had seen, how much damage it had taken in those battles, what sort of culture this character came from, then I put those elements into the final design and final paint job and weathering details. Often a saber evolves while each step is completed. The paint and weathering are the last steps in fabrication, so that’s usually where the real character of the hilt takes shape. Then I decide on blade color, based on what I think looks best with that particular hilt.
How do you differentiate your lightsaber from other custom sabers on the market?Mine are the most durable, well balanced, and realistic out there. My blade tips are designed to never break, my polycarbonate is incredibly tough, and my steel hilts can handle tremendous amounts of abuse. And my sabers are the only ones out there that are always unique items. I don’t reproduce my own work. I don’t make exact copies of existing sabers.
Each hilt is a one of a kind creation, so if you own one of my sabers, you’re the only one in the world who owns that design. And since I was the first to ever make sabers that are sculpted to look like bones, fangs, antlers, wrapped in leather, cross guarded hilts, rapier caged sabers, etc. and have been making these types long before others have tried to do so, you’ll be getting something from the original creator.
“[I]f you own one of my sabers, you’re the only one in the world who owns that design.” — Bob Iannaccone (Advanced Light Weaponry)
Also, I don’t have a staff of builders and I don’t use mass produced parts. My sabers are made one at a time by one artist, each being made from scratch.
I don’t make “lightsabers” per se. I make functional sci-fi weapon art. They do take a lot of time to make, but you’re getting the highest quality and you’re getting a piece of fine art you can use, and pass down to the next generation.
Can you describe the most challenging lightsaber you’ve ever built?
The most challenging was probably a dragon head light-claymore. The cross guard was sculpted steel, then brazed over entirely with brass. The head of the dragon/serpent was made so the light of the blade could be seen through the mouth, eyes, and nostrils. The grip had wrapped leather, carved wood, and the activation plate and pommel were also brass covered steel. Claymores and rapiers are the hardest to make.
What are some of your favorite lightsaber features and design elements?
I’m most partial to heavily weathered hilts and the ancient organic designs. The worn, used look is amazing. Heavy weathering and battle damage make the hilts look realistic, and harken to real world weaponry. On WWII rifles, for instance, each scratch and ding in the walnut stocks have a story. They were damaged and beaten up during combat, so each mark is the weapon’s connection to the soldier who used it. Adding this sort of history to a saber makes the saber more grounded in the fantasy universe it’s a part of.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering purchasing their first lightsaber?
Do your research. Get a saber that will last. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had customers come to me saying they bought a saber from some company, only to find that it broke, or started to come apart after a few dueling sessions. They wished they had found me sooner. For example, my sabers are not exactly inexpensive, but they are reasonably priced based on what you’re getting.
For $50 to $150 or so more, you can get a unique, hand made saber tailored to your character, and it will last for decades (I have customers come up to me at shows who bought an ALW saber back in 2003/2004, and are still fighting with it!) Yes, you can get a cheap aluminum hilt and plastic blade, but will it break after a few sparring sessions? In the end, you’ll be paying to get that cheap saber fixed, parts or blade tips replaced, removing sound units you later find you don’t want, or eventually upgrading it in the hope that will do the trick. But you’ll be paying as much or more doing that, instead of saving up for something that will last, and truly be your saber.
Plus, for the more expensive customs I make, they take a long time to produce, so half down gets it started, and by the time it’s done, you can have saved up for the balance. Yet, they’re still in the ballpark of other sabers out there. Craftsmanship and attention to detail are very important, and this includes getting a saber that’s balanced properly if you plan on dueling with it.
What’s the most unusual customer request you’ve ever gotten?
That’s a tough one, because I’ve had a lot of unique requests. I specialize in unusual saber designs, and I love to work with people to make stuff that’s “outside the box,” so I’m not sure how to respond to this question.
I guess, maybe, there was this one… I was asked to make something for a cannibal, serial killer Dark Side character, who was likened to characters from some horror films. So, the saber was supposed to have “trophies” of his victims on its design, and look like a weapon even without the energy blade attached.
I ended up making a durable plastic emitter covering the steel that looked like tanned skin. The emitter was then shaped into a screaming face, so the blade light lit up the face. The grip areas had more wrapped skin. The emitter was also shaped like a stabbing weapon, so it was splattered and caked with blood colored glazes and “gore”. I added braided hair to the pommel. And I made a special gel filter for the blade LED, so the blade color was a sickly greenish-yellow.
Unfortunately, in my glee to get this mailed out to him, I forgot to take product photos. I do regret not getting pics, but as tough as it was to make that saber, I loved having been commissioned to create such a wild saber for him.
What’s your favorite lightsaber from Star Wars Canon or Legends and why?
Luke’s ROTJ V2. Luke was a hero of mine, growing up. That saber represented his ascension into becoming a Jedi, mostly by learning on his own, after getting a solid foundation from Yoda. His level of power in the Light Side was embodied in that saber. And the green blade just seemed to reflect the idea of life.
When I saw Star Wars, I was a kid who was blown away in that theatre, especially when Luke ignited his father’s old graflex saber. But I was a young man when Luke first ignited that V2, and it just touched me how he’d grown up in the fires of trials, failures, and triumphs. So, it embodied real life like no other saber had, for me. The weathering showed his rough journey to becoming a Jedi, and that really spoke to me.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’m still making sabers. But I’m finally starting to branch out into other art forms for sale. I’m a writer, painter, videographer, etc. so I make other kinds of artwork. I’m working on a couple of new sites: one with my fine art and videos in it, and one that is devoted to the sci-fi/fantasy novel series I’m writing, which I’ll be self-publishing sometime next year.
I also have a gaming system attached to that literary universe, and plan on running a crowd funding project to get that gaming system off the ground and into people’s homes. I’m an old school RPG and Table Top gamer (I’ve been playing since the early 1980s), and want to have that universe and its characters turn into something people can enjoy and use to create their own stories.
I’m hoping to touch people’s lives with the stories and characters I’m creating, because as an artist, that’s always been my goal in making artwork. And it’s a fun, gritty, dark, hopeful, and honest universe that I think people will enjoy visiting and making their own.
Advanced Light Weaponry eBay store [AFFILIATE LINK]
Advanced Light Weaponry website
Advanced Light Weaponry on Facebook
COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Advanced Light Weaponry