Phaser or Lightsaber?

Day Seven: Give and Take

Today’s Prompt: Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

So, I thought I’d do something a little more lighthearted for today’s Writing 101 post. Compare and contrast essays have always seemed, to me, a little pointless and more difficult than strictly necessary. But I’ll give it a go.

I’m a big sci-fi geek and one of the oddballs that have a love and appreciation for both Star Wars and Star Trek. I see them as entirely separate and not really apples-to-apples material. But there are aspects of the two universes that have parallels, sufficient similarities, that might lend themselves to such an analysis. They both have aliens, space ships, technology and weapons, all of which might be compared and contrasted endlessly. In fact, that has happened many times over in books, magazines and in countless online forums and blogs and communities.

For lots of reasons, I think most of these are too hard for a short, light, musing post. Suffice to say that there’s too much danger of getting lost in the sands of Tatooine or in Vulcan’s desert Forge to try to compare the two universes and their major attributes.

Instead, I’m going to pick something relatively easy: handheld weapons. Specifically, let’s look at Phasers (Star Trek) and Lightsabers (Star Wars).

First, as a jumping off point, let’s assume that both weapons can exist, can function as expected and can be obtained in our physical universe. That’ll let us all enter into the exploration without fear of the sand-bag argument that “it can’t exist in our reality ” or that “the laws of physics won’t allow it to work that way”. Both arguments may be true (dammit Jim, I’m a lawyer, not a physicist), but we’re going to suspend that particular disbelief for the moment in favor of the assumed reality of these weapons.

Second, this isn’t a treatise or academic paper, so I’m not going to cite reference materials exactly or provide a bibliography or other listing of source materials. This is supposed to be fun, not work. If you want to dig through the Internet for the precise canon references, I’ll gladly read what you have to say in the comments. The most I’m going promise is that I’ll try to point you in the general direction of where you might find more information on a particular point, if you’re curious or think I’m off my rocker.

Finally, I’m going to assume that if you’ve read this far, you have at least a basic understanding of each of these fictional universes and know enough about each franchise to follow my references. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining who/what I’m talking about.

So, now that the preliminaries are out of the way and you’re free to choose, what’s it gonna be, Phaser or Lightsaber? Let’s take a closer look at them, shall we?

Phaser. From all observations in the TV and movie canon, Federation Phasers come in a variety of models, from pistol to rifle, even ship-mounted, but all have some basic characteristics in common. For one, they are referred to (at least in later movies, if not the TV series) as particle weapons, sometimes multi-phasic particle weapons, but appear to use coherent light energy. Perhaps the particles are photons, I don’t know, but in any event all Federation Phasers appear to deliver the weapon’s blow by means of a beam of light fired at the target, like a bullet.

Lightsaber. Light is also the means of delivery for the Lightsaber. Indeed, light is central to both its name and its function. However, rather than a projectile of light, the Lightsaber relies on a coherent beam of light generated from and affixed to a sword handle and wielded just like a traditional sword blade. All of the Star Wars movies and many of the vast number of Star Wars universe novels allude to the Lightsaber’s ability to cauterize the wound inflicted by the weapon, suggesting the blade of light also employs heat (or maybe that’s a waste product of the light). This attribute may make the Lightsaber a cleaner weapon in that respect than the Phaser, as I have no recollection of canonical reference to a Phaser cauterizing at kill setting. However, the Phaser’s stun setting doesn’t appear in TV or movie canon to leave a wound, so it may be a draw on the ‘clean’ factor.

Phaser. Speaking of settings, Federation Phasers appear in both the movies and TV shows to have adjustable energy outputs, giving them the ability to pack lethal and non-lethal potential in a single weapon. Also, the frequency and phase in which the weapon operates to deliver a blast are also adjustable, which comes in handy when your enemy has the ability to adapt to the energy of your weapon (*cough* Borg *cough*).

Lightsaber. The blade of light, however, does not appear to have that facility. Like table saws, Lightsabers are on or off, and when on they work as advertised. So those who wield them must have a great deal of respect for their power. However, since those who wield them, in the canon universe at least, also make them as a test of their knowledge and skill in the Force, it would stand to reason that any given Lightsaber’s maker would know better than most the potential lethality of the weapon.

Phaser. But lethality isn’t the only measure of a weapon’s utility. Defense, obviously, is also important. Versatility in its usefulness to both attack and defend are the Phaser’s hallmarks. Allowing close quarters and long-range precision gives the shooter many more options for dispute resolution and escape. However, beyond conventional defense and attack, movie and TV canon shows that the Phaser has an additional dimension of versatility. Phasers have been used to weld, drill, and, in a pinch, act as improvised explosives. These functions make it a feasible tool for peace-time as well as military operations.

Lightsaber. Let’s be honest, the Lightsaber is a niche weapon. Though non-Force-users may be able to use the weapon at a gross level (see Han Solo and the Tauntaun on Hoth, which was gross), to use a Lightsaber at its full potential, you have to have some Force proficiency. Given that ability, though, the Lightsaber’s utility as both offensive and defensive weapon is unmatched. A proficient swordsman can weave a cage of light around himself and another person to deflect all manner of incoming danger, or use it to precisely excise an offender’s weapon hand. But, because of the length of the blade and its lack of adjustable output, it is ill suited for the type of unconventional peace-time utility that the Phaser displays. Lightsabers are nevertheless useful for non-traditional defensive tasks, such as melting the blast doors on a Trade Union ship in which the Viceroy is attempting to kill you by poison gas, to provide a means of egress. Still, you aren’t likely to choose a Lightsaber first when looking for an energy-based addition to a toolkit for non-combat purposes.

Phaser. And what about the esoteric qualities of these weapons? The aesthetic appeal of the Phaser isn’t anything to write home about, in my opinion. It’s rather utilitarian in design and fairly uniform and mass-produced in appearance. Phasers do make a distinctive sound when fired and have the added benefit of being fairly easy to conceal, at least in the handheld variety. But, honestly, beyond the fact that’s it’s a “ray gun”, a Phaser just doesn’t have all that high of a “cool” factor.

Lightsaber. Not so the Jedi laser sword. It has cool in its DNA. From its iconic, inimitable sound, both upon ignition and in use, to its hand-made, one of a kind design, the Lightsaber is the ultimate in weapon chic. Whatever it may lack in the way of non-weapon utility, it more than makes up for in mystique and street cred.

From my point of view, it’s not a contest. If I had the choice to own a Phaser or Lightsaber of my very own, it’s got to be Lightsaber every time.


2 comments so far

  1. kellygriffiths on

    As a fencer I agree. Light saber. Interesting topic. I did soccer. Mycrudebirds.wordpress is where I’m doing the writing101 challenge. Hope you’ll stop by.

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