Master Yoda, dust off his French, he must.
It’s now easier than ever in France to act out ‘Star Wars’ fantasies, because its fencing federation has borrowed from a galaxy far, far away and officially recognised lightsaber dueling as a competitive sport, granting the iconic weapon from George Lucas’ saga the same status as the foil, epee and sabre, the traditional blades used at the Olympics.
Of course, the LED-lit, rigid polycarbonate lightsaber replicas can’t slice a Sith lord in half. But they look and, with the more expensive sabers equipped with a chip in their hilt that emits a throaty electric rumble, even sound remarkably like the silver screen blades that Yoda and other characters wield in the blockbuster movies .
Plenty realistic, at least, for duelists to work up an impressive sweat slashing, feinting and stabbing in organised, three-minute bouts. The physicality of lightsaber combat is part of why the French Fencing Federation threw its support behind the sport and is now equipping fencing clubs with lightsabers and training would-be lightsaber instructors. Like virtuous Jedi knights, the French federation sees itself as combatting a Dark Side: The sedentary habits of 21st-century life that are sickening ever-growing numbers of adults and kids .
“With young people today, it’s a real public health issue. They don’t do any sport and only exercise with their thumbs,” says Serge Aubailly, the federation secretary general. “It’s becoming difficult to [persuade them to] do a sport that has no connection with getting out of the sofa and playing with one’s thumbs. That is why we are trying to create a bond between our discipline and modern technologies, so participating in a sport feels natural.”
Still nascent, counting its paid-up practitioners in France in the hundreds, not thousands, lightsaber dueling has no hope of a place in the Paris Olympics in 2024.
But to hear the thwack of blades and see them cut shapes through the air is to want to give the sport a try.
Or, as Yoda would say: “Try not. Do! Or do not. There is no try.”