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A Brief History of Star Wars’ Lightwhip

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In the twirl of a lightsaber hilt and the flick of a wrist on The Acolyte last week, Jedi Master Vernestra Rwoh brought to screen a Star Wars idea nearly 40 years in the making: the Lightwhip. It’s far from Star Wars‘ weirdest lightsaber, and even with its surprising on-screen appearance, it’s not an entirely new one either.

How Does a Lightwhip Work?

In current continuity, we only have one example of a Lightwhip: Vernestra’s lightsaber, where it is presented as a modification to her traditional lightsaber rather than its own explicit weapon. Little is known how Vernestra’s whip works in current continuity, but in the Expanded Universe, Lightwhips operated by using a series of smaller emitters and crystals that featured no cells around the plasma energy they formed, allowing for a flexible beam of energy that could be operated like a traditional whip, over a longer range than a standard lightsaber. Trading some of the coherent beam strength of a traditional lightsaber for that flexibility and reach, lightwhips typically lacked some of the cutting strength of a lightsaber, able to be rebuffed by more kinds of armor that a lightsaber would otherwise cut. They could also be damaged more easily, and due to the volatile nature of the blade, were prone to shorting out.

The unconventional nature of the lightwhip was as much an asset as its flexible blade. Rare and difficult to master compared to a lightsaber (also one of the weapon’s downsides, leading to its rarity), the lightwhip preyed on an opponent’s unfamiliarity—especially Jedi, who were primarily trained in combat against traditional martial weapons. Lightwhips could attack a lightsaber wielder from a longer range, flex around blocks and parries another lightsaber couldn’t, and in some configurations with multiple tassels, could overwhelm an opponent with strikes from multiple angles at once.

Where Did the Lightwhip Come From?

© Cynthia Martin, Bob Wiacek, and Glynis Oliver/Marvel Comics

In the Expanded Universe, the Lightwhip was introduced as the weapon of the Dark Lady Lumiya, a Sith and one of the Emperor’s Hands (an elite order of the Empire’s top agents and secret operatives) from Marvel’s ongoing Star Wars comic. First appearing in 1985’s Star Wars #95, Lumiya’s lightwhip operated slightly differently to what the weapon would ultimately become in further interpretations—as well as a singular, extended energy beam, Lumiya’s whip had several extra tassels made from leather and studded with lightsaber-resistant Mandalorian Iron (better known in both current continuity and the EU by its name in the Mandalorian language, beskar).

Lumiya’s weapon lead to Luke Skywalker crafting another type of Lightsaber that would go on to have its own storied history in the Expanded Universe and beyond: the Shoto Lightsaber, a secondary weapon with a shortened blade that could counter the lightwhip’s multiple tassels, wrapping them up around his primary saber’s blade while using the shoto to sever the physical extensions.

After Lumiya’s weapon birthed the existence of the Lightwhip, more traditional forms were codified as ancient and extremely rare weapons wielded by the Sith during the time of the New Sith Wars, thousands of years before the events of the films. Unlike Lumiya’s weapon however, more often than not earlier lightwhips had a singular energy beam, like the lightwhip wielded by the Sith Lord Githany.

Was the Lightwhip Canon Before The Acolyte?

As is the case in The Acolyte itself, Vernestra is the only known wielder of a lightwhip in current Star Wars continuity. Her saber’s alternate form was introduced in the 2021 High Republic middle grade novel A Test of Courage. There, the lightwhip modifcation came to Vernestra as a vision in the Force while she was still a relatively fresh Jedi Knight. Once complete, she kept the modification a secret from her former master and other senior Jedi, fearing that the Lightwhip’s history as an unorthodox weapon—and their historical association with the Nightsisters of Dathomir—could be looked down upon.


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.



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