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Revisting the Elstree Props “Return of the Jedi” Star Wars Lightsabers: The $50,000 Question (Original or Replica?)

July 24, 2009 by  

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This is an update to a series of articles about two prop lightsabers marketed by Paul Harrison, at the time owner of Elstree Props, which were described as original pieces made for the film, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.  No such lightsabers appear in the finished film.  Though it has been some time since the last update, published in late 2007, I have obtained new information.  Included in this feature are photos of one of the props that I’ve been told were taken in late 2005, of a newly made custom replica lightsaber, prior to delivery to Paul Harrison.  The prop in these photos clearly matches one of the two Elstree Props lightsabers.  Was a newly made replica prop listed for sale to the public for $50,000.00?

The series of six past articles directly related to this topic can be found below:

New Development:  Custom Made Replica “Functional” Return of the Jedi-Style Luke Skywalker Lightsaber (Circa 2005)

Below are photos dated December 2005 of a custom made “functional” replica lightsaber in the style of the one used by Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi:

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This replica fan-made lightsaber created in late 2005 precisely matches the lightsaber showcased on the ElstreeProps.com website beginning in early 2006 – a prop that was characterized by then owner Paul Harrison as an original “close-up model” that was filmed for Return of the Jedi, which was released in 1983.  Note in the following compilation of photos that there are matching faux weathering (marks and scuffs) in addition to the piece and its custom components matching exactly.

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My source states that the capacitors in the control boxes on the replica lightsabers came from a late 80s (well after the release of Return of the Jedi) model Pioneer brand Hi-Fi system.

It has been explained to me that there are some differences in the two replica ROTJ lightsaber props custom made for Elstree Props, and the second of the two (that was offered for sale for approximately $50,000.00 on SpecialistAuctions.com in late 2007) included a special switch on the control box.  That switch is reportedly an off the shelf, modern day part currently available at Maplin Electronics in the UK.  This part can be found on their website:

Maplin Electronics – Double Pole Sub-Miniature (Order Code: FH35Q)

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Part Photo:

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Also sourced from Maplin Electronics were the red and green triangular LEDs.  These parts can also be found on the maplin.co.uk website.

Maplin Electronics – Panel Indicator LEDs (Order Code: YY55K):

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Part Illustration:

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These two sets of parts can be identified on the second of the two Return of the Jedi lightsabers:

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Below is a contemporary photo of left over parts from the production of the two replica Return of the Jedi lightsabers, including the Pioneer Hi-Fi system board from which parts were pulled for the control boxes:

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Note that the same Maplin Electronics parts are shown in the photo, along with other found parts.

Additionally, the smaller cylinder parts with the tri-color bands found in the control box can be seen in the same photo above:

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My source of information states that two lightsabers were custom made for Paul Harrison of Elstree Props by a third party – as replicas.

The first was delivered in December 2005  and was showcased on the ElstreeProps.com website beginning just a few months later in early 2006.

The second was delivered in Spring 2007 and was listed for sale on SpecialistAuctions.com in November 2007 for approximately $50,000.

The second prop used parts such as an air bearing collet and industrial turning inserts and holders  – all of which are post-1983.

This same individual also reportedly made two Golden Gun replicas for the Harrisons – the first one used the flip up cover on the lighter as the hammer and it was spring loaded while the second was a blank firing version, with the firing pin and blank bullet holder removed so it couldn’t make any sound.

There was a photo on the Elstree Props website of Roger Moore holding a Golden Gun prop, which resembled the piece seen in the James Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun.

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In late 2008, an original Golden Gun prop was reported stolen from Elstree Props.  This was covered extensively by the mainstream media.

Below is a contemporary photo of a new Golden Gun replica and new Return of the Jedi lightsaber replica made by the same person who reportedly made the two Return of the Jedi lightsabers and two Golden Gun props for Paul Harrison (note: the Golden Gun replica seen below is only 30% complete):

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The series of six past articles directly related to the “Golden Gun” topic can be found below:

Background:  ElstreeProps.com Website Luke ‘Return of the Jedi’ Lightsaber

Below is an archive of the “Lightsabers” page on the ElstreeProps.com website, while under ownership of Paul Harrison.  This page presents the first of the two “reveal” lightsabers characterized as original and attributed to use by Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

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Below is the primary description of the lightsaber prop:

Okay, below is a set of pictures which we ask you please not to copy. You may link to any of our pages, that’s why they are here, but we don’t want people trying to receate this and passing it off as an original. There are dealers out there who will! So we have obscured key details.

This is a very unique one-off for the scenes where Luke is in Obi-Wan’s hut making his new lightsaber after losing his in the battle with Darth Vader . A Jedi apprentice always bases his own lightsaber on his Jedi masters, which is why this one resembles Obi’s more than Vader’s.

This is a close-up model built to show the detailing inside. Many parts unlock and slide open! The whole saber can be telescoped shut in one move, with a satisfying whoosh of compressed air rom the pistons inside! One twist and the whole saber locks solid to be hung from the belt.

These scenes were shot, but cut from the movie, and later lost! We hoped they would on the new DVD but they aren’t. So this isn’t screen-used sadly. But in a way that’s better as we get to keep it!

Below are the photos as seen on the webpage:

Elstree-Props-Return-Of-The-Jedi-Lightsaber-Example-One-01

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The following ElstreeProps.com snapshot by Archive.org shows that the “Lightsabers!” page was not added to the Elstree Props website until a date in-between 02/09/06 and 04/02/06:

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As noted, the photos of the matching replica lightsaber photos at the start of this article are dated December 2005 – just months prior to its first appearance on the ElstreeProps.com website.

Background:  Elstree Props SpecialistAuctions.com Luke ‘Return of the Jedi’ Lightsaber

Below is an archive of one of the ‘for sale’ listings on the SpecialistAuctions.com website, listed by Paul Harrison as Elstree Props in late 2007.  This ‘for sale’ listing presents the second of two “reveal” lightsabers characterized as original and attributed to use by Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

This was offered for sale for £30,000.00 (approximately $55,000.00 USD at the time).

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Below is the marketing description of the lightsaber prop:

This is a very rare and special piece of motion picture history that we are reluctantly offering for sale.  My father ran Norank Eng Co Ltd, resident studio engineers at Elstree Film Studios during the 1970’s and 80’s.

Original lightsabers like this (but not functional!) have reached prices as high as £76,000 in the old auction houses!  We are open to offers from any collectors who guarantee not to resell this, so have a haggle!  Good luck!

Norank worked on 120 films and made many things for the original Star Wars trilogy, including work on R2-D2, C-3PO, the X-Wings and the light sabers and much more.

This piece will come in a custom built museum quality lockable case with working led lighting system, backdrop and plaque, plus a letter from the maker and a film studio COA.

This auction is for the actual lightsaber that was made for Luke Skywalker to use in Return of the Jedi for the scenes where he makes his own lightsaber based on his master’s, Obi Wan Kenobi.

We have seen call sheets for this days shooting and Anthony Daniels remembers shooting outside the cave set, but wheteher the actual scenes exist no-one knows.

Luke lost his own saber in the battle with Darth Vader at then end of Empire Strikes Back, and a whole sequence was shot in Obi Wan’s cave showing Luke making a new one.  This is why the colour suddenly changes from a blue lightsaber to a green one!  This is a fully functional saber, the emitter tip opens, the body unlocks and twists open, the control panel opens and the back also extends.  There are other secrets too, that only the winning bidder will discover!

The rquirement for this scene was that Luke would be seen with the saber fully extended, then pick it up and compress it down and lock it with a twist.  The saber still does this, and makes a lovely “hiss” as the mechanisms engage.  This is part of Star Wars folklore, many sites exist which ask what happened to his saber, why it suddenly changed, whether these scenes were actually shot, etc.

Below are the photos as seen on the public ‘for sale’ offering on Specialist Auctions:

ROTJ-Lightsaber-Elstree-Props-Specialist-Auctions-01

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New Development:  Interview with Howard Kazanjian, Producer of Return of the Jedi and Former Vice President of Lucasfilm LTD

There is a new interview with Howard Kazanjian available at StarWarsAficionado.com which addresses the questions about “lost” scenes of Luke Skywalker constructing his lightsaber.

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Below is an excerpt from that interview:

QUESTION

RETURN OF THE JEDI is known for its legendary lost scenes (like the Tatooine Sandstorm, Han and Chewie fighting Stormtroopers inside the Endor bunker, Ben Kenobi’s conversation to Luke about Owen Lars being his brother, etc).

It’s a long time ago, but I was wondering if you can remember at all whether the interior scene of Luke Skywalker constructing his new lightsaber in a cave on Tatooine was ever filmed – we understand that it may have been partially filmed at ELSTREE and on location at DEATH VALLEY late ’82 or early ’83 with Anthony Daniels as Threepio, but no one has been able to properly confirm this? Can you help or recall anything about this?

ANSWER

The exterior entrance to the cave was shot at Death Valley at the same time we shot the establishing shot of C-3PO and R2-D2 walking towards Jabba’s Palace. The interior where Luke built the lightsaber was constructed and shot at ILM in San Rafael. It was really an after thought and not in the original shooting script.

QUESTION

Thanks for confirming that it was indeed filmed interior – wise – I’m assuming that this was done with Mark Hamill at the same time that he was at ILM filming the X-wing cockpit dialogue scene that replaced the deleted sandstorm footage?

There have been reports, again in fan circles and from a UK props builder who worked on JEDI, that the footage of Luke and the new lightsaber has been lost by LUCASFILM!!

I find that hard to believe as I always thought George Lucas kept every thing.

ANSWER

All dialogue replacement was done at Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood, not at ILM or Lucasfilm. Mark and Carrie were at ILM to film the speeder bike sequences against Green Screen. They did no dialogue replacement at that time.

Being candid, how the hell would a UK prop builder know anything about what we shot when, where, or how in the USA, and how would they know if any footage was ever lost?

The building of the lightsaber footage is not lost. Perhaps someday you will see it in a documentary on the making of the film.

New Development:  High Resolution Video of Elstree Props/Paul Harrison’s “actual Lightsaber prop used for the missing scene”

There are a series of videos published on YouTube by Jambe Davdar called “Returning to Jedi: A Fan Documentary”.  A short segment in “Part 1″ shows video of one of the two Elstree Props “Return of the Jedi” lightsabers discussed at the start of this article.  Below is a link to that short sequence (full “Part 1″ video can be found HERE):

Given that there is a “High Quality” version of the video, it was possible to obtain some quality screencaptures of the lightsaber from the video, which were published on the Replica Prop Forum (see Elstree props Luke ROTJ reveal saber) – click each image for full resolution:

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The following compilation shows that the lightsaber prop depicted in the video (YELLOW INSET) matches the December 2005 photos of the same piece characterized as a replica made new in that same year:

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Concluding Remarks

With the original articles on this topic, a number of issues and questions were raised (most extensively in “Update 3“) which were never addressed by those who would suggest that these two lightsaber props are “Original” and were made in the early 80s for Lucasfilm for use in Return of the Jedi.  Today, a substantial amount of new and alarming information has come to light.

Revisiting the “Update 4” article on this topic, the following is the news article published by This Is London on the attempts to sell one of these two pieces as an original prop used in the film:

Lightsaber to burn hole in fan’s pocket

By Katie Evans

A lightsaber made for Stars Wars film Return of the Jedi is being auctioned by an Borehamwood film props company.

The rare item has been put up for sale by Elstree Props, based at Elstree Film Studios, and is expected to sell for an estimated £30,000.

Paul Harrison, who runs the company, said the lightsaber is part of Star Wars mythology. It was made specifically for Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, to use in scenes where he is creating his own lightsaber based on that of his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Mr Harrison said: “Luke lost his original saber in a battle with Darth Vader at the end of the previous film, The Empire Strikes Back, and a whole sequence was shot in Obi- Wan Kenobi’s cave showing Luke making a new one.

“However, these scenes were not included in the film and we don’t even know if they exist – it’s a bit of a mystery. We may never know what happened to them.”

The rare piece, made in 1983, is likely to appeal to devoted Star Wars fans.

Mr Harrison added: “It’s usually wealthy American collectors who buy these kind of items, so something like this often ends up in a Las Vegas casino. A lightsaber has previously sold at auction for £76,000, even though it was only seen briefly in the film.”

The weapon was made by Mr Harrison’s father, Norman, who ran studio engineering company Norank, at Elstree Studios, during the Seventies and Eighties.

It took two engineers four days to create, and although three were made, the item on sale is the only one remaining in the company’s possession.

A lack of display space has prompted the auction, which is open until November 12.

Norank worked on a number of items for the original Star Wars trilogy, including R2-D2, C-3PO, the X-Wing fighters and the lightsabers.

To make a bid, visit www.special istauctions.com. The item number is 972099.

11:13am Friday 26th October 2007

Jason DeBord

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