From a galaxy far, far away to Lexington: Lightsaber league brings Star Wars to life


Mike Thompson (left) and Williams Atkinson, the two leaders of the Lexington Lightsaber League, ready their weapons on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at Woodland Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Thompson and Atkinson are the two members that have been a part of the league for the longest. Photo by Kaitlyn Skaggs | Staff

Kaleb Littleton

For almost 45 years, Star Wars has held a massive presence in popular culture. From an annual array of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader Halloween costumes to never-ending Yoda memes, the movie franchise has staying power over people of all ages. On Wednesday nights in Lexington’s Woodland Park, this power is on full, glow-in-the-dark display.

Each week, a group of Star Wars fans get together to practice lightsaber combat. Its members call themselves the Lexington Lightsaber League, and they meet to practice their craft on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Their meetings include both training and competitive elements, and they also film videos of their hobby during practices.

Jonathan Thompson was one of the first members of the league. He said that the group practices several distinct forms of lightsaber combat, known as the Seven Forms of the Jedi Order. These were first described in detail in Star Wars Insider issue 62, which was in use during the prequel trilogy.

“So within Star Wars, they have forms that each of [the characters] confine to,” Jonathan Thompson said. “We follow those forms and do a theatrical combat kind of thing. It’s meant to resemble the prequels’ style: very flowy, very dancelike.”

In the films, the martial art known as lightsaber combat was based on fencing, with inspiration drawn from kendo. This version of the art was designed for the screen by stunt coordinator Nick Gillard with help from stuntman and Darth Maul actor Ray Park. Gillard described it in a featurette for “The Phantom Menace” as “a chess game played at a thousand miles an hour.”

The Lexington Lightsaber League is run by Williams Atkinson and Mike Thompson. Atkinson has been a part of the group for two years, while Mike Thompson joined a year and a half ago.

“When we duel, we typically count points so [a hit to] your limbs counts as one point, and your torso counts as two points. Your head counts also as one,” Atkinson said. “We aren’t super competitive; we’re more interested in making it look theatrical and making it look pretty.”

Atkinson also explained how the group formed — fittingly, it was because of a lightsaber.

“I met a fella named Sage around town who had their lightsaber with them,” Atkinson said. “[I] asked about it, and we got to talking, and they were looking into starting a group. So I started coming to practice, and we recruited a couple of people, and here we are.”

Once Sage moved to Virginia, Atkinson said he and Mike Thompson took over.

Mike Thompson explained the procedures for the meetings, which last two and a half hours.

“Whenever we start, we usually begin with a set of stretches, then we do a basic set of the first form to act as a weekly refresh of the basics. Then we’ll pair off for about an hour or so [and] work on whatever each individual needs to work on,” Mike Thompson said. “Then [we] come back, discuss whatever we need to and run trials for anything that people want to learn.”

Lightsaber dueling is popular across the world. A similar organization is the worldwide Saber Legion, which focuses on competitive duels. The French Fencing Federation has also stated that they consider lightsaber combat to be a sport.

Another similar Star Wars fan organization is the charity group the 501st Legion, which dresses in armor reminiscent of the Empire for public appearances. They have also been referenced within the films themselves. Their logo appears on a banner in “The Force Awakens,” and some members have been extras in “The Mandalorian.”

Article I of the Legion Charter states that it is an all-volunteer organization designed to promote Star Wars, facilitate the use of costumes and give back through charity work.

Mikey Boucherou is the garrison public relations officer for the Kentucky branch of the 501st, the Bluegrass Garrison, which has under 100 members.

“For many of our charity showings, we have members travel across the state to help support these events,” Boucherou said. “Some of the charities we have worked with in the past include Kentuckiana Make-A-Wish foundation, Norton Children’s Hospital, The Cure Starts Now, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home and many more locally.”

These are just two of the ways that fans are bringing the fun of Star Wars into the real world.